BioShock 4 is in development at 2K’s Cloud Chamber studio, set up specifically to tackle the next game in the famous dystopian sci-fi franchise. After BioShock Infinite told players that “there’s always a lighthouse, there’s always a man, there’s always a city,” the question of the next BioShock’s city setting has been a central point for speculation regarding the franchise’s future.
However, there’s one huge decision Cloud Chamber will have to make before BioShock 4’s city setting. Not only will this decision greatly influence the design of the next game’s setting, but it will also be key to deciding which philosophy the next BioShock will take on in its story.
BioShock is best known for its dystopian cities and turning a critical eye towards philosophical absolutism. However, both of these factors depend heavily on the time period in which each BioShock game is set.
The original BioShock is set in 1960 after a year of disastrous riots beginning on New Year’s Eve 1958. Rapture is a city designed around the philosophy of Objectivism, developed by Ayn Rand. Rand’s ideas first began to gain notoriety when The Fountainhead was published in 1943 and gained further popularity with the publishing of Atlas Shrugged in 1957.
Objectivism ostensibly primarily claims that reality exists independently of human perception, but ultimately advocates a form of hyper-individualist free-market capitalism of the sort seen in Rapture. The city of Rapture began construction in the 1940s and its devolution into chaos in the late ‘50s spans the same period as the growth of the Objectivist movement, though it would go on to have a big influence on American conservative and libertarian thought in the remainder of the 20th century despite being dismissed by most mainstream philosophers.
The Art Deco design of Rapture harkens further back to the 1920s, and a desire for a return to a pre-New Deal era of unregulated individualism. Similarly, the style of Columbia’s architecture is based on the neoclassical stylings of The White City during 1893’s Chicago World Fair. Set in 1911, BioShock Infinite addresses themes of racism, nationalism, and American Imperialism. Like Objectivism, these would continue to be relevant long after the game’s setting, but the year 1911 places BioShock Infinite at the cusp of America’s establishment as an interventionist world power and therefore the growth of American exceptionalism as a philosophy.
As such, it is the time setting of BioShock 4 which will have one of the biggest influences on the game. A version of BioShock 4 set in the 1980s, for example, could take on a very different kind of business philosophy to the one Andrew Ryan espoused while also indulging in all the visual and architectural tropes of the time. The time setting of the next BioShock game will likely be the single biggest influence on the philosophy it sets its sights on and the aesthetic and philosophical design of its city, assuming BioShock 4 follows the “always a city” formula established in Infinite.
This opens up a huge variety of possibilities for Cloud Chamber to distinguish the visual design and philosophy of BioShock 4 from the original and BioShock Infinite while still keeping the core tenets of the franchise in play. BioShock 4 will likely not succeed if it attempts to too closely emulate the games so far, and will need to take the same sort of ambitious setting and design leap that the series took when BioShock Infinite released back in 2013.
BioShock 4 is reportedly in development by Cloud Chamber Studio.