Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P


Bioshock was a videogame – I think we can all agree on that much. It was also a vast idea. Do ideas have sequels? I guess they sort of do. A corollary is a kind of idea-sequel, right? Or is a corollary more like downloadable content? I shouldn’t have led with something like this, maybe.

-Tycho, Penny Arcade

I was overtly biased against a sequel that took one of 2007’s finest games and handed the franchise over to another developer. My take now (without having played it, mind) is that the review scores are impressive, hailing it as an accomplished action game that polishes all the bits of the first game that I didn’t really care about. The awe of exploring Rapture, in all its art deco Ayn Rand-inspired glory, was a unique experience that you can’t really replicate by placing the player in the same environment but a bigger suit. Even if the combat works better.

On the other hand, if I’d read more about Mass Effect 2 before playing it, I’d have believed Bioware ruined an excellent RPG by removing the customisation depth and turning it into a straightforward action shooter. They haven’t. What they have done is carefully distilled their experimental hybrid into its purest essence. It’s exquisite. If you require more words, it’s one of the few games I think about solely in terms of its characters rather than its mechanics, which become almost invisible as you explore more of this vastly detailed universe which tears through the boundaries of previous “choice and consequence” simulations. If someone survived when I played the first game, I can converse and work with them. If they didn’t, I can’t. Because they’re still dead. Working out the permutations for the third instalment must be a terrifying prospect, but one whose benefits I cannot wait to reap.

Earlier this week Microsoft unveiled another sequel of sorts: the cumbersomely titled but rebuilt from the ground up Windows Phone 7 Series, replacing Windows Mobile. It’s not about to win over the iPhone crowd because, let’s face it, their attention is unflinchingly fixed in one direction. To be honest I’d be surprised if it wins over me because I’ve been stung too many times by beautiful bits of hardware that were crippled by the sluggish Windows Mobile OS. But for now I just want to talk interfaces.

At first it just seemed bland. The “chromeless” interface means no menu backgrounds, no reflective icons or dropped shadows (and apparently no carrier customisations either). It’s surprisingly different to current designs, taking its cues from the Zune rather than any existing smartphone OS. After a minute the focus on simplicity and clear typography is not only refreshing but rather beautiful, elegantly sliding between screens. Who would have thought Microsoft would be the minimalist ones? I remain wary until I play with one, but I think it will be all too easy to write this off as bland rather than bold: if that was your first impression, I’d urge you still to give them a whirl when devices arrive at the end of the year. I will be, even if I’m not holding my breath.

All this is a long way of saying that I should probably set my prejudice aside and try out Bioshock 2, remaining silent on it until I do so.


  1. In what way is it Randian?

  2. Objectivism is a central theme, arguably underpinning the downfall of the utopian Rapture — in ruin by the time the game’s protagonist arrives — and its creator Andrew Ryan (whose name makes the link rather overt).

    Kotaku ran a particularly interesting article titled No Gods or Kings: Objectivism in Bioshock, which explores it far better than I could summarise in a couple of lines.

    A thread on the Atlas Society Forums also reproduces some interesting correspondence between one user and Ken Levine, discussing both System Shock 2 and Bioshock.

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"Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

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