The Dishonored that never was

Members of Arkane Studios describe some of the biggest changes Dishonored underwent during development.

With its combination of stealthy superpowers and a distinctly original world, Dishonored crawled through the shadows to emerge as one of last year's most successful new IPs. But the elements that ultimately defined the game weren't always set in stone. In a pair of talks at this year's Game Developers Conference, art director Sebastien Mitton and co-creative directors Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio described some of the biggest changes made to Dishonored during its development cycle.

Perhaps the most fundamental change that Dishonored underwent was in the game's setting. According to Mitton, Arkane originally planned to have the game take place in feudal Japan. However, the developer scrapped this idea upon realizing it wouldn't be able to do the setting justice.

Sebastien Mitton.

"We felt that Japan wasn't good for us, because we don't know this culture as Europeans," said Mitton. Arkane has an office in Lyon, France, where Mitton works, as well as a second office in Austin, Texas.

"So we wanted to move the setting to London," Mitton continued. "We decided to use London because this is a city that Europeans and Americans know well."

With the move to London, Arkane initially wanted to set the game in the year 1666 at the time of the Great Plague. But as time went on, that setting took on more of a hybrid look.

"I wanted to base my research on this time period, 1666," said Mitton. "But then we slowly shifted to the 20th century. It's not that we moved to the 20th century. We created a gap between the two periods and mixed them up to create a kind of science fiction."

This hybrid of eras came about largely due to a need to incorporate modern technologies. As the design team fleshed out Dishonored's various gameplay mechanics, it began to incorporate things like watchtowers equipped with powerful floodlights and electrified doorways known as walls of light.

In the end, Arkane found itself adding so much to the setting that it could no longer refer to it as London at all. Instead, the game's setting would be known as Dunwall, a fictional city rooted in the look of classical London but with its own science fiction flair.

Another element of Dishonored that changed over time was the way the player's use of special abilities influenced the world around them. The final version of Dishonored featured multiple endings and a system for shaping the general look of the city based on how lethal or nonlethal the player's tendencies were. But according to Smith, the relationship between a player's actions and the gameworld wasn't always so obvious.

Harvey Smith

"We started out super subtle," said Smith. "The earliest versions of magic in the game were like, you gesture from a dark corner and down the street a candle goes out and it has some consequence. And by the end it was like, lightning bolt!"

But not everything started out subtle and became less so over time. Other player abilities were too powerful and had to be cut out entirely. Smith described how Dishonored at one point featured a system that allowed players to pick up general objects in the gameworld and throw them around, not unlike the way players can pick up pretty much everything in an Elder Scrolls game. But combined with other abilities, this feature had a way of breaking the carefully crafted level design.

"There were moments where you could pick up an object, stop time, and throw the object in the world," said Smith. "And people were doing things like throwing several objects in the world and then hopping on them to get higher."

In the end, though, this was one of the few abilities that was removed entirely. Arkane understood that the combination of player powers and objects in the world was bound to create some very interesting situations, and that was going to be a large part of the appeal. Instead, the developers simply tried to balance out these abilities as best they could while maintaining the open nature of the game design.

"This is not a trail of breadcrumbs game with a bunch of Jerry Bruckheimer moments in between," said Smith. "This is a system where wacky sh*t is going to happen."

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183 comments
juelz1011
juelz1011

I love this game, but the only thing that puts me off is how unreal it is. At first i got why It had advanced technology in such old times, because it opens up a whole new concept to the game,  but then I got to weird floating islands and mutated dogs and that, which kind of put me off. It has to be relatable, you was on to something amazing with the design of the game, but then it kinda loses the whole London feel when your stealing from a house on a floating rock in the sky. I am an architect from a quite industrial place in London and really took as shine to the whole design and feel of the game. Im cool with not being able to figure when it was set, but when you cant figure out where it was set, then the whole dynamics of the game have changed. Great job tho

wwefan4ever
wwefan4ever

My only complaint about the game, is the length. It's too short for a single player experience.

OldKye
OldKye

So they almost made a really cool feudal/modern mix game but instead picked one of the rainiest dreariest places on earth during the black plague? 

I love London been there many times and liked the game, but why not Moscow during the reign of the czar's? or Africa or Brazil before the arrival(or during) of Europeans?

lindallison
lindallison

Gadzooks, I can't imagine a more powerful Corvo than the one that made it into release.

WoZe
WoZe

Best game of 2012. Can't wait for DLC.

Mademan033
Mademan033

"We felt that Japan wasn't good for us, because we don't know this culture as Europeans," - that's generally what research is for. Quite often other people undertake this research for you, and publish their findings in what are called 'books'....

evil_devil_mons
evil_devil_mons

i want dishonored in skyrim type both first and third person 

mocmonster
mocmonster

I know what the biggest change was! Thats easy, they decided not to put detailed textures into the game and make it a blurry mess and say it was done on purpose and call it 'art' or an 'oil painting quality' I call it lazy and rushed....

stev69
stev69

Think I would have prefered it if they had gone with a historically accurate London, as it was it wasn't a bad game, but didn't really click for me. It was of no real challenge and the story was cliched, so much so I got to the last mission and couldn't be bothered to finish it.

