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One more Bioshock post

Sysshock Given all the frenzy surrounding Bioshock, the last thing you need is another frothy "This game rocks!" blog post (but, seriously, this game ROCKS!) With Metroid Prime 3 coming next week, it's great to be alive, isn't it?

Aside from publisher Take Two shares jumping 10% yesterday on strong sales of the title, serious gamers may be interested in connecting the dots between game designer Ken Levine's Bioshock and its groundbreaking spiritual predecessors  System Shock and System Shock 2 (Levine designed the second but not the first). Having not looked at the game for at least ten years, playing through the first hour of SS1 again last night revealed some compelling design choices that are clearly reflected in Bioshock and, surprisingly, still work well. I'll discuss these a bit more fully in the podcast coming this weekend, but a couple of quick notes:

  1. A visually stylized dystopia reflecting the consequences of technology/industry/ideology with no ethical restraints. System Shock looks forward to a cyberpunk depiction of 2072, while Bioshock looks backward to a retro art deco 1960.
  2. Both games place the protagonist in a world where his only link to humanity is a communicator that connects to a distant person who is trying to help him...but also needs his help.
  3. Logs, email, voice recordings serve as means to figuring out what has happened. The protagonist can listen to these while continuing to explore the environment. These artifacts slowly unravel what happened to the people in this world, which puts the protagonist in the role of anthropologist/detective.
  4. To survive, the hero must significantly alter his neurological makeup (plasmids in Bioshock; a surgical implant in SS1).
  5. Both games feature a thrillingly malevolent and complex antagonist free of ethical constraints and motivated by rational intentions...sort of.

If you plan to play Bioshock, you owe it to yourself to check out System Shock. Some clever fellows in Germany have figured out how to run the original under Windows from a USB thumbdrive. I tried it last night, and it works. You can get what you need here.