BioShock 2... seeeeeeecrets

I'm going to start with a little self-congratulatory bullshit, so brace for that or skip ahead.

Four years ago last month, I started this blog. At the time I was a temporary certification tester at Sony in San Mateo. In my off hours, I was just beginning to build my first amateur level in the F.E.A.R. editor-- this blog was originally intended as a progress journal, to keep me on track in building my level design portfolio. Between progress updates, I included some light commentary about games and game design. If you go back to the beginning, you can still see my F.E.A.R. grayboxes.

In the intervening four years, I've gone from a temp tester at Sony, to a full-time tester at a local game studio (the now-defunct Perpetual Entertainment,) to a rookie level designer on a standalone expansion pack (F.E.A.R.: Perseus Mandate by TimeGate Studios,) to a designer on one of the biggest game releases of 2010, BioShock 2. It's been a hell of a ride. I couldn't have imagined things working out this way if I'd tried. I feel incredibly proud of what the teams I've worked with have accomplished, incredibly fortunate to have been given the opportunities I have by the gracious people who have employed and mentored me, and incredibly grateful to all the commenters and fellow bloggers for helping me think differently about game design.

So anyway, BioShock 2 is now upon us, and it includes a bunch of silly-ass secret crap and references by yours truly! Here they are!

I was the level designer for The Adonis Luxury Resort (the first level,) and Pauper's Drop (the fourth level.) The Drop was handed off to the talented Monte Martinez (level designer on the original Deus Ex, as well as DX2 and Thief 3) late in development so I could concentrate on the Adonis.

The Adonis

  • Gaynor Peaches can be found and snacked on throughout Rapture in BioShock 2. I didn't make this asset, or request it be made; I was surprised one day to find that our artists had included yours truly as one of the food items in the game. But I used it as a calling card to 'sign' a few scenes in the Adonis.

    I also got to write a bunch of the in-game guide entries, including all the entries describing food and drink. I used the description of Gaynor Peaches as an excuse to put words in Julie Langford's mouth (even though she doesn't appear elsewhere in the game,) specifically to make her talk about me. I always liked Langford.

  • In the sauna, you can find an audio diary by "Rachelle Jacques." This is a cheeky reference to my wonderful girlfriend of 10-plus years, Rachel Jacks. Rachelle has a husband named "Stephen" who sits around listening to radio serials while she swims laps at the Adonis; Rachel goes to the gym, I stay home and play video games. Art imitates life.

  • I was lucky enough to be the one to put the 0451 into our game. In the Looking Glass-derived "immersive sim" lineage of games, the first keycode is always 0451. System Shock, System Shock 2, Deus Ex, BioShock... and now BioShock 2. To keep things fresh, and perhaps to acknowledge the distance covered between the origins of the reference in 1994 to our game in 2010, Jordan had me reverse the order of the digits... so I had them placed on the opposite side of a glass window, re-reversing it to look like 0451.

  • Where's that Little Sister go at the end of the Big Sister introductory cutscene?? Does she just disappear?! No! If you look to your right as the fight starts, you'll find her escaping through a vent. Attention to detail, babies.

  • Cat-tleship Potemkin. If you look at the bottom of the stairs in the Big Sister fight room, you'll find an overturned baby carriage... with a cat inside. Somebody in Rapture was crazy about their cat! I dunno, I just found this funny. It's also the stupidest Battleship Potemkin reference you've ever seen.

  • The airplane tail from BioShock has come to rest on a ridge in the underwater section outside The Adonis.

Ryan Amusements

  • The first audio diary by Nina Carnegie refers to "Mrs. Englert's third grade class." Englert was a teacher I had, not for third grade, but in middle school, who also coached the Odyssey of the Mind program I participated in. My favorite teacher of my pre-collegiate schooling.

Pauper's Drop
  • The doorcode to the Fontaine Clinic in Pauper's Drop is a highly obfuscated reference to one of my favorite game series, the Hitman games. The door code is 0047 (Agent 47's code number,) and the name of the guy who recorded the audio diary pointing to the code is "Tobias Riefers"-- an alteration of "Tobias Rieper," the name that Agent 47 gives as a pseudonym in the mission "Traditions of the Trade" from the original Hitman game.

  • This audio diary contains another reference: Riefers says "they keep enough drugs in here to splice up a rhinoceros." This is a reference to the brief hoax by some clever forum-goer before much was known about the game, claiming to have gotten an advance copy of Game Informer in which BioShock 2 was revealed to contain soviet soldiers, dogs with brains that you could hack, a giant squid boss, and a spliced rhino.

  • The audio diary by Jackie Rodkins is a nod to Jake Rodkin, co-host of the Idle Thumbs podcast on which I sometimes appear.

  • The photo attached to the shotgun rack in the Fishbowl Diner is once again of my lovely girlfriend, Rachel. Immortalized!

