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A World Of Themes is the seventh of the collectible Golden Film Reels, featuring director's commentary with Ken Levine and Shawn Robertson, hosted by Geoff Keighley. The Golden Film Reels are exclusive to the remastered version of BioShock, part of BioShock: The Collection.


On the desk in the Office of Andrew Ryan in Rapture Central Control. The player cannot backtrack to this location.


Finding the film reel in-game gives the following warning: SPOILER WARNING: The commentary contains in-depth discussion of plot details, including the ending. First-time players may wish to complete the game before viewing.

The host is Geoff Keighley.

Ken Levine's given credits are: Creative Director: System Shock 2, BioShock, BioShock, BioShock Infinite.

Shawn Robertson's given credits are: Animation Lead / Director: BioShock, BioShock Infinite.


[SCENE OVERLAY: Player looks over the dead Rosie slumped by the Gene Bank in the Rapture Metro station in Neptune's Bounty; player walks around the reception area of the Kashmir Restaurant in Welcome to Rapture; player regains consciousness as a Thuggish Splicer investigates Jack in the Lounge in Welcome to Rapture; player takes the elevator to the upper floors of the Atrium; player sees the tail section of Apollo Air Flight DF-0301 crash into the first glass tunnel in Welcome to Rapture; player sees Andrew Ryan on the monitors in the beginning of Rapture Central Control]

KEIGHLEY: Rapture is overflowing with memorable locations and set pieces. In developing a world that feels organic, lived in and functional, Irrational managed to create a space that feels perfectly suited to the story and action that takes place in it, which begs the question, did the plot shape the location? Or did the plot fit squarely into a world that was already established?


KEIGHLEY: Let's talk about some of the areas in Rapture. Because it-it's an amazing place, but also it feels like there's certain areas that are very well designed, that they have, you know, a very certain aesthetic and the characters in there, it all kinda comes together. Ken, do you have a, a part of Rapture that resonates the most with you still to this day?

LEVINE: I think the opening is always gonna be the most important to me because it's um, we spent a lot of time there. And it was all for me as a challenge as a narrative guy, is so how do we set up a very complex series of events and a very complex notion.

[SCENE OVERLAY: Player walks up the stairs outside to The Lighthouse and enters into darkness; player is in the lit Lighthouse interior and observes the bust of Andrew Ryan; player reaches the bottom floor of the Lighthouse and finds the Bathysphere]

LEVINE: And this, all this you know, Andrew-, so much to tell. Big Daddies and Little Sisters and Andrew Ryan and the time period and, and do that all without cutscenes. And especially I think the descent to Rapture when you're in that, when you get in the Bathysphere, you know, getting that right. Getting everything right down to like, you know, the c-, the c-, the Bathysphere cresting the hill and seeing the city for the first time. Remember how much we worked on the timing of that? Just getting that...

ROBERTSON: And it took us forever to figure out that we should just put the slide projector covering the window.


ROBERTSON: Like again in hindsight, it seems like such an obvious choice, but we were really trying to figure out like how are we going to tell this story of Ryan and then [woosh] reveal.

[SCENE OVERLAY: Player watches the slideshow in the Bathysphere reading "From the desk of Ryan", window shows the ocean floor giving way to the first view of the underwater city of Rapture]

ROBERTSON: So you can see the, you know, the city beyond the hill.

LEVINE: And also we didn't have to show the whole transition going down the bottom of the ocean because the whole screen was covered.

ROBERTSON: Spoiler alert.

LEVINE: I think that's the part that will always be near de-, de- near and dear to my heart.

ROBERTSON: Yeah, I mean for me it was Kashmir. Um it was one of the first...

KEIGHLEY: The restaurant?

LEVINE: The restaurant at the beginning.

ROBERTSON: Yeah, the restaurant at the beginning because it was really like the first art box that we created that was Rapture.

[SCENE OVERLAY: Early test footage showing debris-strewn stairs and a cluttered room with a pillar-shaped ticket booth; Early test footage of a turnaround of the Atlas statue similar to the one found in the Kashmir Restaurant with water flowing down the globe; player walks through the reception area of the Kashmir Restaurant, turning towards the final version of the Atlas statue - The following pieces of concept art by Mauricio Tejerina are shown: ]

[SCENE OVERLAY cont.: Player walks around the bottom floor of the Kashmir Restaurant, circling the Atlas statue; player looks at windows behind Atlas statue]

ROBERTSON: I mean we created spaces before that weren't really hitting the Art Deco look. Scott Sinclair had just started and he, he built that, uh, designed and built that statue of the Atlas with the, um, the world on his shoulders that was in the middle of the room. And uh, Mauricio had done some concept art for us of-of that space. And once we started putting everything together and getting it into engine and actually walking around it and seeing those giant windows off to the side that had, that just showed the seascape and really drove home the fact that you're underwater. It was the first time really all the elements started to come together.

