Preying On My Mind.

Playing the PlayStation 4 demo of Prey resulted in me quitting in anger, hurling my controller at the floor, and deleting the demo.

Getting around to playing it on the PC, I have reached a point seventeen hours in where I encountered a bug that, though it didn’t prevent my progress, would result in a bunch of things being messed up were I to keep going.

Both of those things are true, as is this: Prey is one of best immersive simulation games I have played; I even prefer it to System Shock 2. There are only two games I could make a case for being better at this style of game: Deus Ex and Dishonored.

I was already hooked, even before I found this retro-future GoPro.

It’s been a difficult time for me recently for a plethora of reasons I don’t want to dwell on. Prey was a game I had largely discounted, what Arkane Studios were saying sounded too ambitious, and in terms of a spiritual successor to System Shock 2 I’d already been burnt by BioShock. A game I generally like but one whose connection to the earlier “Shock” games seemed superficial at best. I had struggled with Dishonored 2, a superbly made game that I should have adored, but one I just never felt I could connect with. So when I played the demo for Prey and my immediately reaction was aggressively negative I resigned myself to just never being able to enjoy these types of games again.

I am nothing if not stubborn, I decided to try the PlayStation 4 demo again. I took it slowly and, instead of trying to rush in and smash the scuttling Mimics as quickly as I could, I treated them with respect. I made sure my attacks were deliberate. It was a revelation. Once I stopped trying to approach the game with the assumption that these were cannon fodder enemies that I could easily dispatch I realised what this game was. It’s slightly too clunky. It’s slightly too difficult. It’s also incredibly smart, both in terms of systems design and writing, and confidently erudite without being patronising. It builds on everything I found compelling about System Shock 2 in well thought out ways, and makes small but significant changes to certain core tenants of the immersive simulation style that are so obvious in hindsight it’s shocking nobody has attempted them before.

It’s also subtle, I joked that it was probably going to be too subtle for some (reviews appear to have borne this out). There are no caricatured characters spouting philosophy at you for ten hours. It’s a game about scientists and corporations and technology, but it’s handled with a deft touch. The TranStar corporation is engaged in some incredibly unethical experiments on board Talos 1 and the people involved know that. They argue about it, they attempt to justify it to themselves and others. Their responses are entirely, tragically, human. There are people who totally buy the corporate line about the benefits of the work they are doing. Others who are willfully ignorant regarding the extent of their complicity. Even some who are attempting to lift the lid on what’s going on and reveal it to the world at large. Each of these people have their own motivations, none of them are cackling super villains. Even your brother Alex has clear reasons for his actions, reasons that might even convince you.

When it comes to systems design, Prey is maybe a little too late 90s, though it updates the interface and presentation of those systems in ways that make them more comfortable to engage with. Combat can get awkward if you are overwhelmed but at all times you have a myriad of options with which to approach each situation; though your character build choices will push you towards a sub-set of those. I’ve already seen dozens of people citing very different  – and often mutually exclusive – ability combinations and weapons as being “over-powered”.

Prey is also rough, Patch 1.2 has just been released fixing a bug that was corrupting save games and preventing further progress. My own bug is less severe but still frustrating. I’ve been assured a fix is coming soon, and yet I think I’m going to restart the game. Seventeen hours in, I’m going to restart a game I’ve not finished yet. A game that is reportedly 20-30 hours long, and I’m really excited about it. To me that tells me all I need to know.

I really like Prey. It might be my favourite Looking Glass Studios game.

An empty house through a looking glass.

The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home is a game with a very specific legacy. Beyond simply the referential  filing cabinet code, this is a game that strongly evokes the storytelling techniques and style of Looking Glass Studios.

Nearly twenty years ago System Shock was released, allowing players to explore and uncover the fate of Citadel Station and its inhabitant; and witness the birth of the unforgettable SHODAN. At the time convincing interactions between players and human characters was challenging. As a means of sidestepping that problem Citadel Station was depopulated, everybody was either dead or had become horrific monsters incapable of coherent discourse. The events onboard Citadel Station were there to be discovered in what its inhabitants had left behind: scattered audio logs and environmental detritus.

In the intervening years other methods have been used to deal with the challenge of interacting with other characters. In Thief: The Dark Project and its successors the City was inhabited, instead it was the player’s role as a thief that discouraged and limited the means of interacting with those characters. Gone Home revisits the method employed by the original System Shock to overcome this still challenging problem, though the Greenbriar home is simply empty, rather than filled with dead bodies, the result is the same.

The Greenbriar home is littered with environmental details, the story of what has happened to your family in your absence is told through notes written to friends, and the placement of specific objects in specific places. It’s a game about environmental storytelling and narrative archeology. The story of the Greenbriar family is developed using the same tools that you use to explore the history and events on board Citadel Station.

Sam’s journal entries, uncovered gradually and potentially out of chronological sequence are, in functional terms, audio logs. Their placement and that of the other environmental details within the house is a way of matching physical exploration to temporal exploration, each area of the Greenbriar home that is unlocked, moves you forward in time through the events of the last year. The same mapping of chronology to physical space can be seen very clearly in BioShock 2 (a game which the core member of The Fullbright Company worked on, and one that itself is heavily indebted to the storytelling and design techniques of earlier games like System Shock). Each area of BioShock 2 represents a different stage in the life of Eleanor Lamb, from her birth and early childhood (Ryan Amusements) to her time spent under the care of Grace Holloway (Pauper’s Drop), through her time as a Little Sister and her eventually recovery and the experiments that were performed on her as a teenager (Fontaine Futuristics and Outer Persephone).

In both Gone Home and BioShock 2 (and of course the previous System Shock games before them) the further onward the player explores physically the more recent  the narrative elements within the environment become, until the final moments where the past and the present meet, and the two strands of the story merge.

Consider System Shock 2, the closing stages sees you explore the biomass of The Many while listening to the breadcrumb trail of audio logs recorded by Doctor Prefontaine; at this late stage the past (as represented by the audio logs and other environmental details) and the present are barely minutes apart, in fact you arrive just moments after the doctor meets his fate as recorded in his final audio log. The same experience occurs in the attic of the Greenbriar house, the past as narrated by Sam and the present  as explored by you as her older sister Kaitlin, are barely moments apart until, discovering the final journal entry, the final gap between past and present is closed the two threads knitting together.

That gap, that space around and between that which is known is at the heart of what gives this form of storytelling its power. Gone Home and System Shock, these are games about space; not simply physical spaces, the Greenbriar house and Citadel Station, but the space between, the things not said. The entire story of what happens is never revealed explicitly, instead you discover isolated moments of it in the form of an audio log or a written note, the space between those pieces and the other pieces of narrative you collect is left for you to fill. The order in which you discover each piece is controlled somewhat through gating and the mapping of physical space to temporal chronology however it is never enforced, you might miss a piece of information or discovering it out of order and this will change your understanding of the space formed by these pieces.

It is narrative by suggestion and inference, there are specific points that are defined but the space between them, the context in which these things occurred is for players to determine, and potentially reevaluate as new information is presented. In Gone Home, you can discover letters from your mother Jan to her friend Carol, discussing Ranger Rick who has just been transferred to work with your mother. You never know explicitly what your mother’s feelings are towards Rick though you can infer them from the suggestions of Carol and other things you discover within the environment; like the perfect evaluation Jan gives him along with the recommendation that his temporary transfer be made permanent. The implication that your mother is having an affair with Rick (in intent if not in deed) is clear, however this is a context that is fluid and open to interpretation and reexamination. One of the strongest indications of there being some form of relationship between Rick and your mother is the discovery of a book of Walt Whitman erotic poetry under her side of the bed within is a bookmark with a handwritten note by Rick. In the context in which these pieces of information are first discovered the inference is that Rick has given this book to your mother, however there is nothing to confirm that the message on the bookmark is referring to this book and not another; in fact given subsequent discoveries about the relationship of Rick to his girlfriend, and that of your parents it’s entirely possible, potentially even more likely, that the bookmark was referring to a different book entirely and that the presence of the book of erotic poetry in your parents room has an entirely different connotation.

