What Does a New BioShock Even Look Like In 2019?

Cloud Chamber has the unenviable task of making a game in a wildly popular franchise.
December 10, 2019, 10:02pm
Key art from Bioshock 2, a figure in a lithe old-timey diving suit with a round helmet and one glowing red "eye" carries a small girl with glowing yellow eyes on her back.
Image courtesy of 2K games

How do you define a game franchise? We've tried time and time again to define Souls-likes, but that definition was wide since it was a sub-genre. Even then, figuring out which elements are essential to a subgenre is hard, and drilling down to figure out the specifics of one game series is even harder. The Waypoint Radio crew discuss what they think is essential to the BioShock formula, the new Super Mario Maker 2 update, and answer listener questions on this episode of Waypoint Radio. You can listen to the full episode or read an excerpt below.

Patrick: I'm fascinated [by] thinking through how they're thinking through. What is BioShock at its core? In the interviews, they more or less said "story is very important." Story is very important to BioShock if you were to break it down into a formula, that's probably true. From there, what does that mean? It's probably like big open space? I don't know where you start chopping that up. Is it audio diaries, do they come back?

I'm just so curious what they end up plucking, taking away, rethinking. Because BioShock means a lot to people, but if you were to ask them, "What does BioShock mean to you?" I don't know that people get much past story. And even that seems pretty flimsy.


Austin: You don't think that they get to like, cool abilities?

Patrick: Probably, but I think if you're making a tier [list] of importance, I don't know that I put [abilities] in the "A" tier. I think you could take out abilities and you could still call it a BioShock game and people might feel—

Austin: If it's just like a game with guns I think you'd get a lot of "this is for casuals" or whatever the 2020 version of that is going to be.

Rob: Infinite left the series in a weird place. I think Infinite cut at a lot of what we would have used to define BioShock prior to that. So, Austin, I would have agreed, "Oh, it's about abilities and doing interesting things in combat," because BioShock 2 really refined what was there in BioShock to make abilities and the tactics they allow take center stage. BioShock Infinite was so linear and so straightforward that really it downplayed those to the point where most of them, for me, were forgettable.

Austin: I feel like I had a different [experience]. I don't like that game very much but that trailer was filled with people throwing crows at each other, and charging at each other full speed ahead, and catching bullets out of the air still, all that shit is still in that game. I'm not saying it was it was as good as BioShock or BioShock 2 with with that stuff. There's a reason I didn't say Big Daddies or combat arenas where you can create traps.

I think you're right that it dropped the ball on a lot of that stuff. But I still think if you made a BioShock game where the only verb you had was pull a trigger, I think even that would be too far for even the most cynical publisher. You're going to be able to shoot electricity out of your hand and then hit someone with a wrench.


Patrick: Yeah I think they will. But I think that there's more going on with what attracts people to a BioShock game that isn't necessarily what they would articulate but is actually underlying a lot of what is attractive about that particular [franchise]. I think like fantastic, almost supernatural locations is it, right? You know, Rapture—

Austin: Striking architecture, pulled from history.

Patrick: Yeah, a very specific look. BioShock Infinite, for all its problems, Columbia is striking to look at, their locations immediately like give you a sense of something like awe, wonder. There's essentially awe and wonder intrinsic to both of those games that is part of the [formula]. Spoilers for BioShock Infinite—when you go back to Rapture, for a game that I didn't like, I was like, "holy shit, yeah, okay."

I mean in some sense I was like, "yeah, 'cause Columbia wasn't nearly as interesting, so take me back to the location I have a better emotional attachment to," but it was cool as hell and it like it was because of all the legacy elements of BioShock, probably the look of Rapture is the one that has held up the most so many years later.

Austin: Yeah. Architecture taken from other times that go in line with some sort of an ideological through line narratively is the pitch. But I think that's part of the dilemma about making a new BioShock game is that if you stick to that it will end up feeling very formulaic. It will feel like throwing the dartboard at the list of things, you know what I mean?


Patrick: How do you not make The Outer Worlds of BioShock is a little bit of what the fear is, right? Like "cool like it's another one of those. oh no."

This excerpt was edited for clarity and length.

Discussed: Super Mario Maker 2 2:04, Life is Strange 2 29:20, Final Fantasy XIV 32:54, New Bioshock Game 43:09, Question Bucket 1:04:49

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