Vs. Mode: “BioShock” and “Metroid Prime 3: Corruption” — Totilo v. Croal, Round 2

Metroid Prime 3Newsweek's N'Gai Croal and I continue our debate about "BioShock" and "Metroid Prime 3: Corruption" in today's second round of Vs. Mode. (Round 1 was yesterday)

And get this: today we actually talk about "Metroid" a bit. In fact, I said...:

...despite my gut instinct that "BioShock" is the better game (it's more original, more thought-provoking, more heavily populated with awesome Big Daddies), I've been more thrilled playing "Metroid Prime 3." Why? Because "Metroid" games deliver on the empowerment fantasy.

Ah, nothing like quoting yourself out of context. Read on to see what I'm talking about and why N'Gai has some big problems with the "bad" path in "BioShock."'

This post is mirrored on N'Gai's "Level Up" blog. Vs. Mode continues later this week. Also, check today's bonus Vs. Mode IM exchange, in which I get angry.

(MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!)

To: N'Gai Croal

Fr: Stephen Totilo

Date: September 7, 2007

Re: Now You're Playing With New Power

N'Gai.

In your last letter you said, "many games" don't "create truly memorable openings." I say, "Thank you for saying something I strongly disagree with so I can power through a response and weave in some comments about the other game featured in this month's Vs. Mode."

On the lack of memorable openings… If we're talking about great first levels, then I submit that we are embarrassed by the rich number of them. "Metal Gear Solid 2" and "3" both present strong, gameplay-packed sequences in distinct settings that make the first hour of those games unforgettable. "The Legend Of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time" might have its best dungeon right at the start (sorry, Forest Temple fans). "Super Mario 64" opens with a joyful interactive romp in a castle courtyard that is among the best 3D levels ever programmed. "Super Metroid" begins with a smart homage to the end of "Metroid," then segues to a stretch of desolate exploration set in the ruins of the final stages of the series' first game – as perfect an establishment of mood and setting as I've seen in a video game.

A lack of memorable openings? I can't agree. But I will sign on to a petition for more meaningful openings, openings that say something more about the game we're starting than what the controls are. It's interesting to me that while you rightly and repeatedly state that games are first and foremost about what you, as the player-character do, the openings you praised from "God of War," "Half-Life" and "BioShock" de-emphasize their game's particular control and gameplay innovations in order to stress character and setting. (I would add the playable prison-break dream that opens "The Chronicles of Riddick: Butcher Bay" to your list.) These games suggest that who and where you are matters and is worth caring about as much as whatever the control scheme is. (This is particularly interesting in "BioShock"'s case, since the game then doesn't ask you to focus on the "who" part again for several hours; shifting focus to the "where" and the "what you're doing").

All of this talk about game openings got me thinking about the other game in our Vs Mode, "Metroid Prime 3." As you well know, one of the most debated styles of opening a game is the one "Metroid Prime 3" ditched. We should talk about how the game's development team at Retro Studios altered their approach. Can I coin the technique they used in earlier "Metroid Prime" games as the "Loss Lead-in"? It comes in a couple of flavors. There's the "Yanked Serving," which gives the starting player a taste of the powers they will achieve later in the game only to take them away after a playable intro (see "Metroid Prime," "Metroid Prime 2," and, sort of, "MGS 3: Snake Eater.") There's the "Revoked License" which lets you start a sequel with the abilties you had in the earlier game, only to strip you of them so you can begin a quest for a new set of powers (see "God of War II.") I expected "Prime 3" to go with one of these – the second, actually, which would have been an ideal way to show people they too should have completed "Prime 2" and earned the ability to see sound. Instead, the game was designed to open in a more conventional manner. Like many a "Zelda" game "Prime 3" initially equips its lead character with a small set of moves, the rest to be added throughout the game – and never is an ability subtracted.

Is this progress? It still drives me batty that Link seldom, if ever, begins his adventures with his boomerang and bombs or even a decent-sized wallet. At least Samus begins this one already capable of rolling into a ball, dropping bombs, jumping a second jump when reaching the height of her first jump. Has Retro, the development studio behind the "Prime" series made the right call? I used to wonder if the "Yanked Serving" intros of the previous two games in the series hurt more than they helped, requiring novice players to do too much too soon rather than easing them I gently. Does "Prime 3" make things a little easier? Is that the game's mild concession to the Wii's unintimidating-games-for-everyone mission statement?

