Q&A: Dean Tate on BioShock 2

We catch up with 2K Australia senior designer, Dean Tate, to chat BioShock 2, dangerous local animals, and the challenges of working with geographically separated teams.

Undersea dystopian first-person shooter BioShock was released to universal critical acclaim in 2007, and not surprisingly, after the game’s success for publisher 2K Games, we’re now looking down the barrel of a sequel due out before the end of 2009. Australia’s 2K Canberra development team played an integral role in the first title, and will again contribute to all aspects in the upcoming follow-up. We caught up with senior designer, Dean Tate, to discuss the Aussie team’s involvement, attracting and keeping development talent, and making games via webcam.

BioShock 2 adds a brand new foe in metal-wearing Big Sister.

GameSpot AU: Which aspects of BioShock 2 are 2K Australia currently contributing to the title?

Dean Tate: We have a dedicated team of BioShock veterans focused on bringing together a huge portion of the BioShock 2 experience. Level designers, artists, animators, you name it. These are people who 'get' what BioShock 2 is about due to their involvement in the first game, and aim to do an even greater job this time around. We're also overseeing development of the PC version of the game, and have a dedicated tech team focused on that; these guys are top notch, world-class, and represent one of the key strengths of the 2K Australia team.

GS AU: How does the relationship with 2K Marin work? Is the Aussie team involved in creative or level design decisions?

DT: You could call our relationship with the team in Marin symbiotic; there is much shared responsibility between the two studios, and we work quite collaboratively. We communicate with the Marin team constantly, even if that sometimes requires early mornings or late nights for some team members in order to maximise time zone overlap. The team at 2K Australia has been particularly critical in terms of rendering and engine technology; our crack team of tech guys are the ones that ensured that BioShock 1 looked and ran spectacularly well on all platforms (despite the game being almost comically overloaded with STUFF) and they aim to make the BioShock 2 experience even better--a tough job, considering that this game is full of even more STUFF; way more than BioShock. Some would say impossibly large amounts of STUFF, too much for any current-gen console to handle. Our tech team though, they just shrug their shoulders and say "yeah we can make all that crazy stuff happen, no probs", because they're crazy geniuses of epic proportions.

Then of course, you have the guys that are focusing on level design, art and gameplay systems. Two missions in particular have been handled from the outset here in Australia, with creative and visual direction being driven by a mix of BioShock 1 vets and talented newcomers alike, as well as getting our hands dirty working on a bunch of other parts of the game (other levels, game systems, etc). So from our perspective, we've had a lot to do with how the game looks, feels, and plays.

GS AU: The team here also worked on the first BioShock. How much has your involvement in the sequel increased compared to the first?

DT: I wouldn't say there's been any change in the amount of involvement we have, but there have been some pretty huge changes in the way we're working together. On BioShock, creative direction was driven almost exclusively by 2K Boston. This doesn't mean we weren't heavily involved in that, but it did mean that a lot of our developers spent large amount of times working and collaborating in-house with the Boston team (I myself spent almost two years in Boston). This time around, we've become much more adept at creating experiences that are creatively consistent with the game as a whole, while working remotely. As a result our relationship with 2K Marin is much more collaborative; we have more creative autonomy than we had on the original BioShock, and as a result the way that we work together has changed.

GS AU: What was the most challenging aspect of the development process in BioShock 2, and why? Did you find it difficult to coordinate the development process between three transnational teams?

DT: Definitely communication. My saying is always that until somebody invents teleportation technology, it's going to be tough to keep good communication going between two wildly remote teams. We do a great job of mitigating this problem though; the 3-4 hours of overlap that we have each day are put to good use, and our videoconference rooms are almost always busy. Everyone has a webcam as well, so in some ways we probably have more chatter going on between people in different offices than we do within those offices themselves!

