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Learning the Level Design Secrets of 'BioShock'

The game was originally going to have more resources, fuses, and interactive flooding.
All images courtesy 2K Games

This afternoon, NYU Game Center Professor and game designer Robert Yang streamed another episode of his "Level With Me" series, where he takes a look at level design and art assets in popular games. Today, that game was the original BioShock, in the Hephaustus stage just before Andrew Ryan's office.

Think lava, glowy pipes, and massive machinery!

It's a fascinating talk, with Yang looking at the game in wireframe mode (so you can see the basic polygons that make up the structures), commenting on art assets and textures, and chatting about smart level design practices. In one room, he notes the much simpler geometry and exclaims yeah, there's about to be a big fight here.


Above: the full stream.

(There was.)

As a treat, game designer JP Lebreton—who did much of the early build of the stage—showed up in chat and offered some trivia.

The stage was originally going to be half-flooded, with a lower half that needed to be unflooded by the player so they could access it. There was also a cut feature that would've played a big part in this area, fuses.

"The 'system' to be featured here was Fuses, which was cut in late 2006," LeBreton said in chat. "Fuses were rare consumable resources you could use to power a machine back on, so you had to decide which machines you really needed to actually use. And in the lower level, all the machines needed fuses because the area had been extensively water damaged"

Also! You know all those times in games where a glowing wire or bit of machinery "leads" you to something you have to fix? The 2K Marin slang for that concept was "licorice whips."

It's well worth watching the whole piece for Yang's reactions to the eleven-year-old game that still holds up (I think so, anyway), and noting the small details that are easy to miss if, say, you've got splicers breathing down your neck.

Details like rock and dirt textures that add flavor and context to the world. Yang notes that this aspect is one of his favorite bits of dressing a stage, and referenced his work in The Tearoom, a game about queer cruising. "In my gay sex bathroom game," he said, "I had a lot of fun adding all the stains."

Yang will continue streaming the game next week, on his Twitch channel.