Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea - Returning To Rapture In Infinite's DLC

Paul Walker


We talk to Irrational's Don Roy about Bioshock Infinite's Burial at Sea DLC.

Published on Nov 4, 2013

We caught up with Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea producer Don Roy to talk about why Irrational decided to return to Rapture, how Elizabeth has changed as a character and how fan art found its way into the game.

Could you tell us what your role is at Irrational and on Burial at Sea in particular?

Yeah, absolutely. My name is Don Roy and I’m producer on Burial at Sea, I ended up leading production at the end of Burial at Sea, normally I’m the narrative producer – so all the narrative content, , animation, cinematic scripting, effects – everything that goes into our narrative writing – VO, all of that. 

Why did you decide to go back to Rapture? Was that in any way a response to the positive feedback going back to Rapture in Infinite or was that something you already had in mind?

We definitely didn’t have it in mind. The feedback was great. It really stemmed out of two things – when we finished Infinite and we decided we were going to do the DLC and putting all of our chips into it, two things came up when the idea of Rapture came along. 

The first was, 'can we take the learnings of Infinite and how we built those worlds and how we created living characters walking around in a setting that felt real and bring it back and show Rapture in its heyday, before it fell' – which we knew was going to be a challenge, but that was exciting. 

The other was, ‘is there a compelling narrative story that can stand on its own that connects the two worlds’? We figured both those out and wanted to take on those challenges, so that’s how we ended up in Rapture. 

You mentioned taking some of the stuff you did with Infinite in terms of building worlds. It feels like there is a mix of the two in Burial at Sea in that the first half feels like Infinite, showing you the world, and the second half feels more like the original Bioshock that we know, so is that the case, that you’re trying to take something from Infinite and the original Bioshock?

Yeah, I think it was really compelling to us to take the idea of town centre in Infinite and show that level of life and activity in rapture proper, so that people could see what it looked like before the fall and see people living their lives and what the idealized Andrew Ryan world looked like. 

Because in Bioshock 1 you have his PSAs [personal service announcements] and you have the messaging and you see the branding, but you don’t get to see the people actually living there. We had the ability now and we had lessons learned that we could actually build it out and show people what it looked like when people were living that lifestyle.

Was there a concern at all trying to do that, given that Rapture’s such an iconic location? Were you worried about meeting fan’s expectations and your own expectations? 

It was a challenge for sure, but I think it was just exciting to think about doing. There’s a lot, myself included, there are a lot of people from the studio who weren’t there for Bio 1. So this is an amazing toolbox to be able to play with and then to be able to build our own version from the ground up and honour the original in its likeness and then introduce familiar faces. 

Like the day we resurrected the Big Daddy and put him in a level, it was a dream come true. I never envisaged a world where that was going to happen. Next came the little sisters and you’re like, “this is happening!”.  Then being able to see that world through Elizabeth and Bookers’ eyes is exciting because its not for shock factor, there’s a true value to it. It’s a very real story and they’re on a journey and I’m truly excited to see how people react to seeing these characters that they now love, living in a world that they love.

On those characters, the Elizabeth that we see in this story feels like a darker interpretation of that character, maybe more aggressive and dangerous – how did that come about?

It’s really a natural evolution of her character from Infinite. She’s the sum of all the events that have happened to her up until this point, so she’s no longer the book-smart girl in the tower. 

From the moment she gets onto the beach she’s learning and she’s taking in experience and then she’s introduced to violence and she’s involved in violence. 

She starts seeing the monsters that men can be and what they can do with bad intentions and she ends up as this ultimate being. So this is an extension of…she’s a different person after Infinite.

She now has a purpose, so she’s in this world with a purpose and the knowledge and experience that she’s had up until now. I think as people play through both parts, they’ll realise that there’s a very good reason why Elizabeth is who she is at this point.   

You mentioned the second part. Does the second part link directly to this first part – obviously with the way Bioshock is it gives you license to jump around wherever you want, but you are going to continue that on?

