Posts Tagged ‘play’

Changing the Gameplay and Narratives in Bioshock

Posted: February 18, 2013 by phinnthehuman in Uncategorized
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Times below in parenthesis refer to times in the video above. Video starts at 0:00:54

This portion of my playthrough of Bioshock focused on the Fisherman’s Wharf and Arcadia levels. I had finished with the hospital and introduction levels, and was now getting into the meat of the game. Big Daddy fights came more frequently, and I received my first gift from the little sister I saved last time I played (23:43). I was rewarded for my previous choice, and incentivized to continue saving the Little Sisters.

Gameplay Mechanics

This session utilized a new gameplay mechanic: taking pictures of enemies to give me bonuses against them (22:49). This significantly changed the way I had been playing the game so far (kill enemies as soon as I saw them) and forced me to adapt my strategies. I was only forced to take a couple of pictures of a type of enemy, and then I was free to neglect the camera tool if I wanted to. The benefits of taking pictures of enemies (combat bonuses and new powerups) greatly outweighed the costs (possibly taking damage while trying to use the camera), so I continued to use it. The notion of taking pictures of enemies on the battlefield while they are trying to kill you is somewhat ridiculous, yet I was compelled to do it (1:27:15). In this way, Bioshock kept the core mechanic of the game (killing enemies and gaining powerups) interesting by twisting both of them and forcing me to try different combat strategies, such as sneaking up on enemies to snap pictures or stunning them and then taking out my camera while they were immobilized.

The hacking mechanic, which easily gets boring after a few times, was also changed a little. Not only did the hacking challenges start getting harder, but I received a powerup that healed me and gave me energy (Eve) every time I successfully hacked something. By tweaking the incentives and difficulty level of the hacking minigames, Bioshock stopped me from getting lazy and bored of the mechanic.

Embedded and Emergent Narratives

Bioshock does a very good job of blurring the line between Embedded Narratives (pre-existing elements of play, such as cutscenes) and Emergent Narratives (interactive elements of play). In the climactic scene of the Wharf level (58:45-1:01:00), I was stuck on the second floor of a building while my ally was outside. I had activated a button that would allow him to reunite with his family, when suddenly the building was put into lockdown mode and an evil voice told me that I couldn’t do anything to help him. My ally was attacked by multiple enemies, one of which tried to hit me through the glass. I exited the room as soon as I could to go outside and continue the story, killing these enemies as I went. The transition from the emergent narrative of me entering the room and pressing the button to the embedded narrative of me watching my ally get attacked BACK to the emergent narrative of me killing his attackers and progressing the plot was seamless. I was able to move and try and shoot the glass while he was being attacked, as a sort of interactive cutscene, and it felt like I was still playing. Bioshock uses this kind of mechanic repeatedly throughout the game, and it allows amazing things to happen that would otherwise be impossible, yet doesn’t make me feel like I’m not involved in the narrative. I never sat back took my hands off the keyboard, waiting for the scene to play out. Rather, I acted like  a normal in-game character would – I tried to get a better view through the glass to see what was going on so I could help my friend. By being unable to control events for a few seconds, I was somehow drawn deeper into Rapture, instead of remembering that I was just sitting in a chair.


BioShock – 5 Elements of Game Experience

Posted: February 4, 2013 by milesluttrull in Uncategorized
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This post will focus on the five elements of game experience (visual, aural, motor, mental and learning) as they are featured in the first hour of BioShock gameplay. Due to technical difficulties this first post will not feature photographic documentation (yet).

Visual Experience

BioShock takes place in the underwater metropolis, Rapture.  There is no natural sunlight in the game – even for the brief period during the introductory cut scene when the player is above the water, it’s night time and the sun is nowhere to be found.  Instead, rapture is illuminated by artificial light sources, providing a dull-orange glow to rooms that are often pale beige or gray.  In contrast to this artificial orange, blue and silver light penetrate prominent glass walls and windows that reveal the outer seascape.  The game is riddled with ominous shadows and darkened rooms, creating an environment where enemies seem always to be lurking just out of sight in the shadows. This incompleteness of lighting further exemplifies the decompositional state of Rapture’s failed utopia, creating an interesting visual contrast in which the player feels to move through this space of negotiation between the remnants of Rapture’s hopeful project and the rise of its failed reality.

Aural Experience

There is never a silent moment in BioShock. Whether it is simply the benign trickling of water or the psychotic ramblings of unseen enemies, the aural elements of BioShock are the foundation of the game’s foreboding ambiance. During my preliminary play through  I opted to turn on the subtitles for the spoken text. At this point I am still unsure if this was a wise decision – while it certainly adds to the creepiness to be able to discern precisely what the “splicers” ramble on about, the very act of having to read the text functions to remove me from immersion in the game.  It points to the predetermined nature of the game (that the text is displayed completely before the speaker has finished uttering it) and seems to remind me that the characters are fake and the action is not “live.”     Despite my own inclusion of subtitles, I have found the audio component of the game to be most compelling thus far. It is the engine of animation for the game’s characters – for both present enemies and those who exist only in voice via radio.


Motor Experience

The motor experience of playing BioShock is not unlike most other first-person shooter games. Movement and actions are centered around the WASD keys and those in close proximity. The mouse is used to perform attacking functions (shoot, hit, electrocute)  cycle through weapons, and is the primary way to look around or view the players environment.  My experience in computer games has caused this kind of game interaction to be second nature – just like typing on a keyboard. Thus far, BioShock has not deviated from this traditional motor control system in a significant way.


Mental Experience

BioShock offers complex mental stimulation in its game play.  Outside of combat, the player is placed within an ideological struggle for a Utopian society. While the Rapture experienced in the first hour of gameplay is brutal and horrific, there remains something appealing about the desire to create a better society – the quiet presence of a hope that Rapture can be redeemed. BioShock confronts the player with deeply philosophical question – what is the good life? What is the good society? Is there a new morality in this chaotic experiment?

Combat experience offers a comprehensive platform that goes beyond a simple point-and-shoot mechanic. Interactions with enemies are ripe with possibilities. What’s more, a player cannot simply adopt a singular style of play and steamroll through the game because a) each combat interaction is relatively unique and b) resources exist in such a limited quantity that innovation in decimation becomes a necessity.  Bullets must be used sparingly and wisely because there aren’t enough to use on every enemy; the same goes for plasmids. Beyond this, the game environment becomes a component of the combat experience – the electricity plasmid can electrocute enemies who stand in water; machines can be hacked and used to fight against enemies.  Failure of a game objective seems more likely to be due to poor pre-planning than lack of mechanical prowess.



I am still learning how to play BioShock.  While the mechanical aspects of gameplay are already learned from past experience (ie. how to shoot, move, change weapons), my particular application of these skills in BioShock has yet to be particularly efficient. My first hour has left me very low on ammunition and plasmids and soon I will be faced with the necessity to learn to adopt a more sustainable play style. Suffice to say there is a lot to learn – not only pertaining to increasing game skill, but also to uncover about Rapture’s past.