A small change can make a huge difference

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UPDATE:  Now that Bioshock Infinite is out, I now know that both outfits are in the game.  This may seem disappointing, but the events surrounding the outfit change are handled well and there is enough of a good reason for the outfit being a bit risque.  I am still very satisfied.

Bioshock Infinite was one of my most anticipated games of last year (and this year, since it was delayed).  I was already pretty hyped after the reveal trailer, knowing how much I enjoyed the original, but it was the lengthy gameplay snippet from E3 2011 that made me unable to contain my desire for the final product (if you still haven’t managed to see it, I advise you do it NOW).  After I saw the demo and a video showing some of the VO recording process (also great to watch), I knew that I needed to go into media blackout until the game’s release.  This is something I will often do with games I really want to play.  The less I know about the game, the better.

A few days ago, I received the latest issue of PC Gamer.  I saw that Bioshock Infinite was on the cover and knew I was going to avoid reading the article about it immediately.  While flipping past the article, I noticed something about one of the images.  It showed Elizabeth, the character you escort around for most (?) of the game, just standing in a shop.  What caught my eye about this image was that the outfit she was wearing was entirely different from the one I remembered from the demo.

Why would I notice something this small?  Well, if you’ve seen the outfit she was wearing in the E3 demo, you would know why it stuck in my mind.  It was a blue dress that was quite over-the-top with the amount of cleavage it revealed, especially considering the time period the game takes place during.  In the PC Gamer image, she was wearing a much more modest white shirt (pictured above) that fit her character much better.  It took me entirely by surprise, because I hadn’t seen anything from the game since the middle of 2011.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that this had changed.  Elizabeth seemed like a very interesting character in the demo, but her outfit had always been a bit of an annoyance to me.  I’m not saying that displaying cleavage, or femininity, is a bad thing; it just seemed glaringly out-of-character for her, even from the little we actually know about her design.  It almost felt as if the outfit was meant to appeal to the large segment of males in the audience.  Ken Levine, the creator of the game, didn’t seem like the type to let something like this be in his game, so it seemed very odd at the time.

This makes me wonder if the change was a response to the forum chatter about the character’s design around the time of the demo’s release.  I know that I wasn’t the only one that thought the outfit was a little unappealing and distasteful.  Others wanted it toned back as well, and it would seem that Levine listened to us.  Of course, this could very well just be a costume change that happens partway through the game, but I’m not so sure.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see that this is just the new design for Elizabeth for the entirety of the game just because it fits the idea I have of her so much better.  If this is the case, I applaud Levine for making the smart choice to change the outfit and doing so in a way that speaks more strongly to the character wearing the outfit.  I feel this sets a strong precedent for the industry at large.

I really hope other developers notice this design choice and try to implement it into  their future games.  All too often, I’ll play a game where a female character is dressed in a way that obviously doesn’t fit the character and just seems like it was meant to pander to the large male audience.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen poor design choices like stealthy spies wearing high heels or hardened warriors wearing midriff or cleavage-exposing suits of armor.  It breaks my immersion into the world and just insults everyone by saying we like this kind of thing.  It is entirely possible to design an outfit (or even armor) that is both appropriately feminine and doesn’t seem out of place in the world the character inhabits.  Fire Emblem: Awakening does a great job of this.  All the women wear armor that covers them entirely while also emphasizes their beauty and character.  It is possible to have it both ways; it just takes a bit more creativity and work.

As someone who already has a bit of trouble immersing himself in a video game’s world, I really appreciate developers that make intelligent decisions with their character designs, ensuring that the outfits make logical sense in the world they inhabit.  I’m not saying there isn’t a place for crazy outfits and designs; I just think that those types of costumes belong in a game that suits them better.  Take Bayonetta with the outfit made from her own hair and her absurd high heels .  Even though she looks quite ridiculous, her outfit really seems to fit in that world and with her character.  That’s all I want from my games, really.  Creativity shouldn’t be squelched, but I think more developers should pay attention to the different pieces of their world, ensuring that everything fits together a bit more logically so it doesn’t ruin what the creators originally imagined when they came up with the idea.

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