Two of the many -isms supercharging BioShock Infinite's narrative is the religious extremism and racism of Zachary Comstock, the zealous ultra-nationalist founder of Columbia and a figure of worship for many of its citizens. In an interview with GameSpot, Creative Director Ken Levine stresses the difficulty in creating Comstock as a designer from a non-religious background, and he recalls how a certain end-game scene with the character nearly caused an Irrational artist to quit in protest.
"There was a scene in the game at the end where one of our artists got to a point in the game, played it, turned off BioShock, opened up his computer, opened Microsoft Word, and wrote a resignation letter," Levine says. "It had offended him so much."
Last month, Levine spoke of a certain Infinite character getting "highly altered" after input from religious team members. It seems the character in question is Comstock, and Levine used the artist's concerns as a springboard for deepening the character's traits regarding faith beyond his limited interaction with religion.
"I realized that something I could connect to was a notion of forgiveness and what an important part that is of the New Testament and why Christ was such a revolutionary figure," Levine explains. "And thinking about how I would incorporate the power of that notion to Comstock into his world was, to me, the key. Because who hasn't done things that they don't want to be forgiven for?
"And it occurred to me that I had to figure out why people follow him," he continues. "That was the key to his character. Why do people follow him? What does he provide to them? And I struggled with that for a long time because obviously an ecstatic religious experience is something that a religious leader provides but I don't have a connection to as a writer. And it's always hard when you're trying to write something that you have never felt. And that would feel dishonest to me."
This week, Tyler, Omri, and roguish host/space cowboy T.J. discuss whether or not Sony's PS4 announcement is relevant to PC gamers. And if it is, how relevant is it, really? Also, Nvidia's GTX Titan card, the return of Blizzcon, Crysis 3, and BioShock Infinite.
Plus listener questions and playlists, on a short but sweet PC Gamer Podcast 345: Does PS4 Even Lift?
Have a question, comment, complaint, or observation? Email an MP3 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscribe to the podcast RSS feed.
Follow us on Twitter: @tyler_wilde (Tyler Wilde) @asatj (T.J. Hafer) @omripettite (Omri Petitte) @belsaas (Erik Belsaas, podcast producer)
Worried that the download copies of BioShock Infinite will sell out, when it lands on the 26th of March? You might want to sit and think about that for a moment, or alternatively you could pre-order the game from Steam - you know, before you know whether it's any good or not. Your wallet may or may not thank you in the long run, but at least you'll get a bunch of free stuff, including the spin-off Industrial Revolution puzzle game, some in-game tat, and a copy of the original BioShock. If an unspecified number of other people put their money down as well, you'll also get a copy of XCOM and several TF2 items, but I don't see how anyone would be interested in those.
Those TF2 items you won't be interested in include Vox Diabolus (a "Vox Populi anarchist mask"), The Pounding Father ("Heavy cannot tell lie. Heavy is first President of United States. Of crushing little baby men"), and The Steel Songbird ("Why not treat yourself to the haunting rhythmic symphony of bolts being constantly pooped by this mute, easily terrified incontinent bird?") However, they will only be unlocked if other people pre-order too - the counter is currently at 19%. The reward tier after that doles out a copy of the excellent XCOM.
BioShock Infinite is out in just a few weeks, and Tom was rather impressed with it in his recent hands-on with the game.
Community Announcements - [Irrational Games] Furyo
Pre-order BioShock Infinite on Steam today to help unlock exclusive rewards and free copies of BioShock and X-Com: Enemy Unknown!
Who wouldn’t want free games? Well, you’ll be rewarded handsomely when you pre-order BioShock Infinite on Steam. As if you needed another reason to pre-order, Steam is running a pre-purchase rewards program!
Here’s how it works: if enough people pre-order BioShock Infinite, a free copy of the original BioShock gets unlocked. If that’s not enough, a series of exclusive BioShock Infinite-themed items (details below) in Team Fortress 2 will be unlocked if the number of pre-orders reaches the next level. Lastly, Steam will sweeten the pot by unlocking a free copy of X-Com: Enemy Unknown once pre-orders hit that magic number. Of course, this is in addition to the Industrial Revolution pack that you will receive immediate access to just for pre-ordering!
But to unlock all these rewards, you’ll need to spread the word and work as a team – the more people who pre-order, the more rewards gets unlocked. Simple enough, right?
“Vox Diabolus”: “With this Vox Populi anarchist mask, you can terrify your enemies into thinking you’re the Devil Himself, or worse, a protestor. Either way, they’re probably going to avoid you at the entrance to the supermarket when you try to get them to sign something.”
