Sources from Irrational who worked on BioShock Infinite and were there they day Ken Levine announced that the studio would be winding down detailed the last years of the developer in an interview with Polygon, recently.
They discussed Levine’s creative process, the constant iterations and changes and the scrapping of two multiplayer modes: Border Control and Spec-Ops.
Development on BioShock Infinite began in earnest during 2009, and while the single-player portion was still very much up in the air, work was being done on two multiplayer modes.
Border Control, the sources reveal, was to be a tower-defence mode, satirising old political cartoons and bigoted stereotypes. It was itself a game, set in the BioShock universe, where the children of Columbia were indoctrinated by racist stereotypes.
The second mode, Spec-Ops, was more traditional, but also much larger in scope. Matches were to be four-player affairs, fighting against the AI cooperatively. The areas would have had randomised content and loot. Using the loot, players would have been able to improve their characters. Plans went far beyond launch, and the mode was to evolve, with areas changing as the conflict told the story of two warring factions (presumably the Vox Populi and The Founders).
But as progress on the single-player aspect failed to gain speed, Levine grew frustrated and more ideas were thrown into the mix, like the Skyline transportation network. The game was changed and reworked over and over again, so that years into development the design hadn’t been finalised.
Levine brought in Jordan Thomas, BioShock 2’s creative director. Together, Levine and Thomas scrapped BioShock’s multiplayer, moving the team to the single-player team, where they could use their experience with combat systems to improve the core game’s gunplay. Despite all the lost work, it doesn’t seem like it was a sore point. A source explained, “Jordan was a revelation [...] No one worked harder. No one worked more hours. He treated everyone with respect”.
It’s quite a bold step to completely scrap an entire aspect of a game, especially during a time when it was traditional - and still is - for first-person shooters to come packaged with several multiplayer modes. Of course, this often hurts the finished product, with resources being spread thin and the two disparate elements not really coming together.
It can be especially jarring in a narrative-driven game, which BioShock Infinite was. We saw this happen in the excellent Spec-Ops: The Line, which had an incredibly lacklustre, forgettable multiplayer component. Oddly enough, those devs are now working on a F2P multiplayer shooter.
Do you think that the multiplayer modes would have added anything to the overall experience? At the very least, they both sound like they were developed with one eye always on their context, tying them into the story of BioShock Infinite.