I loved Bioshock. When it first came out I was absolutely smitten. The visual design and interesting story line were an absolute pleasure at every moment. I ran through the halls feeling as though they created a cohesive and wonderful world for me to frolic in and explore and I truly couldn’t wait to find out what was around each corner.
However, the enemies caused the opposite reaction. Every time I was faced with yet another splicer that looked, talked, and acted just the same I was tossed back out of my fantasy bubble and remind that I was just playing a visually updated version of the same game mechanic from the 90s.
Here we are, stuck in a secluded place where people get addicted to something that freaking mutates them. Why do we then only have 5 variations? There are literally only 5 enemies aside from the big brother/little sister duo and Rosie. Lets add that up. You play through the entire game and only see 7 variations. Bioshock 2 didn’t score much better with a total of 11 variations.
Lots of games do this. Why am I being so hard on bioshock for just following the formula?
Well, this is true. Lots of game do follow this trope. Enemy classes are as old as games. Back when we had extreme limitations on memory and horsepower we would call up as many variations of a single sprite as possible. Some games fall naturally into this. Games with military forces don’t really have much of an option as our real life military is divided into ranks and skill sets. Id missed their opportunity to buck the trend back in doom3. Mutated zombie people? Lets make them identical, just like we did when we were scrounging for best ways to optimize for 2d sprite based FPS gaming! It is easy and lazy.
Bioshock, however, was the prime environment to break free of this horrid, ancient, annoying system of creating common enemy classes. This was the perfect opportunity to have each room be a different experience, a glimpse into the life of this ADAM addicted splicer.
Is there a solution?
Absolutely. There are several, at least for the type of game where individual enemies would be beneficial. As noted above, some games, it just adds nothing.
1. Combinations based on algorithms.
You could create a database of different body parts/ variations thereof. Pull each character from the pile based on environmental inputs, or just simply randomly. I believe Left 4 Dead does something like this to accomplish variation in the zombies. This could allow you to create a few animation frameworks and still have visual variation. While this is already put into effect to some degree, it seems to be barely noticeable in many games (vest colors in bioshock).
2. Unique enemies.
Arguably the more difficult of the options. It would require tons of developer-hours to create each enemy to be unique. It flies in the face of modern FPS design where people expect quantity based difficulty. (one splicer is hard, next room will be TWO!). However, I know that I personally would happily play a game where there were fewer but richer encounters.
But what about budgets and timelines and blah bah blah?
I realize we can’t build games to be the perfect experiences we all dream of. I’m a realistic guy. I know that they would have made the game absolutely perfect if given the chance. This rant is here to serve as a hopeful call to future developers. Just imagine how amazingly immersive bioshock would have been if each splicer was at least visually a story of its own.
My call to you is to set out with a goal of building a story with rich characters (yeah, even the enemies) next time instead of starting out with the goal of building an FPS that is pretty. Maybe I’m the only one that would play it. Then again, maybe not.