With BioShock Infinite approaching its eighth birthday, fans still have very little insight into the story or setting of BioShock 4. What is known, however, is that new studio Cloud Chamber will be tackling the project. However, while many developers from the first three games will be returning, series creator Ken Levine has moved on.
At the end of last year, several Cloud Chamber job listings gave fans some insight into potential changes they might expect to see in BioShock 4. Surprisingly, these listings suggested that the next game in the series would have more RPG elements than previous entries, including a Fallout-style branching dialogue system and a more open world. These would be big changes, and if BioShock is going down a more RPG-oriented path, there will be many potential pros and cons.
There were two main job listings which hinted at BioShock 4 including more RPG elements than previous games. Resetera user MauroNL uncovered a listing for a Senior Voice Designer role, which requested experience in creating branching dialogue systems. This suggests that BioShock 4 will allow players to pick their dialogue, instead of their player character simply delivering their fixed lines as in BioShock Infinite, or having no voice at all like the first two games.
The second listing of interest was for a Systems Designer position, which asked for experience creating an "emergent sandbox world." While BioShock games in the past have allowed players access to large fictional cities, they could hardly be called sandboxes. Players generally only had access to a single contained area at a time, even if they are then allowed free reign to explore it.
While these two listings alone may not seem like much, they indicate a broader change in the design philosophy of BioShock that could be realized in BioShock 4. If that turn is taking place, BioShock 4's RPG elements may not be limited to its dialogue and world design. They could also see players get access to different gear, more divergent story paths, and other design aspects more frequently seen in games like Fallout than previous BioShock games.
If BioShock 4 fully commits to the RPG route there could be some big benefits. A branching dialogue system suggests far more opportunities to interact with and get to know characters in the world. Previous BioShock games relied a lot on audio logs to get the story across which, while complementing the semi-abandoned streets of Rapture, would likely not age well as a feature currently.
Thematically, branching dialogue could indicate a very different kind of story compared to BioShock Infinite. The player is given a few choices in BioShock Infinite, but due to the game's ultimately determinist philosophy, those choices have very little effect on the game. The story even drives this point home in a moment when the Lutece siblings ask Booker to flip a coin, which comes up heads, before revealing that the coin also landed on heads the last 122 times it was flipped.
The stories of the original BioShock and BioShock Infinite are shown to be deeply connected in the Burial At Sea expansions. If BioShock 4 is going to flourish, it will likely need to start a brand new story all of its own. Branching dialogue indicates an entirely new mode of storytelling which could help make that distinction, both in terms of gameplay and whatever philosophy the next BioShock ends up exploring.
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