Christopher Kline, lead programmer of Bioshock, just gave an excellent post-mortem on the project at a Montreal IGDA event. I always find it interesting to hear about design decisions which seem obvious from the outside but took multiple iterations to get right internally. Namely, the Little Sister characters started out as sea slugs and only ended up as young girls after a number of rewrites. Obviously, we feel a lot less empathy for slugs than children, and the game’s central moral choice – to harvest or to save the Little Sisters – would be a lot less meaningful without that empathy.
So, how did they start so far off the mark with the sea slugs? Shouldn’t it be obvious that the players would have a whole different game inside their heads once they are making a decision about a fellow human being? This question is key to understanding why good game design is so difficult. When you build a game from scratch, nothing is obvious. Games are only as good as the number of times your team can go through the design-implement-feedback loop. The sooner you start – and the wider a net you cast for play testers – the better.
Btw, does anyone know how I can embed this video without having it stick to the left margin?