I have a hard time answering these questions because I'm the guy who has asked "Zelda" series producer Eiji Aonuma if they'll ever make a game in which you do start with the boomerang and bow and arrow. I asked him that because I'm a veteran gamer and don't need the training wheels. I know how to ride the bike.

I'm OK with a game starting me off with an array of abilities, especially those that are not new to the new game. I just don't want to start the next "Zelda" or "Metroid" or "Metal Gear" with every new ability introduced in the game, and that's because of the thing that I think video games do best -- and that "Metroid" games do better than most everything else in the medium -- gradually empower the player.

Empowerment. Have the great character-driven games ever offered a better quality than that? The fantasy, sometimes realized, of going to the gym in real life is that lifting a certain amount of weight a certain number of times will make me stronger so I can lift more. The promise, sometimes honored, by school is that studying this subject and getting that score on a test will make me capable of some wonderful professional achievement like managing a McDonalds or transplanting a heart. This is one life dream: that a person's persistence and periodic achievement will help them realize their potential to become or re-make who they are. Empowerment is not the topic of every song or movie or book. But I'd wager that the majority of long-form single player video games are. "Halo," "Final Fantasy," "Castlevania," "Pokemon," "Call of Duty"…. all these games present the empowerment fantasy. They advance the player through an experience that leaves the player-character more powerful and more capable than they began. Sometimes the improvement the player achieves comes from repeated action and gained skill. Sometimes the improvement comes from how the games are programmed: the more you do in the game, the more powerful the designers make you.

For better or worse, and as shallow as it can be, I love this. In fact, despite my gut instinct that "BioShock" is the better game (it's more original, more thought-provoking, more heavily populated with awesome Big Daddies), I've been more thrilled playing "Metroid Prime 3." Why? Because "Metroid" games deliver on the empowerment fantasy. They promise the experience of feeling like a wimp in the beginning and turning into a super-hero. Through expert pacing, lovely art direction and a splendid, gradual arming of excellent powers, the "Prime" games deliver. Did I mention that the previous game rewarded my dedication to all that exploration by granting me the late-game ability to see sound?

I'll accept a pretty difficult workout routine if the game is going to give me a great power. (This has its pitfalls; I've been suckered into plenty of games that demand a mind-numbing grind.) I also don't mind being reminded of my relative weakness early in a game. In fact, I like that too. Call me a masochist, but one of my favorite experiences in gaming is encountering some inaccessible hatch in a "Metroid Prime," recognizing that I can't get through it yet but knowing that some time later in the game I'll gain the ability to go through said hatch and will be able to come back and figure out what's back there. This experience calls for backtracking. Many people hate it. I don't.

But I digress. Back to the empowerment thing. I am sure there are gamers who prefer to feel a sense of achievement that is earned by practice and with skill. To get better at "Tony Hawk" or multi-player "Halo," for instance, you need to commit to the game and sharpen your own abilities. In a game like "Metroid," however, you pretty much get the sense of achievement automatically. In due time the game doles out each cool power. I like taking that ride, but I can see why some people would find it banal and maybe even against the spirit of playing a game. I wonder how such people would judge the empowerment granted to players of "BioShock." Unlike "Metroid Prime," "BioShock" is designed to let players choose how to improve their abilities. Do I give my guy the ability to command swarms of bees? Or do I go for the add-on that makes hacking computers easier? The game doesn't force many upgrades on you, so the way you are empowered is up to you. But you do have to power yourself up in some way, and the gains you make aren't solely based on skill. You just buy that bee-swarm move. It's not like you have to learn how to master it. In theory I like the "BioShock" approach best. Choice is good, right? In execution, I prefer the specific progression of gaining abilities in "Metroid Prime 3." I like being able to turn into a ball early in the game and then, later, becoming a magnetic ball. That's improvement! What do you prefer? Enforced, scripted progression ("Metroid")? Progression that involves choice ("BioShock")? Or almost purely skill-based progression ("Tony Hawk," "Madden")?

Another questions for the room… What is more interesting: An added power that gives you a new way to interact with the game world? Or one that gives you a more spectacular way to kill something? In "BioShock" most of the upgrades I found were of the second variety. I could freeze a guy or I could burn him. I could shoot him with a shotgun. I could shoot him with a more powerful shotgun. I could program a turret to kill him for me. There were some powers that didn't completely fit that category, and they were among my favorite powers of the game: things like being able to automatically hack any electrified robot, which I earned by taking a lot of photos of such robots, or being able to turn a "Big Daddy" to my side. Compare that to the other game we're discussing. What I enjoyed with the "Metroid Prime" series is the degree to which the new powers you gain are designed to give you mastery not of your enemies but of your surroundings. To me that makes the most out of the great rooms and levels the best-looking games can put you in. It makes less of the game world something to just look at and more of it something with which to interact.

