Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The importance of the environment in Bioshock

Whilst browsing for some ideas on how the game industry currently process environment design, I came across this article on the nature of the storytelling in Ken Levine's Bioshock. Although largely detailing the exemplary character interaction apparent in the series, it also goes into some detail of the significance of the environment as a character in itself.

"The original BioShock stands as a sterling example of environment-as-character. The city of Rapture, with its mad scrawling on walls and atmosphere of deteriorated grandeur, told the story as much or more than the audio logs salted throughout the game, or the radio conversations with supporting characters. The strongest character in the traditional sense in BioShock, city founder Andrew Ryan, was mostly a disembodied voice."

Although unfortunately I haven't played this series yet, it seems like one of it's significant immersive qualities is the way in which it has captured a specific time-period with it's grandiose, Art Deco style, but it's deteriorated and dilapidated state moves the player to experience something new, haunting and unexpected.

Levine has stated 20th century utopian and dystopian fiction as a big influence for depicting this society which has "really interesting ideas screwed up by the fact that we're people", and this is clear through the way the narrative is reflected in the environment. Eerie, consumerism-feeding advertisements and posters cover the walls of the "working-class" areas of the city, showing how they were being cruelly influenced and dictated by the city's sinister leader. The player is able to experience the faded history of the city's past inhabitants through these details in the setting, which makes it all the more intriguing and fascinating.

I found a very interesting Youtube video which states this, and just about everything else that is important and unique about the environment design in this particular example.

The creator of the video explains how even though the design elements of Rapture serve no real purpose to story progression, the player's personal interpretation of the story of Rapture and it's decline is influenced by their interaction and experience of these elements. They also debate the reasons behind the choice of Art Deco, as it might seem quite historically inaccurate; Rapture was built in the 40s, by which point Art Deco was outdated and could seem an ill-fitting choice for a city which was focussed on a prosperous, innovative future. However the sentiments associated with Art Deco - of an expectation of the future and the enjoyment of new-found luxury - seem to fit seamlessly into the crumbling Bioshock world and offer a beautifully disturbing contrast.

I also found a video featuring the leading environment artist of Bioshock 2, who goes into detail of his choice of design and the story behind the elements used. A very important aspect of environment design is to consider why the world is like it is; the narrative will influence the position and state of every single environmental element within the game and also means that the player is experiencing this world as accurately as possible, which signifies better game design.

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