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Reality Check is the sixth 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.


In the crawlspace with the Electromagnetic Pulse Bomb in the Workshops in Hephaestus.


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: Opening scene, Jack smokes a cigarette on an airplane and holds a wrapped gift; player swims in ocean surrounded by fire, a sinking plane, and a lighthouse; player's descent into the neon signs of Rapture in the Bathysphere; player enters the first glass tunnel in Welcome to Rapture as the tail section of the airplane crashes into it; player shoots with the Pistol at a Thuggish Splicer who came out of the bathroom stall in the Kashmir Restaurant in Welcome to Rapture; player shocks a Houdini Splicer with Electro Bolt in Langford Research Laboratories in Arcadia and finishes it off with the Machine Gun]

KEIGHLEY: From the moment you boot up BioShock, you can feel the story grab hold of you. A plane crashes at sea, a mysterious lighthouse, a sprawling city beneath the ocean. Hooking the player from the first touch without overwhelming him with convoluted RPG mechanics was key to the success of the game and the skillful ramping up of BioShock's legendary gameplay.


KEIGHLEY: BioShock has an amazing opening sequence that I can't imagine the game without it, but the you know, the plane and sort of the crash, but I understand that didn't come online until like the very end of development. Shawn, is that true?

ROBERTSON: We had a couple of really depressing playtests. We had built all these systems, we thought we were doing a good job of like giving basically the people a playground to play with and then things to do. And when we had a playtest, we, man, we didn't realize how bad of a job we were doing in exposing those systems to the player because we were so in, you know, in these systems and in our own heads we had no idea that we just weren't facing them towards the player at all. So af-after that playtest, you know we-we took a long, cold look at what we were doing and realized that we had to introduce it, we were confident enough in the systems that they were going to be fun and meaningful to the player, but we really had to think about how we were going to introduce these systems to the player and in such a way that that they understand why the systems were there. Like it's you can't ship a readme file with the game and expect people to read it. Like, it has to be part of the experience, so the challenge is how do you introduce people to these systems, but do it in such a way that it fits within the narrative. So we had to integrate all of these things into the story cleanly so that the player felt that it was one, you know, one smooth experience. And I think the zap 'em and whack 'em thing was...

LEVINE: The one-two and the one-two punch. Yeah.

ROBERTSON: Yeah, the one-two punch that came out of that.

KEIGHLEY: The plane sequence at the beginning, I-I heard a story that like a programmer put that together in like a day or two and it was, it was a very last minute thing. Right?

LEVINE: [laughs] It was. So we had done a focus test and um, we had had, it was one of the most depressing experience of my life because we were very close to being finished, and we, it was basically giving people what essentially became the demo. And people played it, and they, and it was in Boston, and we were sort of behind these glass windows, all of these sort of Boston guys are like, "Ah this is a wicked piece of shit." You know, they ha-, they hated it, and they were making fun of it, and they were saying oh it's like Guys-, it's like watching some guys from Guys and Dolls getting, you know beating each other up, and then this is the stupidest thing they've ever seen. And we thought we were in pretty good shape at that point. And I remember the focus test guy was like sort of, sort of like a doctor giving me the bad news, "Yeah sorry Ken, uh, you better get your affairs in order".


LEVINE: And um, we went, we all came into work the next day and we were like, "What are we going to do?" And we're all pretty depressed, but um, I think we started talking and as we talked we started thinking about what are they saying to us, what are these people saying to us? What, we think there's something there. What, how, why are they missing it? And we decided that there was maybe they didn't understand who they were and who their role when the w-, they had a character who their role in the world was because the game at that point started with you in the ocean.


LEVINE: Floating in the ocean after the plane crash. And...

KEIGHLEY: The crash still was in the fiction, it just wasn't shown. Yeah.


[SCENE OVERLAY: Opening scene, Jack smokes a cigarette on an airplane and holds open a wallet with a photograph, later holds up a wrapped gift until it shakes and fades to black]

LEVINE: You just didn't see it, so you didn't have a voice over saying "My parents always said I was going to do great things" or whatever that. They didn't show the plane crash, we didn't establish a time period.


