For those who have been keeping up to date on the excitement quickly building over BioShock: Infinite coming out of E3, you’re already well aware that much of the buzz is a direct result of the gameplay demonstrated at this year’s show. Aside from blowing viewers away with stunning visuals and fast-paced combat, the presence of the mysterious Elizabeth, and her potential impact on the mechanics of the game have gotten people talking. The young woman who at first seemed like a secondary character in the world of BioShock: Infinite has quickly stolen the spotlight, and now Irrational Games‘ Creative Director has given a deeper look at who she is, and just how many firsts she represents for the developer.
The developers behind the original BioShock clearly aren’t lacking where inventive atmospheres are concerned, and the innovations that plasmids brought to standard shooting was a welcome change. In all honesty, taking the same tone, subject matter, and combat into a new aerial setting would likely have been enough to satisfy with the sequel.
But then we learned that Infinite’s protagonist Booker DeWitt wouldn’t be alone, but accompanied for a large part of the game by the all-important Elizabeth. Some may have thought that from a developer with little experience in anything beyond singleplayer gameplay, Elizabeth would be just a means to an end, a tool to use in manipulating the ‘tears’ in the city of Columbia. As it turns out, Elizabeth is far more.
First things first: if you have yet to see the recently released E3 demo of Infinite, do so immediately. The fifteen minute video is all it takes to prove that the technology at work behind the scenes will more than deliver, and that Elizabeth’s unique talents will be resulting in a serious shift in the series’ gameplay.
In a recent interview with RPS, Irrational Games’ Creative Director Ken Levine explained that those differences arose very early in the design process, with the current incarnation of Elizabeth a sign of just how different a direction the developers have taken:
“Initially we said, well, everyone you meet is going to be crazy like in Bioshock. But then we began to think on that and…. what if you have someone with you? Someone who isn’t crazy? What if you don’t know how crazy anyone is? What if they’re not behind a glass wall? We just kept working on that. It’s a really hard problem, and so that’s why the game is taking as long as it is. To do it in a shooting environment, that’s hard.
“Okay, so, because we have these very specific moments – we know you’re going to go through that door and Elizabeth and that’s a scripted moment – then when you’re just walking around the city, we don’t know what the player is going to be doing. So the rest of the stuff in the store’s demo is not intended to be scripted in the same way – like the part where she puts on a Lincoln mask. She’s just goofing around. She’s using her own systems to do that. We build in these little moments, like the Lincoln head moment…So we had to build this system where the game is watching: Has Elizabeth done anything interesting for a while?Is there anything interesting that she could do here? Ah, there’s this Lincoln head, let’s do this. It’s walking an interesting line between scripting and emergence. Because you can’t just have pure emergence, you have a semi-emergent system where things like the Lincoln head can happen, if the situation is right.”
We’ve seen plenty of instances where a game world can produce random occurrences, but rarely involving a main character. Considering the amount of scripting and animations that need to go into the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth, making room for random events is just icing on the cake. And if you include the sheer depth of the war between the Vox and Founders, it seems no aspect is being given the short end of the stick.
There are hundreds of games which have provided ammunition to those who claim that escort missions or partner characters are more trouble than they’re worth, but in recent years, a few have shown that when dealt with properly, a companion character can certainly enrich an experience. Levine and his team know that getting the player to care about Elizabeth starts with her personality, and even though it’s the group’s first attempt at defying overwhelming odds, they believe that success is more than possible:
“Our goal with Elizabeth was to get players to feel like there was a connection. There’s obviously a connection between Booker, the character, and Elizabeth, but we want the player to feel a connection between themselves and Elizabeth. How many hours were you with your wife before your relationship really started off? Probably a lot of hours.
“I started thinking about how a very sick patient often rapidly feels an intense bond with their doctor, because they’re in danger. The same is true of people in combat. This tuned us to the nature of sacrifice, and to what a character wants and will sacrifice to get it. Elizabeth wants to control her own destiny and she’d rather die than not control her own destiny. We thought that this was something people could empathize with, but we also thought that sacrifice rapidly builds connections between people. People sacrificing for one another creates strong bonds quickly, and the demo is a microcosm of the whole game in that sense. It’s about what the characters sacrifice for each other.
“Then of course she has to be nice and funny and charming, she can’t be a bore. So there’s levels of macro and micro decision making to make this stuff work. She’s there to help you throughout the game. She makes your life better. She can toss you ammo, point out enemies, to bring in the tears, and she’s a very you-centered AI. You are not obligated to take care of her in the way that you are in an escort mission.”
Nobody is going to doubt that Levine and the team at Irrational aren’t capable of delivering a fantastic game in the BioShock franchise, least of all us, after awarding it our E3 award for Best in Show. But what is surprising is just how many different accomplishments the game seems poised to achieve.
Three months ago we were expecting a spectacular journey through political ideals and revolution set in a blimp-city, yet now we may have another unique companion to add to the hall of fame alongside greats like Half-Life 2‘s Alyx. We don’t know what the next surprise of Infinite will be, but we look forward to seeing it.
What are your thoughts on what you’ve seen of Elizabeth so far? Do you think her addition to the game will take the series to new heights (pun definitely intended), or would you have preferred a more solitary campaign more akin to the original title? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.
BioShock: Infinite is set to release on the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 in the second quarter of 2012.
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.
Source: Rock Paper Shotgun