Ken Levine explains the birth of Bioshock Infinite
Which brings us back to the 1890s and the Chicago World Fair. The influence has been mentioned before but there’s an unusually murderous link that brought it into the Bioshock universe. “A bunch of guys in the team had read a book called Devil In The White City and they had turned me on to it” says Levine “It’s an amazing book”.
While Devil In The White City is about the World Fair and its construction, a large part of the story focuses on Doctor H. H. Holmes. He was actually one of America’s first documented serial killers and tracked down by Pinkerton agents, Bioshock Infinite hero Booker DeWitt’s former employers. Holmes actually used the huge World Fair as a base of operation to source victims from the crowds that flocked to see the show. His final count could be as high as 200 murders.
He even built his own ‘Murder Castle‘ to help the process along which included a gas chamber, dissection table and crematorium to get rid of the bodies. And he turned a profit selling the skeletons and organs to other doctors and scientists. Psychotic and thrifty, then. The fact that such a book is an influence means the chances of a Dr Steinman or Sander Cohen-style crazy turning up in Infinite could be quite high. Will we see Booker and Liz end up trapped in a Bioshock’s own murder castle?
The art and ethos of the 1890s was not only a draw for Levine but the inspiration for Colombia taking to the skies. “If you look at the art of the period, especially the sc-fi art, there are always these images of cities in the sky. The people thought they’ve be living in cities in the sky because at that time the world had changed so much technologically in the 20 year period around there.”
If you look at the period, explains Levine, everything was changing, “Here are some of the things that were introduced” he points out, “Airplanes, Electricity, Phonogram records, movies, cars – the list goes on and on. All these transformative technologies. If you asked someone back then might we be living in the sky in 10 years? They’d of gone ‘Well, maybe. That sounds reasonable’”.
It was this mix of inspirations and influences, says Levine, that ultimately came together to create the game’s setting. “You have all this great art about these cities and that really inspired us. That was really the starting point. Then we just had to turn that into Colombia, and the specifics of Booker and Elizabeth, and all those other things that make Bioshock Infinite Bioshock Infinite.”