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Bioshock Infinite: A level analysis from a gameplay point of view #3

The third part of this analysis will cover Gears, Weapons and Vigors. We'll draw to some conclusion analysing each element progression's curve.

Mattia Beffa, Blogger

December 14, 2020

6 Min Read

This is the following of the analysis' second part and, in case you missed it, to the first one; I highly suggest to take a look at each part to better understand the game's progression and it's patterns.

Today we'll see Gears, Weapons and Vigors. Let's get to business!

Gears, Weapons and Vigors

Figure 5

Although this graph may seem overwhelming at first, it provides useful informations:

The first areas (until Monument Island Tower) introduce the player with two Vigors (therefore the mechanic of using them in combo), two weapons (the mechanic to swap weapon, pick one up, and the limitation of two at the time) and two gears (explaining how gears work and how they can be combined for different strategies): this is nothing less than a masked tutorial.

What happens then?

Followed by that, a spike for the gears (allowing to equip a full set, and making player choose between different ones) and new weapons for the player to try and choose from.

The further the player goes into the game, the wider his choices in gears becomes; This allows the establishment of one own’s tactic, with smaller adjustment room to suit the situation, (self-expression via playstyle), and, having 4 slots for the gears, this reduce the possibility of the paradox of choice.

What about the guns?

For the weapons, from the middle of the game most of them have been presented to the player and at this point he will most likely have chosen the ones that suits him the most, therefore just a few new ones are introduced as minor variation to other weapons already presented; following the weapon discovery there usually is a fight to allow the player to test the new found weapon.

Last but not least, the Vigors:

The Vigors curve, however, has a stable trend: one new Vigor is introduced every 2 to 3 locations in a row, then in the next 2 to 3 locations the player can test, understand and master the new Vigors he’s comfortable with, and the circle repeats. The reason not to provide all Vigors together, other than ruining their search and discovery, is to avoid overwhelming the player, with the risk of him sticking to the first 2 he understands.

Conclusion Number Seven: To avoid overwhelmingness, provide new features (Vigors) with a pattern of discovering something new,  and time/space to test/understand it.

Vigors and Upgrades

Figure 6

For the first half of the locations, Vigors’ upgrades are provided upon the Vigor’s discovery, since having few options and money brings the player to choose carefully, evaluate each Vigor’s potential and the impact that an upgrade would bring.

This also gives the player the possibility to upgrade only the Vigors which upgrades are available, most likely the ones considered most useful or effective by the developers in those parts of the game.

But then something changes.

After the first half, however, upgrades are available in higher quantity, for different reasons:

  • To fulfill a player’s (who used a Vigor without available upgrades) wish to purchase it

  • To give player choice and possibility to max their Vigors (as anticipation of bigger challenges ahead)

  • To make the player choose wisely which Vigor to upgrade (and therefore use it as well as he can)

What's going on in the last areas?

The last locations have no new upgrades, since they are at the end of the game, and providing new options to the player in that moment would draw away the focus from the main part: the game’s finale.

Conclusion Number Eight: The player is provided with what the designers wanted, in order to bring him their ideal experience, by stressing the importance of certain elements (Vigors/Upgrades), and giving a wider choice later in the game, when he will supposedly have a better understanding of those elements and, doing so, reducing the risk of "overwhelmingness"

Conclusion Number Nine: the money provided to the player isn’t enough to buy all the upgrades, leading him into choosing carefully what to stick with, creating higher awareness and thoughts in his mind, increasing his immersion in the game

Weapons and Upgrades

Figure 7

Differently from Vigors and their upgrades, Weapons are handled in a different way.

The first upgrades are made available for the player to choose which weapon he is sticking with, for this reason upgrades in the first half are relatively few.

From the other half, however, upgrades are available at higher spikes, as the player may need to adjust his loadout depending on the enemies and situations he encounters.

Let's break this down:

In this case, the paradox of choice is avoided automatically by the player, since there will be weapons he feels suiting his playstyle and situation, and others that he will most likely ignore, and so their upgrades.

On top of that, weapons introduced in the second half are small variants of others already presented to the player, so he will not have the need to understand new guns’ functioning and will be able to focus on the gameplay: if the gun’s variation suits his playstyle better he’ll pick it up, otherwise he’ll ignore it.

This leads to one of the most important conclusions of this analysis:

Conclusion Number Ten: A variation of something already present is not something new, therefore it will not drag as much player’s attention and energy as the first time he encountered the original element.

As for the Vigors, it’s important to compare the last graph with Silver Eagles’ one (Figure 4, last publication).

In this case there is a main difference: while one of Weapons’ pike is in Flinkton Docks, the money’s curve doesn’t follow that trend. A similar behavior is present in the Factory area.

This information, once again, shows the higher sustain given to Vigors rather than Weapons, to avoid (as mentioned before) a “shooter-only” behavior by the player.

That's it for today! This was interesting, wasn't it?

TL;DR: To avoid "overwhelmingness" be sure to provide new things to the player with a pattern of "something new, space/time to understand/test it and master it, something else new"; Also, providing what you want the player to focus on can really address the experience the way you designed it. Having a resource limited increase it's value and leads player to more thoughtful choices. Last but not least, a small variation of something is not something new.

The process of providing something to the player and letting him understand it and master it is crucial to an engaging experience. We saw some of the ways Bioshock Infinite does that, but are there other ways to do it? Do you think it could have been done better? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

I'll see you in three weeks with the next topics: Enemies and difficulty. Spoiler: It's my favourite one.


  1. Gears, Weapons, Vigors

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