Reality Check - BioShock Infinite and the Uncanny Demo

Would you kindly ignore the man behind the curtain?

Irrational's BioShock Infinite E3 2011 demo was enthralling, exhilarating, and any other word you can pluck from the cavalcade of adjectives that convey astonishment at how a city in the sky and its residents sprang to life and instantly captivated audience members sitting slack-jawed in the 2K Games booth. It was a memorable moment in a show peppered with memorable moments, but it was also a vastly surreal one whose conclusion prompted an unexpected question: What did I just see? Surprisingly, it wasn't the content that ignited some lingering doubt, but rather the method used to display it.

Exit stage left.

The brief tour through Columbia revealed social upheaval, a blooming relationship between Booker and Elizabeth, and a semi-mechanical monstrosity whose affable name stood in strong contrast to its shrill, and suitably disturbing, cry. And to quote every movie review from Rolling Stone, Infinite proudly brandished its shooter chops with an "action-packed roller-coaster ride" shoot-out amid the city's unique form of transportation. But what was ostensibly a normal demo gave way to something different. Each successive whiz-bang set piece tightened a thread that, if stretched beyond its well-rehearsed limits, would cause the entire illusion to come crashing down.

This wasn't a game demo. It was a movie with in-game actors who performed some approximation of the gaming experience. There were intense firefights; there were charming exchanges of dialogue; and there were even button prompts--all suggestive characteristics of an interactive medium, and yet this was distinctly not. There was no specific moment when this revelation occurred. If anything, it was a combination of things--an almost contrary use of deliberation in firefight scenes, in which shots were aimed, fired, and dodged with mechanical efficiency, versus character development scenes where Booker's perspective was carefully orchestrated to enhance the dialogue and its dramatic impact while it simultaneously attempted to make it look improvised.

This was all wonderful for showcasing the game's malleability, an expectation created by the original BioShock and the way it transcended traditional shooter conventions while retaining the genre's better qualities. In that sense, the demo was a complete success, but for any person sitting in that audience, there was no clear indication of how this same set of events pans out under normal circumstances. In fact, it raised countless questions: How scripted was the interaction between Elizabeth and Booker? Does she always say the same things? How is it possible to navigate the skylines with no sense of danger? What happens if Songbird sees Booker earlier? Is Elizabeth ever really in danger? What happens when a player does something that wasn't just laid out with such exacting means?

These were but a few questions that sprang to mind, and while answers are forthcoming as Irrational and 2K loosen their protective grip, teaser trailers usually generate these kinds of questions--not playable demos. Still, some might be wondering why this was even an issue when games like Modern Warfare rely heavily on similarly scripted demos.

The answer is twofold. First, scripting is a dirty word. It conjures images of enemy soldiers that run to their designated spots in the environment regardless of what's happening around them. Scripting is suggestive of an experience where the player has no real impact on what goes on in the world. Over the past few years, the Modern Warfare series has familiarized and popularized this experience.But there's no such expectation (or more specifically, anticipation) for a similarly structured BioShock game and that's the second part of this equation. The original touted freedom on varying levels, and while some choices admittedly didn't have as much of an impact on the gameplay as originally advertised, the illusion of freedom was still significant and important in differentiating it in a market clogged with first-person shooters.

What happens if we look away?

The E3 2011 BioShock Infinite demo projected no such illusion. It was a tightly controlled and highly entertaining spectacle that inadvertently conveyed the prospect of a BioShock that falls outside the purview of its forebears. At any rate, all of this will probably change as the months go by and we see more of the game. Once Irrational releases a video of the demo, be sure to check it out. It won't produce quite the same disconnect, since it will be a movie at that point, but it will give greater context to the aforementioned rambling from a fan.

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156 comments
Upat3am
Upat3am

Zaber123 Posted Jul 11, 2011 3:54 am GMT First time I've ever commented on a type of news. I love gamespot and have been around for a long time but I feel like this article was very poorly written. I'm an academic, yet I find this hard to follow because it seems the writer fell in love with his thesaurus. Not that my comment is really relevant, it just bothered me. Well said.

Zaber123
Zaber123

First time I've ever commented on a type of news. I love gamespot and have been around for a long time but I feel like this article was very poorly written. I'm an academic, yet I find this hard to follow because it seems the writer fell in love with his thesaurus. Not that my comment is really relevant, it just bothered me.

xshadowzz
xshadowzz

@DKnutz187 I'll try to write this is your language. well listen upzz, this is a new gam, not fcking expansion pack. So yeea, you cant expect to have 3 gamezz in the same location. Rapture ain't mysterious no moar. And duh there's therezz gonna bebad azz powers and weps.

-HCMF-
-HCMF-

This looks amazing.

