Over the weekend, a tweet blew up reminding the world of BioShock Infinite’s “Bread Boy”, a very strange, joyous little man from the game’s Burial At Sea DLC.
If you’ve never played it, the whole sequence is remarkable from that “you are in Paris, France” angle, from the multiple dudes painting along the Seine to the Edith Piaf blasting through the streets. It’s Bread Boy, though, that really steals the show. The little freak, the weirdo, with his baguette held aloft, dancing in circles until his shoes crack and his feet blister. Here he is live so you can really take him in:
The tweet blew up because it was funny, but not long after a former Irrational worker was tagged in the thread and we got the actual story behind Bread Boy. And, like all seemingly innocuous video game development tidbits, it is a very fun story.
For three years (2011-2014) Gwen Frey—who is now at Chump Squad, developers of the upcoming Lab Rat—worked as Senior Technical Animator at Irrational Games, and one of her jobs in the role was to “[place] all the background characters in Bioshock Infinite & the DLCs”. If anyone could explain Bread Boy, it would be Gwen, which she duly did in a series of follow-up tweets:
I was populating the Paris scene with “chumps” (skeletal meshes of humans with no AI). I’d play a looping animation on a person, script some head-tracking or whatever, & request VO lines from the writers to flesh them out.
For performance reasons we couldn’t afford to have proper AI pathfinding around, so most of the background characters were “chumps”. And we didn’t have a ton of resources for dlc so I was mostly reusing animations from the base game.
I thought the Paris scene was too static & needed more motion, I but couldn’t afford another AI walking around. I figured a chump running in a circle around that cylinder could work since I could just expand the collision of it to prevent the player from running through them.
However, we didn’t have a looping “run in a circle” animation. We did have dancing in a circle though! Remember this scene? Look at the background characters around Elizabeth:
I decided to reuse that. But a couple randomly dancing seemed dumb. I figured I’d make 2 dancing kids instead. However, the kids had different proportions than the adults, so the kids’ feet were clipping through the ground and their hands were going through each other.
I turned on foot and arm ik so that their hands and feet would end up in the same position as the adults, but then their hands were way over their heads!
So I deleted the boy’s dancing partner and attached a baguette to his hands. Bam! Boy dances with baguette! Ship it! I figured if anyone asked I’d just say “bread is great right?!” I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but this boy is the most viral thing I’ve ever made🤣
This is a wonderful reminder that video games are nothing but a succession of small miracles held together with duct tape.