Written by Julian Murdoch, The Art of BioShock Infinite allows fans of Ken Levine‘s BioShock series to delve deeper into design of BioShock Infinite.
This deluxe hardcover by Dark Horse features production designs and concept illustrations focusing on main characters Booker DeWitt, Elizabeth, and Songbird from the BioShock Infinite video game, as well as the city of Columbia “” the fabled floating metropolis that serves as the game’s setting. BioShock Infinite takes place in 1912 during the rise of American Exceptionalism. The player assumes the identity of DeWitt, a former agent of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.
Voiced by Troy Baker, DeWitt witnessed events at the Battle of Wounded Knee that irrevocably damaged him, leading to excessive drinking, insurmountable debts, and a subsequent dismissal from the Agency.
DeWitt is hired by mysterious individuals and whisked away to Columbia, a steampunk city in the clouds suspended by giant blimps and air balloons. His shady employers have assigned DeWitt with infiltrating the air-city and rescuing Elizabeth (voiced by Courtnee Draper), a young woman who has been held captive there since childhood.
Murdoch’s book, which includes an introduction by Ken Levine, documents the evolution of the game’s design, from Sky-Hooks, Heavy Hitters, and Vigors, to the fashions of Columbia’s diverse populace. There’s even advertisements and propaganda from the game’s alternate 1900s reality.
The Art of BioShock Infinite is a collection of amazing concept art from the game’s designers. There are beautiful, colorful, full-page illustrations and full-page advertisements for the game’s power-ups (Vigors, previously known as Plasmids in BioShock) that die-hard fans can frame.
Each chapter shows the progression in design from conceptual stages to the finished game. Seeing hundreds of designs for Vigors, airships, and weapons is unreal – Levine’s Irrational Games has some of the most talented people in the industry working for them, no doubt.
In the Heavy-Hitters chapter, you’ll get to see the beginnings of The Motorized Patriot and The Handy-Man through hundreds of sketches and illustrations for every little detail of the character’s design. For Songbird, BioShock Infinite‘s version of a Big Daddy, you’ll see dozens of different takes on the character and full-color blueprints that examine how the mechanical monster’s inner-workings fit together.
By far the most interesting chapter of the book, however, is dedicated to Elizabeth, the game’s female lead. Elizabeth’s design is no doubt informed by classic Disney animation – and it’s incredible to see so much work invested in her creation, from countless hairstyles and wardrobe changes to a detailed study of facial expressions that help bring the character to life.
It was important to the artists to convey the idea that Elizabeth has spent a lifetime in captivity in Columbia. There are countless iterations of clothing for young Elizabeth explored different ways as a means of projecting her personality through something as simple as a neckline or a color choice.
As Elizabeth took form, the art team looked again to comic books and animated films for inspiration when designing Elizabeth’s features. As noted in the book, a video-game character’s expressions have to read both up close and at a distance and communicate clearly in the heat of a tense action scene – much like a comic book.
It’s a shame half of these amazing designs weren’t in the game. A giant mechanized rabbit in 1900s garb known as The Toymaker is particularly traumatizing, but maybe he’ll show up in another BioShock game eventually.
In any case, if you’re a BioShock fan, or just a an avid artbook collector, The Art of BioShock Infinite is a beautiful hardcover collection that shows the importance of drafting and conceptualizing the design of a video game and the ability to envision such a creative and full-realized universe.