Yeah, it is a two-part story. The only thing we’ve been able to say about the second part is that ‘Liz will be a playable character, which we’re very excited about. 

We know fans are too because we got a ton of feedback after Infinite launched, people wishing they had been able to play as Elizabeth. We were eager to see it too because she’s endearing and she now has a place in our hearts and being able to see the world through her eyes is an experience I think a lot of people want to have.

So we might get to play with some of her powers in the second part?

Can’t say anything about the second part other than she will be a playable character!

Going back to the first part, did you make any tweaks to the mechanics or the combat? I got the sense that it felt a little different - correct me if I’m wrong - because you get tighter corridors in this and with some of the areas being a little smaller, it sometimes feels a little more like Bioshock 1 combat? 

No, it’s very much a hybrid, your feelings are right. 

We found when we started building it out that we remembered, “oh, combat in quarters is very different than it is with open-world big set pieces”! So we had to start reining it in. 

It’s a nice hybrid I feel of the systems that we had in Infinite and leveraging it against familiar Bio 1 combat. So things like resource management, and scavenging for resources so you have to make choices about what you’re doing.

We’ve reintroduced the idea of stealth elements, so you can sneak around and do things. So we’ve brought back some, we’ve retained some from Infinite to get a nice mix I think. 

You really have to be aware of what you’re doing with your resources, but the great benefit of that is that then you’re really truly exploring and looting because you have a need and you start feeling the dire situation that you’re in. I think there’s a great emotional reaction you can get from that type of gameplay, so it’s been fun to go back and try to build in some of that old Bio 1 style stuff.

Was that just because you wanted to put that stuff in or was that in any way a response to things in Infinite that you thought, “maybe we could change this”, or, “maybe we could do this better”?

Mostly, it was about serving the narrative of this game, making sure the world felt right. 

Because it’s not enough to just go back to Rapture; Rapture comes with a lot of things. It was a character and so there’s a lot of DNA that makes up that character and one of those things is the way that the player experiences combat with splicers in the world. 

Not having that would inherently not feel quite like Rapture, so it was important that we made sure we were able to do that and have those elements, certain key elements that were going to be necessary for it to still feel like Rapture. 

Can you tell us where the noir influences came from? It’s very obvious at the start that there’s a hardboiled detective influence. 

Really it’s that we like noir stories at the studio. Bioshocks inherently are mysteries, which just plays well to that genre and then narratively it fits well because of the story we are trying to tell. Who ‘Liz is and what her motivations are, it all ties in very well to that type of genre. So, it just fit like a glove, for lack of a better term.

Do you think there’s potential for more Bioshock in the future or is there any sense that making sequels becomes a restraint in that you have to do certain things? Or with the way that the Bioshock fiction is, allowing you to go to different worlds, does that mean you’ve got more life in there?

Because we’re so heads down on DLC right now we actually haven’t had any discussions about what comes next; our whole studio is working on DLC. 

We don’t know what we’ll be doing next but I do not that whatever it will be, will be a vision that Ken [Levine] has and that can come from anywhere. 

We don’t ever worry really about being tied to any one thing, it’s going to come down to what Ken’s vision is and how we can help execute that vision and it could be anything at this point. I kind of like that the future’s wide open; it’s a nice feeling. 

You’ve had your ‘combat’ DLC with Clash in the Clouds. Do you see Burial at Sea as being more focused more on story, allowing you to give people who like the combat and people who like the story what they want?

Yeah, I think DLC ended up being a great opportunity for us. We get a lot of fan feedback and we listen to it all and it’s very important to us and there are people who really love playing the combat in our games and there are people who absolutely love the narrative.

It’s funny when you start parsing through it all, when you start getting the feedback where people would like to have the game without any combat, your like, “this is amazing, what’s happening!”. So we get both ends of the spectrum. 