“The Pounding Father” : “Heavy cannot tell lie. Heavy is first President of United States. Of crushing little baby men.”
“Blind Justice“- “Want to command respect from people standing at an indeterminate distance from your immediate right? Bolt on a platinum Pinkerton badge and experience the thrill for yourself!”
“The Sydney Straw Boat” “Throw this hat on the ground to express rage, or in the air to express joy! Take a hat-based trip through time to learn how your great grandparents displayed emotions in the days before emoticons!”
“The Person in the Iron Mask“- “Turkey? Chicken? Game hens? Your head? This cast iron poultry furnace will smoke anything placed inside it.”
“The Doe-Boy” “Protect the important thoughts in your head — ones like \”liberty\” and \”freedom\” and \”democracy\” — with good, honest, hat-shaped American steel. This helmet won’t run (until heated to 2500°F)!”
“The Steel Songbird” “It gets pretty quiet in that sniper’s nest. Why not treat yourself to the haunting rhythmic symphony of bolts being constantly pooped by this mute, easily terrified incontinent bird?”
Indebted to the wrong people, and with his life on the line, hired gun Booker DeWitt has only one opportunity to wipe his slate clean. He must rescue Elizabeth, a mysterious girl imprisoned since childhood and locked up in the flying city of Columbia. Forced to trust one another, Booker and Elizabeth form a powerful bond during their daring escape. Together, they learn to harness an expanding arsenal of weapons and abilities, as they fight on zeppelins in the clouds, along high-speed Sky-Lines, and down in the streets of Columbia, all while surviving the threats of the air-city and uncovering its dark secret.
Irrational have just announced the Bioshock Infinite Season Pass, a three-pack DLC pre-order bundle that will be made available at the game's launch on March 26. I guess inherent in that reveal is also the news that Bioshock Infinite will be getting at least three additional bits of DLC content.
With work on Bioshock Infinite now finished, it's not really a surprise to learn that the team at Irrational are moving to add-on duty. Still, season passes always feel like an unnecessary gamble. Pre-ordering a game is a risk in itself, but pre-ordering add-on content with no clue as to what it'll be seems like a step too far. Sure, it could be excellent - Borderlands 2's DLC has been mostly great, making its pass worthwhile in the long run - but surely that's a decision to be made, you know, when it exists.
If you absolutely must secure absolutely every single piece of Bioshock Infinite, regardless of whether it's even real yet, the pass will cost £15.99 or $19.99. You'll also get the Early Bird Special Pack, which contains weapon damage upgrades, gold weapon skins and other shiny trinkets.
In this week's debate, Evan argues that Crysis 3 is the best-looking game in gaming, while Tyler isn't wooed by its tessellated vegetation and volumetric fog shadows. It's undeniably impressive tech, but does Crytek still wear the graphics crown?
We assault, parry, and counter-parry on behalf of both sides in the debate below. Make your own case in the comments, and jump to the next page for opinions from the community. Evan, you've got the floor:
Evan: C’mon, Tyler, have you seen Crysis 3? Go ahead, look at it. I’ll wait here.
Tyler: Oh, I've seen it. CryEngine is technically fantastic. Just like Thomas Kinkade was a technically skilled painter. But do I like his paintings? Not at all. Now Evan, I know you've seen BioShock Infinite. If Crysis 3 is a Kinkade, BioShock Infinite is a Norman Rockwell.
Evan: BioShock is beautiful, and I’ve talked with Irrational a bunch about what they’re doing to make the game look as good as it can on PC. Infinite’s art direction is inspiring, but I don’t think its fidelity and effects approach Crytek’s stuff, to be honest.
Man, we sound like a stereotype of teen girls, don’t we? “Oh my god Tyler, Orlando Bloom is so much cuter than Ryan Gosling, I don’t even know you anymore.”
Which would be a better date, Crysis or BioShock?
Tyler: Psh, Gosling is way cuter, but I see your point. If not technical quality, we're arguing a subjective preference for one style or another. But we can still argue it. Art criticism is valid, and if it isn't, my doodles are just as special as Crysis 3’s art direction, because that’s just my opinion.
Evan: We have to consider both sides, though. Crysis is totally concerned with maximum performance, and that theme extends to the technology that drives the art as well as the art itself. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all, but Crysis also wins from a quantitative standpoint. The gun models are carefully animated, but they’re piled with polygons. Wall textures in obscure corners of levels are given an unusual amount of care, but they look higher-resolution than any other game. In terms of raw texture quality and the 3D and 2D assets Crytek puts into the game, it’s evident that Crysis 3 is the prettiest thing on PC. Even the damn grass is innovative.