Also, coordination isn't too difficult. The process we use and which has been pretty successful is to allocate whole tasks to different studios. Whether that be distinct levels, a port, multiplayer, whatever. This takes away the usual day-to-day need for constant interaction and just makes the process run more smoothly. This gives us a lot of creative autonomy as well, and we get great feedback on the things we've contributed.

2K Australia is doing more than art and technology, this time it's creating whole slabs of single-player content.

GS AU: Given that BioShock 2 seems to be largely in the hands of the Marin studio, were you disappointed to not be the team developing the multiplayer component of the game rather than outsourcing it to Digital Extremes?

DT: You have to play to your strengths. Digital Extremes has a long history in the multiplayer gaming arena, they're proven experts in the field. As a studio we're psyched to have them working on Bio2 MP. As for us here at 2K Australia, I'll say that we're working on stuff that plays to our own strengths as a studio, and that'll show when you get to play the game. We have a great history and background in helping to craft the BioShock single-player experience, and we're playing to that strength in our contributions to BioShock 2.

GS AU: How long do you think it will be before an Aussie development team is solely handling the development of a big title like BioShock 2? What do you think needs to change in the Australian games development industry before this can happen?

DT: Not very long at all! There are definitely challenges to overcome before this can happen though. Creating a title that holds to the BioShock standard requires the right people. We want to ensure every title we ship is genre shaping, which makes finding those people quite a challenge, one that is enhanced by our location; Australia is sort of remote, and full of deadly animals with either large teeth or poisonous barb--sometimes both. So it can be tough to attract the talent we need, both abroad and within Australia. This is slowly changing though, and we take the attitude that if you make great games, you'll attract great people. We're lucky to have such a talented team here that is quite diverse; the majority of the team is Australian, but quite a large chunk of it comes from abroad. There is a huge challenge in allowing a team like this to grow and mature, and I think that this is something we're not alone in facing as a studio; it's something that affects the entire Australian Games Development industry.

And of course, creating high-profile AAA title is incredibly risky; not just in Australia, but everywhere. The Australian industry has some way to go before it has developed enough to gain the attention required to support several studios working on AAA titles. It'll happen, but it will take time. We're in an ideal situation right now with 2K, however. We can take the risks required to make great games backed by the support of an international company.

GS AU: How big is the team in Canberra? Are you working exclusively on BioShock 2?

DT: We're 45 people strong, and the only reason we don't have more is because we can't fit them in the studio! The suggestion of stackable desks has been bandied around, but not many people are in favour of it, understandably. We see the studio in a growth phase, and that's because we're not only working on BioShock 2, but also developing an unannounced title that we're extremely excited about.

GS AU: Dean Tate, thanks for your time.

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Discussion

47 comments
holycowimalive
holycowimalive

ok yes you play the first big daddy ( the prototype) but its ten years after Bioshock 1. just because you play the first daddy doesnt mean that its in the past, the first big daddie didnt die through bioshock 1 and now you play him in bioshock2. But the real question is where did the big sisters come from and if the 2 leaders of rapture where killed then who was left in rapture to create the big sisters?

sub-raid
sub-raid

I prefer prequel than sequel in bioshock. It's fun seeing rapture in the past

fkb90210
fkb90210

i would be better if they made a prequel bioshock 3 might be a prequel

alphatoad
alphatoad

Knifey, search a little before commenting on something you don't know. In this article (as well as MANY others on many sites): http://www.gamespot.com/xbox360/action/bioshock2/news.html?sid=6208179&mode=previews it states in the first paragraph that this is NOT a prequel but occurs 10yrs AFTER the first Bioshock. I'll even quote for you. "BioShock 2 is set roughly 10 years after the events in the first game and tiptoes around the various possible endings in BioShock. You play as a prototype big daddy freed from his conditioning by everyone's favorite meddling scientist, Dr. Tenenbaum. The creator of the little sisters has come back to Rapture out of a sense of responsibility for a recent wave of kidnappings. It seems that young girls are being kidnapped by a mysterious creature, a "big sister," and being taken under the sea. While the specifics of the story are still being kept under wraps, Tenenbaum clearly has some knowledge of what's happening and feels responsible. (And let's face it, the lady's a little screwed up in the head, so it wouldn't surprise us if she were at least partially to blame.) " So there you have it, PWNAGE complete. Thanks.

knifey
knifey

it is a prequel it even says in the video you play the first big daddy meaning PRIOR to bioshock

RatchetV1
RatchetV1

those questions were stupid. who cares about how difficult it is to make the game or how the teams FEEL..lol..i just wanna know details bout the game!

