The new November 2007 issue of Game Developer magazine
has an exclusive postmortem of 2K Boston's much-praised Bioshock
, and Gamasutra has extracts from the piece, revealing how the game radically evolved through demo versions and focus testing.
The postmortem, written by 2K's Alyssa Finley, is described by the Game Developer
editors as follows: "Iterate, iterate, iterate. That’s the message from 2K Games’ BioShock
postmortem — from the game’s humbling early user tests to the last-minute spit and polish, iteration saved the day for this artistically excellent title. That, and an Australian team that could work while the main team in Boston was sleeping."
Evolution Through Demo Version?
In this first extract, the 2K Boston team explains how the demonstration versions of their first-person title ended up radically evolving the game:
"Our first public presentation was at E3 2006. We had developed a great deal of content before that point, but hadn't yet built a space that really demonstrated the game experience to our satisfaction. The E3 demo forced us to focus the whole team on what the user experience should be. We defined a message for the demo - player choice - and built a narrative around that message. Even though the experience was highly scripted at the time, it effectively demonstrated the feel of the game we wanted.
Another example of demo-inspired development was the "Hunting the Big Daddy" demo. Though Big Daddies and Little Sisters had been part of the game in some form since the beginning, initially the player could confront Little Sisters directly without necessarily needing to dispatch the Big Daddy that protected them.
During the development of this demo, the team discovered that with some polish and tuning changes the act of dealing with a Big Daddy could be a truly epic battle in itself. This led to the realization that Big Daddy battles should be the key to player growth, essentially providing a roving boss battle that players could undertake at a time and place of their choosing."
A Focus On Focus Testing
In this second extract, the team talks about how focus testing, although harsh, ended up completed refocusing major parts of the gameplay, thanks to an independent and objective viewpoint:
"The first external BioShock focus test was meant to be a sanity check: to get a better sense of what was working well but needed polish and what wasn't working at all.
At this point we had already done one small round of internal focus testing with friends of friends, which had turned out mostly positive feedback. So, just after the first beta, the entire design team plus a contingent of 2K producers headed off to see how a group that knew nothing about our company or BioShock would react to the first level.
It was brutal.
The first level, they said, was overly dense, confusing, and not particularly engaging. Players would acquire new powers but not know how to use them, so they stuck to using more traditional weapons and became frustrated. They didn't interact with the Big Daddies, and they didn't understand (or care) how to modify their characters. They were so overwhelmed by dialogue and backstory that they missed key information. A few of the players did start to see the possible depth of the game, but even they were frustrated by the difficulty of actually using the systems we had created.
Based on this humbling feedback, we came to the realization that our own instincts were not serving us well. We were making a game that wasn't taking the initial user experience into account, and we weren't thinking enough about how to make it accessible to a wide variety of players.
After the focus test, we went back to the drawing board for the entire learning sequence of the game. We scrapped the gameplay in the first two levels entirely and re-architected them to be a much slower paced experience that walked the player through the more complicated gameplay verbs, such as "one-two punch"-combining weapons and plasmids.
We changed the medical pavilion from having sandbox-style gameplay to using a series of locks and keys that were set up to ensure that the player knew how to use at least a few key plasmids. And we made a development rule that future changes would be data-driven, not based solely on our own instincts."
The full postmortem, including much more insight into the game's development, is now available in the November 2007 issue of Game Developer magazine
The issue also includes in-depth features on 'Ten Commandments of Quality Assurance' by Chuck McFadden and the IGDA's Q/A SIG, as well as an analysis of porting a 3D adventure game from PC to Nintendo DS by Sproing's Stefan Reinalter - plus tool reviews, special sections, and regular technical columns from Bungie's Steve Theodore, Neversoft co-founder Mick West, Lucasarts' Jesse Harlin, and Sinistar
creator Noah Falstein.
The November issue of Game Developer
is available both in digital form
(viewable in a web browser, and with an associated downloadable PDF), as well as via a single-issue physical copy
In addition, yearly print and digital subscriptions to Game Developer are now available
, and all digital subscriptions now include web-browsable and downloadable PDF versions of the magazine back to May 2004, as well as the digital version of the Game Career Guide special issue.