GP: So Kent, in regards to AI, can you give us an indication of what you’ve changed this time around?
Kent: Sure! I think probably in the broadest stroke I could say that the AI is much more environmentally aware, and more connected to the world – just to speak specifics there, for example the Brute character; if there’s an object the player can pick up and throw, he can throw it back. The characters can jump up and down between balconies and off ledges, that sort of thing. The Big Sister has a telekinetic attack, she can pick up big objects and throw them at you, and she can kick off walls. The Spider Splicers can latch on to walls and throw stuff, and human characters can take cover. We’ve taken grenades and given them to all of the Splicers now, not just grenadier characters. So basically all of the characters are a lot more aware of what’s going on around them, and it’s expressed in a lot of smaller ways, not necessarily the big ticket items. You just see a lot more of things, like the Big Sister has about six attacks, she’s much more complex than the Big Daddies from the first game.
GP: Yeah, and that’s all tied in with the extra Plasmids you’ve introduced, and the extra attacks you’ve given the player this time around. That must tie in with the additional capabilities of the AI?
Kent: Yes! Absolutely. And that’s one of the benefits of working on a game that is simulation-based. Some of it never just works, but you can set yourself up for success. We have Havoc for physics, so the player has these Havoc objects which are physically simulated, the character knows where these items are in the world and can grab them and throw them back. Every now and again you’ll throw something at the Big Sister when she’s starting her telekinesis attack and she’ll grab that object, spin it around her head and throw it back at you. It all just works because it’s done for real. Since it’s not a scripted game, we have to make it so the characters can constantly adapt by analysing the environment and picking out the best attack to do.
GP: Cool, so we’re seeing a lot more of Rapture this time around, just exactly how big is Rapture anyway? It just seems to go on forever?
Alex: (Laughs) I think maybe we’ve seen only a fraction of it in BioShock 1 & 2. I think there’s lots more to explore.
GP: In the sequel, is there any territory that is shared with the first game?
Alex: Not so much in the single player, but in the multiplayer areas you will see some familiar areas if you’ve played BioShock 1. Not sure if we’re allowed to say which areas?
Kent: Yeah we can name a couple. The multiplayer is actually a prequel to the first game, so it’s set as the civil war started the fall of Rapture. So not only do you see locations like the Kashmir restaurant, Arcadia, the fisheries, fish district – but the cool thing is you’re actually seeing them before the fall of Rapture, so you’re seeing a nicer version of them, like Kashmir before the bomb went off. I guess Kashmir was in the first level of the game, so that’s a bit of a revisit there, and you’ll see Arcadia before Andrew Ryan tried to kill all the trees, so they’re familiar maps but with a new twist on them.
GP: So approximately how many hours of gameplay can we expect?
Alex: Well it depends on the player really, whether you explore every corner. I’m not sure how many hours exactly, but it’s going to give you more than your average FPS..
Kent: Yeah, I think some of the testers are coming in at around 12 to 14 hours. But as Alex said, if you want to beeline through the story , never try to explore any side room, if you just blow through it then it’s probably going to be closer to 7 hours. But for typical players, it’s going to be at least 10.
GP: In the original, you could backtrack, just about to the start if you wanted to. But we’ve since heard that you won’t be able to revisit previous locations in BioShock 2. Why have you changed this?
Kent: The reason there was largely a technical one. We’re using the same engine so we could have supported it there, but part of it was wanting to keep moving the story forward, and part of it was that we were keeping a lot of stuff around in memory, for those backtracking things. We found that so few players backtracked, if we took that out we could free up a lot of memory to do other things, such as having another AI type in the level, or having an extra explorable space, that sort of tradeoff. If we free up those resources, we can make the level you’re playing in better.
GP: So speaking of that, you’re still using the Unreal 2.5 engine with enhancements? Are there any new additions?
Alex: We’ve done lots of optimisation with the engine, mostly on console but on PC as well. We’ve got some extra resources for the PC as well, so it’s not just going to be a port from the console.
Kent: For PC, we’ve got the Stereoscopic support as well, so if you’ve got a PC with an Nvidia card you can play it in 3D, which is kinda cool.
GP: In regards to the PC version, what are you guys doing with the DRM this time?
Kent: That is a good question.. I have absolutely no idea! That’s not information I have right now. But it’ll be better than last time (laughs).
GP: Can we talk about the underwater scenes, we’ve heard you can go out in the ocean?
Kent: Yep for sure.
GP: Do you end up on land at any point?