What we were able to do with the DLC on this is utilise the strengths of both. I think that Clash of the Clouds, our first one that’s out now, really got us to be able to leverage the combat from Infinite in a way that just wasn’t available in the main game, either because of the narrative storytelling that we were doing or because of technical limitations. 

But in that one, we can throw the kitchen sink at you and we can leverage the systems insanely. 

My greatest joy is there’s an achievement where you can undertow a guy off of a ledge and then pull them back in and kill them and I’m like, “this is amazing!”. Stuff like that it would have been difficult to do in the heat of the story, but we give you a venue for that. Beating two handy men and then having a siren come in and resurrect – we had really great systems and we were able to truly leverage them to 100%, so I thought that was really cool for people. 

Then we’re able to tell this really comprehensive standalone story with a lot of effort and density of content [with Burial at Sea]. It’s been a great exercise, it’s been a great journey for us to be able to spend this year working on that as a follow up to Infinite. 

Digital distribution’s great. There’s a lot of different ways to leverage DLC and I think that we found one that works really well for us, so it’s been good. I’m happy that we did and I think the studio feels really good about the efforts that we made. 

On the flip side of that, having to do something shorter, how much of a challenge was that? Because Bioshock games are well known for their world-building – obviously people are already familiar with Rapture – but you’ve got a shorter time to do that. There’s always been this focus on political and social themes in Bioshock and then you’ve also got the more personal story; did you try to focus it down a bit more?

I think you get a little bit of everything that you expect in a Bioshock game and it’s awesome to see the team pull together and get it all in. 

Again, everything is in the genesis of the story. We understood the story and we also understand what fans like in our games and the things that help make our games. 

We have a toolset of things that we know are very strong and allow us to tell the narrative stories we like. So those are nice tent poles, the things we know that work well and we like to do, so it’s just always being true to those things, knowing that they have a place and then building the story around that, is kind of how we work everything out. 

But I don’t think anybody will be short changed by any amount of content – we have every type of content that we’ve ever had in the games. I’m so proud of the team. They’re really doing an amazing job of pouring their heart and soul into making this story and making it into something that I think people will remember for a long time. 

Was there anything specific that you did, or put in there, or changed because of feedback or do you focus more on just doing things the way you do them?

I think the one thing that got in, that I’m so happy that got in, was the fan interaction with the plasmid that we introduced in episode one, which is Old Man Winter. 

We wanted to reintroduce an ice plasmid, but it had slightly different functionality. Right around the time we were figuring that out, serendipitously, a fan posts this amazing piece of fan art about a fictional vigor called Old Man Winter, which was an ice vigor, and it was this fantastic poster that looks like it would have come out of our studio, with the bottle, and it was amazing. 

So it popped up and we were like, “that looks awesome”, and it fit exactly with the problem we were solving, so we reached out and said, “hey, we want to use this in something”. We couldn’t tell him what for at the time, but he was totally game. 

We modeled the bottle and we took that poster and then we altered it slightly so it was ‘plasmids’ and not ‘vigor’ and it was ‘Ryan Industries’ and not ‘Fink’.

The posters live in the game and the bottle lives in the game and the plasmid lives in the game and it stemmed from a fan idea and fan art. That’s a good day when you’re able to marry the fan’s love into the actual product, that’s pretty awesome. 

That must have been pretty cool for him, as a fan?

Oh yeah! It was great! I was the person who actually got to reach out to him and have conversations with him. 

It was phenomenal because I’ve been there as a fan, wanting to be involved. So I was so happy to be able to make that call to him and be like, “hey, your thing’s really cool and we’d like to do something with it”. That’s a good day. 

Was there anything that didn’t get into Infinite or any ideas that you used in Burial at Sea? I’m thinking of the radar gun which is pretty spectacular!

No, that’s all new. We told the complete story with Infinite that we wanted to tell so everything that people are going to get in the DLC is from the ground up. 

It’s Rapture completely new and built up, all new models, new assets; everything’s built from the ground up. That includes radar range which is the new weapon that we introduced, where you can cook people!

Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea is due to release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC 12 November.



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