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“BioShock,” since its debut in 2007, has been a franchise that is just gorgeous to look at as well as to play. Six years ago, gamers were introduced to the underwater city of Rapture, which was isolated from society and stuck in the 1950s. Every detail that went into the environment, from water leaking into just about every room, retro vending machines and the posters that hinted at the city’s technology and culture, drew the player in and made them feel trapped in Rapture.
The people behind the “BioShock” franchise have done it again with their new game “BioShock Infinite.” The artwork reflects certain design choices within the game and grants the player with a new atmosphere to become lost in: the floating city of Columbia. The Art of BioShock Infinite published by Dark Horse, grants an in-depth look into the evolution of the design, style and characters within “BioShock Infinite,” with a forward by the Creative Director of Irrational Games, Ken Levine, with commentary by Julian Murdoch and Dorian Hart.
The art book gives an adequate amount of attention to every aspect of the development process without overwhelming the reader with technical terms. Certain enemies that are seen in the finished game have different appearances, textures, appendages or just were scraped all together while core concepts were kept. What is truly beautiful and telling is the artwork of Columbia itself. Vast open spaces with towering buildings give the viewer a sense of the city while the darkness and degradation of the environment give an uneasy vibe, as if there is something going on behind the scenes.
The main characters of “BioShock Infinite,” Elizabeth and Booker, have gone through their iterations as well, until just the right look portrayed the characters correctly. Elizabeth in particular has a multitude of pages dedicated to her facial features and attire, which gives the viewer an appreciation for her polished final design.
Artist Robb Waters hints upon the difficult relationship Elizabeth has with the Songbird in one single image. Elizabeth stands next to the immense creature with one hand placed on it, as if petting the creature with a look of sadness on her face. The Songbird’s evolution is quite interesting to see. From early sketches that resemble that of a “Big Daddy with wings” the artists transformed the Songbird into a different creature altogether. The Songbird gives off an avian vibe with a mechanical tick that is both fascinating and terrifying. Is it truly a bird? Is it purely mechanical? This is something the player will have to find out within the game.
The only qualm is in the design of the main protagonist, Booker Dewitt. In his early iterations, Booker’s facial features had character. One example of this was that the bridge of his nose looked swollen, giving the rest of his face a fighter kind of look. However, in his polished design he appears to be a mix of Nathan Drake (“Uncharted”) and a younger looking Joel (“The Last of Us”). The commentary points to a necessary “everyman” look. The game industry is obsessed with the attractive white male in his thirties with a little scruff on his face, but it is becoming old hat. Would a less attractive leading male have been too much in a first person game which, according to Ken Levine, only shows Booker’s face in a reflection?
The art book makes up for this setback by giving an intriguing look at the game’s powers, which the player obtains by consuming Vigors. Vigors are given their very own chapter which sheds light onto the numerous designs of the bottles as well as the physical transformation of Columbia’s citizens that become addicted to them. Their bodies are grotesquely affected as a result.
Propaganda art work is a staple within the “BioShock” franchise. Posters littered around the city give the player insight concerning the social and cultural goings on around the city and that time period. The chapter on the propaganda of Columbia is reminiscent of the propaganda from the nineteenth century. They portray an America worried about foreigners deluding the American standard and values.
At the same time, propaganda posters for the civil war between The Founders and the Vox Populi add to the tension within the city. The leader of the Vox, Daisy Fitzroy, also has her own designs, as the artist strove to create a compelling leader for the revolution.
Last, one of the most interesting aspects of Columbia is the Sky-Hook. Sky-Hooks are the method of transportation between the floating sections of Columbia. They resemble roller coasters, except a character hangs by one arm. The design of the Sky-Hook is highly intricate, which gives a sense that they would actually exist. Irrational Games has produced some for the eager collector to own. As if the Sky-Hook was not innovative in itself, it can also be used in combat. There are several exciting renderings of the Sky-Hook maiming enemies.
Throughout The Art of BioShock Infinite the viewer is treated to a behind the scenes look at how concepts and designs are drawn up and evolve within the game design process. Many concepts do not make the cut, but the ones that do are the polished and truly unique ideas that make the finished game worth experiencing. This is an art book not only for the discerning collector, but a must buy for any fan of the “BioShock” franchise.