LEVINE: 'Cause, you know, the plane is critical to establishing, you're smoking a cigarette, it's very 1960s looking. Um the, all that stuff was established, it wasn't established, so we decided we had no time and no money, and no, so we sort of came up with a script, we you know, we, I wrote some lines. A line. I think Nate, one of our artists, recorded the line. Steven and Shawn and those guys got to work on building this very simple sequence which was the, well simple. Um straight- relatively simple, um, sequence.


LEVINE: And then the p-plane crash actually happens over the, a, the di-, the um, BioShock logo we already had, but I sort of wrote, we wrote a radio play behind that.


LEVINE: With you know "altitude, altitude", the crash, and that I think set the emotion on the people screaming in terror on the plane crash that set the emotional tenor much better and explained who the player was and all of a sudden we released then, I think the next real encounter we had was people playing the demo.


LEVINE: Public encounter and all of a sudden it was a very different experience.

KEIGHLEY: Now I remember, I remember even back in the day, we did a, I think we did a thing on TV where you kind of talked about it and it was like that night and I remember that night like people on the forums were just like going nuts. And even though the game had I think had a lot of press attention, when people finally got to play it and go through that sequence, yeah, I just remember there was this sort of mass excitement around it and then the game shipped only what a few weeks after that, right? Or a month after that?

LEVINE: Oh of oh a few, a week later, a few days later.

KEIGHLEY: It's amazing like now to, to hear that like literally like a month before the game came out like the plane sequence came along or something, I mean it was that late?

ROBERTSON: [laughs]

LEVINE: No. no, it well, we-we still had to go through certification and all that.

KEIGHLEY: Yeah, yeah so it was, it was like within you know.

LEVINE: Yeah, it wasn't, it wasn't far.


[SCENE OVERLAY: Opening scene, Jack wakes up underwater as luggage and aircraft parts slowly sink, he surfaces and looks around at the water's surface ablaze]

LEVINE: It wasn't far, it was really last minute, and it one of those things where like you re-really shouldn't be putting in content that late.

ROBERTSON: Yup, yeah.

LEVINE: But we-we felt that we were so close to having something good that we just rolled the dice on it. And um, we worked really hard on it like we had, we worked really hard. I remember how much time I spent on just that recording of "altitude, altitude" and I can still hear the different versions of that in my head 'cause it's so much time on that stuff and these guys were working on getting the, the animations right and the...

ROBERTSON: And the uh, the scene was shot in-engine, but we decided to pre-render it so that we had to do less QA on it.


ROBERTSON: There was no, it wasn't going to be like some weird streaming error or crash error.

KEIGHLEY: Huh, so it's last like, yeah.

ROBERTSON: It was just like we were just going to show the video, yeah.

[SCENE OVERLAY: Player looks up at and swim towards the Lighthouse in the burning ocean]

LEVINE: And it's interesting, because once you start in the ocean, the, we have this experience with testing a lot, with the water effects and ho-how beautiful S-Steven's water effects were, people didn't realize they were out of a cutscene...

ROBERTSON: Cutscene, yeah.


LEVINE: that point and so they would just sit there and stare.

KEIGHLEY: Right. Or they could look at the reflections, of yeah. That's cool.

LEVINE: They pick up the controller, yeah and they pick up the controller and all of a sudden they realize they're controlling. But they, but tha-, but yeah as Shawn said, that part of the plane is not actually interactive. It was done in the engine but we-we just filmed it.

KEIGHLEY: Now as you, people are playing though the game and you were testing it, I'm sure there was debate about, you know, when would you introduce these Plasmids, what would the ramp be. Did that change at all sort of as you got towards the end of development about like oh we're going to give people the gun at this point or it's like we're going to trigger these Plasmids at this point. Like how did that work?

LEVINE: So like we moved guns around. Like a, for instance there was a big debate about originally you found a gun in the lighthouse, a Pistol in the Lighthouse. At the very beginning.

KEIGHLEY: Right there, yeah?

LEVINE: And we had a lot of debates about it, and I feel that it was important that we didn't do that because the fact that you sort of go through a lot of the experience without being, having the distraction of a g-gun is important to getting you immersed in that world.

