The Thinker Knows

BioShock 2: Minerva's Den will be released for Xbox 360 and PS3 on August 31! 800 MS points, $9.99 on PSN. Below is a trailer we put together to herald the launch. I'm really happy with how it turned out, and I hope you'll find it intriguing as well.

That Minerva's Den poster at the end is the handiwork of the immensely talented Karla Zimonja, my assistant director on the project, and Devin St. Clair, our lead artist. It sure would make a nice desktop image, wouldn't it? Well, sure!

click for big

Alright! Look for Minerva's Den on your console of choice soon! Can't wait to hear what you think!



Minerva's Den

It's officially announced! The upcoming story DLC for BioShock 2 is called Minerva's Den-- a new part of Rapture with its own story, featuring a cast of new characters plus a few familiar faces.

I was writer and Lead Designer on the project (as well as designing the first level myself...) and while I can't say much more about it yet, I can say that I'm extremely proud of what our team accomplished. Lots of new stuff is packed in there for one DLC! New levels, new story, new weapon, new Plasmid, new enemy and bot variants, even a new type of Big Daddy!

It's funny: I guess this makes me some sort of specialist on expansion content. My first design job was on an expansion pack for FEAR, then I worked on a direct sequel, and now an expansion for that direct sequel. I look at it as a blessing, really: never underestimate the value of working on top of a stable base.

Anyway, I'm really excited for people to start exploring Minerva's Den. It's a little project, but one with a lot of heart, I feel. Look for more info soon.



On the old vs. the new

I think it's fair to question the motives behind striving for "immersion," sensory or otherwise. "To be immersed" shouldn't be an end unto itself; it's a means to achieving some specific mix of sensation, but what?

I think that, at its essence, traditional, sensory immersion imparts a feeling of wonder: wonder at being in a wholly different place and experiencing a context outside our everyday, to feel new in some way. It rekindles that feeling of endless possibility that surrounded us in childhood, which I feel is a very good thing indeed.

Big, expensive, sensorily-complete video games have spent decades pushing towards the sense of truly "being there" in a simulated space. The player is drawn into the fictional world, and is given the chance to exist there for some time before returning to our own. It gives us new places to visit, places that have never existed and that never will.

These experiences are most often solitary, shutting out the rest of our world so that we can exist wholly in the other. Is this isolating? Lonely? Escapist? Maybe it is, if too are the experiences of immersing one's self in a novel for hours, or sitting silent and still in a darkened movie theatre, or listening through a new album end-to-end, headphones on and eyes shut.

There is of course more than one way to achieve this sense of wonder. A new paradigm is emerging, one more connected, more plugged-in, more integrated into our own daily experience than the old model of immersing the player in a constructed world. Augmented reality games, driven by the explosion of smartphone adoption, point to a future where video games provide the wonder of the new and unexpected in a different way: by weaving fictional elements into our own world, infusing our everyday surroundings with the fantastical, teaching us to see our familiar world with new eyes. Your house, apartment, street, the nearby woods, populated now with fictional characters, mind-bending anomalies, cryptic glyphs-- all supported by your social network of friends and fellow players, experiencing these things together as a living community. A brave new world.

The question, I think, is whether these two paradigms inherently conflict with one another-- if one is ever set to supercede the other, leaving it a relic. The old paradigm may only be "old" inasmuch as it is universal, timeless: beyond being formally similar to nearly every form of popular entertainment in human history-- from staring into the flames as a story is told around the campfire, to the Greek theatre, to the novel, film, radio, television-- it also shares the key quality of the most vital examples of all the above forms: the ability to transport us to an entirely other realm of experience.

That is the difference between the two paradigms of immersion: one, the traditional, transports the player to another world; the other, newer paradigm, transports elements of otherness into our own. And so, while potentially powerful, the new paradigm cannot provide us with incredible, imagined places to explore. The city of Rapture could never have existed as augmented reality; the new paradigm cannot take us to Wonderland, only put the White Rabbit in our backyard. While it might be less of-the-moment, the old paradigm feels somehow that much more integral to the human condition.

And so when I see the traditional notion of immersion drawn along generational lines-- associated with Generation X, as the new paradigm is to Generation Y-- I can't help but feel it's short-sighted (perhaps a more accurate comparison would be Generation Y versus every prior generation.) The implication that the desire to immerse oneself in a new and unknown world is unhealthy, immature, self-destructive or even suicidal, feels reactionary and narrow: one need not assume that the urge to visit another world emerges from a desire to obliterate our own world or ourselves, to run as a coward from our real-world problems, our stresses and worries and all the grown-up stuff we deal with; perhaps, instead, we are running from just those things of which the new paradigm is built: endless chatter, meaningless noise, bombardment by ads and IMs and text messages. As opposed to being self-destructive, the desire to shut off the outside world might be meditative-- a respite; a temporary communion with a pure experience (and, indirectly, with its creators.)

This ability to transport the player to impossible worlds is what I love about video games, and it's what great art and entertainment has been achieving for thousands of years. It's also why I don't worry too much about the rise of Facebook and iPhone games turning these sorts of experiences into dinosaurs, rendering them obsolete and then extinct. As a species, we will always want to visit new places, born out of the imaginations of our most creative minds; we will always want to be immersed in worlds other than our own. Despite hailing from Generation Y, you'll have to call me old-fashioned: long live the old paradigm.