GDC 2014: BioShock Infinite’s Elizabeth Originally Couldn’t Speak, Looked Completely Different
Written Thursday, March 20, 2014 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Once upon a time there existed a version of BioShock Infinite’s Elizabeth who was slightly older, was a brunette with small eyes and she couldn’t actually speak, explained Shawn Robertson, Animation Director at Irrational Games.
In his talk titled, 'Creating BioShock Infinite’s Elizabeth,' Robertson gave industry onlookers a look into the decision making process at Irrational Games when it came to BioShock’s female lead.
Robertson talked fondly and openly about the team’s creation of a 13-person “Liz Squad” whose entire job was to create a believable Elizabeth. Originally a much older brunette – as seen below – who couldn’t speak but could only gesture, Elizabeth slowly and surely evolved into the character we knew today.
Irrational knew early on that Elizabeth would have a stylised look, to avoid exploring and tackling the whole ‘Uncanny Valley’ issue. Not only that though, but they wanted to accentuate her features to make it easy to see what see was feeling from a distance. Again, as seen below.
After establishing Elizabeth's look and style, Irrrational encountered various issues with her dress physics and had to tackle the issue of instilling emotion and humanity into her. Through many subtle tweaks and iterations, Elizabeth started to come to life. Irrational achieved this by putting a big emphasis on animation, improving reactions and creating gestures.
These gestures ranged from Elizabeth looking angry, flustered, scared, curious, holding a lantern, and even extended to her taking cover, flinching and peaking around corners in combat. It was designed entirely as eye candy for the player, designed to make Elizabeth feel more believable. All of which were completely unscripted too.
It’s the “Gold” moments though that truly brought Elizabeth to life for the team. These gold moments were classed as “highly specialised moments” that the player would only see once – if you see it, the game will delete the behaviour from Elizabeth’s skill set and she'll never perform it again.
Robertson showed three of these moments, all involving a flower. In one instance, Elizabeth went to a bush, plucked a flower and put it behind her ear. On another occasion she went to pick a flower and birds flew out the bush scaring her, and finally, on another occasion, Elizabeth picked a flower from the same bush and laid it on the chest of a downed enemy soldier. All of which are contextually triggered and use dialogue cues to draw your attention to it.
The message for other developers from Robertson was this, small systems can often lead to powerful results, and Infinite’s “Gold” moments were a testament to that.