This recontextualizing of information based on new insights is far from exclusive to Gone Home, though it is another aspect common to games of the Looking Glass Studios legacy. Early in Thief II: The Metal Age Garrett is asked to break into Shoalsgate Station and plant evidence against a member of the City Watch, when Garrett begins to question the task he is “distracted” by a bag of coins. Over the course of this mission things are learnt about Lieutenant Mosley (the woman who will benefit directly from the smearing of her colleague) that suggest she is not the most effective member of the City Watch when it comes to dealing with the Pagans. Only later will you discover that she is herself a Pagan working for the wood nymph Viktoria and though it is never explicitly explained this knowledge recontextualises the visit of Shoalsgate Station almost entirely. The appeal to Garrett’s avarice and hubris to distract him and ensure his cooperation is the same technique employed by Viktoria in Thief: The Dark Project, and every action you took within Shoalsgate has served to get one of her loyalists into a position where they could eventually assassinate Sheriff Truart. New information has recontextualised something that on the surface seemed like a simply case of internal politics and betrayal.

The techniques employed by The Fullbright Company in Gone Home have a long tradition, that can be see not only in games from Looking Glass Studios itself but also those influenced by them. That these techniques can be used to tell the story of both the horrific events of SHODAN’s birth on Citadel Station to the simply and honest tale of a Greenbriar family in mid-90s Portland, speaks to the strength and latent emotive power of these relatively simple techniques. To the potential that exists within those spaces between.

Groping The Map: Book 1 – SAMPLE.

In order to promote my work on Groping The Map: Book 1, I have decided to release a .pdf sample of the first nine pages of the chapter on Nova Prospekt from Half-Life 2. Consider this a “vertical-slice” of the book, as you can see I have made some changes from the traditional format that the articles had when posted directly to this site. I’d greatly appreciate any and all feedback on this sample and please feel free to share this as widely as possible.

In addition to this sample of previously unseen work I have complied the three existing Groping The Map articles into .pdf files for easy distribution, they can be found here, again feel free to share as widely as possible:

Additionally I, along with a collection of other really smart writers have started RunJumpFire. I have a new weekly column there called Design By Example where I analyse one specific game mechanic or mechanism each Wednesday. Currently I have articles up on Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Super Metroid, forthcoming this month are articles on Dishonored and Alpha Protocol, the column archive can be found here.

Groping The Map: Book 1

Groping The Map: Book 1

Groping The Map: Liberty Island, Part 3.

“Everything was clear an hour ago. Then, BOOM!”

Liberty Island 8

Your first view after leaving the South Dock isn't very informative.

Annotated Walkthrough, 2:

Stepping up the ramp from the South Dock, the first sight to meet you is likely the dead body of a UNATCO Trooper, lying on the path ignored by the patrolling NSF.

Directly ahead there is a stone pillar of some sort, despite not blocking everything from view its position does mean that you will need to start moving off the direct path straight away. It’s subtle but the placement of this single stone pillar (Which was likely placed there to limited visibility for optimisation purposes), serves to push players off the direct line path to their objective in order to allow them to actually see the area ahead of them.

Pushed out to either the left or the right players will move into areas of shadow from which they can survey the area ahead of them and monitor the patrol paths of the NSF from a position of relative (That word again) safety. Providing players with this ability to see the area ahead of them before requiring them to move across it, serves a similar affect to that of the establishing shot in film. It allows players to mentally map out the position of object and NPCs within the environment, a mental map they can refer back to while moving through the area itself. This information enables players to make plans and encourages intentionality. Without these initial few moments to gain a lay of the land players will be forced to become reactive instead of proactive, and they may have trouble working out which direction to be heading in without some clear guidance from within the environment.

After a minute or so, it’s possible to locate the patrol routes of at least five NSF, two of whom pass close to the stone pillar north of the South Dock ramp making them easy targets for players who wish to take a direct approach to conflict resolution.

Combat in Deus Ex is a hybrid system that uses character skill more than player skill to determine the success of an attack, but not exclusively. With a Trained Pistol Skill (The level provided at the start of the game) it is still possible to kill an NSF will a single shot to the head, however from anything more than extreme close range players will need to hold the crosshair over the target’s head until the reticule shrinks to it’s smallest size. Only then is the shot guaranteed to hit; rapid movement and player stance also have an affect on the size of the reticule. With more skill points invested in each Weapon Skill the initial size of the reticule shrinks and the more player skill comes to the fore in determining the success of each attack. Increased levels of each Weapon Skill also provided bonuses to damage and weapon reload speed, though a headshot against an unprotected target remains instantly lethal.

Examining the corpse of the UNATCO Trooper shows that he was only carrying a Baton, a Candy Bar and a Carton of Cigarettes, another sign that he was a member of law enforcement rather than part of a paramilitary force. It is possible that the patrolling NSF removed any other weapons he may have had and if this is true then the NSF were clearly careful with regards to who was allowed to recover those weapons. While all the uniformed NSF on Liberty Island are armed with firearms (With a few exceptions) none of the additional plain clothed Mercenaries they brought with them are armed with anything more powerful than a Mini-Crossbow. Loaded with Tranquilizer darts these weapons are functionally lethal to JC Denton, still it is noteworthy that the Mercenaries and NSF are not exactly on equal terms.

Liberty Island 09

Pigeons, more than simply ambient wildlife.

Moving to the left upon reaching the top of the ramp seems a sensible decision as it enables you to search the dead body of your comrade, and continuing in this direction takes you into the darkness surrounding a shipping container. From this position none of the patrolling NSF will locate you provided you keep quiet. This is complicated somewhat by the presence of a number of Pigeons, which will take flight when startled, potentially alerting nearby NSF to something suspicious. This ability to be discovered indirectly is rare as it can be difficult to provide accurate feedback on which of your actions caused you be to noticed. Birds taking flight at your approach is something recognisable from the real world and therefore it doesn’t necessarily require an in game explanation, a suitable audio cue from the alerted NPC would probably be enough feedback to sell the idea.

Lacking the Light Gem of Thief: The Dark Project, or any other interface element to indicate current visibility it can often be difficult to judge exactly how hidden you are at any moment. As Alex Jacobsen reminds you darkness decreases your visibility, however the only certain way to avoid being seen is to break line of sight with any patrolling NSF. This requires you to pay close attention to the audio environment, listen for footsteps and use them to time your movements. These first sections of Liberty Island place the majority of patrolling NSF on the paved pathways making their footsteps clear and enabling you to pick them out easily against your own which, if you are keeping to the shadows, will be muffled by the grass.

This lack of clear feedback creates a large functional grey area between being seen and being hidden which increases tension at the expense of clarity, creating a conflict between improvisation and intentionality. The former often stems from taking actions without complete information while the latter requires players to make informed decisions.

Liberty Island

No matter where you are on Liberty Island your ultimate destination is always clear.

The route between the South Dock and the front entrance of the Statue is open, and patrolled by several NSF, the only cover being provided by several stacks of crates. A cliched symbol of level design Deus Ex once again manages to make this ubiquitous object serve multiple purposes.

Liberty Island

The humble crate, more useful than it first appears.

Breaking up the visual environment and providing cover in combat are the two most common uses of crates and other similarly shaped objects, they also serve as a cultural shorthand for ‘warehouse’ or ‘industrial district’. These requirements are all fulfilled by the crates on Liberty Island, however their placement also provides a route for stealthy players from the South Dock to the base of the Statue. Positioned in such a way as to provide cover from the NSF patrolling along the path, each stack of crates requires stealth players to time their movements between them to coincide with the patrol patterns of the NSF. Furthermore they provided a visual obstruction that at once keeps the player hidden from view while also preventing them from being able to see the NSF. Players are required to move without having first observed the area, in order to remain undetected they will need to constantly be comparing their current location, with the mental map they established earlier, along with any provided audio cues.