LEVINE: And we actually were, we had built a bunch of stuff and we actually stepped back and said, "We have to just get one room right before we go any further" because we weren't getting it right. And so Mauricio did that concept drawing.


LEVINE: And he worked really hard on that statue, and that statue I think was the first object we really built in the game that was BioShock.

ROBERTSON: Yup. It stayed.

LEVINE: So we just stayed in that room for like a month until we got it right.

[SCENE OVERLAY: The following piece of concept art by Eric Lawson is shown: ]

ROBERTSON: And I think the original concept actually had a tram running through it.

LEVINE: Yes, yes.

ROBERTSON: So it was like even more complicated. And that was one of those things where we had to keep pulling back and pulling back, to really focus on what the bare essence of that room was.

KEIGHLEY: Were there parts of Rapture that you never were able to realize that you sort of still designed?


KEIGHLEY: The zoo. People prioritized Fort Frolic, right?

ROBERTSON: Yeah, the zoo. That I was excited about, not everybody was excited about the zoo. But I don't know why I was excited about the zoo because it would've been a nightmare.

[SCENE OVERLAY: The following piece of concept art by Mauricio Tejerina is shown: ]

KEIGHLEY: It's cool.

ROBERTSON: We had another area that was prior to Arcadia that was more of like straight up, uh, agriculture forest type of area.

LEVINE: Before we had the Bathyspheres we had a whole sort of subway transport system in Rapture.


LEVINE: Which we spent a lot of time thinking about and then just realized that these little submersibles would be a much better much more realistic and much better solution.

KEIGHLEY: And you were going to be able to move between locations in that subway system?

LEVINE: Yeah, uh, much like, much like, much like the, um, much like the Bathyspheres, but they were much more integrated throughout the space and we really want to support them and we just realized it was not a, it's not...


LEVINE: It was not really relevant to what we were doing.

KEIGHLEY: Right. Were there certain locations or areas where you knew a certain narrative point, you know, needed to happen? Like you look at a, you know, the reveal of sort of Atlas' true motivations like was that like, "Oh we gotta do it at this part, this level" because it fits the story? Or was it more that you sort of like you had the game laid out in a certain order and you just layered the story on top of it?

LEVINE: I think the big one I can think of is that you encounter Ryan in his sort of like, that he would live in an area of industry.


[SCENE OVERLAY: Player enters the Office of Andrew Ryan and looks at the Ryan Industries plaque and busts adorning the walls in Rapture Central Control, player moves towards the adjourning room with the control console featuring a stylized representation of the city as the windows show transporting pipes diverting molten lava]

LEVINE: You know, so he lives in this very industrial area because that's where he would feel most comfortable.


LEVINE: Um, and that we wanted his of-, his office, his lair to sort of be not in some, you know, residential zone.


LEVINE: But where he wants to wake up and smell the grease fires, and you know, f-, and the, and the, and the machines, and the smoke, and that's, that's in his life blood. Industry is his life blood.

ROBERTSON: But it also had to be very theatrical. Like if you look at it.


ROBERTSON: Now, it doesn't look like an office. You kind of know it's an office, because it's, the story is, is telling you that.

KEIGHLEY: Right. It's a set.

ROBERTSON: Um, and we had some old technology that was laying around, um, in the game that would control environment settings. So we, old system that we had would cause, let you do high pressure, low pressure, medium pressure.

[SCENE OVERLAY: Three variants of the following piece of concept art by Mauricio Tejerina are shown with overlain text]

ROBERTSON: And those would affect lighting, and um, other like post-process things in the world. And that was a system that was cut, but because the code was in, we were always trying to figure out ways to use it. And one of the ways that we used it was in the Andrew Ryan sequence, because we didn't have a lot of narrative storytelling tools. We were basically switching the atmosphere to get all the lighting changes, so when, any, whenever t-, a light changes in that scene, we're telling the game that the atmosphere is changing so and then the preset atmospheres come in and, and shine the spotlights on them, or bring up the houselights when we need them to.