MachineMade
MachineMade

@darkreaper_1 - probably because in the first one u escape rapture and the finishing sequence has u lying on a hospital bed? there will be a reason behind it, and u will discover that ingame

Darkreaper_1
Darkreaper_1

if it's a squeal and set after the first Bioshock how come during the video "Hunting for Big Sister" (which is on this site) the narrator says you play the very first big daddy, a prototype able to think for himself and use plasmids?

Kratos_Josh
Kratos_Josh

to llakallaka its a sequal its set 10 years after the first and should rock =] i just hope they can live up to expectations from the first 1 as it was so good. but with a drill and better plasmids that will be good, what im worried about is making the story as good as the first especially with the twist that was so good

llakallaka
llakallaka

its a prequel so i don't think they will ruin anything !>!?

yummyjibblybits
yummyjibblybits

I have no doubt ill try this but i'm gonna be kind of hesitant...i mean Bioshock was perfect in every way so i just hope they don't ruin the story line by trying to build on it (Final Fantasy X-2 comes to mind) .Playing it safe with a completely new look at an old world was definitely a good idea....Big Daddy drill should be awesome all the same :-)

StegrShmil
StegrShmil

As much as I thought the first bioshock was overrated, It still was a unique game that could have a great sequel. I might not buy it, but it is a must play for me. And they could have gone without multiplayer, it just doesn't feel like the right game for it. It's a dark and slower paced game, but there is no way to snipe someone or anything, so i guess it will be a fight of plasmids? Oh well...still a must play.

basketballfg
basketballfg

who thinks this series would make a ridiculously awesome movie? i don't play a ton of games but Bioshock 1 had the most engaging plot of any game I have played.

skateboard1587
skateboard1587

@Humor_basic for one thing, 5 years is not a very long time. splicers wouldnt just die of natural causes after only five years. and if you're talking about how jack ryan killed tons on splicers (which he did) you're exploring different areas this time around, and splicers were spread out throughout the entire city. lastly, i'm sure they had some plasmids and tonics that make you live for a longer time, because they had plasmids and tonics for everything.

mattv888
mattv888

@Humorguy_basic But.... illogical bloodfests are fun... and form the core of about half of the games out there....

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

As long as they explain, in a reasonable way, how 5 years later there is so many more splicer's, etc (Bioshock 2 will have large groups of NPC's attacking you as Big Daddy, to stop the battles being walkovers), given there was no mention of any procreation going on or kindergartens or anything.in the first game, then I will consider getting the second game. If it's going to be an illogical bloodfest that is just killing thousands of stupid NPC's and completely breaks the first story, which is fantastic, I won't be touching it.with a bargepole!

McGregor
McGregor

I wonder if they'll make an E3 announcement on the "other" game that they are developing. I figured that thought should be posted first, since bioshock 2 will be awesome.

REflexHalo3
REflexHalo3

Everything awesome about Bioshock + Multiplayer = Bioshock 2

proplaya07
proplaya07

im really keen to try out or at least see the multi player in action, i think it'll be awesome cause, well, 2k will just make it happen =]

dholden32
dholden32

why that long until it comes out:(

Beastcake
Beastcake

This studio seems completely organized. They seem to know what their doing, and spreading the work around so that they can concentrate on their specified chunk. I'm excited to see how this pans out. So far, I'm extremely impressed.

everson_rm
everson_rm

Too bad its only november... I can't wait...