[SCENE OVERLAY: Player walks down the interior stairs of the Lighthouse reaching the bottom floor, area lights up around the Bathysphere; player sees a Security Camera target Rose the Splicer which summons a Security Bot that chases her up towards the ceiling in Welcome to Rapture]

LEVINE: Because you know, when you, when have a, uh, all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, right? But you don't have the hammer. So, you just sort of had to take in the world and have that feeling of fear and uh, like I know when you saw that Splicer bounding around on the ceiling that you couldn't do anything about it. That had, had even though that Spli-...

KEIGHLEY: Now, those are those moments, right?


KEIGHLEY: Like I remember when I played Unreal for the first time where it's like you-you're trapped, and there's a monster, and you can't do any- and the lights go out. It's like that's the moment with the Splicer where you're like where I want to do something, but I can't.

LEVINE: But I can't, yeah.

KEIGHLEY: And that evokes an emotion.

[SCENE OVERLAY: Player is in the Bathysphere and sees Rose approaching Johnny while humming "If I Didn't Care" in Welcome to Rapture, Rose eviscerates Johnny]

LEVINE: I remember we kept, you know, moving ma-, where the Machine Gun appeared around.


LEVINE: And where various Plasmids appeared around. It was a real sort of, it's a re-, I mean, it's a real fine tuning process.

ROBERTSON: Yeah, it gave us an opportunity, like especially with the Shotgun, to-to really present the weapons, like put some space between them. I think...

KEIGHLEY: Right, it's a moment when you finally...

LEVINE: Yeah when you finally got that Shotgun Paul sequence.

[SCENE OVERLAY: Player reaches the lobby of the Dental Services Area, a Shotgun on the floor is illuminated by a fallen neon clock in the Medical Pavilion; player is in a spotlight shooting at Splicers emerging from the darkness with the Shotgun and Incinerate!]

ROBERTSON: Yeah I think like Paul, Paul Helquist was yeah he put the sequence together for the um, when you see the Shotgun laying in the pool of light. Like every, every game developer knows what that means, you know. You know the minute you pick that thing up something is going to happen, but it was still a very effective way as I'm remembering it to, oh look, I've been waiting for this thing and now I'm going to pick it up and now you have an immediate opportunity to use it. But you know, at the same time we're trying to ramp up the tension level by having the Splicers kind of on the outside of, of the light so you can't really see them and then coming in one at a time and attacking you.

LEVINE: And we had very little, actually very few tools to really control how they, how the Splicers acted so how they were set up and how the environment was lit was really important, you know ther-

ROBERTSON: Well there's even other things, like when you get the TK Plasmid.

[SCENE OVERLAY: Player holds a gas cylinder with Telekinesis and throws it at a Splicer on the stairs outside of the Dental Services Area in the bottom floor of the Medical Pavilion; player grabs a grenade from a Nitro Splicer and throws it at the rubble blocking the entrance to Surgery]

ROBERTSON: I don't think we had a lot of physical space and opportunity and time to really present that so we came up with the narrative that, you know, it's the doctor's office and he used TK to practice tennis. And we had the turret in there that threw tennis balls at you. So if you wanted to, you could catch the tennis balls and throw them and you could knock things down. I think it revealed, uh, pickups that you could then, you know, pull to yourself with TK, but we're always trying to think of like little back stories that we could do. It doesn't have to be as involved as, as the Shotgun ambush sometimes it's just, oh let's take a grenade turret and turn it into a tennis ball turret.

KEIGHLEY: [laughs]

LEVINE: 'Cause we're, 'cause we wanna se-, yeah, like 'cause I-I remember like the impulse was, you know, I've been to dentists' offices and there's always some weird aspect of the pe-, the dentist's personality they always want to get through with their office, you know.

KEIGHLEY: Yeah. Right, right. [laughs]

LEVINE: They just have to have their hobby featured in some way, so we saw an opportunity there to both feature this "He's a tennis nut." And teach TK at the same time.

[SCENE OVERLAY: Player uses Telekinesis to catch and throw tennis balls at the makeshift ball launcher in Dandy Dental in the Medical Pavilion]