Tyler: I see we've hit the semantics hurdle already. It's hard to avoid in debates like this, but let's try to leap over it. “Prettiest” can mean a lot of things. I’m not taking it to mean “great anti-aliasing” or “look at all that grass!” To me, it could mean Limbo’s black and white film reel or Mirror’s Edge's stark playgrounds. Can you argue for Crysis 3 on those grounds?
Evan: Sure, but as PC gamers we’re interested in what our handmade machines can do. If someone asked you “I just built a PC. What game will really show me what my hardware can do?” would you recommend Limbo over Crysis 3?
Tyler: Alright, maybe not, but if you want to go technical, mods make Skyrim and GTA IV way more fun to look at than Crysis 3's rusted metal and overgrown foliage. iCEnhancer is insane.
Evan: iCEnhancer is a terrific mod. It’s a great demonstration of what’s possible on PC. And I don’t want to shrug off the effort it took to make it, but it isn't a comprehensive approach to creating something visual and interactive. It’s CG for the sake of CG. It’s novelty, to some extent, like the Star Wars special editions. Great visual design originates from an artistic vision and having the technology to convey that vision. Crysis has both sides of that.
Tyler: So you agree it’s not just about cranking up the polycount, but I disagree that Crysis nails the vision side of things. If I were going on vacation, I’d much rather book a tour through Skyrim’s snowy peaks and shimmering lakes.
Evan: Yeah, it’s obviously not all about stuff like polycount, but if we’re comparing two 3D, first-person games, the technical quality of assets matters. It’s the reason Skyrim’s characters appear slightly flat to me—they feel like inexpressive NPCs, and Psycho feels like a virtual person.
Skyrim's Mr. Corn Cob Horns
Crysis 3's Psycho
Tyler: Your counter-argument is vanilla Skyrim, but I'll go with it anyway. Yeah, it's got some blurry bits, but a trip to New Zealand with my glasses off is still better than visiting a movie set with 20/20 vision.
Skyrim is so full of character and variety. It's got this unique sense of scale, where mountains somehow feel like huge miniatures. It's got- well, I could go on, but instead I'll just show you my tribute to it:
Crysis 3 just doesn't do that to me—It's got some lovely swaying grass, but for all that foliage it doesn't feel alive.
Evan: Skyrim is pretty, but not nearly as impressive. I guess I judge visual experiences more on how intensely (and how often) they produce that feeling of “I can’t believe this is coming out of my PC.” Or “I can’t believe this isn't pre-rendered.” Those moments that raise the bar in my mind of what computers can do. Crysis does that more than any other game for me.
Tyler: Does it? Crysis 1 got us so used to holding the series up as the benchmark for PC power that it’s become our default, but it’s not 2008 anymore. Have you seen Witcher 2 with ubersampling? It’s called “ubersampling,” man, how could we ignore it? And don't forget about RAGE. We didn't totally love the game, but damn it looks good.
Sorry buddy, id is still the tech leader. Since you like comparing characters:
A passive gaze in RAGE.
Evan: Two bandanas? CryEngine can only render one; I am defeated.
But yeah, I actually had forgotten about RAGE. It speaks to id’s technical strengths that they can take a brown setting and make it look that beautiful. I’d be willing to say that RAGE’s acrobatic mutants are better-animated than Crysis’ bad guys. But I’d rather be in Crysis’ sunny, overgrown jungle than RAGE’s bright, barren desert.
Psycho in his debut role on Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Tyler: No fair choosing such delightfully dramatic lighting.
Evan: I just like the idea of Psycho telling me a ghost story behind that flashlight.
Tyler: It'd probably be way better than some silly story about slapping a “Nanodome” over New York. Forget about people faces, there’s something really special about RAGE's rock faces. Look at them for a while, and you realize that they haven’t had a tiled texture slapped on like, say, almost every other 3D game before RAGE. The whole surface has been hand painted with virtual texturing. Yeah, that’s something John Carmack invented. Have fun with your dumb non-virtual textures.
I asked id’s Tim Willits to help explain, and he said something that's hard to argue: “Michelangelo could not have painted the Sistine Chapel using procedurally generated textures.” Hear that? id Tech 5 would totally be Michelangelo’s preferred engine if he were alive today. Alright, maybe that's not exactly what he was saying, but it makes the point: an engine that removes limitations from the artist enables better art.