It is interesting to consider that if these positions of cover had been based on areas of shadow it is much more likely players would have been able to directly observe the patrolling NSF and so would not have to risk moving without complete information regarding the current state of the environment. Being forced to act on incomplete information? Once again the mechanics of Deus Ex mirror its broader themes.

Of course it is entirely possible for players to choose to obey their stated orders and “shoot on sight” any and all NSF they encounter, in which case the crates become useful points of cover, or positions from which to ambush the NSF at close range, thereby negating the affects of distance on their aiming reticule.

The presence of so many crates and shipping containers on Liberty Island indicate that it is some form of transit hub, and it was this that the NSF were targeting not the UNATCO Headquarters.

Liberty Island 12

If you didn't choose to take the Mini-Crossbow from Paul it can be found on this fallen NSF.

Taking a detour away from the Statue allows you to locate the UNATCO Headquarters, which is currently “under lockdown”.

Approaching the UNATCO Trooper inside the front gate initiates a conversation with what turns out to be Tech Sergeant Kaplan. Kaplan is less than thrilled to be on guard duty outside the sealed UNATCO Headquarters while the NSF are roaming the island. Trying to make some money to augment his UNATCO wages, he has a number of items which he has acquired and is willing to part with for a suitable price. Offering to “clean the place out” seems to impress Kaplan and leads to him providing the code to the Comm Vam in additional to your purchasing opportunities. A preferences for a “minimum-force approach” will still allow you to purchase items from Kaplan, though he will not provided you with the Comm-Van code and may comment on some of your purchases, particular if you choose to stock up on 10mm Ammo.

The door code for the Comm Van is the first code you will come across outside the tutorial and the number used for it has some special significance: 0451. A reference to Fahrenheit 451 and once the door code for Looking Glass Studios this number was the first door code in both System Shock and BioShock, it appeared in a modified form, 45100, as the first door code in System Shock 2, and it can be found written in reverse on a steamed up window as the first door code in BioShock 2, 1540.

The Comm Van is the first of the many examples of the Deus Ex mentality of ‘problems not puzzles’. Despite there only being a single door into the Comm Van there are several ways in which access through that door can be granted. If you have convinced Kaplan that you are a “born and bred killer” then he will have provided the door code and entry is immediate, otherwise some alternate means of access is required. Because the code is fixed it is possible to guess the combination, those with an understanding of the legacy of Looking Glass Studios might have done this anyway, though statistically guessing the correct code without any clues is extremely unlikely. The other way to gain access is to use a Multitool to bypass the Keypad thereby unlocking the door. If required there is a Multitool in a Crate between the Comm Van and the Satellite Dish.

Whatever method you use to unlock the door entering the Comm Van rewards you with an ‘Exploration Bonus’ of 25 skill points. Unlike other role playing games experience in Deus Ex is not rewarded for neutralizing NPC rather for achieving goals, or in this instance gaining entry to secured locations.

A couple of useful objects can be found within the Comm Van along with a Security Computer Terminal. Using either the login details found on a Datapad beneath the desk, or  your Hacking skill, this Terminal provides one means of opening the Hatch outside the Comm Van. Like the Comm Van this Hatch is initially locked but the variety of ways to unlocked it highlights the scope of the possibility space in Deus Ex. Locked and with an infinite door strength explosives are not an option so some other means are necessary. It’s possible to pick the lock, if enough Lockpicks are not available some exploration will reveal a crate containing a Lockpick behind the Comm Van, closer examination of this area will reveal the Key itself. Players who chose to access the Comm Van first have the previously mentioned option to unlock the Hatch via the Security Computer Terminal. Regardless of the method used, entering the small room below the Hatch is rewarded with an ‘Exploration Bonus’ of 50 skill points, a more complex problem has a commensurately larger reward.

Liberty Island 13

Security Bot, Camera, Turret, an arrangement that could be considered "patchwork security systems".

Not all of the problems on Liberty Island have such clearly delineated solutions nor do they have such absolute success conditions. The Hatch is either Locked or Unlocked, the same is not true for the patrolling Security Bot outside the Statue entrance. Unlike the two legged varieties operated by UNATCO this smaller wheeled bot was either been brought to the Island by the NSF or if it has recently been reprogrammed to be hostile to all non-NSF forces, yourself included. Its threat can be mitigated in a variety of different ways. Tools can be used to change its status from Active to Disabled, or from Alive to Dead, alternatively it can simply be avoided. This is a problem with multiple definitions of success depending on playstyle,  and often multiple means of achieving the required degree of success, how do you fairly reward players for a partial success? EMP Grenades (Such as the one found beneath the Hatch) can be used to Disable or Damage the Bot, it can be destroyed outright with explosives such as the GEP Gun or one of the TNT Crates found throughout the level. It is even possible to reprogram the Turret outside the Statue entrance to destroy it for you; the code for this Security Computer Terminal can be found on a Datapad between UNATCO Headquarters and the Statue entrance.

The direct route to the front doors of the Statue is a challenging one, the Security Bot is easily the most powerful enemy you will face during the first few hours of Deus Ex. Of course the direct method is not the only way to gain access to the Statue, and we will examine some of the alternative routes next.

Groping The Map: Pauper’s Drop, Part 7.

“Nobody was s’posed to reside down here long term – but when you’re broke in this town, you’re not exactly swimmin’ in alternatives.”

Pauper's Drop 38

So, what do you see ahead?

Conclusion:

As the fourth level in BioShock 2 Pauper’s Drop is at once the start of the core of the game and the end of its tutorial; from here onward everything is up to the player or the whims of the characters who inhabit each part of Rapture.

At this point players have been introduced to the three characters at the heart of this new tale of Rapture, and experienced a reintroduction to the city and the ideals upon which it was constructed. With those introductions out of the way it is now time for the story of Subject Delta’s journey of reunion to begin in earnest.

Pauper’s Drop is a turning point for BioShock as a series, there is little within this level, structural, mechanical or aesthetic, that would feel out of place in the first BioShock. However the signs are there that this is the start of something new. This is a part of Rapture that served no utility; neither industrial space nor commercial centre, Pauper’s Drop exists for no other reason than the fact it should exist. In any city there will always be a place for those who don’t belong yet have nowhere else to go, and in this respect Rapture is no different from anywhere else.

This is a theme throughout BioShock 2, Subject Delta’s journey to be reunited with Eleanor leads through parts of Rapture that exist simply because they must, there is little glamour here but what exists bares the unmistakable tang of the real. Where BioShock was concerned with highlighting the artistic, industrial and scientific heart of Rapture, BioShock 2 is an exploration of its logical territory the spaces that exists simply because they couldn’t not exists in such a city. BioShock 2 is the story of Rapture from the inside out, in BioShock you were a visitor, this time you are a resident allbeit an unwelcome one.

From the very first moments of entering Pauper’s Drop you are recognised, but more than that you are expected. Though you cannot remember it you have been here before and your actions then still colour the opinions of those whom you meet. You cannot escape your history, though you can act to redefine it, change what it meant if not what it was. That is another core theme of BioShock 2: we are defined by our actions and in turn those actions define those to whom we have a responsibility, our children.

Pauper's Drop 47

"Gorgeous, clever little girl."

Occuring at the point where the player’s toolset can be increased dramatically through the expenditure of Adam, the encounters within The Drop have been designed to provide opportunities to experiment with different tactics while providing subtle hints on how best to make use of the tools currently available.

