Minerva’s Den and DLC

There I was Saturday night, wrapped snugly in my smoking jacket with a snifter of brandy at my side, when I received a note from Shawn Andrich. In a trembling hand, he implored me to come to the Conference Call posthaste, as Allen Cook had vanished under circumstances most strange, and he did not want to go alone to his rendezvous with Sean Sands and his sinister companion, Demiurge. Slipping a gun into my pocket, I went to the location he specified.

Since we’d all been busy bringing weapons and checking for tails on our way to the fog-choked watefront alley where we recorded to Conference Call, nobody actually remembered a topic. So we improvised, and you can listen to the results over at Gamers With Jobs.

Anyway, my chosen subject was 2K’s decision not to release “Minerva’s Den” for Bioshock 2 on PC. As often happens in a discussion, I didn’t quite make the point I wanted to make. My thoughts were still quite preliminary. Now that I’ve had a little time to consider my objections, I can explain a bit better why this bothers me.

On the show, I explained that I thought this decision trivialized this expansion to the Bioshock universe, and revealed 2K’s disregard for the connection that the audience has to the world of Rapture. Since I can almost hear hundreds of people rolling their eyes, I should probably explain a bit better what I mean.

Little things can change and deepen a gameworld, making every experience you had or have there just a little richer. For me that’s the promise of DLC. You don’t have to make a full game to make an interesting statement. There’s this sequence in Bioshock 2 where you go through what is basically a diorama for the children of Rapture, called “Journey to the Surface”. It’s this dull, heavy-handed jeremiad against the postwar world that exists outside Rapture, with Andrew Ryan narrating every morality play you see. Finally, at the end, you come across an audio diary from Ryan himself.

I know this facility is vital to the preservation of secrecy in Rapture. But seeing myself transformed into that… lurching, waxen nightmare… do children truly respond to this? Still, I spoke to a young man exiting the park after the grand opening, asking him what, if anything, he had learned here. He said his chores didn’t seem so bad anymore — as long as mother wouldn’t send him to the surface.

I love this detail, the portrait of Ryan it provides. He is mystified by children, and uncomfortable with the useful lies he’s teaching them. Seeing himself and Rapture reflected back at him through Ryan Amusements, you can sense that the Rapture experiment is starting to curdle for Ryan, just a little bit. Seeing him react to his first steps toward the kind of statism he spent his life trying to escape, the tragedy and melancholy of his character becomes clearer. That moment alone made Bioshock 2 a worthwhile experience for me.

The Parasite won't let The Artist release his masterpiece to all!

So when I read something like Joystick Division’s summary of “Minerva’s Den”, I badly want to be a part of it. I want to see how they’ve closed out this story. James Hawkins writes:

And it’ll be our farewell to the city, too. We’ve seen Rapture’s lengthy demise, as it succumbed to the narcissism of its culture, and Minerva’s Den ushers us out with the last of the survivors. It is a tasteful and solemn Bon Voyage, not only for the characters within, but for those of us that wanted to see it through.

Sounds great, and I definitely count myself among those who “wanted to see it through.” That’s why I own both Bioshock games, and have spent so much time thinking and writing about them. But that’s not an option available to me, because I don’t own the 360 version of the game.

As a matter of course, I’m against a policy that retroactively turns one version of a game into the “wrong” version by not providing similar levels of support. Now anyone who really loves Bioshock and owns it on the PC can either buy the 360 version or forgo “Minerva’s Den”. My suspicion is that most will choose the latter option. So PC gamers see a product withheld from them, 2K saves on the costs of porting and marketing for the PC, and the creative team behind “Minerva’s Den” reach a significantly smaller audience than they would otherwise.

That also means that “Minerva’s Den” is unlikely to ever be an important part of the Bioshock story. Discussion tends to center around shared experiences, and a large portion of Bioshock’s audience will never visit “Minerva’s Den”. It will be like it never happened.

Which is part of the whole problem with DLC, and why decisions like this make DLC into an after-market ghetto of half-formed ideas and novelties. They can’t ever be “essential”. They must always pass by without disrupting or affecting the experience of the main game. When Mass Effect 3 or Dragon Age 2 come out, Bioware will go to great lengths to make sure that nobody feels like he missed anything. But if the experience has value, shouldn’t it be something people miss? Shouldn’t it be available to anyone who bought the game?

DLC itself is a problematic phrase. To be honest, it’s a suit’s phrase. The rest of us enjoy stories, play games, and have experiences. DLC is the kind of term that comes up in the same breath as conversions, consumers, and monetization. I suspect it dilutes the perceived value of the product, especially when it is so often used as a stalking horse against used game sales, or to wring a few extra dollars out of your customers. It’s why “day one” DLC bothers so many people. People act entitled because they’re feeling defensive, and they’re feeling defensive because there are already so many transparent attempts to screw them. You know, like 2K “adding value” to the collector’s edition of Civ V by leaving the Babylonians out of the standard version?

“Minerva’s Den” should have been a positive experience. Great production values and talented developers combining to make a new and thought-provoking addition to a popular franchise. Everything DLC always promises, but so rarely is. It could have been a counterpoint to all fears of nickel-and-diming that gamers have right now. But instead, 2K took the opportunity to make a lot of gamers feel bad about their purchase of the PC version, and probably reduced the impact “Minerva’s Den” could have had. Seems like everyone loses on that one.

    • Spades
    • October 17th, 2010 12:10pm

    There’s some DLC thats worth it. For instance the Ranger Pack DLC for Metro 2033 adds two new weapons (I think) and makes the game harder by making you more vunerable and having less ammo available throughout the game. It really adds to the experience. Hell, the Lost and the Damned along with TBoGT were definitely worth the price tag.

