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World Building: Under the sea!


Bioshock was a game released in 2007, with a sequel coming out in 2010 made by different people and a spin off…thing in 2013. With a remake on its way in September, and a bloggers wanted prompt here to feed on like a hungry myxobacteria colony on an unsuspecting bacterial colony, I’d like to muse on the world building for Bioshock.

Bioshock takes place in the underwater city of Rapture, set in the 50’s and starting with a plane crash into the ocean. It’s got one of my favorite intros ever-you have to swim away from the crash into a nearby lighthouse and then the door closes on you after entering. Suddenly the lights flick on with a dramatic sound to reveal the innards and statues of this bizarre structure. This structure is full of iconography that evokes the main philosophical leanings of Andrew Ryan, the founder of the underwater city. It has statures of him, and a pretty impressing statement: “No Gods or Kings, only man.” Eventually you wander down into a bathysphere-a primitive submarine-and a screen rolls down covering the window and commanding your attention. It introduces you to the central philosophies of Andrew Ryan, before the dramatic reveal as the screen rolls down and reveals Rapture-one of the most dramatic intros I have ever seen to a gorgeous city that is beautifully realized. The music is incredible-just take a listen to it:

It builds the mood so much towards the reveal, and excites you as it increases in intensity-the entire soundtrack to the game is just wonderful but this helps seal the deal wonderfully. As you move into the city you see tons of wonderful sights, and then the first blemish or two-the sign for the entry port for the bathysphere is in disrepair, and what happens next sets the tone for the rest of the game. Someone comes to meet you, and he is attacked by a mad woman-most of the encounter is hidden in shadows except for parts where a light flickers back on. It intimates that something here is horribly wrong, and sets up the fallen “utopia” of Rapture as it will be-a place of madness and violence.

This intro is great and even now it still really stands out for me-it helps introduce you to this new world, the philosophy of this place and what has befallen it. It gets you all the information you need to know, and pushes you forth into the world of Rapture-and what a world it is. Due to its time placement in the 1960’s there’s some interesting old style music that plays here or there through crackly radios or via gramophones scattered about. The technology manages to feel old too-there’s steam powered turrets, sentry bots and cameras scattered around that all look very cobbled together with some older tech as opposed to look super futuristic. The guns have the same thing going on-some are older style like tommy guns, and the rocket launcher is cobbled together to the extreme-one of its components is made out of a can. This means that even though some of this tech is still beyond probability it looks consistent with its time period and aesthetic. Styles of dress are also decidedly old school, again reinforcing the time period and helping make the city all the more immersive due to its cohesive nature.

Additionally the city uses a lot of Art Deco which helps define its art style and make it stand out more.  Art Deco as stated by wikipedia, “features geometric shapes, clear and precise lines, and decoration which is attached to the structure. One of its major attributes is an embrace of technology. During its heyday, Art Deco represented luxury, glamour, exuberance, and faith in social and technological progress. The later period of the style, called streamline moderne, features curving forms and long horizontal lines.[4] The style is often characterized by rich colors, bold geometric shapes and lavish ornamentation.”

These sorts of things can be seen all over rapture, from statues like this

to this

and the doors of the lighthouse proper

All are reminiscent of the style.

It’s a striking visual feature that helps certain areas of the game stick out really well in one’s memory, and it again aids in creating a cohesive world with its continued presence in the games areas. Given that Rapture itself is a technological marvel and the unrestrained putting forth of advancement of science and what not over all else it seems fitting this style was chosen for the city-in a city where there is to be no god or king, celebration of technology and the more geometric shapes that can be found in construction or human art fit pretty well with the philosophy of the world. Rapture oozes this style, and its advertisements and other paraphernalia help sell it as a bit of a living world-from the statues at the gatherers garden to the silly vending machines decked out in glaring neon, it all helps add to the atmosphere.

Another fascinating element of the city is that it sits submerged on the bottom of the ocean-water floods into certain areas, sea life can be seen outside windows and it’s a striking visual. It adds to the darkness and claustrophobia of certain areas-the ocean pressing in always, oppressive and implacable. Certain areas have a very unique feel, ala Fort Frolic’s insanity and Hephaestus’s pipes and electric conduits, with both further defined by the main people in charge of them and what occured in them as madness spread. Sander Cohen is particularly fascinating-Fort Frolic is a shopping mall and all around it he's left some pretty horrific artwork that makes it feel of his design and shaping-the areas design comes from him and matches him, making it work far better than being alone on either fornt.  It feels like each area really has its own unique personality and setting, each one with its own bits of story to pick up here or there via audiotapes-recordings that help deepen the lore of the world and show things before or after things fell apart-giving context.

Drugs, addiction and a disregard for morality

Another element of Rapture is how it’s a fallen into madness-citizens have gotten addicted to plasmids which are drugs that give you superpowers, and Adam-a goo that allows the rewriting of the genetic code that gives you superpowers and eventually drives you crazy. As you progress through the game you slowly have to gain more and more of it to make your way through the game-furthering your own addiction and showing how easy it is to fall into its usage. You’re forced to fight the numerous drug addicts that the population has become, who actually use the plasmids in some cases and are hideously disfigured by their constant genetic modification and drug usage.

Due to the more individualistic nature of raptures philosophy-ala Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, hence the name of Andrew Ryan-splicers will attack you but not in a huge cohesive force due to the fractured nature of their groups. The logic of this makes sense unlike…another Bioshock game I could mention that doesn’t have the number 2 in it….and strengthens the philosophy of the city in context of the game.

This is also coupled with the source of ADAM-little girls who have been turned into monsters that drink the blood of citizens who have died and-thanks to a leech that lives in their throat-are able to produce more ADAM/recycle it. An interesting point for these little sisters is that in the original bioshock they're rather hideous and disheveled, while in Bioshock 2 they're less so-a nice touch considering the second game has you playing as a Big Daddy. These girls, orphans originally or made so to fuel the need for more ADAM, are protected from citizens who would clearly put their own well-being over their fellows by Big Daddies-criminals, political enemies and other people who are horrifically altered into monstrously strong defenders who have lost their humanity. This also helps build the world, by showing how little morality exists-and in conjunction with the drug usage demonstrates the price of having no limits or ethical imperatives. Disturbing tapes show people going insane, doctors without morals who have little care for horrific experiments and other such things. It helps show how the city could have fallen to this point and why it fell so far.

Ultimately Bioshock is a wonderful game-the world building in it is incredibly immersive and it’s a game that’s stuck with me throughout the years. It’s really masterfully crafted, and a testament to what some vision and unique ideas can create.

- “If you don't like bacteria, you're on the wrong planet.” ― Stewart Brand

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About Gamemaniac3434one of us since 11:25 PM on 02.01.2013

Who am I? I'm an avid gamer, beer snob, coffee snob and aspiring microbiologist. I love all sorts of different genres of games and different games from different years and as of recent years I've tried to get more into multiplayer games. I also really love microbiology and if you get me started on it, you will never get me to shut up about it.
-Gamemaniac3434 on everything, but Nintendo services