Pauper’s Drop introduces some key changes in level design from the original BioShock such as a greater complexity of environments, both visually and spatially, along with the increased use of vertical spaces and multiple layers. Though featuring both spatial complexity and verticality Pauper’s Drop has no overarching spatial theme and so serves as a good introduction to the types of spaces that will appear later. Siren Alley has a greater focus on verticality and movement between levels, while Dionysus Park features sprawling spatial complexity and subtle differentiation of an otherwise visually similar environment.

Pauper's Drop 48

Life in The Drop is hard, sometimes too hard.

Humantiy still exists within Rapture and in few places is that more obvious than Pauper’s Drop.  BioShock was an outsiders examination of the ideologically foundation of Rapture through an exploration of it’s three pillars: Art, Industry and Science. BioShock 2 is a look at the human side of Rapture, at it’s people, through the eyes of one of their own. Pauper’s Drop marks the start of that insider’s journey. From the moment you first encounter Grace Holloway you are complicit in her fate and by extension the fate of all Rapture. Pauper’s Drop is the tipping point, before you were merely a freak anomaly within the Rapture Family, something to be either absorbed or expelled. Now you are worse than simply a rogue element, you have free will, you are an individual and your actions will have consequences far beyond the confines of The Drop.

References:

  • Pauper’s Drop is the work of Level Designers Steve Gaynor and Monte Martinez along with Level Architect Alex Munn.
  • BioShock 2 is the work of 2K Marin, 2K Australia, Digital Extremes and Arkane Studios. It is published by 2K Games a subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive.
  • Additional material on BioShock and BioShock 2 was obtained from the BioShock Wiki.

Groping The Map: Pauper’s Drop, Part 6.

“Nobody’s supposed to live down here, city pissing on us.”

Pauper's Drop 39

Pauper's Drop is the end of the line.

Life Below The Tracks:

When things go wrong for you in Rapture the only way is down, if you sink far enough you will eventually find yourself here, the home both for those without a place in Ryan’s objectivist utopia, and those who have lost theirs. Even at the height of the city’s decadence down here the residents of The Drop, the unwanted and the unwelcome, had lost nearly everything save their dignity. Then the civil war came to Rapture and those last traces of humanity were stripped away, either through violence or addiction.

Built out of the space beneath the Atlantic Express Line, the buildings of The Drop provide the barest protection from what must be one of the harsher environments in Rapture. Never intended for human habitation the vaulting chambers and crumbling corridors were designed for the maintenance and repair of the train cars of the Atlantic Express Line.  Alternately cavernous and claustrophobic The Drop never really feels like a welcoming place.

Yet welcoming or not The Drop is home; a place of work, rest and, worship, for those with nowhere else to go. Though the nature of game development means that the size of The Drop can feel a little small for what is supposedly home to all of Rapture’s dispossessed it is still full of enough little touch to sell the idea of what Pauper’s Drop is and what it signifies about Rapture as a whole. From the market stalls in Skid Row, to the now abandoned apartments in the Sinclair Deluxe, it is clear that in The Drop you make the best with what you have.

Pauper's Drop 42

Once a member of Rapture's elite, Prentice Mill is not forgotten by those with whom he shared his final days.

A common feature of both BioShock games, and of System Shock 2, before it is the use of a specific character to serve as a defining representation of a particular space. Sometimes it is explicit as with Sander Cohen in Fort Frolic, other times it  is more allegorical as with Melanie Bronson in Operations. In the case of Grace Holloway her connection to the level lies somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Throughout there are signs of her influence and following, while at the same time her courage and dignity in the face of the decay and destruction around her is symbolic of the struggle of all those within Pauper’s Drop.

Pauper's Drop 43

Grace Holloway is the personification of the spirit of Pauper's Drop.

As the populace of The Drop look to Grace for the courage they need to keep surviving so too do they look to her for their view of the rest of Rapture,and it’s inhabitants. For Grace there is only one member of Rapture’s society who she will never welcome into The Drop, the ‘tin daddy’ is a monster, unforgivably and irredeemably so.

Pauper's Drop 44

Sometimes the symbolism is so obvious it doesn't need explaining.

Both symbolically and physically, Big Daddies are not welcome in Pauper’s Drop.

Pauper's Drop 45

And sometimes even blunt symbolism just isn't blunt enough.

Structurally Pauper’s Drop consists of a number of high roofed spaces (the area around the Diner, the entrance court of the Sinclair Deluxe) complemented by narrow mazes of crumbling hallways. The differences in height and openness between these two types of space is reinforced by requiring players to move through the former to reach the latter and vice verse. The sense of restriction and claustrophobia inside the rear of the Sinclair Deluxe is enhanced by first having to pass through the entrance court with it’s  multiple layers and huge glass ceiling.

It is rarely possible move directly between two locations with The Drop. Most areas require an exploration of the entire interconnected space before an alternate path can be found; the first floor of the Sinclair Deluxe is a good example of this. The use of circuitous routes between apparently physically contiguous spaces increases the perceived size and complexity of the of the level.

The spatial layout of The Drop encourages a sensation of discomfort and confusion. The layout itself is fairly logical upon objective analysis, however in those first moments of exploration it can feel like the back alleys and abandoned apartments of The Drop extend forever.

Pauper's Drop 46

With the direct path obstructed finally reaching an objective can be made to feel like a greater act of exploration that it was.

If the cool whites and blues of Dionysus Park mark it out as Rapture’s winter, then the heavy use of sea green and rust orange point to Pauper’s Drop as Rapture in it’s autumn. Dionysus Park shows the ultimate fate of all Rapture, to eventually be reclaimed by nature, who’s very existence it is an affront to. Pauper’s Drop is the city in that period of limbo between its past as a hive of human endeavour and it’s future of lonely silence at the bottom of the ocean.

The predominate colour of The Drop is green, sea green; the implication being clear. It’s is the colour of oxidized copper and mould alike, symbolic of both decay and nature. Complemented by rust reds, and fiery oranges, the sense is that everything here is past it’s prime, it’s time is nearly spent and yet life clings on where it can.

Ten years ago The Drop was maybe home to dozens, if there was no place for you in the rest of Rapture there was still a place for you here; ten years hence the ocean will returned, washing away the last remnants of human habitation. For now though, life persists here, it’s time is running out but until it does for some it is home and they will not go without a fight.

Groping The Map: Pauper’s Drop, Part 5.

“‘Survival of the fittest’ that’s the rule in the Drop, the only rule.”

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The Splicers of The Drop are not above the occasional ambush.

Combat in The Drop:

One of the themes at the heart of BioShock 2 is that of regaining your place in the world. You are Subject Delta, the first successfully pair bonded Big Daddy. You were once an important figure in the history of Rapture, possible the most important, but that was a decade ago. In order to find Eleanor you will need to regain that position of power, to once again become the most important individual in the city; the black sheep of the Rapture Family. Mechanically this ties to a core appeal of action games, the sense of empowerment. In order to regain your position of importance you will need to regain your power, your mastery.

In BioShock 2 the mastery you need to reclaim is not simply over the genetic powers at your disposal but over the environment itself. Much more than Jack in the original BioShock, as Subject Delta you need to be aware of your environment and how you can modify it to your advantage. Where other games are about the change in territory from Safe to Hostile, in BioShock 2 the important territorial change is from Unfamiliar to Familiar.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the moments when you have to defend your Little Sister as she gathers the vital Adam needed to improve your genetic abilities. Mastery of your environment during these encounters leads to a resource reward, which fuels the mastery of your abilities. Abilities with grant access to a broader toolset through which you can modify the environment to your advantage.

In order to sustain this character growth you will find yourself spending the majority of your time in combat protecting a Little Sister as she performs her macabre ritual. Having only experienced two required Gathering Encounters so far the design of those within the The Drop can feel like a lesson on how best to use the game space, both physical and mechanical, to your advantage. Some locations have been designed with longer sight lines and sparse cover encouraging the use of Plasmids and long range weaponry such as the Rivet Gun or Machine Gun. While others take place in confined apartments requiring a focus on traps and melee attacks.