Evan: Virtual texturing is an exciting technique, and I’d love to see it used and iterated on more. But innovations in how flat, static surfaces are rendered don’t excite me as much as the improvements Crysis 3 made to lighting, animated vegetation, and character tessellation. The game has more moving parts, and they all feel authentic. Here’s a trailer that pans through some of the improvements:
Tyler: Alright, so that’s some stunning simulation. I especially like the “dynamic water volume caustics.” Still, I think you might have something else to say about “flat, static surfaces” when Arma 3 comes out. Its scale is incredible and the lighting is gorgeous, but check out that repeating ground texture. Blech! It and Crysis 3 would benefit from id’s technology and artists.
Evan: Oh, whatever. Arma 3 is a huge step forward from Arma 2, and I could even write a massive defense of Arma 2’s visual design, flawed as it is. The animations are rigid, and most of the textures look like they were picked up at a garage sale, but it’s one of the few games (with Crysis) where I go out of my way to run through grass because I love how authentically it animates.
It’s easy to be critical of all of these games. I don’t like Crysis 3’s overuse of motion blur (though some console commands can help with that). But we’re here to name a king—the best-looking game on PC. And I think Crysis’ sci-fi setting, neon weaponry, uncompromising approach to movie-like effects, and Crytek’s incredible engine represents the best-yet combination of aesthetics and technical quality.
Tyler: We'll see about that. You managed to derail my train and put it on the tech track, but now I’m re-railing it: objectively, both CryEngine and id Tech are superior to Unreal Engine 3, but BioShock Infinite is still better-looking. It’s got more style than Crysis 3 has blades of grass, and that’s where it counts. The magic isn't in the fancy shaders or even virtual texturing: it’s in the idea-havers and the art-makers.
Follow Evan, Tyler, and PC Gamer on Twitter to react to our battle prompts as they happen, and see how the community responded to this one on the next page.
@pcgamer modded or un-modded? Because I'm pretty sure you can make Skyrim look better than real life if you install enough mods.
— superkillrobot (@superkillrobot) February 20, 2013 @pcgamer technology wise? Probably. Art direction? Imagination? Notsomuch.
— Tony Heugh (@standardman) February 20, 2013 @pcgamer Definitely, no contest.
— Jake (keyboardN1nja) (@keyboardN1nja) February 20, 2013 @pcgamer For me, I gotta say Battlefield 3.
— Tribesman Gaming (@tribesman256) February 20, 2013 @pcgamer it is definitely, by far, the best unmodded game in terms of raw graphics ever. It just is. Real time caustics. 'Nuff said
— Kai Moseley (@Kibby_Cat) February 20, 2013 @pcgamer Yes, from a tech perspective. Psycho's model is IMO the most realistic looking human model in a game yet, coming from a #BF3 fan.
— Gerardo Pena (@Tobi5480) February 20, 2013 @pcgamer Crysis 3 does look fantastic, but something. about the snowstorms in Skyrim just blow me away.
It's time to make sure your tickets are in order and your tweed vests are properly packed in your steamer trunks, because the (sky)train to BioShock: Infinite's floating metropolis is on schedule to depart on March 26. That is, Irrational's Ken Levine wrote in a blog post that the game has gone gold.
"When we first announced BioShock Infinite, we made a promise to deliver a game that was very much a BioShock experience, and at the same time something completely different," Levine says. "And our commitment to making good on that promise, no matter what, has been our driving force for the last three years or so."
Levine breaks down the damage in delivering a worthy successor to BioShock after five years in development: "The total cost of the game was five years, 941 billion Klingon darseks (plus tip), 47 camels, a cranberry flan, and the blood, sweat, and tears of the Irrational team." Useless fact of the day: a darsek roughly equals one half of a bar of gold-pressed latinum.
Over at Polygon, Design Director Bill Gardner talks about the bumps and design redirections encountered in Infinite's long skyrail leading to release, revealing he initially conceived the game's setting taking place during the Renaissance period and that the team ultimately culled enough content to "make five or six games."
"I will say that I was actually pushing for something more Renaissance, but within six months, Assassin's Creed II was announced and I was like, 'OK, well they beat us to the punch,'" Gardner says.
With one of the most contextually sensitive remarks I've ever seen, Gardner comments on Infinite's canned content: "I mean, it pains you when you're talking about about cutting one of your babies, but ultimately, you've got to to look at the final piece."
Though Gardner didn't elaborate on how fleshed-out the cut content actually was, I find it somewhat difficult not to address the slight hyperbole in the reported quantity of Infinite's axed portions. It's more likely Gardner is referring to possible ideas for levels and mechanics that were eventually discarded or half-finished areas eliminated for the sake of time or to ensure what the player experiences jives with Irrational's intended theme. And from what we saw during our recent and lengthy visit to Columbia, its surviving districts pull off that obligation most handily.