I’ve been writing about virtual reality, simulated worlds, and the new forms of entertainment and education they will engender for thirty years. Other than Kerbal Space Program, which is more of a simulated world sandbox than a game (there is no specific goal and no conflict other than with the laws of nature), I have not played video games since the age of Pac-Man. As we approach the threshold of the Roaring Twenties, I thought it would be a good idea to check in and see the current state of the art and whether it justified the things people were saying about contemporary games being a new art form and interactive medium of fiction.
The game I chose to play was Bioshock Infinite, the latest in the Bioshock series (but an entirely different story line from the previous games). This game, originally released for consoles in 2013 and ported to Linux in 2015, was rated very high by reviewers, with most rankings 9/10 or 10/10. The budget for the game was not disclosed by its privately-held developers, but was said to be around US$ 100 million for development and a comparable sum for promotion, larger than many major motion pictures. It has sold more than 11 million copies since its release. I learned of the game from a detailed description by James Lileks on his blog.
This review will be presented in a very eccentric manner. I will not describe the plot from an omniscient standpoint (for that, see the links above), but rather things as I encounter them. These are my notes, written in the style of a software development log or system narrative. I will post items in comments, one or more per day, time permitting, running behind my play-through of the game (providing a buffer for days I have too many other things to do). In each entry, I will provide links to an on-line play-through which will give you more details and screen grabs. There’s no point in making my own, since the job has already been done superbly. There will, of course, as in any play-through, be major spoilers in the comments. I will make no effort to avoid or mark them. If you want to experience the game without any foreknowledge, don’t read the comments that follow.
I am playing the game on an Xubuntu Linux system under the Steam gaming environment. I am using 1920×1080 screen resolution in “High” resolution rendering mode with “Normal” difficulty. As I am interested more in exploring this virtual world, how it is rendered, and how a visitor interacts with it than testing my prowess against the game engine, I am exploring it with the aid of play-throughs prepared by people who have made it all the way to the finish. These are guides, however, not cheats—there is substantial randomness in the game and you’re on your own when the shooting starts—it’s generally up to you to figure out how to defeat the assaults you’ll face as you progress through the game.
This is a “first-person shooter” game: you are the protagonist and have to reach your objectives by defeating foes—human, mechanical, and supernatural—with weapons, wits, and capabilities you acquire as you pursue your quest. If you find this repellent, so be it—that’s the model for many games, and it’s the one adopted here. Personally, I find most of the combat episodes tedious, although it’s fun learning tricks to defeat adversaries and deploying newly-acquired weapons and “vigors” (supernatural powers) against them. What is the most fun is exploring the huge, magnificently-rendered world here. The production values are equal to contemporary CGI movies, but you’re not stuck in your seat munching popcorn but able to explore it at will, looking at things from various perspectives and interacting with this world you’re discovering. The game is, as far as I’ve played it when I’m writing this, beautiful, with superbly-rendered three-dimensional models; an airy, misty ambience; and a musical track, both vintage and original, which complements the story line. There is explicit violence (although nothing which would go beyond a “PG” rating in the movies), but no obscenity or nudity (at least as far as I’ve played).
I should note that the credits screen includes the following acknowledgements:
This software product includes Autodesk® Beast™ software,© 2013 Autodesk, Inc., Autodesk® HumaniK® software,© 2013 Autodesk, Inc., Autodesk® Kynapse® software,© 2013 Autodesk, Inc., and Autodesk® Scaleform® software,© 2013 Autodesk, Inc.
I had no idea Autodesk was such a player in the game space, as well as CGI movies. You never know what the kids will do after they grow up and move out…. (Guys, you only need to use the “registered” or other marks on the first reference to the word.)
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And here we go….
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