SUMMARY OF Contributions
I was the designer responsible for "Neptune's Bounty". I built spaces, planned and scripted gameplay, told visual stories, and acted as ambassador of the player's experience in the level.
I inherited responsibility for AI system iteration and tuning part-way through the project.
I was the sole designer assigned to the PC port, where I worked to ensure our UI survived the transition to a new platform (and was improved!).
I built a press demo and played various demos live at press events and trade shows such as E3, a visit to the Game Informer offices with Ken Levine, and a presentation to media in New York.
I traveled alone to Tokyo to represent Irrational for the Japanese launch of the game.
Neptune's Bounty - Full Playthrough Video
Read on for more detail
Read on if you'd like to:
- See highlights from Neptune's Bounty.
- See more detail about my development process, with case studies.
Warning: text. Lots of it.
Highlights from Neptune's Bounty
THE FIGHTING MCDONAGH TAVERN
A key location in Neptune's Bounty. I built the layout and crafted moment-to-moment gameplay.
This served as an exemplar of what good "spoke" (as in hub-and-spoke) spaces should feel like in BioShock in terms of:
- Pacing and variety of play experience.
- Amount of scripted moments vs. emergent and systems-driven gameplay.
- Spatial scale.
- Variety of space types and themes (eg. there's a bar area, wine cellar, basement office, and upstairs hotel rooms).
- Amount of occlusion and thus "mystery" created by not being able to view an entire space from any single vantage point (the bar area is a great example of this: an open space with pillars and other vision blockers).
- Amount of verticality (eg. the vertical element of a balcony overlooking the bar area).
Elements of the space were even retooled and re-used in BioShock 2, and there is a Fighting McDonagh's multiplayer map.
Moments such as a splicer wandering into the bar with a security camera in tow, or a Big Daddy showing up as you go to leave the bar feel like unscripted, systemic moments. They were however scripted. As much as possible I pushed for scripted moments to feel organic and natural. I wanted to blur the line between systemic and scripted moments so that it all feels the same to the player.
SPIDER SPLICER INTRO
The Spider Splicer is an AI type introduced in Neptune's Bounty, and I wanted that introduction to be memorable. I used a mix of scripted narrative moments and a lightly scripted first-encounter to achieve this.
SECURITY BULLSEYE PLASMID INTRO
I introduce the player to the Security Bullseye Plasmid. It tags AIs to come under attack from security bots when spotted by cameras.
The goal was to clearly frame a situation where the Plasmid is useful and guarantee the player will use it upon collection.
I worked to present Peach as a skittish, untrustworthy character. Placing him behind a solid steel door with only a slot through which to interact with the player helped achieve this.
In another sign of distrust Peach forces you to hand over your weapons before meeting in person. You then battle him in a fogged-out deep freezer with low visiblity and only your Plasmids at hand. Creative use of the Incinerate! Plasmid is encouraged by way of items frozen beneath the ice and parts of the space hidden behind frozen doors.
I took as many opportunities as possible to tell stories visually, from smugglers that have met a dark end to a mother and father who've lost their child to the Little Sister program.
PC SKU DESIGN
I was the design owner for the PC SKU of BioShock. I set the goal that "the play experience on PC must be identical or superior to playing on console". This applied to all areas of the design including UI, UX and overall play experience.
I worked to:
- Ensure the Xbox 360 controller was supported but optional.
- Rework the UI and key assignments to support mouse and keyboard.
- Remove all console-focused control elements such as aim assist.
- Ensure the play experience with mouse and keyboard was identical to the console play experience. For example, designed a weapon/plasmid selection UI that pauses the game (as does the radial selection menu on console) (screenshot).
- Tweaked overall game difficulty to compensate for players having greater aim precision with mouse and keyboard.
THE FISHERIES GAMEPLAY Demo
I planned and built one of the gameplay demos used to promote the game.
The purpose was to demonstrate the gameplay depth of BioShock by presenting a single scenario and showcasing how players could approach it with many different play styles.
This demo was shown online and at press events. I attended some of these events, such as one in New York where creative director Ken Levine narrated the demo while I manned the controller.
REMIXING THE VERTICAL SLICe
When I first joined the project the Boston team had just completed work on their first vertical slice gameplay demo. This was a single level aimed to be representative of the overall play experience. All core systems were represented and functioning in at least prototype form including combat, the AI ecology, quest structure, player abilities, and so on. The demo was strong but some of the more ethereal aspects such as tone and moment-to-moment pacing weren't quite coming together.
I wanted to make something closer to the final intended play experience, and I wanted to achieve this goal with minimal need for new work and in as short a time as possible. So I took the existing vertical slice and reconfigured it:
- I sliced the space up into chunks and reconfigured them into a new layout that followed the hub-and-spoke paradigm that the Shock series is known for.
- I created new scripted moments that fit the tone of the game such as jump scares and Splicers going about their business (searching for Adam, etc).
- I created new examples of visual storytelling.
- I created gameplay moments that married existing gameplay features (such as turrets) with smart level design (such as a traversal puzzle that involved bypassing a flamethrower turret protected by a mesh wall).
- I placed loot in interesting ways that encouraged exploration and married them to instances of visual storytelling.
- I reconfigured the quest structure and created more instances of player-driven secondary goals and rewards for exploration (such as tracking down Plasmids or caches of Adam).
My remixed vertical slice served as a rallying point for the level design team and a great example of what the Boston team wanted the game to be. Shortly after making this reworked vertical slice I flew to Boston to work in-house at Irrational Boston for the remainder of the project.
AI system DESIGN AND iteration
Just over a year out from ship I inherited design responsibility for the AI system which included all Splicer archetypes, Big Daddies, and the AI ecology system.
I collaborated with AI code lead John Abercrombie and animation lead Shawn Robertson in driving all AI iteration. I was primarily responsible for tuning all core AI behaviors including awareness and vision, combat behaviors, movement, and general tuning for good combat feel and pace. For example:
- I made Nitro Splicers retreat at ridiculous speed while dropping grenade chaff.
- I pushed for Big Daddies to become swift and agile when aggressive (instead of remaining slow and lumbering tanks).
- I built a "combat deck" test level and spent many, many hours fighting different combinations of enemies and fine-tuning their behaviors.
- I scripted prototypes in an effort to help drive and inform our iteration, such as an idea for having Big Daddies temporarily become invincible for short periods of time when in combat to drive players to find creative ways to retreat and lick their wounds.
- Apparently I coined the name "Mr. Bubbles" for the Big Daddies too, but I don't remember doing it!
Working with Shawn and John was one of the most satisfying collaborations in my career and I'm proud of what we achieved.