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Monday, January 23

Bioshock's 1999 Difficulty Mode sounds brilliant


Here's some paragraphs from an article by Kotaku about Bioshock Infinite's now not so secret '1999' difficult mode:

For the hardcore gamer, 1999 mode could be the best thing that's ever happened. And for the non-hardcore gamers?

"They're gonna hate this mode," said Levine. "That's okay — it's not for them."

Who exactly is 1999 mode for? For one, it's for the student that approached the creative director and co-founder of Irrational Games after a speaking engagement at Levine's old college to tell him he had a bone to pick with him. His complaint? That none of the choices in BioShock seemed to have any real permanence.

"There's a lot of things people can tell you about your game, positive and negative, and you can either agree or disagree," Levine told me. In this case he agreed. While there were permanent decisions in the game, none of the choices the player could make felt as if they changed the way the game was played irreversibly. "That would have been really cool."

Levine loved the idea so much he decided to "go down that road" with BioShock Infinite, but not before making sure it was something the fans wanted. The developer held an informal poll to feel out their audience. Would being required to make permanent decisions enhance their gameplay experience? When 57 percent responded in the affirmative, 1999 mode was born.

Adding 1999 mode to BioShock Infinite so late in the game was a bit of a challenge. The game wasn't designed to demand specialization from the player. The way resources were doled out had to be tweaked. The mode required extensive balancing to ensure the enhanced difficulty didn't cross the line from tough to cheap. "I really had to get back into the brain I had in the 90's," Levine explained. "It's that old-school feeling of 'If I fail, I deserved to fail' instead of 'the game made me fail'".

 Levine outlined how the game might play out for a player that decided to specialize in pistols. They'll be an amazing shot with a revolver, but the decision will severely affect their ability to use other weapons. When their back is to the wall and they've only got one bullet left, they might regret their decision, but it's up to them to make it work.

And if they should die, they'd better have the right components to facilitate resurrection. "Players have gotten so used to dying and getting rezzed that they'll use it as a strategy, running in taking out a few enemies, dying, and coming right back," Levine said. "In 1999 mode if you keep charging your resources to come back, be prepared to load a save game."

1999 mode creates this same sort of tension, while ensuring that the player is always in the pilot seat. The decisions, good or bad, are the player's to make. It's a mode that makes them think differently about how they play the game.

"We're going to hide (1999 mode) in the menu, probably with some sort of code. To the non-hardcore gamer we're not going to even reveal that it exists," Levine told me. "The mode will be very unfamiliar to the non-core gamer."

"This mode is not going to feel like BioShock'"

To the more hardcore among us, Levine thinks the new mode will be a welcome return, demanding and challenging. "This mode is not going to feel like BioShock", he warned. There will be rage quits. Controllers will be thrown, even among the hardcore.

Ultimately the choice to play BioShock Infinite in normal or 1999 mode is up to you, the player. If you try the more difficult setting and can't get the hang of it, then fall back on the regular game. Or alternate as your mood for a challenge comes and goes.

But if you're the kind of game that bails at the first sign of failure you may want to keep your distance. As Ken Levine said, "This is not for you. Don't worry about it.

"This is for the hardcore. They're the only ones that will understand why it's cool."

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