Hard To Explain: Bioshock Pitch Document

Irrational’s blog takes great joys in pulling out various bits and bobs from the cupboards and doing a show-and-tell. Latest is the original early-00s Bioshock Pitch. They’re serializing it across several entries but you can follow the first eight pages here. And it’s nifty stuff, in noting what remained (a lot, conceptually) and what changed (almost everything, in terms of specific execution). This stuff is always fascinating. And while we’re on the topic, you’ve read Planescape’s Vision Statement, yes? More developers should totally release this stuff. It’s absolute treasure.


  1. Heliocentric says:

    From the makers of freedom fighters? What about swat 4!

    • Wulf says:

      Freedom Force, actually.

      Freedom Force was quite amazing. A hilarious and purposefully cheesy pastiche of the golden age of comic books, in the form of a surprisingly competent strategy game.

      I love it most for memories of one particular mission, where I created a T-Rex hero and marched it against some Russians. “Look, CAPITALISTS!”, they yelled, rather bafflingly. Instead of the more expected “AIEEEE, DINOSAUR! RUN AWAY!” It was a little too much to expect such contextual reactions, of course, since the game probably wasn’t expecting me to do what I did, but it was still really very funny.

    • Heliocentric says:

      Doh… I know the difference, freedom fighters was made by IO. Similar names thats all.

  2. Nameykins says:

    Wow, that was really different from what we got. I’d be cool to hear about the development process and how the game ended up as it was released.

  3. diebroken says:

    Sic transit gloria PC…

  4. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    The original pitch sounded like its writer had been reading too much William Gibson. I think what we actually got was a better concept.

  5. mcwizardry says:

    The Grim Fandango puzzle design document is also worth a look for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.

    link to kotaku.com

  6. Sander Bos says:

    This serves as an important note to publishers: Never rely on anything of substance in the vision statement, since you will get something completely different. The ‘From the makers of….’ sentences are really all you need to take in, apparently.

    What is weird is what you first would describe of Bioshock is things related to the setting, and only the ‘what makes a man’ quote (but not the other quotes) gives any indication of that.

  7. Radiant says:

    Carlos Cuello?
    The Aston Villa player???

  8. perilisk says:

    Wow, the gameplay mechanics they described sound pretty thoroughly awesome. Too bad it turned out so much tamer, although I imagine it would be a hard thing to pull off well.

  9. Neut says:

    Aw man, you could be a jellyfish man in the original pitch?

  10. Wulf says:

    Oh what could have been…

    As fun as BioShock was, I wish this had been released, too. It sounds absolutely amazing, and with quite an intriguing plot to boot, even if it might be a little derivative*.

    I really loved the descriptions of genotypes, and being able to shift into non-human creatures, that would’ve been simply amazing, and something I’d like to experience in a game. Also, what they planned to do with weapon customisation goes far beyond the apparently watered down version that appeared in BioShock. Shame, really.

    * Let’s face it, what isn’t? Complete originality is impossible, and plagiarism is a way of life for just about every author, ever. Everything harks back to something.

  11. durr says:

    The only thing I really miss from the final game is the “environment-modding”. Like you could decrease the temperature in a room and it would slow down or even kill certain creatures. Or just flood the whole thing! That could have made for some amazing gameplay.

    Does anyone know what Irrational (damn it feels good to say that instead of “2K”) is working on next? I kinda hoped they were doing the X-Com sequel, Division 9 style. But now the Bioshock 2 studio is doing that…

  12. Flatfingers says:

    I also found it interesting to see how the pitch described a very world-y game with a strong emphasis on environmental features — even the genetic mods were restricted to environment-appropriate things like jellyfish — while the actual game instead wound up emphasizing very game-y gameplay mechanics (cold/fire/electrical attacks, ammo=normal/anti-personnel/armor-piercing).

    On the other hand, the “research” concept of getting bonuses through taking pictures hasn’t been mentioned in the pitch doc. If that wasn’t part of the original design thinking, I’m glad it got greenlighted later — it added a crucial bit of depth to what otherwise became a very rock/paper/scissors-focused design.

  13. N says:

    Man those genotypes sound way more badass than the plasmid crap. You could turn into a fucking crab ffs. Lol, xcom lobsterman flashbacks.

  14. James G says:

    I always find it a bit strange reading these “what could have been” discussions.

    For me, Bioshock was about Rapture, the plasmids and most other things were secondary. So this design document instantly loses one of the main things that made the game in my eyes.

    Of the ideas which got lost on the way, the environmental control and the more large-scale genetic changes, sound great, but I know in practice I’d probably end up disappointed. I’d find that either I’d end up sitting in one middling form because it was ‘easier’ and the performance benefits of changing just didn’t make it work it, or everything would end up falling into a slightly formulaic set-up where you’d very quickly learn (oh, jellyfish form here because there are a lot of cameras). A few games do manage to get this balance right, but I find too often that come the middle of a game the exciting feature is either something I’m more of less ignoring, or it has become little more than ‘see x, press y.’

  15. Acosta says:

    Why didn’t we get this game? Looks more complex and interesting…

    Ok, I get it now.

  16. Michael says:

    Some quotes:

    “BioShock gives the player absolute control; of their environments as well as in the creation of their own weapons and biomodifications”

    “BioShock allows players to face one another in Story Based Deathmatch”

    “BioShock will: redefine the first person shooter … by immersing the player in a reactive and modifiable world.”

    Hmm. And here’s an oddity:

    “BioShock will: … establish a new franchise that has strong potential as a film and television property”

    Why do so many publishers see that as the route to success? I think they just find the film industry sexier. OK, Tomb Raider spawned some shit films that must have made some money but it’s not generally a tried and tested route for securing profit from a game. Specifically, it can only work if the game has already been a huge success. And even then, it’s an expensive gamble.

    • Oak says:

      Nothing odd about that. Why wouldn’t they want a franchise they could sell the film rights to? They’re not the ones financing the actual movie.

  17. Magic H8 Ball says:

    Sounds like SS2 +1. Much more than Bioshock which was square root of SS2.

    But hey, saying “Yes” to the player is what gaming is all about! Get on with the times, hardcore gamers.