ByRob Harris, writer at
Sometimes I play video games.
Rob Harris

With news of a possible BioShock 4 still thin on the ground, it seems best to look back into the franchise's renowned past rather than toward its uncertain future. And with Bioshock: The Collection launching this week, there's never been a better time to do so.

Sure, every bit of single-player content is available to play again, but for people like me who've already done that (multiple times) the real draw of this remaster is an exclusive 10 part documentary series called 'Imagining Bioshock'.

Watch Imaginging BioShock: Episode 1's trailer here

This video series is an absolute must-watch for any fan of the franchise. BioShock Creative Director Ken Levine and Lead Animator Shawn Robertson sit down with Geoff Keighley in a fascinatingly revealing documentary that touches upon every facet of the game's design.

What follows are 11 of the best insider development stories straight from the mouths of BioShock's creators.

Spoiler warning: The following features spoilers for the first game. If you haven't finished it yet then turn back now.

1. Publisher 2K insisted there be multiple endings, overruling Ken Levine's wishes

BioShock's central moral dilemma.
BioShock's central moral dilemma.

Left up to the player, the decision to 'harvest' or 'save' Rapture's glassy-eyed Little Sisters became a much-talked about focal point of the game. Creator Ken Levine said that the project's publisher, and primary investor, kept its nose out of most creative decisions, but on this one 2K remained insistent. This player choice must have repercussions for the story.

Originally written with just one conclusion (the current version's 'good' ending), BioShock sought to further re-enforce its theme of free will, or the lack thereof. Forced to include two more, Levine still remains dissatisfied with all endings but the original one.

2. The game's art style was inspired by a trip to New York, specifically the Rockefeller Center

Though he knew the game was to be set some time in the past, Levine was still yet to settle on an era or style to build Rapture out of. That changed when he travelled to New York, visiting the world famous Rockefeller Center and its surrounding blocks, all dominated by art deco architecture.

Kashmir restaurant, on of the first finished areas.
Kashmir restaurant, on of the first finished areas.

He and his wife immediately began taking pictures, snapping window sills and doorknobs, before returning to the studio with the inspiration BioShock's defining visual style.

3. The team were determined to constrain themselves to a single cutscene

Any player of BioShock would find it hard to forget its central 'Would you kindly' scene, which makes an even greater impact by virtue of it being one of the few times direct control is taken away from the player.

The design philosophy, clearly inspired by System Shock, was to tell the story through the environment, rather than pre-canned set-pieces. The city would take center spotlight, with all elements of the narrative staged upon it. When Rapture's founder, Andrew Ryan, finally peeled back the curtain to reveal himself, players were forced to sit back and watch the game's most shocking moment.

This central scene was actually one of the first sequences to be written and produced. Like Naughty Dog, Irrational then built their game from the middle out. Take note, developers.

4. Characters couldn't be shown because of budget constraints

The team couldn't afford to devote a large amount of time or money to making character models, so they had to be smart about presenting them. They used silhouettes and other environmental techniques to hide the cost cutting. "Everyone assumed it was just noir," confesses Lead Animator Shawn Robertson. I guess it worked!

5. The iconic opening sequence was added just months before release

Originally the game began with the player already in the ocean, coming to after what's assumed to be a plane crash. But playtesters became confused as to why they were there and what their role was. The team scrambled to put together this 50 second intro sequence which was added just before the release deadline:

Game development often seems like attempting to crash land a plane.

6. Ken Levine knows just how terrible that boss fight is

Nothing can ever be perfect, but BioShock came oh so close. Everything was going swimmingly until that kinda underwhelming and totally baffling showdown with a naked glowing man.

"We're not good at boss fights," Levine admits. He deeply regrets the final boss battle's inclusion and it's not hard to see why. The mediocre conclusion to a near-flawless game is made even more frustrating as it was so unnecessary -- BioShock already had great boss fights, in every level! The Big Daddy face-offs could be dynamically triggered at any point and proved far more exhilarating than most bosses. You had it down, Irrational, and you threw it all away on a muscular giant...

7. All of the dialogue for Atlas had to be re-recorded after testers hated the voice

Would you kindly follow me?
Would you kindly follow me?

Originally written with a Southern drawl, Atlas' character was changed to be Irish after players found they didn't trust him. That, obviously, was a huge problem. So all the lines were thrown out and they started from scratch.

8. Irrational wanted to make zombie games before they were cool

Before Rapture Irrational Games had some success developing a hyper-realistic combat sim called SWAT. Back in the early oughts, when publishers were refusing to invest in BioShock, the developer began pitching an idea for a SWAT sequel that would feature zombies instead of terrorists. Unfortunately, it wasn't picked up. Ahead of their time, as ever.

9. Sometimes the Big Daddy would morph into ‘super balls’ and bounce around rooms

It was a favored glitch among the developers and it's easy to see why -- I just wish they saved footage of it happening!

10. The Little Sister looked very different at one point

Remember those weird ADAM slugs you got when harvesting a Little Sister? Those used to be the full design for the Big Daddy's companion and would slither alongside their hulking protectors.

When the team realized they needed to form an emotional bond between the player and the ADAM source they opted for a design that was a little more...empathetic.

12. 'Excelsior' was the original 'Would you kindly' phrase

Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it? Fans might be interested to know that Levine put his first choice down to "Stan Lee fanboyism."


What was the pinnacle of the BioShock series?


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