off_the_veil
off_the_veil

I really hope it's as mind blowing as part 1. My money's on that the story will become pretty convoluted, but the gameplay will be awesome in part 2. Just a prediction though, what the hell do I know?

clover38
clover38

weemanwonder i think its the same strength as a norm big daddy but more and stronger enemies

weemanwonder31
weemanwonder31

playing as a Big Daddy will be cool, & to all of you saying it'll be too easy it shouldnt because you play as a weaker prototype Big Daddy who is more intelligent but less about strength, this is why you can use plasmids yet the other big daddy's cant. Sure it'll be easier to kill splicers but that's why they will have more to fight at once

venomdeo
venomdeo

Nov.3 just can not get here fast enough for me.I am curious to see what the other game is that they are working on.

Pete5506
Pete5506

I'm so very pumped for this game

Fried-Clams
Fried-Clams

wonder if it will be like the end of the first one where you have big daddy suit and multi guns or that badass drill either way looks good

plm3d_basic
plm3d_basic

Unless they start the game with super powerful enemies this game could get boring if there's no challenge since you're a big daddy. Not too sure about this one. Will probably wait for reviews before I put down any money.

0Aragorn0
0Aragorn0

Nice interview, thanks 2K and GS. The more I read about Bioshock 2 the more I feel that this game is worthy of freezing oneself so you don't have to wait for the release.

Starwind_Amada
Starwind_Amada

"dennishachey Posted May 28, 2009 12:16 am ET cool it might be a good game for once" If you thought the first game sucked, stop playing video games now. Bioshock's story too hard for you to understand? Not enough grenades for you to spam at enemies? AI too smart for you overwhelm? Too bad. I bet you're gonna camp in MP and just use the same plasmid every time and then boot out anyone who kills you. Go play your Wii or something.

pidow
pidow

I am looking forward to playing this game as a Big Daddy, it will be different (I hope) entirely for the first and should make some interesting game play!.

TheFrostWolf
TheFrostWolf

I have to admit that the idea of playing as a big daddy is awesome!. I am just worried about one thing: "Overkill". For those of you who've played the first Bioshock you'll know that in the game you could use a certain plasmid to recruit the big daddy's to fight at your side, and make splicer burgers out of those splicers. And now you're playing as one yourself?! I know the story will be epic, as well as the game play and graphics. But I have a feeling that it will be to easy for us to play as big daddies. No matter what's the difficulty level you'll play in. And even though they said that battles will now consist of more splicer's in order to balance this problem out, but still. I think that veteran FP's gamers will take this game in a nutshell. I really hope that iam wrong :)

Mr_Fujiv1
Mr_Fujiv1

I enjoyed reading that. They should have included more than one big sister but never the less im sure its going to be fantastic to play. A few days back i watched a video on bioshock2 and the texture looks amazing, also that was only viewed with a SD Video i cant wait to see it on my HD flat screen :]

chilipepperman
chilipepperman

good interview for once. a lot of intrigue i can tell

Lareneg
Lareneg

Neat interview. Cannot wait for this game... XD

WizengamotX
WizengamotX

What an insightful interview this is!

metalkid9
metalkid9

who cares, just give us the game already

crix3
crix3

@dennishachey You cannot possibly be saying that you thought the original Bioshock was bad.

Gifted_One
Gifted_One

@ dennishachey Are you implying that the first Bioshock wasn't a good game? I seriously hope that was not your implication.

Gifted_One
Gifted_One

I wish Dean Tate would respond to two of my blogs. Great job on managing the international relationships smoothly. Sounds like the complications that come with working from such vastly different locations is smacked in the face by todays technology. Then again, what do you expect from 2K? You really think they would give the responsibilities to someone they thought couldn't do it? I say.. Great Job and keep up the good work. I wonder what this new title they are working on.. Hopefully something special.

dennishachey
dennishachey

cool it might be a good game for once :)

XboxG2k
XboxG2k

There's Only One Big Sister . . .