Ken Levine, creator of BioShock, System Shock 2 and now BioShock Infinite, has announced a new mode for his new game. In 1999 mode, every key player choice has "irreversible implications"
. Levine has said: "In BioShock Infinite, gamers will have to sweat out the results of their actions. In addition, 1999 Mode will demand that players pick specialisations, and focus on them." It's an excellent move, that gets difficulty right in exactly the way Dark Souls got it wrong
Difficulty levels are one of the most complex and exciting things
about videogames right now. Now that graphics have been sorted, largely, developers are turning their attention to making their game worlds more believable and immersive. Having to retry over and over to do something is rarely that, and rarely is it genuinely emotionally resonant. So, making a difficulty level that works for everyone seems to be key - everyone should feel challenged by a game (otherwise they're essentially watching a film with some button pressing), but no one should be left unable to complete a game or so frustrated it mars their enjoyment. That's why we have difficulty levels.
With BioShock Infinite, Levine says: "We went straight to the horse's mouth by asking on our website a series of questions about how [BioShock fans] play our games. 94.6 percent indicated that upgrade choices enhanced their experience; however, 56.8 percent indicated that being required to make permanent decisions about their character would have made the game even better." The 1999 Mode means the choices you make, from the start, define play. The game won't even let you respawn if you don't have enough resources to do so.
For serious BioShock gamers, 1999 mode represents an end to endlessly picking and repicking special abilities, to the do-over-until-you-do-it-right
potential of respawning. But it's an option, unlike Dark Souls. So less gung-ho gamers can still enjoy the plotting, atmosphere
and world of what's sure to be one of 2012's most exciting games