LEVINE: It was very, very early on you could change the pressure in the areas and that would change how explosions work.


LEVINE: And all this stuff like that. And we just, we couldn't figure out how to make it gettable.

ROBERTSON: Couldn't feed it back, yeah.

LEVINE: For the player, we couldn't make it feed back. But we still had all those, that, that moved a lot of levers in the game. So we still had the system, so we used it for the sort of theatrical cues of the you know, very theatrical cues of Ryan appearing, the lights going down where you are, and the lights coming up where he are, uh, he is.


LEVINE: 'Cause the engine didn't have those tools by default.

[SCENE OVERLAY: Player enters the Office of Andrew Ryan in Rapture Central Control, Andrew Ryan speaks while playing golf behind the picture window, room is dimly lit, Ryan: "The assassin has overcome my final defense, and now he's come to murder me.", spotlight fades in on Ryan revealing a putting green at his feet, Ryan: "In the end, what separates a man from a slave?", rear wall and area behind him illuminates, Ryan: "Money? Power? No. A man chooses. A slave obeys."]

KEIGHLEY: And there was a great sense of, sort of, artistic progression as you went through the game too. And that you know each level had its own sort of voice. Was that something that, you know, a lot of games as they move further in development it's like, "Oh, we sort of ran out of time we can-, you know, it's like we're just gonna sort of repeat this and change the color palette." It felt like, I mean, for the team, it was, it was very defined from early on that you wanted each, each sort of level, which they were levels back in the day, to feel distinct?

LEVINE: Yeah, I mean we had a, we sort of, um, experimented with that back on System Shock 2. Back when every Doom level looked pretty much like every other Doom level. Um, because they were just sort of working on the same set of assets. We decided with our very rudimentary tools in System Shock 2 that we would progress with color, and every deck would feel different from a color standpoint. Even though most of that was a lighting, not, or textures, nothing really more. But we have the tools to actually, you know sort of, theme levels. And I think a lot of this goes back to I think my first memory was actually from when I was one years old at the Montreal, um, World Expo, World's Fair.

KEIGHLEY: You remember when you were one?

LEVINE: Ah, well I remember being at, something at this world's fair, which I didn't realize I think was in 1967, when I was one years old.

KEIGHLEY: Okay, uh-huh. Wow.

LEVINE: A little over one years old. And I was on a theme park ride they had with a, and I remember being on this thing where a big bat flies out of this sort of thing and comes up. I don't know why I was a one year old was on this ride I'm not sure, a sort of a haunted house-y kind of ride. And I, I remember loving it. And I think that stuck with me. So the notion of sort of theme parky themes and settings. Oh man, Disney World does a great job with this. You go to Disney World, they theme areas. So themed areas are something that always resonated with me. And BioShock sort of always has had this notion of feeling of theme in different areas. Much more than the real world has like you walk from building to building most of the time you can't really tell them apart.

KEIGHLEY: You walk from there.

LEVINE: Yeah you know walk from a floor of an office building to another floor it's not gonna look any different. But we-we've always felt that it was really important.

ROBERTSON: Yeah, and it was also, I mean if you look at SWAT 4. Saw some early experiments with this. Especially like the serial killer's house level in SWAT 4. Um, just probably one of the most dense levels that we ship. But you were trying to tell a specific story with that. And going straight into BioShock and using the same exact engine that we're using and we were very comfortable at that point with how the engine worked and how to art up these rooms. Gave us a leg up when we sat down and really thought about what stories are we specifically trying to tell. And one of the, one of my favorite anecdotes from this time period is, um, with Sander Cohen. I think it was Nate Wells and Stephen Alexander sat down one night. And they came up with a back story for every dead body that you find in that, in that space. And then they told that story with the props that they could. Even if it was just like this guy crawled 3 feet and then shot himself in the head, because he was sad about something. You know, they put those marks in, maybe put a picture next to the guy, and then he shot himself. So they really like did their homework and tried to add, you know, the backstory for everything that you're gonna find in that space.

[SCENE OVERLAY: Player walks around the stairs in Hephaestus before heading to Heat Loss Monitoring, the audio diary Running Short on R-34s plays: "I've got Atlas' goons hitting us non-stop, and two dead mechanics just this week. We need to control costs! If I wanted to deal with amateurs, I would have stayed on dry land."]

Behind the Scenes[]

  • Levine mentions Expo 67 held in Montreal, possibly referring to the exhibit in the Labyrinth pavilion.