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The confined space and limited sight lines encourages the use of the traps, melee attacks and the recently acquired Shotgun.

This focus on the modification of your environment to your own advantage is one familiar from the Thief series. A large number of the verbs available are used indirectly to modify the status of the environment instead of being used to directly affect any one character.

Before each Gathering Encounter it is important to use your understanding of the environment and the tools at your disposal, to change the territory around you from one that is Safe for the Splicers to one that is Hostile.

The Gathering Encounter outside the Fishbowl Diner is likely the first one players will experience and is designed to provide opportunities for using every one of the tools currently at your disposal.

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To the south is a pool of wall fills the space between the Diner and the exterior wall.

Positioned behind a newspaper stall in the northwestern corner of the Diner area, this Gathering Encounter allows you to position yourself with your back to the wall, and provides sight lines to the south and east.

There is a doorway behind you on the north wall, which leads back to the platform, however it is an obvious choke point, therefore an ideal spot for the deployment of Trap Rivets. With your back to the wall, and the one weak point behind you protected, the only way in which you or your diminutive charge can be approached directly is from the south or east. In each direction there is an environmental element that can be exploited with your available Plasmids. There is even a bicycle near your Little Sister that can be wielded with Telekenisis.  The obvious opportunities for Plasmid use in this Gathering Encounter help to encourage a mentality of rapidly switching between different Plasmids to make the best use of your environment, a skill that will prove useful in later levels.

The greater your willingness to explore the area around the Diner the more you can co-opt the environment to your cause. Throughout the area there are oil drums that can be brought back to the site of the Gathering Encounter to either be wielded with Telekenisis or rigged with Trap Rivets. On the roof of the Fishbowl Diner itself is a Machine Gun turret that if Hacked will provided protection against the few Splicers that will attempt to attack from that elevated position. On the southern wall of the Diner is a security camera that can serve a similar purpose with Splicers approaching from that direction.

Within this single encounter space there is an opportunity to use all the verbs guaranteed to be available at this stage. It is even possible to leave this Gathering Encounter until after you have visited the Fishbowl Diner and obtained the Shotgun. This will provided you with extra firepower to deal with any Splicers that do managed to get within close range. However with the Diner now accessible, a new avenue of attack is opened up. With the newspaper stall positioned between your Little Sister and the entrance to the Diner you will need to either deploy Trap Rivets across the entrance or keep moving so as to not allow Splicers to sneak up on you. Organically increasing the hostility of the environment in this way is a smart method of ensuring that even if the player has gained the Shotgun the increased firepower it provides is offset by an increase in the challenge of the Gathering Encounter. Even if you have been able to increase your toolset the environment itself changes to compensate.

Using all the tools available to you for this single Gathering Encounter is significant overkill, however the option to use any of them in combination or isolation, makes it easy to experiment and learn how they all interact with each other. From this single encounter you can start to develop an idea of which Plasmids and Weapons will prove most compatible with your particular play style.

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Ignited with Incinerate this pool of oil provides an almost certainly lethal barrier to any Splicers approaching from the East.

The concept of mastery over your environment isn’t limited to the Gathering Encounters, though this is it’s clearest manifestation. The general rule while playing BioShock 2 is that players will be the ones to initiate combat encounters. Splicers will attack when they spot you, however in most circumstances they will announce their presence in a variety of ways making it easy to get The Drop on them (Sorry).  Each level features some notable exceptions to this general rule, yet all of these apparently exceptional occurrences follow a similar trend; areas that previous been made Familiar and Safe, are turned Unfamiliar and Hostile. Players need to make use of their existing knowledge of the game space, both physical and mechanical, to return these areas to a state of Familiarity and Safety.

When obtaining the Shotgun inside the Fishbowl Diner you will find the roof collapsing inward and experience a close range attack from multiple Splicers. I have discussed previously, that this encounter is an ideal place to make use of the newly acquired Shotgun. Since you have been granted the perfect weapon to deal with the sudden threat the ambush itself does not feel like so much of a cheap trick. Upon entering a number of audio and visual ques help indicate that you are likely to come under attack while inside the Diner or soon after leaving, therefore observant players will be able to plan for the coming encounter. As you will have been required to move through the area once in order to trigger the encounter you will not be forced to fight in Unfamiliar territory.

On the first floor of the Sinclair Deluxe you can follow a Splicer through an abandoned apartment, past a hanging Splicer corpse in the living room, and through into a deserted kitchen. Upon returning to the living room you will be ambushed by Splicers ‘playing dead’ on the floor. Having already passed through the living room if you were paying attention you will quickly realise that something is wrong. With a moment of pause between reentering the living room and the Splicers leaping to their feet, you will have time to prepare if you have been observant enough to spot the trap.

These are small examples of being encouraged to use knowledge of the environment to your advantage, a further instance of this can be seen when you leave the Sinclair Deluxe after confronting Grace Holloway. From here until the end of the level it is impossible to avoid combat fortunately every encounter from this point on takes place in a location you have already explored. Though there are additional objects within these locations, the physical layout of the encounter space, and the environmental elements within, is largely unchanged. Forewarned by either Grace, or Sofia Lamb, as to the coming attack you will have a good idea of your potential options before combat begins.

The range of Plasmids and GeneTonics available within Pauper’s Drop is such that it’s unlikely two players will leave with exactly the same load out making this the last level in which the player’s starting toolset can be accurately determined. Using the encounters within the level to promote experimentation and train players in the different tools available is an intelligent design decision, it serves to prepare them for the rest of the game.

Spatially Pauper’s Drop shows a marked increase in both vertical space and openness over previous locations in Rapture. This also serves to subtly train players in the type of encounters they will experience in the later stages of the game. Until this point the combat in BioShock 2 has been largely on par with that of the original BioShock, from now on that starts to change.

Groping The Map: Pauper’s Drop, Part 4.

“Ol’ Andy rambles on about the Great Chain… I got people shellin’ out to pull it for me!”

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"Come in Subject Delta, we've been expecting you."

Annotated Walkthrough, 3:

The concept of a crumbling apartment building is hardly a new one, Max Payne, Condemned 2: Bloodshot and BioShock have all included representations of such locations. They are familiar places, safe places, made explicitly unsafe and unfamiliar either through the actions of man, time, or nature. In the case of the Sinclair Deluxe all three have likely had some role to play in the state it now finds itself. Never built with an eye towards the sophistication seen in some parts of Rapture and never to be mistaken for a luxury residence, it is yet clear that before the many disasters that befell it the Sinclair Deluxe was one of the more impressive parts of the The Drop.

One curious fact about the Sinclair Deluxe, which might never have been noticed by the less pedantic, is that on each floor there is no apartment number lower than 6. The lowest apartment number I can locate in the entire building is number 106, on the right hand side of the first floor. It would seem one way to avoid having innumerable locked doors in a level is to simply remove as many doors as possible.

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The Butterflies are a recurring theme throughout BioShock 2's Rapture.

Something about the current state of the Sinclair Deluxe, and the nature of BioShock 2 in general, implies it would be pointless to even attempt to use the lift. So instead you will need to make your way up the stairs to the first floor.

Approaching the first floor foyer, the way ahead appears dark, but Eleanor has apparently managed to convince one of the little ones to leave something waiting for you by the dead Splicer…

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'Playing possum' is apparently a favourite trick in the Sinclair Deluxe.

The supposedly dead Splicer that leaps to attack you as you approach is a new trick, one than the residents of the Sinclair Deluxe seem particularly fond of, and one you’ll see infrequently through the later levels.

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Some of the sights within the Sinclair Deluxe can be quite beautiful.

