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Interviews

Cloud castles: Irrational talks next gen costs, Bioshock sequels, and educating Call of Duty

An enormous chat with level designer Shawn Elliott

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OK. And looking at things the other way round, do you worry that people will pick up that boxart expecting Modern Warfare 3?

All we can do there is hope that we surprise and delight them. If someone were to pick the game up thinking that it was, you know, Modern Warfare 3, my hope is that they'd say "Hey, this isn't Modern Warfare 3 but it's still pretty cool, you know, like there's still a place in my game collection for a game like this."

What do you think Bioshock Infinite's legacy will be? How will it influence the industry?

This studio made Rapture - and I say the studio in that case because I didn't join until pre-production for Bioshock Infinite. This studio was able to develop a game that had a world that they were able to fully realise - that had a history to it, that felt as though, at one point in time, it was very much alive.

Zoom

And as Ken mentioned - I'd been talking about the game, the two games, in terms of archaeology versus anthropology, and he took that from me: "that's mine!" And we're basically able to recreate the magic here, you know, we're able to rebottle that lightning in a way - but we don't have to pull the same tricks off again, we're able to change the context, we're able to defy a great deal of expectation, in terms of how the story unfolds, you know?

A lot of people are clearly going to look to see if we're repeating ourselves, dipping back into the same well to try to shock or amaze people with the same toolset that we used before. We want to, you know, approach all that in an entirely different way, and in some ways specifically defy expectation - that's what the very introduction is about: here's your expectation, you're going to the lighthouse and now we're defying it.

Because instead of being in this subterranean city, that's got a very thick and heavy, art deco, architectural motif, it's light and airy, it's about moving at high speed through this environment where the buildings themselves are moving around, shifting. You're moving on the skylines, zeppelins are flying around... I call them barges, though "air transport" I guess would be the technical name, those are the smaller ships that you saw in the original demo.

So yeah, what I want to accomplish is: to create a game that lives up to the legacy, and at the very least matches the accomplishment that creating Rapture was.

Columbia does feel like Rapture's mirror, and I enjoy the moments where you meddle with our memories of the original Bioshock. I was also struck by how Columbia bustles, in comparison to Rapture.

Yes, Rapture's depopulated and what's left is basically inhuman at that point, it's just... they're insane, you know, whereas this is still very much a populated place, and the people who are there are still sane, at least by a clinical standard right? We might call their attitudes "extreme", but we know they're expressed by a sane person. And the fact that you, the protagonist, are talking: instead of being alone you're accompanied by someone the entire time. There are these polar distinctions that come through.

Zoom

You have a crack at racism earlier in the story. I guess the advantage of a fantastical setting is that it allows you to consider a topic like that in the abstract.

Yeah, but we don't look at this as being allegorical - the problem with allegory is that it tends to be just a little too much about preaching and being didactic, and you can decipher it and you can say "this is the concrete meaning, this is a stand-in for this" - and as soon as you do the equation and solve it, you know what you're talking about.

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