Beyond The Sea: The Importance of Elizabeth

We’ll do our damnedest to not talk spoilers for this installment – but it’s hard when it comes to Elizabeth Comstock.  Because her story is so interwoven into the plot of BioShock Infinite, we’re instead focusing upon Elizabeth’s creation, her purpose within the game world and the larger significance she could play in the future of gaming.

First, though, we should start with how Elizabeth came about.



It was a big departure, adding a partner to your adventures in a BioShock game. The first two were solitary tales – aside from people you’d talk to through the comms system. After all, everyone was dead around you or behind a glass window. Having someone traveling alongside you and doing everything from sharing thoughts to tossing you ammo – in BioShock Infinite – fundamentally changes the experience

Ken Levine, Irrational Games’ Creative Director said, "The more I thought about it, the more we realized, well, if we're going to do it, we're really have to have to do it right. We have to make [Elizabeth] integral, not just some sort of sidekick. We have to make her central to the story. The longer it went, the more we just kept expanding what she meant to the game."

That realization meant needing to nail down her look and her personality since you’re interacting with her up-close for so much of the game. 



As a near-constant companion to the game’s protagonist, Elizabeth was the most critical of the game’s visual icons. In these early sketches – made well before Elizabeth had a finished face – the artists explored her personality through posture and clothing. The Irrational Games art team used the clean, bright, and iconic designs of comic-book costumes as a point of reference. Whether it was something as simple as neckline, a choke`r or a color choice for her outfit, the look needed to instantly project a personality.


As the “real” Elizabeth began to take form, the art team looked closely at comic books and animated films for inspiration. So note the exaggerated eyes in these sketches. This videogame character’s expressions – and emotions – needed to be visible both up close and at a distance while communicating clearly in the heat of a tense moment. The most important thing to convey: the idea that Elizabeth has spent a lifetime in captivity in Columbia. A captive innocence – and it needed to feel genuine.



“I will say, and this is honestly not a hint or anything like that, Elizabeth feels like my daughter. I don't have a child," Levine says. "And it's weird to take her through these things and I feel such a connection to the character."

In order to make this “daughter” feel alive, Elizabeth had to be more aware of the world around her. Ken explains, “We spent a lot of time making Elizabeth notice the world and react to the world and engage with the world. That was heightened by the fact she's been locked up. But even so, people are always looking at stuff. When you walk down the street you don't walk down the street like a robot, which is generally what companion AIs do.”


“So we had to seed the world with things she was interested in and things she could interact with. We had to seed her with various emotional states that are primarily an overlay on the animation she does. And she has sounds to go along with all of those things. Making her present in the world was one of the most difficult things and one of the most important things.”

As a result of seeding the world with these points of interest, Elizabeth is drawn to different things by algorithms. So, as you’re playing there are two sides to Elizabeth: There’s the scripted bits of story that carry you along and then there is a portion that consists of content and heuristics depending upon where you are in the world.

An example of content, there are those moments when Elizabeth calls out, “Hey Booker! Catch!” before tossing coins, health packs or ammo at you at appropriate times as you need them. While "Heuristics are, ‘When should this fire?' and that's based upon the player's ammunition count, the player's danger, the player's hit points ... a bunch of algorithmic components," Levine said. "That is the most basic thing I can describe of what it is. It is taking combinations of what is the smallest piece of content, of high quality content that you can break things down to, that mix and match into thousands and thousands of different ways in terms of narrative."


To put it more in perspective, Ken says, “You say to an actor, come into a room. They're going to go into a room. Say, go into the room and sit down. They'll go into the room and sit down. They'll know how to do that. They'll know to do what people do, look around. Somebody goes by they'll wave at them. Somebody smokes and they might cough. There are things people do. Elizabeth has to be helped with those things. So she does all of those things because we worked very hard as a team to give her that life.”

What could be the next step? Adding more of that level of interaction with other AIs in the game? “Elizabeth is the only one who does that in BioShock Infinite. Everybody else is a much simpler AI,” Ken adds. “But it’s not a processing issue – it’s not about needing a faster machine. It’s much more about what those missing pieces are between all the different AI, and how they fit together.”

See for yourself what Elizabeth is like in BioShock: The Collection and tell us about your experiences with her.


Want to learn more about the worlds of Rapture and Columbia before BioShock: The Collection ships on September 13? Follow @BioShock on Twitter and Facebook – and be sure to explore our awesome fan-driven Wikia pages