In the last installment of “From the Vault: Evolution,” we looked at how a simple storefront went from crude geometry to a lavishly decorated art-deco showpiece, complete with inside jokes and homages. In our first installment, we talked about the atrium of Sander Cohen’s Fort Frolic as a central space that grew into a story- and combat hub for the game.
But sometimes a space is created primarily to deliver a single image, a single story-heavy moment of the game. Such was the case with Sander Cohen’s Fleet Hall.
“This is Fleet Hall,” introduces Bill Gardner, Lead Level Designer on BioShock. “It’s another example of a space that didn’t really change a ton over the course of development, although it seems very visually different from start to finish.”
Here’s an early shot from the balcony of Fleet Hall:
And another from the audience:
These initial walk-through screenshots seem bright, almost welcoming and cheerful, a far cry from the nightmare that Sander Cohen presents us in the final game. That’s not uncommon for an early pass, because it’s highly unusual for a space to remain as intact as Fleet Hall.
“In general, the architecture’s going to change so much as the game develops, so lighting is one of the very last things we do. Early on, it’s a bit of wasted time—you can do a quick and dirty pass, and that’s what these shots are.”
Ken Levine and his team notoriously continue to work on story right up until the end (rather than working from a locked-in-stone script before production begins), and this allows the design team much more flexibility in creating the right environment.
“It’s about finding who your stars are,” explains Gardner. “In this case, we started with just a box room. I didn’t have anything to really go on. It was just a bunch of debris. I just grabbed seats and made a theatre. But originally, it didn’t have a purpose, or even make sense—at one point, I think, you got here through the bathroom.”
But ultimately, the team always focuses on making any space—a building, a theater, a doorway—have a viable reason for being in the world. “Ken always pushes us to base all the geometry we’re building on real-world architecture. We’ve come a long way from just building combat spaces based on the flow or the script.”
While Fleet Hall could play host to an encounter or two, its real value was showcasing one of the most striking scenes in all of BioShock: two tableaux that cast Cohen’s madness in sharp relief. “The narrative guys really got their Van Gogh-meets-crazy-cat-lady on here. Jordan, Nate, and Stephen took the theatrics to the extreme.”
“Here we see the two vignettes, and the interesting thing is that the space changes based on when you come in,” explains Gardner. “Initially, you’ve got the spotlights and that’s it. Then, when you come in and take your picture, the house lights come up and the whole space changes its feel. The biggest thing there is texture and lighting.”
Ultimately, those are the biggest tricks in the level designer’s toolbox, concludes Gardner. “We could take this space, for instance, and make it feel like it was from an entirely different level. We could just swap out the archways, get rid of a few big architectural elements, change the textures and the lighting, and you’d feel like you were in an entirely unfamiliar space.”
sbnewsom | October 16, 2012 2:49 pm
Fort Frolic was one of my favorite aspects. It just felt like a fun demented adventure. Not to say the rest of the game of the game didn’t feel the same way.
Fleet Hall though, was just so reminiscent of the Shodan scene in SS2 where we finally discover her existence. Although not as elaborate this Sander’s scene, it really enhanced the game and gave it that feel we were waiting for since SS2.
Great incite on the map. Really inspiraitonal.
rybow73 | October 16, 2012 3:14 pm
Inspires me to play through the first Bio again.
riseup44 | October 16, 2012 9:48 pm
Great read, I actually just started a new Bioshock 1 play through a few weeks back and the last save I had the other night was after this scene with the stage and having to take the picture. This game is so beautiful.
co10 | October 17, 2012 11:16 am
One of the most memorable moments in the game, but more impressively, it served so many different purposes. Cohen’s actions demonstrate the sort of psyche you’re going to deal with in the level, it helps the plot progress, and surprised and disturbed you simulateously.
icegrove | October 17, 2012 5:28 pm
We all love Cohen’s art and his masterpiece, why we are helping him 😉
This scene is one of the best and is not long for the Iceman to come for Sander baby.
egloersen | November 27, 2012 11:29 am
Alison | December 5, 2012 12:41 pm
I did enjoy Fleet Hall. I enjoyed the layout of the whole thing because at one point I got lost, literally had to look at my map to get out.
timmy22222001 | December 12, 2012 10:35 pm
Had no idea on there being such details as this in the Fleet Hall and besides the silent bloodied statues that watched my every move, this for sure definitely brings something new to the flame, fly away little moth!
riseup44 | January 2, 2013 11:21 pm
I have literally jumped more times playing the original Bioshock than playing any other game for some reason those darn splicers get me everytime, I remember one in a bathroom where i could see the shadow but when it jumped out it still got me so bad i had to pause it and turn on the lights and yes i am a grown man. lol..
dukeofsp00k | March 11, 2013 1:15 pm
I met the man who designed Fort Frolic at a comic convention, when he mentioned it I basically praised him for great level design.
alphawolf129 | March 21, 2013 6:00 pm
I love how different everything looked from beta stages to the final game
redsox02 | April 22, 2013 2:26 pm
anyone got jumpscare from the 3 human statues at a toilet in fort frolic??
c2sito92 | May 16, 2013 10:44 am
is this the prototype of Bioshock
stuntman5 | August 8, 2013 6:28 pm
Its been awhile since i played bioshock but this looks like its from the game at some point.
joshimarston | August 9, 2013 5:28 pm
Rapture.. I missi youuu >/3/< ! Waiting for.. BURIAL AT SEA!!
joshimarston | August 9, 2013 5:29 pm
sentrex | August 27, 2013 9:49 am
Simply awesome. looking forward to see rapture again
theexclusiveman | September 3, 2013 12:29 pm
Brings back good memories seeing the fleet hall again.