Siren Alley
  • This is the first level where you can get the Handyman tonic; when you repair a bot with Handyman (or summon one with Security Command 2/3) it's given a random name. I input a bunch of these. Since you can control two bots at once, there are some interesting potential two-name bot combinations: Rachel & Steven, Andrew & Ryan, Tommy & Rebecca, Jordan & Thomas... And though you can't control three at once, there are Pinky, Blinky and Clyde, maintaining the BioShock tradition of working a really minor Pac-Man reference in somewhere, originally started in BioShock's Farmer's Market by our intrepid lead level designer, Jean-Paul LeBreton. (Another pair of bot names are Jean-Paul and Karla, a nod to JP and his wife. Karla made a bunch of the excellent posters and signs for BioShock 2.)

Inner Persephone
  • A number of the names of inmates that recorded audio diaries-- Mattson, Wilson, Thomas, etc.-- are from the BioShock 2 design team. I snuck those in.

  • Similarly, the mugshots found in the booking area are developers: myself, Jordan Thomas, Michael Kamper, Rinaldo Tjan, Rich Wilson, Hogarth de la Plante, and Ryan Mattson, if I remember correctly. I'm not responsible for orchestrating these, but there I am! Hi, mom!

So! There's a bunch of silly stuff you might not have noticed. Hope you like the game!


Zach said...

congrats on your success, i'm loving the game so far - way to establish a legacy!

Anonymous said...

Good list :)

I've also gotten an achievement called "Look at you hacker", which is obtained after hacking some 40 or 50 times. Not sure who was responsible for that but it put a smile on my face.

Anonymous said...

Nice text, nice career, BioShock is a nice game to be working on.
I was the creative producer for Hitman: Codename 47. Nice to see the references now, ten years after lauching the game. Thanks a lot!
PS: Traditions of the trade was my favorite level - so much going on all the time.

Unknown said...

I don't remember off-hand whether it was you or Duncan who wrote about the history of 0451, but it certainly came in useful when I encountered that first locked door in BioShock 1. So thanks, and congratulations on shipping.

Anonymous said...

Great work!
And thanks for sharing some secrets... will have to keep and eye out while playing :)

Rachel said...

For the record, I never nag Steven about swimming laps, nor do I try to dose him with Brain Boost, even when he plays video games all day ;-)

Anonymous said...

I love easter eggs, so this post is thrilling. (I missed the cat in the carriage, though.)

Two that really put a smile on my face were Schrodinger the cat and the "Look at you, hacker" achievement. In a game like Bioshock, people will actually find a fair number of these, so you have a higher likelihood of being rewarded for your efforts.

lawblob said...

Congrats on the game!

Karla Z. said...

Oh man, this is making me want to write up the stuff I crammed in, if I can remember it. I probably can't.

Unknown said...

Nice! I didn't know about most of this stuff :-) Too bad programmers can't really insert more secrets into games. I put in a lot of bot names...

I also didn't know you used to be in Sony test. That makes four of us on the Bio2 team that I know about, then - a surprisingly high 'success' rate for a soul-killing, dead-end job. Go us.

George said...

I worked for two years as a tester and this is inspirational!! Thanks for your work here Steve, and at 2k.

Matt said...

Thanks so much for disclosing these, I find the whole Bioshock universe fascinating and it was great to find out all these secret bits!

Well done on creating a wonderful game, but I have a suggestion, if you feature on another, please include much longer underwater sequences, these were great and mysterious, I really wanted to explore sunken ships, perhaps the player may need to get valubale supplies from a wreck in order to do repairs in Rapture?

Plus I'm such a fan of this series that I made a stained glass panel inspired by the lighthouse logo- http://l1vethedream.deviantart.com/art/Bioshock-Stained-Glass-lead-139315526

Thanks again for making such a great game!

Anonymous said...

i LOOOOOOVED bioshock 2 it really is the best game i have ever played

Jay said...

A great read!

I'd just like to say, I only found your blog recently when a friend introduced me to (the excellent) Idle Thumbs podcast, and I browsed back to your work on the FEAR level and it's been a real inspiration for me. I've now set up a blog with the very same intentions you had. Hope it works out for me as well as it has for you!

Congratulations again, and thanks!

Kyle said...

Hello, I discovered your blog from reading this months issues of Game Informer. This game, as well as its predecessor are incredibly amazing! I can't tell you how much I love the world of Rapture. Thanks to you and your team for such great work! Keep it up please.

Star said...

Seriously, thank you so much for your hard work on Bioshock 2, I am beyond words grateful for that game's existence. I have actually in the past couple months started my Bioshock themed back piece. I'm really excited for it to be finished.

Thanks again, for being awesome!

Anonymous said...

In number one when you have to kill people and take their pictures for some crazy guys masterpiece, a man and his student will be playing piano. After the student hits a few notes the teacher will say "no, no, no! Thats not right!" and you'll hear a screech (you need to listen closely) aand then the metal frame will fall and kill them. The screech sounds like the Songbird from infinite.... Possibly a very early reference to infinite?

Steve gaynor said...

A absolutely guarantee that this is not the case.

Chad said...

I just stumbled across this page, and I loved reading about everything you slipped in. the Bioshock series is my favorite of all time, and I've been playing video games since the original Atari 2600 debuted. Bioshock 2 had fantastic gameplay mechanics and both the level design and artwork were amazing. Thanks for everything you did.