    • ZL
    • October 21st, 2010 4:46pm

    Rob Zacny! i agree 1000% that DLC has been utterly bastardized, and playing through the fallout 3 DLC’s certainly made that point emphatically. i hope your blog starts letting me post comments, cause we should chat. i hear from spork and nick and others that theyve spoken to you recently and i am insanely jealous.

    have you looked into Fallout: New Vegas yet?

      • Flitcraft
      • October 22nd, 2010 2:59am

      Hit me up through my contact email address and we can chat all you want. Or I’ll just ping you at the one you used here.

      Anyway, I honestly haven’t played Fallout 3, so I figured I might as well hold off on New Vegas. The early word is really mixed, though. If you read Rock Paper Shotgun (and if you don’t, you should), Quintin Smith was decidedly unimpressed. I usually take his word for things. But Eurogamer loved it, and I usually take their word as well. So I’m lost.

    • ZL
    • October 22nd, 2010 1:37pm

    in my personal opinion, the reviewer response to F:NV has been downright pathetic, and for me calls into question how relevant these people really are at this stage when gamers themselves can create so much of their own content. your reviews are top notch, but these other people are knuckle-draggers by comparison.

    the complaints seem to boil down to this:

    1: old engine showing its age
    2: bugs/glitching

    guess what the solution to both of those issues are? PLAY IT ON A FUCKING PC. its a PC engine people. it had problems porting to stripped down consoles from day 1. they will get it tweaked for xboxers ASAP though im sure. in my first 8 hour play session, i encountered two (2) whole bugs that were quickly resolved and not game-breaking in any sense. im hearing a lot of xbox players say they arent seeing what the fuss is about either, actually.

    F:NV at its worst does things the same as F3, without question one of the games of the year in 2008. what F:NV does best it does BETTER than F:3, in some cases much better. id like one of these crybabies to explain to me why i shouldnt want to play a game that improves in several areas on the 2008 GOTY while offering another 100+ hours of quality entertainment. and what, im supposed to give a shit about modern warfare or medal of honor?

    im surprised you didnt take a turn through F3, which was a great game, but admittedly annoyed me a bit with how far away from fallouts RPG roots it was. F:NV is much more of a throwback to the old RPG’s and in particular forces you to make a lot of choices both in the game and in your character build that are significant.

    my only complaint is the complaint i have about any game made after about 2003. games are being balanced for autistic children these days to maximize market share. why sell games to gamers when you can convince every frumpy housewife to take a break from WoW to play your EZmode shit? to be more specific, im playing it on very hard/hardcore mode and i still wish it was more challenging. its enough to force me to think tactically though which i appreciate. fallout 3 i pretty much ran through with my eyes closed. way too easy.

    anyway, thats actually why i was asking your opinion, i dont expect you to be the sort to whine about an engine only 2 years removed from its glory days. you also arent deathly afraid of computers.

    you are missed and this sad sack gaming community is lucky to have your clarity of vision <3 sorry for length

      • Flitcraft
      • October 22nd, 2010 6:02pm

      I’m kind of at a point where I have conceded that RPGs aren’t my thing. My attempts to play Fallout 1 ended in abandoned games, I never cared for Neverwinter Nights, and even something like Torchlight got old fast. Maybe Fallout 3 is my style, but when it came out, I was just not interested in trying to commit to yet another huge RPG that I’d probably get bored with.

      I’m slowly approaching the genre again, however. I finished Mass Effect not long ago, and will probably give ME2 a shot soon. But that’s probably as RPG-ish as I can take right now. That makes me think F:NV is unlikely to agree with me. Besides, if I want to wander a nuclear wasteland, I’ll almost always go to STALKER.

        • Spades
        • October 22nd, 2010 6:52pm

        Combat in Fallout 3 is the main issue I’m having with it right now. I got the game recently and where Fallout 3 shines is the RPG aspect. For instance there was this one side mission were I had to look for this kid and when I found him he was captured by some cannibales (well they were sort of like cannibales). I could’ve easy went in there and killed them all but my Speech skills were high enough so I managed to negotiate with them to let the kid free. It was a pretty cool moment. When it comes to actual combat however that is were things get hazy. As you probabaly know the center of combat in this game is VATS and to be quite honest it is an interesting and fun mechanic. VATS can only be used when you have AP (action points which can regenerate over time). If you run out of AP you have to rely on hipfiring. That is were things get hazy. To put it simply hipfiring in this game sucks especially when you’re out of AP, also you can’t use ironsights (only scopes on sniper rifles) so your only hope is to hipfire and use the zoom function. Mind you this isn’t easy to do when you are up against 5 or 6 enemies that are VERY accurate with their weapons. I often died in this game due to me being out of AP and having to hipfire. Honestly just get New Vegas for the PC BUT wait for all the patches to come out first. New Vegas has ironsight aiming for all weapons and weapons are more customizable. also there is that new Hardcore mode which just sounds awesome. New Vegas is pretty much STALKER if it was more darker in terms of atmostsphere and interesting RPG elements. Its just awesome.

    • ZL
    • October 23rd, 2010 8:32pm

    i have to admit, RPG’s are probably my favorite game genre. i prefer multiplayer when it makes sense, but fallout is really perfect for a single player context.

    i HATE VATS though. absolutely hate it. i played through fallout 3 without using it and am doing the same in NV. good news is you are right, the FPS’y parts of it play a great deal better. obviously whats really doing it for me is the vastly improved depth of the RPG elements and more interesting character development.

    anyways, gush gush, i guess i hadnt considered that Rob doesnt dig on RPG’s. im geeking out pretty hard though and loving it.

    PS im sorry about black & white. fuck that shit :(

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