The Vanishing of Bioshock

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Perhaps the franchise responsible for one of the biggest plot twists in entertainment history –  I put it up there with Citizen Kane, Mementoand others, in terms of shock value (pun intended) – has been exceptionally quiet in recent years  and as we head towards the launch of the new generation it becomes less and less likely that we will see a Bioshock release in this console cycle. Which begs the question, What happened to Bioshock? How has the name and royalty that is so attached to this franchise been allowed to remain silent for so long?

The first Bioshock was in the making for almost 10 years, a process in which saw the release of System Shock 2, a game that was loved by the critics but failed commercially. The game was never picked up for a third release and the gaming world moved on, however, Ken Levine ( creator of the series ) never gave up on his ideas, there were many revamps of the story, many of which came due to no studio wanting to pick up the game for publishing.

The Original Bioshock is a gaming masterpiece, the three tier gameplay loop that involved little sisters, Big Daddy’s and Harvesters became an ecosystem that when paired to some interesting powers and engaging gunplay made the game exciting. But that wasn’t what made BioShock memorable, instead it was everything that was built around it, Bioshock is a masterclass of atmosphere design being moulded in so closely with story and gameplay that it creates a level of immersion rarely seen within the medium.

From the start of the game, you are dropped on to a beautiful hell but unlike many other video games, as you progress, you don’t feel like you’re in control, like you are at the top of the food chain, you are always vulnerable, in rapture there is always something more menacing than you. This extends towards more than just player vulnerability, the little sisters are a stroke of genius by the design team , creating a moral dilemma that goes beyond the ‘will you, won’t you save this character’ trend that videogames usually tend to follow. Instead Bioshock paints a picture of innocence in these characters and asks a very simple question; After killing their protectors, the people they see as fathers, will you harvest their lives for your gain or rid them of their pain and suffering? It’s a dilemma that asks you if being vulnerable, if being challenged on the short term is scarier than stealing innocence from the characters.

When you combine this with a story that pulls from real history, psychology and sociology what you end up with is an experience that demands a lot more emotionally from you than most games can ever even dream of. The way that Andrew Ryan’s story plays out is one of the best pieces of storytelling in recent times.

While I could talk about the second game, Ken Levine had no involvement with the game and the game can be seen as a separate entry entirely from the other two, I will look at the far more polarising entry in this series, Bioshock Infinite.

The development of Bioshock infinite was a disaster.

Originally, the team was thinking to return to rapture but literally became bored with the idea and the decision was made to move on from rapture. The road to Columbia would not be an easy one, the first problem the game encountered came from within the studio itself, with 2K Games using a lot of Levine’s staff to create Bioshock 2, crippling the team extensively.

Without the ability to focus solely on the game, Ken Levine was left in charge of 150 people, not only crippling his ability to know and understand the people he is working with but also his ability to make the most out of all the talented developers he had access to. But there was an even bigger problem that stemmed from this chaos, and it was ambition. How exactly do you surpass the near perfect game that was the original Bioshock, the answer was to try to outdo the original game, however, the gameplay demo for Bioshock Infinite shown in 2010 – slated for a 2011 release – was clearly too ambitions to complete for the technology at the time, with the time frame given.

While the game became something far less boundary pushing and daring than its original vision presented to gamers in 2010, it still became an incredibly interesting piece of work nonetheless.

Ultimately the strain put on Levine soured his game development experience, its what allowed for the closure of Irrational Games and would drive him away from Bioshock. Surprisingly, however, it may not be the end to the series.

It will be interesting to see what 2K Games will do with Bioshock, as the new game in development is missing its creator. To add to that, this current generation of games has changed drastically since Bioshock Infinite was released, the publisher has shifted away from single player focused experiences and with 2K stating that they do not plan on releasing games that do not include “re-occuring consumer spending opportunites” (micro-transactions), it makes it hard to see where a new Bioshock game would fit.

Whatever the end result may be with the newest entry to the franchise, anyone who considers themselves passionate about this medium, owes it to themselves to experience this series once, at the very least.

Every entry in the series has something to say, something incredible to experience. If any series deserves to be continued, it is Bioshock, so long as game itself is a work of passion as it was with the three entries in the series.  

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