And speaking of art and level design, much praise goes to 2K Boston/Australia and to Retro Studios for the look of both of the games. "BioShock" and "Metroid Prime 3" benefit from developers who have the time, the budget and the talent to respect the players' innate desire to see cool stuff. Both games keep the repetition of graphics to a minimum. But… I have a complaint to file in 2K's direction. What happened to the idea of a quiet moment? Early in "BioShock" the player enters and explores Rapture in near-solitude. Enemy encounters are infrequent and the player is free -- I'd say encouraged -- to explore and enjoy the wondrous scenery. You spend a lot of time early in the game looking instead of doing. Then chaos ensues and the game rarely slows down again. "Metroid," on the other hand, is designed to encourage a lot of gazing. I wouldn't have wanted to see "BioShock" adopt "Metroid"'s detective-story-style pacing, but a little more quiet may have improved the rhythm of the game. Do you agree that developers don't provide quiet moments often enough? So many games are non-stop cacophony, and squander the impact of a quiet, mood-setting moment. To offer another example, one of my favorite moments of "Gears of War" was a slow walk you had to take through an impoverished town -- no fighting; just soaking in the atmosphere.

I don't want to go on much more here, as I've thrown a lot of new stuff on the table. A few other things for you to toy with, though:

1) Do you see developers reaching a limit on the powers they grant players, a drying well of variations on projectile weapons, laser beams and hacking techniques?

2) If the "Metroid" Wii controls are as good as Nintendo advertises them to be -- "The best first-person game controls ever made!" -- then what kind of mass-appeal games should they use them for? I'm thinking the average non-hardcore Wii owner might like a first-person paparazzi game.

Back to you…

-Stephen

To: Stephen Totilo

Fr: N'Gai Croal

Date: September 9, 2007

Re: Taking A Wrench To "BioShock"

Stephen,

You must have caught me in a good mood. Because for once, rather than taunt you by refusing to answer your questions or address the points you've raised, I'm actually going to tackle them--well, some of them, anyway--before I jump back in with what's been on my mind. Here goes:

1. "Many" is one of those wonderfully vague words that give us journalists plenty of wiggle room to sound authoritative without citing any real data. Well, let me raise the stakes of my original statement. I think that most people who play games would agree with me that many games don't have truly memorable openings. You've cited some terrific examples, but nowhere near enough to suggest that there are a "rich number" of games with stellar first levels. (Perhaps we should have Games For Lunch's Kyle Orland weigh in on this.) I'd even dispute your contention that "Metal Gear Solid 3"'s first level is as memorable as that of "Metal Gear Solid 2," which is exemplary from its opening cutscene of Snake walking across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to his boss battle with Olga Gurlukovich on the rain-swept deck of the tanker. Much of "MGS3"'s opening is concerned with teaching players the game's new mechanics and controls, necessitated by the fact that Hideo Kojima's not-entirely-successful attempts to compensate for the problems created by his decision to eliminate the franchise's radar without also properly evolving the camera system. I could play the opening sequence of "MGS2" over and over again. MGS3? Not so much.

2. I see that my love of neologisms has corrupted you. Good job on your analysis of Loss Lead-ins as a convention of game openings. Personally, I'm tired of the License Revoked approach to game design when it comes to sequels where I'm playing the same character.Yes, it's good game design, but only if you assume that the prototypical player is someone who never touched the previous entry. Even if the developers go through some minor contortions to come up with a rationale as to why they've stripped me of my abilities--a damaged power suit; a vengeful god--I still can't help but feel as though what's really at work is a combination of laziness and unquestioned assumptions about how games should be constructed.

When Blizzard releases an expansion pack, Level 60 players don't lose their gear or their abilities. Why don't non-MMO games borrow a page from that book? Let's say for argument's sake that "BioShock 2" picked up somewhere between "BioShock 1"'s interactive conclusion (the defeat of Fontaine) and its narrative conclusion (its "good" or "bad" endings), with Jack captured by the U.S. government and imprisoned in a top secret facility. It would therefore make sense that we veterans would begin the game with no weapons, but he could certainly still have all of his plasmids carried over from our "BioShock 1" game saves, with brand-new abilities added as we play through "BioShock 2." As for newbs, if no "BioShock 1" game save is detected, or players want a refresher course, there could be a flashback, a dream sequence, a training course or an alternate path used to instruct newcomers on how to play the game. I realize that this could create balancing difficulties—the game would have to be scaled completely differently for experienced players and novices--but I still think it's high time developers started designing sequels in a way that properly respects the amount of time that veteran gamers have put into the previous game.