ObeseChipmunk
ObeseChipmunk

"Scripting is suggestive of an experience where the player has no real impact on what goes on in the world." It was clear in the demo that the player did not have to euthanize the horse or interrupt the execution. I think its a bit too early to judge how scripted the game is or isn't.

DKnutz187
DKnutz187

no big daddies or aliened eyed little girls what the hell happened to my favorite game .hopefully theres some bad azz powers to get if not that'll suck.well maybe there will be some kickazz weapons to use so i wont be that dissapointed

sara2099
sara2099

it can be good game but they are must change somethings and Strange environment: i dont like this kind of Environments at last : good game and good story

SHOTTA427
SHOTTA427

guys in irrational games know how to create good game, i think original bioshock was best game ever made and they continue to move in the same way.

3116porter
3116porter

gosh they just don't know how to get videos of these demos on GS

Naxct
Naxct

well the games just got me interested.

paulyzman
paulyzman

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

DecadesOfGaming
DecadesOfGaming

should be an interesting game.. Just started playing the second game at the weekend, not all that impressed though!!

unwell-7
unwell-7

@kenny1292 "Although I share your enthusiasm about Bioshock Infinite, I find it a little disappointing that you didn't like the ending of Bioshock. What was wrong with it???" Well I was geared up for some extremely epic ending where we would actually see the main character's face like in Dead Space 1. I liked how ***SPOILER*** ***SPOILER START*** the little sisters took down the main villain. That was an excellent touch. ***SPOILER END*** However, it seemed like they rushed everything else afterwards, with regards to the fates of the little sisters. Just a few really short cut scenes. But that's just me.

system3142
system3142

don't let my cynicism get in the way of your melodrama

Szeiden
Szeiden

@deathman023 Don't worry about it. When someone posts "tl;dr" or "cool story bro," it just makes them look like an uneducated idiot. Why does that bother you? Some people are stupid, get over it.

DeadrisingX1
DeadrisingX1

I miss Rapture. But this'll probably work out fine.

weedman1985
weedman1985

I don't understand how a series that prides itself for supposedly having a deep story can have such a blatantly nonsensical script. Have you any idea how stupid this is? It's a city that floats on AIR BALLOONS, for god's sake. Think about it for a second. There is a reason why nobody tried this before, and I'm sorry, but I can't be expected to enjoy the story when the setting is so mind numbingly stupid.

Thatguythatuno
Thatguythatuno

@LpcWarrior it's not that i really don't get it. it's just that i find it ironic is all. also for the record i didn't say anything negative about this game i said negative things about Bioshock 1 & 2. It's not that i don't get why we were thumbed down in the first place i just find it kind of funny that we were both thumbed down by presumably the same people.

pmar27
pmar27

@deathman023 ..........cool story bro

deathman023
deathman023

@alkaline_DnB That is, in fact, my least favourite online statement. "cool story bro" to me reads "I didn't read your post. I'm not really sure what you're talking about. I'm not, in fact, even a particularly well educated person, but I want you to know that I spent the time to post this comment because I really think my cliche response is the best single rebuttal to whatever your argument was." TLDR is in the same boat, a statement that only serves to free you of the burden of reading and comprehending.

kyleweeeeeeeeee
kyleweeeeeeeeee

I'm a fan of scripted moments. That first shock of whats happening is always the best and most memorable...even if the experience is not as interesting when your forced to see it again and again when playing levels over. Definitely makes for great moments.

alkaline_DnB
alkaline_DnB

i just thumb people down because it's funny...especially when they put a lot of thought into their posts. if only there was a "cool story bro" button.

SplahhMonkey
SplahhMonkey

I really don't know what to expect of this game. It seems to amaze and disappoint me at the same time.

kenny1292
kenny1292

@unwell-7 Although I share your enthusiasm about Bioshock Infinite, I find it a little disappointing that you didn't like the ending of Bioshock. What was wrong with it???

LoG-Sacrament
LoG-Sacrament

I got the same feeling from the original Bioshock. There were lots of great moments that really reacted to the player (take almost any Big Daddy duel for example), but there were also lots of moments where the game had everything planned out regardless of the player's actions. It was an unforgettable first play through, but it really had a Wizard of Oz sort of effect in later plays where I saw the same doctor's shadow splayed across the wall from a conveniently flickering light bulb that always seems to catch the same dramatic pose.

unwell-7
unwell-7

This game is going to be AWESOME! I just hope that they don't rush the ending or at least put more thought into it, because it seemed to me that that was the case in Bioshock 1.

rogermao
rogermao

...half the demos these days are all cinematic, not to mention basically every trailer. It's not that big of a surprise.

scatterbrain007
scatterbrain007

I just expect this to be just like Bioshock 1 & 2. A few scripted events doesn't hurt anything. As for this article, I think someone is getting worried about the scripted events a little too soon. I believe the developers made the gameplay "demo" cinematic just to show off the game and nothing else.

