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Feature: BioShock Project Lead Reveals Development Journey

It started as a linear shooter? In the first of our new series debuting Game Developer magazine postmortems online, project lead Finley reveals the secrets behind the cre

September 2, 2008

3 Min Read

Author: by Staff

BioShock project lead Alyssa Finley says the story of the game's development is as "epic" as the game's unlikely underwater dystopia itself. BioShock "changed remarkably" from conception to release, Finley says, while a company was acquired, a team size doubled, and the product focus evolved from RPG hybrid to shooter. One of the things Finley says went right in the game's development was that the team was able to correct course when the game just wasn't shaping up to be as compelling as the vision required. "For example, the first vertical slice prototype we built was an non-navigable linear corridor shooter that looked like it took place in an abandoned box factory," Finley says. But when the prototype didn't hook the team, they scrapped it and started from scratch, focusing solely on building one single room with the correct "ruined underwater utopia" feel. "First we did concept art passes. Once we got a concept that worked, we built it," she explains. "Then we used it as a demo space. We used that single room (now Kashmir Restaurant in the first level of the game) as an artistic reference that guided us in creating an aesthetic unlike any other game on the market." But there were challenges for the team, too -- the first focus test, says Finley, was "brutal." An experience the internal team had liked very much was "dense" and confusing to testers, who were overwhelmed by the plasmids, preferred traditional weapons, and eschewed interacting with the Big Daddies. Although BioShock's release would earn its story no shortage of acclaim and analysis alike, this portion was actually one of the team's largest development challenges. The decision to shift the game's focus from RPG hybrid to primarily shooter came late, adds Finley, which challenged the narrative -- she says it would have been easier had they had a "FPS mentality" from the get-go. As a result, it was near the end of development when the team realized that what they'd created actually had quite limited accessibility, meaning near-complete rewrites for the game's story. "The real turning point for BioShock came when we had to present the game to the outside world, which forced us to carefully consider the story and takeaway message," Finley says. "In retrospect, we should have tried to develop some of that thinking sooner." But overall, the team was planning from the outset to create a blockbuster, Finley says, and offers some words of wisdom: "The products we make are just too complex and our industry reinvents itself too rapidly to do anything else. But we believe that if you are truly prepared to turn a critical eye on your own product and honestly respond to that criticism you'll get quality at the end. As to whether you get a blockbuster, only time will tell." You can now read the full Game Developer postmortem on BioShock here at Gamasutra, which offers fascinating insight into the seminal title's development, from what went right to what was difficult (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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