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September 25th, 2007, 15:02
It may or may not be reverse thinking.
The making of a game is not a simple process where you necessarily start out with "we want a casual game, where we nurture the player". I believe the game was much more a concept and less tangible in the early stages, and I don't think they thought about baby level difficulty back then. When I said 7-year old balance, I meant it. You can't die, you can't run out of resources (unless you REALLY REALLY want to), the game is linear enough to be called on-rails, there is no mental challenge anywhere in the game that you need to solve, and the map reveals everything secret should you miss it, and if that isn't enough the hint system will explicitly tell you to melt ice with fire. Anyone could complete it, and I'm pretty confident that a 7-year old could do it comfortably if you changed the horror setting to a My Little Pony wonder research lab.
I've followed development of Bioshock since way before it was announced, and since it was merely called "the spiritual successor to System Shock 2". It wasn't all that long after System Shock 2 was released, actually.
I'm sad to say I can't find the earliest articles anymore, but there are some from 2004 or so (IGN / Gamespot) where Levine's talking about what the game will be like. Now, it can't be proven that the original vision was different, but I personally believe the game was changed along the way to make it more accessible, and I actually believe they overstepped the mark even for the average console gamer. Not that such a person would notice anyway, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have a problem with a more meaningful death system, for instance.
In any case, what I got from Levine early on changed radically from inception to release, but it might have been my own wishful thinking. Maybe I'll never know, and I don't care at this point.
The fact of the matter is that Bioshock, in my opinion, is a good-to-great shooter but it's MILES behind what it could have been - and it's devastatingly lacking in challenge. I'm not saying they made bad financial decisions, but I tend to believe developers and publishers generally underestimate their audience, and in this case they could have made Bioshock better without hurting sales in a significant way. That said, I would have bitched about something else all the same, because the core concept of what it ended up being, is too far removed from what I would have done that I wouldn't have been happy anyway.
They basically took System Shock 2, reduced complexity and depth, and enhanced the cinematic qualities, making it so easy as to basically play like an uninterrupted interactive movie with an average story. That sort of thing obviously has an audience, but it definitely isn't what I want from a computer game. If I want a good movie, I'll go watch one.