So you are a writer on Bioshock Infinite.
One of the writers. Ken [Levine] is really the creative director/lead writer. So it's—we've got a good-sized writing team. So there's Ken, there's myself, and then we have—Jordan Thomas helped us out a lot. He's at 2K Marin and he worked on BioShock 1 and BioShock 2. So he came out for a long time, stayed in Boston, and helped us work on the story. And then we've got two other writers…it's a good-sized team. I mean, the script for Infinite is, like—I think it was, just one level, during the boardwalk level, it's probably two to three times the size of all of BioShock 1's script. I mean, the world is alive, now. It's not dead. It's fully populated with characters. And so it expands the script enormously, especially because, you know, you've got Booker and Liz, and Booker talks, and Liz and he have this big dynamic, and the story's all about them and their journey. Like, it's huge, and I think Ken quickly realized that the story was far too big for one guy to tackle, and so set out to put together a writing team that would work really, really well together.
There's a lot of ambient dialogue, and it all comes together to make the story a lot richer.
Yeah. I think, you know, what's really central to a BioShock game is the setting, you know? And Rapture was a very specific type of setting. Columbia is different, but I think the same sort of tenets are still true. You want to be able to come into this place and feel that you can immerse yourself in the world, and feel like just by walking around the city, you get a sense of what it is, who lives there, you know, why the people that are there—what they're doing. What are their beliefs? Everything that, you know—because games are so, games are obviously interactive, I think one of the things that is constantly drilled into us at Irrational is: what's the story? And that's for literally everything in the game, you know? Anything that you can interact with in the world, anything you can see in the world. Environmental storytelling is such a big part of the company. You always have to be thinking, you know, what is the story of this place? Who lives here? Why? What are we trying to get across to the player? What are they supposed to be understanding? And I think making sure that that world then feels like these people are real and they do have their own lives and they are living in this fantastical city in 1912. It's all about making sure that things feel authentic. To really let players, you know, just get lost in the world.
There are so many visual details as well that do the same thing. If you just played the game on mute you'd still be able to pick up on so much of that.
Exactly! I think that's exactly right. I think, you know, when you play a game, no one ever wants to just sit and be talked to. Exposition in games is death. It's much more interesting for players to see an environment that has been set up, right, so that it feels real, and then allow them to sort of draw their own conclusions as to what exactly is happening in the world. It makes for a much more interactive experience, I think.
There are a lot of things that start out subtle and become more and more evident, like how the residents of Columbia worship America's founding fathers.
Yeah. I think what's really cool about BioShock games is that nothing is ever the way that it seems at first. There's always something behind the curtain. And it's about the player's journey, in terms of, like, finding out what actually is the truth. Not only the city, but of the characters.
I like not having a silent protagonist anymore, because there are moments when Booker's murmurings matched my thoughts about the world exactly, like when he realizes the people of Columbia are looking for him.
That's what's so great. That's what I think is so great about that moment. After you've gone through the city, and you've sort of got this sense—you start out in the boat, you know, and there are these weird sort of messages left from people that, you know—you're, obviously, sent on this mission. You get to this city. Booker is still very unclear as to what's happening, and the city seems a little off. And that moment where you see the hand with the brand, and Booker raises his hand [and his hand has the same brand]—that moment, it puts you on edge, right?
He goes "Oh shit."
There are clearly questions—there are clearly answers to questions that you're having, right? But it's not immediately apparent what those answers are. You're just going—you're very sort of, you're in Booker's—I think what's great is that immediately draws you, the player, in parallel with Booker. Because now you're both sitting there going, "What the hell is going on?"
There's a great moment right after that where the interracial couple gets brought out on stage, which is a totally different direction—when did racism become a big part of what you'd explore?
I think the moment that you decide to set a game in 1912, that's something that—you don't set a game in 1912 if you're not willing to sort of tackle that theme head-on. I think that is so steeped in the culture of the time, that if you're going to create a world that is authentic, you've got to be willing to sort of address that issue. And I think beyond just saying, "Oh, it's set in 1912, and so this is what it's going to be," right? It's a central theme to the story. It's central to the broader things that we're trying to get across in terms of, you know, Booker and Liz's journey, and Comstock, and how everything unfolds. We keep the story very close to the chest, but I think early on you see the religious aspects of the game, right? These things that are very core to what the game is about. I think much in the same way that the infanticide in BioShock 1 was central to the story. You can't separate the gameplay from the story. We certainly don't, and so I think as you play the game, you know, these big, broad ideas start to become apparent. And I think that's what really elevates the game's story into something that makes people—that's what makes it a BioShock game.
Before the racism is revealed, the city feels dream-like, but it drops a little hint, about the racism, and you go what? And then BOOM—you're asked to throw a baseball at a black girl.
No, but that's exactly what—that's the point. That's the goal that we set out with that scene. Certainly that's what Ken wants, right?
They bring them out and it's like, "Oh my god."
Yup. Exactly. And that's because nothing in a BioShock game is ever what it seems. And I think what's great about it is it's—much like in Rapture, right, which was this rigid belief in an ideology and how things spin out of control—it's much the same with Columbia, right? This sort of rigid adherence to Comstock's laws, right, is really what sets the stage for the major conflicts in the game.