3. It's interesting to see you cite empowerment fantasies as the reason you prefer "Metroid Prime 3: Corruption" to "BioShock." Your hero, indie game developer Jonathan Blow, would be sorely disappointed by your admitted shallowness. He reacted to a GameSetWatch post earlier this year of the video "The Most Powerful Person in the World," with the following comment:

a) As someone who is very much into games, the message seems a little too simplistic. Is it really good to be the pretend "most powerful person in the world", and is that where the medium ought to be heading, really?

(b) It reinforces the negative stereotypes of gamers: they are a bunch of nerds who are feeble in their real lives, so they live in a fantasy land where they are powerful. Is that the main thing you get out of games? Really?

You don't want to reinforce negative stereotypes of gamers, do you?

I'm not as doctrinaire as Blow on this subject. I will say, however, that many games are not as inventive as they could be in handling the concepts and themes of power and empowerment in videogames. When a game begins, the player is generally at some kind of systemic disadvantage: physical, geographic, narrative, informational, etc. Over the course of the game, the player steadily overcomes these challenges until he or she ultimately masters the game system; one could crudely describe this as a transfer of power from the game developer to the player. But this is another area of game design whose assumptions and conventions are rarely challenged. In Theatresports (competitive improv theater), there's a game called Status Transfer, where one side is Low Status and the other is High Status. The winner of the game is the side which comes up with the most creative and entertaining way--in word and/or in deed--to both demonstrate its initial status and gradually transfer its status to the other side. I'd suggest that status transfer in videogames is a fertile area for innovation.

As for whether I prefer the scripted progression of "Metroid Prime 3"'s powerups, the choice of "BioShock"'s Plasmid economy, or the get-better-or-go-home skill-based progression of a Madden, it's like asking me if I prefer curried shrimp, bread pudding or gin and tonic. A game is in part a conversation between the developer and the player, and each has to be judged on its own merits. In gameplay terms, the "Metroid" series has from its inception always been about Samus doing battle with her environment in order to get from point A to point B moreso than her enemies, so its scripted progression makes sense. "BioShock" is about the player doing battle with the ecosytem of Rapture's enemies moreso than its environment, so letting the player choose which Plasmids and Tonics to equip also makes sense. And with "Madden" or "Tony Hawk," their chaining of moment-to-moment gameplay decisions in order to achieve a specific goal would be undone if it weren't primarily based around the player's skill.

Did you really feel wimpy playing "Metroid Prime 3," though? I don't think I've ever felt wimpy playing a "Metroid" game, and I don't think you're meant to. Samus may never start a game as powerful as she's going to be by the end, but she's never anything less than competent and quietly confident, no matter what challenge she's facing. I felt much wimpier as Jack in "BioShock." I'm only 10 percent into "Metroid Prime 3" (!), but I've yet to encounter anything as terrifying as the moment when my bathysphere touched down in Rapture, its interior lights went out, and a Splicer killed someone right in front of me, then began to cut its way into the bathysphere using an arc welder--and me without a single weapon. Now that's feeling wimpy.

4. You closed with two more questions. I'm not going to answer them yet, though. I have some other things I'd like to get to first.

"The problem is choice."

--Neo to the Architect in "The Matrix Reloaded

Having lavishly praised "BioShock" in my previous post, I now return to bury it, sort of. Because after comparing notes with you, I'm convinced that you had a more complete experience than I did. And I think the fault lies not with me, but with 2K Bostralia. When you told me about the Hypnotize Big Daddy plasmid, my first reaction was "How the heck did I miss that?" When I found out that players only get the plasmid if you rescue the Little Sisters, I was pissed, like a little kid stamping his feet and yelling "That's not fair!" Did 2K Bostralia make a moral judgement about the player's decision to kill or save Little Sisters by privileging Rescuers over Harvesters in giving Rescuers the Hypnotize Big Daddy Plasmid and not providing Harvesters a unique Plasmid of their own? And by doing so, have they unbalanced not the game, but rather the experience?