Counter intuitively the first floor of the Sinclair has seen more obvious damage than the floors above. The power is off in most of the apartments, the walls have crumbled and the floor and ceiling are giving way in a number of places. This enforced darkness means that you will automatically begin using your suit mounted light to illuminate your surroundings. The restricted field of vision provided by the single light source combines with the large contrast in height between the entrance court and the first floor hallway to provoke a distinct sense of claustrophobia and the mild panic that brings with it.

This sense of tension is augmented by the behaviour of the Splicers who will use the sparse lighting and crumbling walls to lie in wait for you, luring you into traps or simply pouncing on you from a doorway. The combat in this first section of the Sinclair is close ranged and brutal. Though there are some Leadhead Splicers it appears the majority would rather simply beat you to death with lead pipes, wrenches or whatever comes to hand.

Whatever caused the destruction on the first floor was either something the residents saw coming, or something that meant they never felt comfortable returning. Though showing some signs of occupancy few of the first floor apartments show the degree of individualised habitation that can be seen on the upper floors.

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Compared to the floor below the second floor of the Sinclair is in a much better state.

It’s a curious design decision as exploration of these first floor apartments is required due to the roof collapse that has blocked the central hallway whereas it’s possible to completely ignore the second floor apartments. Maybe the very individuality of these residences was seen as enough of a motivation for exploration and an explicit barrier to direct forward progression was not considered necessary.

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It's possible the upper floors were simply more expensive to rent than those below.

The lights are still working throughout the second floor of the Sinclair Deluxe, this combined with rooms that are generally larger and more open removes the previous floor’s sense of claustrophobia and provides you a moment of respite to explore the various traces of human habitation that fill these rooms.

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How butterflies exist in a city on the ocean floor is never explained.

There are two consistent themes throughout the second floor, that of pinning something to the wall, and of keeping money hidden in cookers. The former makes a degree of sense, other that some obvious and a little overly regular holes in the interior walls, the majority of the second floor is in a good state of repair. The latter I’m really not so sure about. Several dollars can be found in every cooker on this floor, which is a surprisingly large number, there are in fact more cookers than toilets I believe.

The manner in which the different rooms are decorated in an obsessive fashion by the inhabitants recalls the similar individualisation of the cells within Shalebridge Cradle, the penultimate level of Thief: Deadly Shadows.

With working lights sources, a more open layout and fewer enemy encounters this floor can feel like a different location to the first. The decision to personalise each apartment is an appealing one, however few of these personal touches speak to the broader narrative of Rapture as a city, or to any characters we have already heard of. They can therefore feel disjointed and one dimensional. We should care about these people because they had something that made them unique, however when all we know about one resident is that he was a butterfly collector and all we know about another is a fondness for photographs it can feel a little like we are being asked to care about a concept more than a person. These rooms, though aesthetically appealing, feel like an attempt at an emotional conclusion to which there has been no buildup; a pay off that hasn’t been earned.

The personalisation of the cells in the Shalebridge Cradle works on an emotional level because these are characters we have already developed some investment in. They exist beyond the confines of their cell and it is up to the player to piece together the various pieces of out of context information provided and built up a piture of who these people were. That level is a mystery that the player must unravel and the inhabitants are a key part of it. The residents of the Sinclair Deluxe are nobodies, heard of once and then forgotten.

What if the tale of Gideon Wyborn, the butterfly collector, had been laced throughout the earlier parts of The Drop? The butterfly is used as a symbol throughout BioShock 2 so his obsession with them seems like a fitting side story. A audio log in the diner of two residents discussing “that creepy guy with the butterfly net” or a recording of a therapy session with Dr Lamb. How she had taken to using the butterfly motif after talking with him. Imagine then the entirety of the Sinclair Deluxe being without power, having to pick your way through the crumbling, decaying apartments by the light of your suit. Never sure if around the next corner would be a Splicer or an empty room. You duck into a side room as a respite from the tension of exploring this dark ruin of a hotel, your light catches off the hundreds of butterflies pinned to the walls. You know who’s room this is, who’s home this was, without having to be told. One little mystery is solved and you’ve taken a step closer to an understanding of what it means to be a citizen of Rapture…

Instead there’s a fairly blunt reveal of the room of the butterfly collector along with a rambling audio log. We get it, he was creepy and obsessed. As a singular narrative beat to signify that there were once people living here, it works but it feels obvious, almost a heavy handed. The allusions to the butterfly as a metaphor for the people of Rapture is  an intriguing one, and as such deserves a defter touch; it is at odds with the subtle touches throughout the rest of The Drop.

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Sometimes you don't need stairs.

After a close range encounter with a Brute Splicer it’s time to move up to the third floor and prepare for a confrontation with Grace Holloway.

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Everybody is equal in the Rapture Family, even those with penthouse apartments.

Grace lives in the penthouse, apartment number 307, at the very front of the building. The  touches of humanity are given deeper significant by the steady revealing of her character throughout the level; she can in fact be heard first in an audio log at the end of Ryan Amusements. Grace means something to us, and so everything inside her apartment means something too.

It has taken an entire level to get here and now the choice of how to obtain the override key and what to do about Grace is left to you. Even Sinclair himself seems reluctant to offer advice either way, advising you beforehand that her hatred of you is based on a “misunderstanding” yet also willing to accept the logic of your decision if you do choose to kill her.

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Grace maintains her dignity even in the face of death.

No matter your choice, whether you confirm her belief that you are a monster or prove that you have your own motivations, you will still have to fight your way out of The Drop. If you do allow her to live she won’t be able to call off the Family but she will provide you with a little support in the way of two upgraded Security Bots.

Upon leaving Grace’s penthouse the door to apartment number 306 is opened and through it you can drop through into apartment 106, completing a loop that allows you to avoid returning through the collapsed sections of the Sinclair Deluxe.

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Examine the corpse of this final Brute Splicer for an insight into his life in The Drop.

Even with this help the way back to the platform is a challenging one, while you’ve been exploring the Sinclair Deluxe the Splicers of The Drop have been preparing for your return. The Fishbowl Diner becomes a focal point for the combat in this final part of the level and once you are through it’s time to use the override key and unlock the Atlantis Express Line once more. Don’t take too long, Eleanor is waiting…

Groping The Map: Pauper’s Drop, Part 3.

“… a whole city tuggin’ at the same dollar bill.”

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All pipes lead to Skid Row.

Annotated Walkthrough, 2:

Officially designated simply ‘Pumps’ the area known to all as Skid Row, has become the Market district of Pauper’s Drop where what little it’s denizens have is bartered and traded for something just a little better.

In order to gain access to the Sinclair Deluxe you will need to use your newly acquired Genetic Research Camera to learn what you can about the Brute Splicers by recording their actions in combat. The skill you eventually learn, Drill Dash, brings to mind memories of the charging attacks of the Bouncer Big Daddies, so how exactly you learn it from the charge of the Brute Splicer isn’t entirely clear. However from a narrative stand point it makes sense for you to be asked to research the enemy that caused the obstruction in the first place. It doesn’t follow that a Bouncer would do the bidding of Grace Holloway, given her inherent hostility to all Big Daddies no Bouncer is liable to last long enough to be asked.

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Rosie may need more than a Rivet Gun to get out of this.

This hostility towards Big Daddies is evident when you enter the Market, even without an Adam rich Little Sister to capture the Splicers of The Drop are still willing to attack the Rosie in their midst; the sheer hatred of Grace Holloway towards all of Rapture’s be-suited protectors has clearly influenced the citizens of The Drop.

Visible throughout the Market are the large jacks used to keep the ceiling from falling in, this is an old part of Rapture and the ocean has waited long to reclaim it. As well as being minor narrative beats for the story of Rapture and The Drop in particular, these jacks serve a secondary purpose by breaking up the sight lines in the Market and providing cover, much as the fallen train carriage does outside King Pawn.

Positioned in the middle of what would otherwise be empty space these support jacks naturally discourage the player from taking the shortest route. By channeling movement away from the centre of each space players are encouraged to focus on the market stalls arrayed against the walls and the side exits to secondary spaces. Without the ability to move directly from one side of a space to another it’s much more likely players will  skirt the boundaries and explore any alternate routes that present themselves.

