BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Interview – Irrational's Don Roy Takes Us Back to Rapture Before the Fall
Written Sunday, November 03, 2013 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
It's not every day that an interview begins with an impromptu chat about iPhone's iOS7, but that's how our meeting with BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Producer Don Roy went down, with us first discussing how long is took us to get used to the new interface. You'll have no such difficulty when returning to the original BioShock's city of Rapture however. It's an instantly familiar environment, different only in its initial sense of normality, which as we all know, can't last for long.
A hotly-anticipated two episode, story-driven expansion, Burial at Sea takes Infinite's Booker DeWitt and a more grown-up, film noir femme fatale version of Elizabeth from the clouds of Columbia, to the murky art deco-styled depths of Rapture, in an alternate reality in which the pair seemingly meet for the first time.
It's a chunk of narrative-led DLC that fans have been crying out for, and if our interview offers any kind of an indication, it's that Burial at Sea – Episode 1 (and presumably also Episode 2), is going to scratch the same kind of itch for compelling, meaty story that the BioShock Infinite's main storyline managed to satisfy so expertly. Find out how Irrational plans to transport you back to Rapture once again, and make it almost feel like a completely new underwater utopia on the brink of going spectacularly wrong.
What were the most important aspects you were looking to preserve for BioShock Infinite's Burial at Sea expansion?
Having parity and quality between what we do with this and the main SKU is what's paramount to us. It has to be the same, we look to tell a complete story, there are things that players expect in our games and we won't fore-cut those things, so having our own 'A' team dedicated towards this DLC was the most important thing to us.
How important was it to also ensure that the narrative was every bit as deeply layered and compelling as BioShock Infinite's main storyline?
Yeah, that was everything to us. If you don't have something compelling to say, then you you don't say anything. And so it's finding a compelling story that we want to tell, and the main thing for us on Burial at Sea was discovering whether we can have the two worlds touch. Can we take the first BioShock and BioShock Infinite and actually have them touch in a meaningful way that isn't being done just for the sake of doing it, but actually matters, and then write that love letter to fans in doing that. I think we've achieved it.
There are days that I'll be honest with you, I have to pinch myself when I think about some of the stuff that we're doing and it's been great. I wasn't with some of the team on BioShock 1, so I was there for Infinite, and being able to play in this sandbox [Rapture] has been pretty great.
Do you think that following BioShock Infinite's conclusion, you've dispensed with Columbia, or would going into any sort of detail on that be entering spoiler territory?
Yeah, it would definitely be spoiler territory. We're always open to things, so I don't want to ruin anything for anyone.
How important was it that this version of Rapture feel different to the Rapture players have already explored in the first BioShock?
One of the things that was the most exciting about the idea of doing that and coming back to Rapture was finding out if we can take what we learned from BioShock Infinite. Where we were able to populate a world and show people living their lives in that environment, could we take that and bring it to Rapture, so we could show people what it looked like before it fell, make that convincing and have people invested in seeing that. A lot of effort went into that and it was a challenge, there's no question.
We couldn't use any of the assets from BioShock 1, so we've fully recreated Rapture as a new world, obviously using everything from the first game as reference, because we want to be honest and true to the original vision, but bringing it back as a new space was a ground-up rework for the team. But really, the lessons learned from Infinite were huge, in as much as the things we now know how to do that impacted everything we did with the DLC.
Did you have to rebuild Rapture from scratch for gameplay reasons or was it more down to enhancing the visual fidelity for Burial at Sea?
Oh, absolutely the fidelity. A lot of time has passed, and it's just the fidelity of the assets. And then there is some of that integration of gameplay systems like pneumo tubes and skylines, hang points, things like that. There are some differences that come inherently from the gameplay systems, but by and large it was just the fidelity of the assets and matching the quality of the main BioShock Infinite SKU.
With this ultimately being an alternate Rapture, are the origins essentially the same as they were in the first BioShock?
Yep. It is very much the Rapture that happened pre-fall.
Since Irrational didn't develop BioShock 2, is it something that the studio tends to avoid referencing and distances itself from?
I don't think we distance ourselves from it intentionally, but we had a very complete narrative in BioShock 1, and then we had a very complete narrative in BioShock Infinite, and so we're working on tying those two together. There's no distancing intentionally, it's just that we look at those games as individual stories.
After two episodes of Burial at Sea, are there any plans for further BioShock Infinite add-ons or expansions?
Our current plan is three DLCs, so we had the one that came out, Clash in the Clouds, and that was combat-focused because we wanted people to have the ability to utilise those systems and see what they could really do without the constraints of the narrative. Although there are some great audio logs you can unlock in that, which add some extra story to the main SKU, so it's beneficial. Then we have these two episodes, our two-part story.
Do you know where you'd like to go once the current DLC schedule is finished, what you'd like to do with the story, if anything at all?
Nothing yet. I will be completely honest with you; it's taking all of our resources and we are heads down on this one to tell this story. Which is exciting for me and for our team, and it helps to be really able to get them excited about doing this because it's a meaty amount of content and a very interesting story that we're telling. It's nice to be able to motivate and for all of us to be a part of that.
Building Rapture from scratch sounds like a pretty huge undertaking. Would the easy way out have been to simply set more content in Columbia?
I don't know if there is an easy route. I've actually thought about it myself, and I don't think there's an easy route for us because our bar is set very high. We've done a really good job in defining what our games are and what our fans expect from our games, and that can be from the player agency they currently have to the tools they have, the audio logs telling a story in every space, and a comprehensive story that has interesting themes. All of those things... we know that road map, and that road map means a lot of work, and the fidelity and quality means it doesn't matter what the size is, it's about the attention to detail and the work that goes into it. That's always going to be the same.
But it's all worth it in the end.
It really is, because we're trying to make something meaningful every time, and it helps to be able to do that.
Do you know what's next for Irrational as a studio? More BioShock, a return to System Shock or something completely new?
I honestly don't know. Like I say, this is taking everything, all of our attention, so for now Burial at Sea is what we're focused on. It's hyper-important that we get this right. We're really trying to write a love letter to our fans and it turns out that take a lot of our faculties! (laughs).
We can assume therefore that there are no next-gen plans being cooked up behind the scenes?
We have nothing planned currently. I think it's exciting, and it's always exciting when there's something new, but we haven't really had a chance to explore what that means. As a player, I'm excited to get mine on day one and see what's doing there. Anytime we can use to add to the fidelity of what we're doing and make it more engaging, that's always exciting.
BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea – Episode 1 will be rising from the deep on November 12th for $14.99. You can also get it with the Season Pass.