In theory, I should have applauded Levine and Co.'s creative decision. Why? The "morality systems" in most videogames are in fact amoral, because they strive to be symmetrical in gameplay terms so as not to unbalance the game and risk angering players by penalizing them for their choices. So what usually happens is that players are given different sets of special abilities, a la "Knights of the Old Republic," or perhaps some cosmetic differences in the player avatar's appearance, a la "Fable." (I once explained to Peter Molyneux that I thought "Fable"'s equation of good with physical beauty and evil with physical grotesquery was overly simplistic and stereotypical; he agreed, but insisted that those iconographic shorthands worked well for gamers.) The whole thing is wrapped up with two or more endings--with one designated the "good" ending and one being the "bad" ending--but what's intended to be a moral choice ends up being expressed as a style of play, with nothing that really provokes the player emotionally or intellectually.

2K Bostralia took another approach with "BioShock"'s asymmetrical reward structure. A Harvester like me gets 160 Adam per Little Sister killed, which enables me to to buy new Plasmids faster and/or level up those Plasmids more quickly. A rescuer like you only gets 80 Adam per Little Sister saved, making it harder for you to buy new Plasmids, and/or causing you to level up those Plasmids more slowly. But, as promised, Tenenbaum makes it "WORTH YOUR WHILE" by giving you a gift of 200 Adam for every three Little Sisters you save...along with the Hypnotize Big Daddy Plasmid1, which, from what I can see in these YouTube videos, is probably the single coolest Plasmid in the game. Crunching the numbers, I got 480 Adam for three Little Sisters harvested (160 per LS) and a quicker, linear leveling curve. You got 440 Adam per trio (147 per LS), a slower, stair-shaped leveling curve and that Hypnotize Big Daddy Plasmid. I think you can see why I'm upset.

In fairness to 2K Bostralia, it makes a certain narrative sense that a killer of Little Sisters would not get the Hypnotize Big Daddy Plasmid. But why no Hypnotize Splicer Plasmid? It would have partially preserved the asymmetry (rescuers still get the single coolest Plasmid, but harvesters get an interesting exclusive plasmid of their own); it would have fit nicely into the game's philosophy of letting the player mess with "BioShock'"s ecosystem; and it would have laid the groundwork far better for the megalomaniacal "bad" ending, which in its current form seems abrupt and out of left field. Right now, "BioShock" feels like a misguided Star Wars game where only good Jedi can get a lightsaber and dark Jedi are Sith out of luck.

The larger question I'm raising here is this: should a videogame game's morality be primarily expressed intrinsically (i.e. through gameplay and game systems) or extrinsically (i.e. through dialogue and cutscenes)? I think that games are at their most powerful when they express themselves intrinsically, through the fabric of their gameplay, along with the careful use of extrinsic elements as reinforcement and punctuation. The best example of this in "BioShock" comes in its latter stages, when I had to go through the step-by-step process of turning myself into a Big Daddy so that I could summon a Little Sister to open the series of doors that would take me to the climactic confrontation with Fontaine. So instead of killing Big Daddies in order to harvest Little Sisters for Adam, I was now a Big Daddy defending Little Sisters from waves of Splicers in order to reach my goal.

I don't know about you, but I found myself getting angry at the Splicers who were attacking my ward. It was likely the emotional substitution of my gamer's frustration at my progress being thwarted for my character's rage at the Splicers, but it was no less effective because of it. I lost six Little Sisters before I reached the end of that section, and I got madder and madder as each one was killed, far more so than I would have been had it just been me who'd been killed, akin to how I reacted to the section of "God of War" when I had to protect my/Kratos' family from an army of my doppelgangers. Would it be overstating the case for me to say, as Tenenbaum did, that these children I brutalized had awoken something inside me...my maternal instinct? All I know is that during that sequence my gamer values and moral values were now perfectly aligned, that my self-interest and my human interest were as one, and that for a relentless harvester like myself, this 180 degree reversal from predator to protector was genuinely moving. (On second thought, perhaps I did have the more complete experience after all...but I'm still rather salty.)

By expressing a videogame's morality in primarily intrinsic terms, developers run the risk of their game being amoral rather than moral because, as I said in my first installment, gamers may focus on playing the elements of system rather than allowing themselves to moved, provoked or challenged by the elements of the narrative. Yet I can't help but feel that game systems--particularly sandbox or emergent systems like those in "BioShock"--are at their best when they allow players to explore moral choices and their consequences, rather than privileging one moral choice over another, as the makers of this game seem to have done in their handling of the Hypnotize Big Daddy Plasmid.