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I begin to wonder if Big Sister is related to the G-Man.

If you do ignore these diversion and move past the Market itself it’s possible to catch another glimpse of Big Sister, circling, waiting.

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Another little glimpse of humanity from the Splicers within The Drop.

The Brute Splicer you have entered the Market to confront can be found around the corner from the Big Sister sighting. He seems somewhat lost in his own little world. I’ll confess to feeling uncomfortable attacking him. Like the Big Daddies he seems perfectly willing to leave you alone if you don’t provoke him. However that’s not the way things have to play out, and the fight with him can prove very painful if you’re not careful. Of course he falls eventually, as everybody does, and provided you have been using your Research Camera you are granted the Drill Dash ability. With his new ability in hand it’s time to return to the Sinclair Deluxe.

If you fail to use the Camera correctly there is at least one other Brute Splicer that has now appeared within The Drop. I do wonder what would happened if you failed to research him as well.

The majority of the Market is made up of what I would describe as logical territory. Only a small part of it needs to be visited and although the other areas contain useful items and audio logs, they are almost entirely optional. If you do choose to return to the Sinclair Deluxe immediately after defeating the Brute Splicer you would miss out one of the more interesting sights to be found within The Drop.

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The Limbo Club, a little bastion of hope for those who need it most.

The Limbo Club was once the domain of Grace Holloway until the civil war came to Rapture and even the forgotten strata of society were finally affected by the machinations of Ryan and Fontaine.

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A threat meant for Subject Delta, or a warning meant for everybody else?

Not a necessary stop on your brief visit to Skid Row, the Limbo Club  seems to have a much higher level of narrative content than it’s limited size would suggest, behind the stage can be found the dressing room of Grace herself, now abandoned and covered with scrawled threats and warnings. I wonder if at one stage in development the club had a bigger role in the main objectives. This would fit the ‘Film Noir’ theme, I can imagine a situation where the player had to visit the Private Investigator’s office and the Jazz Club before finally making their way to the Hotel.

Inside the entrance is one of Eleanor’s presents to you, and I believe one of the only ones it is entirely possible to miss, given that there is no reason to enter the Limbo Club beyond natural curiosity. She provides you with the Hypnotize Plasmid, which in its most basic form acts similarly to the Enrage Plasmid from BioShock. It can also be upgraded to provide the same functionality as the Hypnotize Big Daddy Plasmid, which had originally only been available as a reward to players who had chosen to rescue Little Sisters and is now usable for any player regardless of their attitude towards Rapture’s youngest citizens.

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I'd like to think somebody who witnessed this scene simply left them to it.

It would seem that the Limbo Club is not as deserted as it’s abandoned appearance would suggest. Again a little element of humanity in the decay and despair of The Drop. It’s impossible to know what useful items might be accessible in the back rooms of the Limbo Club and in order to find out something will have to be done about the Splicer couple who are clearly not the mindless genetic mutants they are otherwise shown to be.

With a new Hypnotize Plasmid at their disposal I suspect many will have contemplated the manner in which it could be used to break up this touching moment. Though I did it myself I did feel slightly guilty when the woman bludgeoned her lover to death, only to then be Incinerated by my own hand.  In the long run sympathy and altruism aren’t all they are cracked up to be and the Power To The People station in the back room of the Limbo Club proves worth the feelings of unease. Time to increase the Clip Size on the Shotgun I believe.

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Somebody in Rapture was a fan of the Bradbury Building it seems.

The Drill Dash ability makes short work of the fallen rubble blocking entry to the Sinclair Deluxe, and after finishing off the few Splicers lying in wait it’s time to find Grace and the override key she’s protecting.

Structurally and aesthetically the interior of the Sinclair Deluxe is reminiscent of the Hestia Chambers, Atlas’s headquarters in Apollo Square, and the Bradbury Building. A National Historical Landmark and office building in Los Angeles, the Bradbury has been used in dozens of films and television series, most notable Blade Runner and D.O.A..

Appropriately for The Drop, there is much more to the Sinclair Deluxe than is initially obvious. Though physically short the journey to the top floor apartment of Grace Holloway is packed with encounters, narrative beats and areas of note. Therefore I will continue the walkthrough tomorrow, onward and upwards…

Groping The Map: Pauper’s Drop, Part 2.

“There ain’t a side of the tracks more wrong than under ’em.”

Pauper's Drop 2

The platform for Pauper's Drop was never intended for long term use.

Annotated Walkthrough, 1:

Stepping onto the platform at the start of the level one thing is immediately clear, this place is dirty. Compared to the luxuriant excess of the Adonis, or the manufactured joviality of Ryan Amusements, Pauper’s Drop feels old, decrepit. Designed initially as temporary housing for the workers building the Atlantis Express Line, The Drop became home when those workers found there was no place for them in the rest of Rapture.

The hand written sign above the entrance way says it all, whatever this place was before, it’s Pauper’s Drop now.

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Originally, Maintenance Junction 17, to those who live there it is forever Pauper's Drop.

It’s interesting to note that The Drop appears to be sealed from the outside. A decision by those above to keep somebody in, or the work of a friend to those within, to keep the rest of Rapture at bay?

Even before you’ve entered The Drop proper there’s a distinct air of humanity to the place that has been lacking so far in your return to Rapture. This place might not be particularly welcoming but for somebody it’s home, and as a product of the Rapture above, you are not welcome. That’s made abundantly clear from the moment you Hack your way in, the first sight to great you being the corpse of a fellow Big Daddy, a Rosie. This is a motif that is repeated throughout the level. Big Daddies are not welcome in The Drop, Subject Delta especially not.

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Somebody cared more about keeping the ceiling up than the Big Daddy alive.

Moving forward you can see the various lines of the Atlantic Express stretching off across Rapture, and Big Sister watching. Looking through the windows throughout Pauper’s Drop you can see Big Sister circling in several locations, observing, waiting.

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Big Sister is watching.

Heading further forward you come across something that has only really been hinted at in the proceeding levels. The deification of Eleanor Lamb is one of the key themes of BioShock 2, and the ritualistic nature of it is a concept that is first presented here for a payoff at the conclusion of the subsequent level, and a confrontation with the self styled Father Whales in Siren Alley.

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The observance of rituals shows that the Splicers are not completely devoid of humanity.

Rounding the corner the level opens up as you approach the Fishbowl Diner and after your second sighting of the Brute Splicer, you are ‘welcomed’ by Grace Holloway, a character who knows who you are even if you don’t know yourself. The area in which the Diner is situation is one of the most open areas yet experienced in BioShock 2, and it serves as a hub from which you can explore the separate wings of The Drop.

Like all such locations in BioShock 2 the area around the Diner appears more open than it actually is. There are few entirely clear sights lines between one side and the  other. As well as helping with the optimisation of the level by ensuring that not everything can be seen at once, it also means that there is a variety of cover for both you and your opponents during combat.

Trapped in Pauper’s Drop you need to gain access to the Sinclair Deluxe and obtain the override key from Grace Holloway. That things will not go as simply as that is a given, and if you decide to approach the Sinclair Deluxe first you will find their way blocked by a Brute Splicer acting on the orders of Grace herself. In order to clear this obstruction you will need to locate and make use of the Research Camera, a device familiar to players of BioShock.

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This type of environmental destruction remains in the hands of NPCs only.

This form of gated progression is a common technique to keep players from moving onward until a particular skill has been learnt or tool acquired. It is a technique used extensively throughout Half-Life 2 and is to some degree a form of the tool based exploration that is one of the cornerstones of the Metroid series.

