Loved Bioshock. Enjoying Bioshock 2, a few hours in. Congratulations to friends up at 2K Marin, for the successful launch. May the sound of cash registers ring out for them.So why am I writing here? One design element I’ve found in my first few hours warrants questioning.
Remember the respawn system of Bioshock?
Death in the Bioshock series is just a teleport. You respawn with the same package of weapons and ammo you had at the moment of your death, plus a minimum amount of health and mana (“Eve”). The world state is preserved.
As players soon observed, in the original Bioshock this allowed you to progress by bashing through content repeatedly without any attempt at skill or self-preservation. Do some damage, die, respawn, repeat. Boss enemies fell down through this method like everything else. This seems silly, and the creative director of Bioshock 2 took steps:
But the main criticism that we derived from the first game was the Vita-thrashing exploit, which was — because there were ammo-less weapons in the game and because there were consensual boss fights in the game — the idea of just using an ammo-less weapon and playing Lemmings over and over again until the cliff just disappears. [It was] was degenerate in many many ways… It was fun for no one. So now the Little Sisters will heal the Big Daddies a percentage of their health if you don’t take them out. So you do have to invest in their demise.
Problem to solution, right? If only things were so simple.
Here’s the thing: Bioshock 2 has hard content locks – blood gates – that require defeating a certain enemy or waves of enemies. It’s impossible to progress in the game without killing these enemies. And as the creative director said, if the Big Daddy kills you on the first try (or you die defending the Little Sister as she’s harvesting Adam, etc.), you’re going to have to have to start the fight all over again. The Bid Daddy heals, and the progress bar on defending your Little Sister is reset.
See the problem? With a relatively stingy ammo drop rate from enemies in the game (why is that by the way? this game is a shooter, and ammo should be plentiful), after you die, you re-start an encounter with fewer health packs, fewer eve packs, and less ammo. And you failed the first time, so good luck! It seems likely you’ll fail again. Really, the game should make things a little easier the second time, not harder. In the worst case,the player may re-start a major fight with no ammo at all. Then what? Congratulations, we’ve arrived at a degenerate state: it is well nigh impossible for the player to progress. I hope the last autosave wasn’t that far back…
The prescription? In the next game, dump the vita chambers. Use checkpoints that save your full character state, and let the player try again with a starting package at least as good as the one he just failed with. For this game, a patch that forces autosaves before every content gate — and bigger ammo drops from random respawned splicers — wouldn’t seem to be a bad step.