BioShock Post Mortem

by Darius Kazemi on August 15, 2007

in bioshock,boston,development,marketing,postmortem,prototyping

So at last night’s Boston Post Mortem we featured a great talk by Ken Levine of Irrational 2K Boston, along with two of his leads. It wasn’t a formal presentation, there was no PowerPoint or anything like that. Just three guys and a mic. Yet it was not a hip-hop freestyle battle.

Ken and crew talked about how BioShock went from a basic idea, just a high-level concept, through its various iterations while the game was being pitched and prototyped, to what it is today. He also covered the way that they pitched the game to journalists early on, and how that changed over time as the pitch became less targeted towards a hardcore three-year-early preview kind of audience and more towards a hopefully multi-million selling blockbuster audience.

Here are a few tidbits I remember from the night. I kind of wish I took notes! (Funny hearing that from me, right?) Please correct me if I’ve mis-remembered any of this stuff.

  • Early on, the team built a very small, 45-second, one-room demo that was super polished and conveyed the atmosphere of the game moreso than the gameplay. Ken stressed multiple times during his talk that building a shippable-looking demo of extremely small scope focusing on one or two things really sharply is way better than attempting to do an entire vertical slice too early.
  • The Little Sister started out as a sea slug, but focus testers had no idea why the hulking Big Daddy would be protecting a sea slug. When they realized that this was a problem, they went through a whole bunch of different ideas (including a dog in a wheelchair!) before settling on the creepy little girl. Once they switched, people instantly understood the relationship. Big strong man protects helpless child.
  • As many game publishers and developers do, they used GameSpot Trax, which basically measures how much hype (page views, commentary, etc) a given game is receiving. When they did their initial unveiling of BioShock including the 45-second demo (I believe this was the resulting article), they got huge numbers on Trax. When they had their awesome E3 demo in 2006, the Trax numbers didn’t change that much, even though everyone at E3 was talking about their game! To me, this seems to support the fact that even an awesome demo at the old E3 would get lost in a sea of game news.
  • They made sure to focus test with random John Q. Popcorn off the street, the kind of person who owns an Xbox but only has Halo and Madden. That really helped them with the direction for their game.
  • Ken Levine on pitching a game: “You don’t want to see yourself having weird sex, and you don’t want to see yourself pitching games.” Amen to that.


Troy Goodfellow August 16, 2007 at 8:43 pm

A sea slug? Really?

Darius Kazemi August 16, 2007 at 8:47 pm

Apparently the slug got bigger and bigger as it fed on more Adam. It was conceptually cool and had a neat model, but didn’t have the emotional resonance.

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