Though free to explore the Diner and Downtown in any order you choose the Sinclair Deluxe is off limits until you have proven your understanding of the Research Camera. A skill that will prove vitally important as the game progresses. This is a very similar goal to that used in BioShock‘s third level, Neptune’s Bounty, where players are required to photograph, and defeat, three Spider Splicers in order to convince Peach Wilkins to grant them access to the Smuggler’s Hideout.

Actually obtaining the Research Camera is a multi-part objective in itself. You will need to explore the whole of the first section of Pauper’s Drop in order to locate it and only then will you be able to access the Market, where the Camera can be used to research a Brute Splicer and grant you the Drill Dash ability.

The Camera itself can be found within King Pawn in the Downtown district, and it is here that you will head if you heed the advice of Augustus Sinclair. The doors to King Pawn itself have been chained shut and you will need to find another way in through the Clinic. However the Clinic itself requires a keycode to enter, a code which can be found within the Fishbowl Diner.

Since there is no explicit requirement to enter the Sinclair Deluxe until after you have visited one or more of the other locations several variations of Sinclair’s dialogue have been recorded in order to provide the correct information in the correct order. The keycode lock on the Clinic door is another form of gated progression, serving to ensure players understand the need to locate keycodes using clues within the environment, often through listening to audio logs. It’s worth noting that the audio log outside the Clinic explaining the whereabouts of the person responsible for changing the code, Tobias Riefers, plays automatically upon collection; unlike the majority of other audio logs throughout the game. This particular log contains important information and therefore you are required to listen to it. Showing players a location and then requiring that they return to it to complete a subsequent objective is a common means of making use of all the available space while instilling a sense of familiarity in players.

Asking players to explore a location they are already aware of reinforces the interconnected nature of a level, this is especially true if the game recognises that the player has already completed any objective in this area the first time around. Something  BioShock 2 does at several points throughout Pauper’s Drop.

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When the code is that obvious, why is the Clinic still locked?

The late Tobias Riefers can be found slumped against the wall inside the Fishbowl Diner, the Shotgun in his possession apparently not enough to prevent his death. Though it’s presence does make you wonder why none of the Splicers around have taken it for themselves…

The ambush upon obtaining the Shotgun is reminiscent of a similar occurrence in the Medical Pavilion in BioShock, it would appear in Rapture the Shotgun is a highly popular form of bait. The ambush itself serves an interesting purpose, it is unlikely that many will will switch out the Shotgun for another weapon having just acquired it, so the attack in close quarters serves to highlight both the main strength of the Shotgun and it’s major weakness. Attacked at such close quarters the first Splicer will almost certainly be on the receiving end of a point blank blast to the face, an action almost certain to be fatal. However from here the encounter gets more unpredictable, as the small magazine size (Two shells) make itself immediately apparent. You will need to either switch to an alternate weapon or start to get creative with combinations of Plasmids and melee attacks. The lessons learnt in this brief encounter will serve you well when you enter the Sinclair Deluxe and are faced with a number of similarly point blank encounters. It may also inform the decisions you make upon next locating a Power to the People machine, that Shotgun Clip Size upgrade is clearly a useful proposition in any close range encounter.

With the code in hand it’s time to head Downtown and, assuming you’ve not been there before, your first encounter with a Brute Splicer.

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Apparently trains do stop here after all.

The Downtown section of Pauper’s Drop is less open than the area around the Diner and initially appears much smaller. Your objective is clear from the first moment you step into this area, the broken neon signage above King Pawn is impossible to miss, this signposting augmented by the sight of the Brute Splicer jumping from the roof toward you. One thing is clear this is an important location and one you should seek to explore.

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One of the numerous 'Film Noir' inspired images to be found in The Drop.

The door to King Pawn is chained and padlocked and an alternate means of entry is not immediately obvious. If this is your first time in Downtown the audio log leaning against the wall of the Clinic and the keycode locked door are clear indicators that this is somewhere that warrants further investigation. If you are returning here having already secured the keycode it’s likely you’ll enter the Clinic immediately and pay little attention to the other doorway in this area. On the opposite side of the central square to King Pawn, past the fallen train car, the way to the Market is currently inaccessible, presumable to prevent anybody from defeating the second Brute Splicer before they have obtained the Research Camera. Since anybody reaching this point is likely to be more interested in King Pawn and the Clinic it’s likely few will realise this door is sealed shut until the Research Camera has been acquired. It’s a rare instance of being locked into a particular area without some form of explicit in world acknowledgement. However the low probability of anybody attempting this door until the correct time means drawing attention to it would probably do more harm than good.

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The moment it all changed for me.

Entering the Clinic was the moment that defined this level for me personally. Up until this point the layout had seemed to conform to a fairly standard design, similar to the majority of levels in BioShock: a central hub area with a number of side spokes branching from it. A floor plan exemplified by the Medical Pavilion and Hephaestus among others. Though Pauper’s Drop conforms to this design on a macro scale, each spoke serves as it’s own little hub from which areas seem to branch outward and outward. Moving up the stairs I was expecting to find a back room that allowed access to King Pawn and maybe one or two extra rooms containing items and possibly an audio log. Instead there are two exits at the top of the stairs and exploring either leads to various walkways, and hidden rooms, with little obvious dead end in sight. In the space of one moment an area that had seemed so obviously limited in scope became a much more interesting place.

What seems obvious on the surface is hiding a web of interconnected passages and backrooms. There is much more to be seen if you scratch the surface than you would imagine from a cursory glance. It is a metaphor for BioShock 2 itself, there is greater complexity at work than might initially appear. Stumbling over walkways between rooftops and through decaying apartment buildings I felt like I had changed from a visitor with a very specific objective, to an explorer rummaging through the private areas of Rapture. I was no longer an observer I was an inhabitant.

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Apparently even the citizens of Rapture had a need for Private Investigators.

Among the many areas that become accessible upon entering the Clinic, the majority of which are not vital to progression, is the office of Private Investigator Rock Flanagan, in whose office can be found an audio log describing how he had to pawn his Genetic Research Camera. Since this reinforces something we have already been told, that there is a Research Camera in King Pawn, I wonder if at some point during the development of Pauper’s Drop players had been required to actually locate the Research Camera for themselves and this audio log is a remnant of a previous focus on investigation. Something that would fit with the obvious ‘Film Noir’ references throughout The Drop. This concept seems to be reinforced by comments made by Senior Level Architect Alex Munn in the Deco Devolution art book.

It’s actually possible to gain entry to King Pawn fairly quickly after entering the Clinic, however with so many options available for exploration it’s unlikely you will go there immediately. When you do find your way into the pawnshop the method you use is one that will soon become familiar, especially in Siren Alley. Using a hole in the roof to gain access to an otherwise blocked area, or alternately using a hole to rapidly exit from an area, is something that you will find yourself doing several times before the game is over.

Both of these layouts are variations on the structure of level design I refer to as a loop, or circuit. In essence it is the concept of: long way there, short way back. Players are required to invest time and resources in order to access a climatic or otherwise important part of a level but from there can return to the start quickly. This is usually achieved in one of two ways, by completing a loop that only works in one direction a ‘saw-tooth’ loop or by ‘unblocking’ a route that had initially been sealed. Numerous examples of the ‘saw-tooth’ loop can be seen in Borderlands where players are required to make their way through a number of lower level enemies gradually in order to reach a boss encounter. Once the boss is defeated the layout will allow players to jump from a window, balcony, or ledge to a location much closer to the start of the level.

The ‘unblocking’ form of loop is seen in Ryan Amusements, where upon reaching the end of the Journey To The Surface, players activate the security override and open previously sealed doors throughout the level, allowing rapid access to the start of the ride.

This form of looping structure can also be combined with gated progression to lock players into a particular location until they can perform a required task. A good example of this can be seen in Half-Life 2: Episode 2 where players drop through a window into a confined location and must destroy the Combine Auto Turrets within in order to leave.

Now that the Research Camera has been found it’s time to head to the Market district, aka Skid Row…

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