As I stated in my first post, I don't mind being "punished" extrinsically--i.e. made to feel bad--for a choice that I've made in a game; in fact, I rather like it. And I respect 2K Bostralia for imposing a meaningful consequence for my choice to harvest the Little Sisters. But when the ultimate consequence is as asymmetrical and binary as Rescue Little Sisters--->Get Hypnotize Big Daddy Plasmid, Harvest Little Sisters--->Don't Get Hypnotize Big Daddy Plasmid--with other aspects of the ecosystem that could have been hacked, like the Splicer AI, left unexplored--not only do I have a problem with that kind of intrinsic punishment, it also feels like a missed opportunity.

Speaking of missed opportunities, another criticism I'd make of is "BioShock" that while it gave me a great deal of moment to moment choice and freedom, the only high level choice it offered me was whether to harvest or rescue the Little Sisters. That's understandable, because for a developer to create a proliferating series of choices that truly pay off is often prohibitive. But there was a perfect place in the game for a terrific choice or set of choices to happen: after the player kills Ryan. "A man chooses, a slave obeys," the game has just told us through Andrew Ryan's mid-martyrdom mantra2. Yet from that moment forward, "BioShock" still gives us just one path to follow: hunt down and kill Fontaine. We don't have a choice. We're given no alternatives. How can we become men when the game continues to enslave us? In other words, "BioShock"'s structure betrays its theme at a critical juncture, and while there are still high points to come, it never quite recovers sufficiently to properly fulfill the promise of its late-game revelation.

2K Bostralia disguises this lack of choice by presenting the game's final act as a fight for self-determination (free yourself from Fontaine's control) and survival (if you don't kill Fontaine, he'll kill you.) But what if, after Ryan's death, we had instead been presented with a reprise of the angel-on-one-shoulder, devil-on-the-other moment from earlier in the game? Only now, rather than deciding whether to rescue or harvest that first Little Sister, we were given the choice between siding with Tenenbaum or Fontaine? Side with Tenenbaum, and the game plays out largely as it does now. Side with Fontaine, and the game culminates with you leading an assault on the creche/orphanage where Tenenbaum keeps the rescued Little Sisters. (There could even be a final choice--just as with Sander Cohen, whom you can either kill or allow to live after completing Fort Frolic--where you could remain loyal to the last Rapture leader standing or betray them to claim Rapture for yourself.)

As I've outlined it, this high-level choice would take place late enough that it would have kept the amount of extra content--levels, voice over, cutscenes, encounters--to a manageable size, compared to making a choice like this earlier in the game. It would have been in keeping with both our earlier high-level decision crossroads and the let-the-gamer-choose-the-time-and-place Big Daddy boss battles, but it would have been much more meaningful given all the time we've spent in the interim absorbing the tragic history of Rapture and experiencing its aftermath. It would have paid off the theme of choice and consequence much better. Finally, for those of us who'd been walking on the dark side it would have properly paved the way for the bad ending.

What it would not have done, however, is improved the final boss battle. I'm running rather long here--surprise, surprise--so I'll save my critique of this for next time. But which game do you think handles boss fights better: "BioShock" or "Metroid Prime 3"? Also, how can "Metroid Prime 3" honestly claim to have "The Best First-Person Controls Ever Made!" when it's struggling to give us the same functionality on the Wiimote that we had on the Gamecube controller? Push down on the D-pad to fire missiles? Press the minus button to switch visors? Press the plus button to enter Hypermode? Please. Don't you think that BioShock--in what may in fact be its greatest achievement--lets us manage significantly more complexity in a far more intuitive manner?

The morph ball is in your court.

Cheers,

N'Gai

1. Having checked out some Big Daddy fights on YouTube, I felt that 2K Bostralia should have made them even cooler to watch--"think T-800 vs. T-1000 at the end of Terminator 2: Judgment Day"--since the player is more spectator than participant during these battles. A handful of special case combat animations for all of the A.I. on A.I. confrontations would have added a lot of bang for 2K's buck, no?

2. Another missed opportunity occurred when 2K Bostralia made the killing of Andrew Ryan a non-interactive cutscene. I think it should have been semi-interactive, where pushing the left analog stick in any direction only moves you closer to Ryan, and pressing any button strikes Ryan with the golf club, as if your neurons aren't firing properly. The outcome would remain the same, but the player would feel both more helpless and more complicit, as his or her every action is converted into an attack on the defenseless Ryan. Agree or disagree?