LpcWarrior
LpcWarrior

@Theguythatuno "why is it that both me and blue tomato get thumbed down for saying complete opposite things?" If you don't know how it works I'll tell you. If you say anything people preceive as negative about the game you're posting on, you will be thumbs down'ed. Regardless of how well put together your argument is.

grim0187
grim0187

@Giancarlo Actually, no, its not a big deal. A live demo doesnt mean they have to be holding a controller in their hands showing you gameplay. A live demo is just that. A demo of the game shown live. It could be a demo of a cutscene. The game is going to have PLENTY of gameplay when it releases, but scripted is not bad when its done right. Immersion is key, and you cant have immersion when you run around waiving a purple d*do and smackin people in the nuts ala Saints Row.

Thatguythatuno
Thatguythatuno

@captain_hitec all im saying is it's kind of ironic how me and him are saying too different sides of an argument but people still don't want to see either side. I know on this site most people really don't care about your opinion they just care about how many mean words you use when expressing it. But i had to say something about how how ironic it was to ME. Regardless of how pointless it seems to other people.

captain_hitec
captain_hitec

@Thatguythatuno Well, I didn't thumb down either of you, but if you really want to know. It's just so simple, people just have to see this: "Is it OK if I am not looking forward to this game?" or this: "I've never been a huge fan of the bioshock series" oh, and this: "But in a game were all your really doing is going from point A to point B anyways it's just tacked on and boring. So yeah i am anticipating a more linear bioshock, the only reason i care about this one is how different it looks." did I forget this? "I am bored out of my skull with all these new "sensational" linear scripted games, flooding over with graphics and atmospheric effects but seriously lacking when it comes to any exploration or freedom." ... and they thumb you down!

Zephol
Zephol

i cant wait! i love bioshock!

Thatguythatuno
Thatguythatuno

why is it that both me and blue tomato get thumbed down for saying complete opposite things?

Necrocyber
Necrocyber

Bioshock is definitely one of the smartest games of all time. He makes you play the game and when you least expect it, realizes he has to live his life here on the outside. I look forward to Bioshock Infinite and hope that it makes me wonder every corner of the scene as the last two did.

Raxyman
Raxyman

Well, i'm a big fan of 2K, every shooter released bu them have something different, so far i was only dissapointed by DNF but everything else is a masterpiece. I'm looking forward to Infinite. BTW, when Giancarlo Varanini mentioned "scripting" and how soldiers run to places without thinking of what's around them, that reminded me of the first FEAR and how well done was it's AI. The replica soldiers were the smarterst soldiers in game i've ever seen, the only ones who didn't run straight at you without fearing death (yes CoD i'm talking about YOU)

smtgfx
smtgfx

This is going to be good. You can tell when a development studio put allot of passion into a product. Props...

billaboy69
billaboy69

Theres a difference in being a scripted game in an open world and being a scripted a game and still FEELING like an open world. Don't sell it short yet. Could be very innovative.

11Marcel
11Marcel

The point he tried to make that this demo didn't show any gameplay. It just showed the world in what was basically an interactive cut scene. He expressed his worries that if this is how the majority of the game is played it will rob the player of any freedom and basically turn the game into an interactive movie. It's a valid concern as it has recently become a trend in games to take away the actual gameplay and replace it with quicktime events, cut scenes or scripted events on which the player has no influence. I think it's a good column that addresses something that I feel all gamers will be influenced by and should maybe be worried about if they feel similar about this new trend in gaming.

Blue_Tomato
Blue_Tomato

Is it OK if I am not looking forward to this game? I am bored out of my skull with all these new "sensational" linear scripted games, flooding over with graphics and atmospheric effects but seriously lacking when it comes to any exploration or freedom.

TimeBandit002
TimeBandit002

so it is an scripted open world game?? hm....contradiction? anyone

Thatguythatuno
Thatguythatuno

honestly i don't see the big deal about this being so scripted. I've never been a huge fan of the bioshock series, they've all been ok but nothing to marvel at. If anything the "Open worldedness" of the first two games sorta took me out of it. I mean an open world is great in an rpg that can utilize it and fill it with things to do. But in a game were all your really doing is going from point A to point B anyways it's just tacked on and boring. So yeah i am anticipating a more linear bioshock, the only reason i care about this one is how different it looks.

elbert_b_23
elbert_b_23

this will be the best fps game of next year

JosephCrow
JosephCrow

"What happens if we look away?". I see cleavage and fireworks. Why would I ever look anywhere else?

ADDADAC
ADDADAC

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]