Kent: No, it’s all underwater – BioShock 2 is very much about Rapture.
GP: Ok how have you modified the research camera for BioShock 2?
Kent: One of the the things we didn’t really like about the research camera in the first game was “hey, go start fighting this guy, then take pictures of him while he’s shooting you”. Without being able to fight back. So you’re sort of sitting there soaking up all this damage trying to get a good picture, and the game didn’t even tell you what a good picture was. I guess if it was closer to the centre of the screen it was better, other than that it was a kind of opaque, and wasn’t particularly fun. So what we’ve done with BioShock 2, it’s a kind of a system where we’ve encouraged you to play the game, and be crazy, and play it how you want to play it. So to that end, it’s now typed as a video camera. So if you see a guy you want to do research on, you basically point the camera, get him in the middle of the reticule, and it’ll start going gold so you know what guys you’re getting ready to tag, and you start the camera rolling. Then you put it away and pull out your weapon, and start fighting him. And the crazier stuff you do to him, the more research points you get. So it’s encouraging you to really engage in the gameplay, play your own style, do you own crazy stuff and you get more points if you use different plasmids, switch your weapons, or something like that. So it’s a system that instead of fighting against the gameplay like it did in the first game, in this one it’s like “hey, camera is rolling, go do crazy shit”.
GP: So, it’s more like a learning device, to teach the player how to use the new attacks?
Kent: Yes! Definitely. Because you know, the characters in the game will tell you to mix it up, try some new stuff, “did you know you could do this”, etc. So yeah it’s a learning mechanism and it supports the gameplay. It’s actually quite fun.
GP: Yeah, in the first BioShock you could pretty much gun it right to the end and not rely on your Plasmids at all, but from what we’ve seen in the demo today, there’s a lot more happening, a lot more you need to be aware of during combat?
GP: So what part of development have you enjoyed the most so far?
Alex: I guess I can talk about the collaboration between 2K Australia and 2K Marin, which was not something I was used to – working with another studio from another continent. But actually it was really good, because they could come with a fresh perspective on what we’d done, and give ideas. Sometimes you get too close to your work and become pretty relaxed. And we could do the same for them, check their work and bounce a few ideas around. So it was useful to be able to do that.
GP: Ok just wanted to talk about the ending a little bit – it just seemed with the first that the actions of the player were very black and white, and the ending was largely determined by your actions very early on in the game. How have you changed that for BioShock 2?
Kent: Well, in this one, how you deal with the Little Sisters does go into the end game as well, but we’ve also got story characters, and how you deal with them also goes into the ending, and it’s a lot more robust, I’d say. We still do have multiple end games, and they do react more to what the player has done because more things feed into the system. You have your story characters who you can kill or not, the Little Sisters, there’s some stuff later in the game that I can’t really get into, but I’ll say that it’s definitely a lot more robust and also will reflect back what you’ve done in more of a personal way. Like in the first one, if you were bad, some Splicers come to the surface and get a nuclear bomb, and it was like – I don’t see how me being bad has anything to do with them getting a nuclear bomb? But in this one it stays personal the whole game, so the endings are about you, and how that reflects back on you.
Alex: And we want to encourage people to play the game again, so it’s not just a black and white ending. We want you to see the nuance of the different endings.
GP: The first BioShock was so distinctive, you could get to the end and it felt like you’d never experienced anything like it before. When you sat down to do a sequel, how did you keep it fresh? Was it really the enhanced combat that was the driving force here?
Kent: You know, partly it was refining the gameplay like you said, having more weapon upgrades, more plasmid upgrades, and the combat is definitely significantly better, a big improvement. But also we made sure to focus on giving it enough change to make it feel fresh. So for example setting it forward ten years, so you’re seeing a really destroyed, decayed Rapture. There are places that have been flooded for the whole time, so when you go in there there’s like barnacles all over everything, and it’s just unflooded so it feels like an absolutely destroyed city. Also we have a story that has roots in the first game, but it’s it’s own arc, and it’s a more personal story about the player and the antagonists, and how they deal with each other. So yeah, while there’s less history because you’ve been to Rapture before, we’ve really tried to make it so there’s all new levels, it’s ten years later so it’s much more decayed, we’ve got all the new gameplay stuff. So people like Rapture, they want to stay in Rapture, so let’s give them a different side of it.
Alex: The story comes from the player, and his background, more so than the city.
Our thanks to 2K Australia, 2K Marin and 2K's PR manager Snezana Stojanovska for making this interview possible.