Posts Tagged ‘ 2K

Yes We Can… Get Minerva’s Den

I don’t know what made 2K decide to make the Minerva’s Den available to PC audiences after announcing that it would remain console only. Their community manager said that they listened to fan feedback and decided to reverse their decision. Nice to see the PC gaming community get a win like this. But really, it’s probably all because of me.

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.