BEYOND THE SEA: Columbia – Building BioShock Infinite’s Floating City

Posted by 2kStaff

“Why would he send his savior unto us, if we will not raise a finger for our own salvation? And though we deserved not his mercy, he has led us to this New Eden, a last chance for redemption. And the Prophet shall lead the people to the New Eden.” – Welcome Center

Right after the first BioShock was released, the team at Irrational began to kick around ideas. Notsomuch for the story, but the world and themes to explore. To create a believable world in an extraordinary scenario, the design team at Irrational tapped into the scientific zeitgeist of the time. Where Rapture was set in the early 1950’s/late 60’s, when Francis Crick and James Watson had only begun to understand DNA, Infinite ties to a very different era. It was a modern age of discovery at the turn of the twentieth century with Tesla, Ford, Einstein and Edison – all at the peak of their careers.

“Think of the technology that came around about then.” Says Ken Levine, BioShock Infinite’s Creative Director. “People started having electricity in their homes, all of a sudden there were cars, there were airplanes, there were movies, radios – the list goes on. Whereas twenty years before there were none of those things. We’ve only really had one piece of technology in our lifetime that was that substantial, and that was the internet. They had ten internets, effectively, that changed their worlds.”


It was more than the science of the day that fueled Columbia, though. “Being a BioShock game,” says Levine, “we looked at the intellectual currents in the air: the birth of the civil rights movement, the workers’ movement, the rise of nationalism, and the first whiff of the winds of change that would sweep through the twentieth century.”

The freedom of Columbia went hand-in-hand with American Exceptionalism, the political ideal underpinning the entire city – and the cause of its eventual decline and revolt. With that direction in mind, Levine turned the art team loose to explore the kind of world that Columbia would become. A series of “What-if” versions of America came next.


The first pieces of concept art depicted a dark and decaying art nouveau version of Columbia. You could see the seeds of commercialism sprouting in the concepts at that time.

Ultimately, though, the team landed upon a floating paradise nestled among the clouds. A key point in the design of Columbia came when Ken Levine pitched the city as the “ideal Fourth of July picnic.” the truest imagining of a politician’s lofty promise for a better tomorrow, and the early New England styling became the city of the future. The team traded the claustrophobic corridors and muted colors of Rapture for a bright, vibrant city in the sky. Where Rapture forced you to carefully plod through the ocean depths, the exhilarating Sky-Line transit system sets you soaring above and throughout Columbia.


According to Levine something that felt missing from BioShock was vertical combat. The Sky-Line addressed that. “To me,” he explains, “the experience of being on a plane is very different from being on a roller coaster.” He wanted to capture that amazing feeling of when you’re clack-clack-clacking up an old wooden rollercoaster and then fly down a track. Combine that with the concept of traveling through tears in reality and you have a very different world to explore.

What comes next? In a week, you’ll discover more about one of the most notable residents of Columbia – Elizabeth.

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.

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