gtandiono
gtandiono

feudal japan.... assassin in feudal Japan.... Tenchu in a steampunk, dystopian japan, a hell of an idea

shanethewolf
shanethewolf

I'm glad they did what they did. I really enjoyed the game and found it very atmospheric and engaging.

manoogian
manoogian

I bet they were inspired a little bit by naruto if they wanted to do feudal japan. The whole chakra thing is a really exciting idea imaginatively. 

pidow
pidow

Dishonored was a very good game, I enjoyed playing it over and over again to see if I missed anything, always finding new ways to complete tasks or find thing missed.....super game.  I still play from time to time, each time on a different setting, just love playing this game.

ank000
ank000

I spent some quality time with Dishonored. Hopefully, we'll get Dishonored 2 soon with new powers and new weapons and a worthy story to accompany it. Also, I'd love to see a power which can create a mini blackhole to pull in the enemy into void.

highlanderjimd
highlanderjimd

they removed the gameplay i assume as the entire game is a generic borefest

Atheosis
Atheosis

@Mademan033 I'm glad they didn't do that.  The setting turned out far more interesting in the end.  And we really didn't need another ninja game.

se007
se007

@evil_devil_mons Yeah, with the same moronic AI, stiff animations and clunky combat. No, thanks!

blairstheman
blairstheman

@mocmonster Gameplay gameplay GAMEPLAY. I do own a nice PC, but i purchased dishonored for my ps3 just for comfort of my living room, and it was GREAT. Love the atmosphere he city was fun to explore, the charactor models were different but fit perfectly. The game had some nice "lore" as well. After playing through the game on my ps3 i find really no complaints, it was a fun experience and the graphics hurt it NONE. hmm i sometimes fail to realize not everyone shares my opinion. I will now end this comment. *clicks psot*

the_bi99man
the_bi99man

@mocmonster As everyone else said, if you're disappointed with low res textures and a "blurry mess", stop gaming on 7-8 year old consoles. The PC version of dishonored certainly isn't a technical marvel, but the textures are detailed enough, and with a decent resolution and some AA, it looks very crisp. And not a demanding game either. I run it at high settings, looking far better than the PS3 version my roommate plays, on my 4 year old laptop.

Fandango_Letho
Fandango_Letho

@mocmonster Don't know about you, but Dishonored looks pretty fantastic to me on my PC. It has a striking visual style and sense of place. But i'm pretty sure you're not the type of person to see that, with that kind of comment.

erix43
erix43

@mocmonster 

Didn't bother me. Game worked. Didn't like it? Don't care, I did, but every has an opinion. 

Umitencho
Umitencho

@manoogian Except that the idea of chakra wasn't made up by the Naruto series. It comes from the various myths in Asia.

toshineon
toshineon

@highlanderjimd I can see why some people could find the game a bit dull, but generic? Do you even know what it means? Let me help you out, the word "generic" is a word used to describe something that is very typical or usual. For example, there are many generic songs, that have a typical "like-everything-else" sound. There are generic games, like Call of Duty, that follows the general rules of many other shooters. So, I'm fine with you not liking Dishonored and if you find it very boring, everyone can't like it. But it's far from generic.

the_bi99man
the_bi99man

@highlanderjimd People should really stop using the word "generic" to describe things they don't like. The word has a definition, which lots of people, this guy included, don't seem to understand.

erix43
erix43

@highlanderjimd 

Awe, can't satisfy everyone. Perhaps a dumbed down version for you would suit. Borefest? Precisely what you need, some COD. Get out of here. 

OldKye
OldKye

@sidzero @OldKye Assassins creed was going to do japan too they even hinted at it in the first game but then decided "that's too cliche" as well.

Also tell me how European subjugation in Africa and South America or robbing and persecuting the common man in Russia are less dark then London and more Assassin's creed? 

Btw Dishonored take's it's dark themes from Thief so would it be so bad to have something in common with another game?

addicted2050
addicted2050

@se007 @evil_devil_mons Hah, I'm glad to see others that share my opinion about Skyrim. Apart from that big world and lots of loot, I find the Elder Scrolls games (played only Oblivion and Skyrim) to be quite poor. Combat is poor, story is always run of the mill, the characters are a bore, and the graphics need a new life with a new engine as well. 

Dishonored was a great game, though a bit dull at times. I hope there's a sequel coming set in this world.

balla_11
balla_11

@Umitencho @manoogian Chakras are not a "myth" LOL, you narrow minded goat. It is ancient medicine and older than your entire country's existence, assuming you live in the states. 

Trev9421
Trev9421

Somebody seems upset. I respect your opinion and politely disagree.

wwefan4ever
wwefan4ever

@Mamamf @SythisTaru @se007 @evil_devil_mons Skyrim blows, the combat is dull and lifeless, the story is dull and has no real options that actually matter, nothing you find is better than anything you can make yourself so exploration is boring and pointless, the quests are unimaginative and boring. Over all it's a rather dull, boring, and lifeless game.

Mamamf
Mamamf

@SythisTaru @se007 @evil_devil_mons Totally agree! the problems that some times occur are due to freedom and complexity of the game. And the ppl that waste time talking about the combat... well it's a game about exploration and so on. there's always kingdoms of amalur for them.

wwefan4ever
wwefan4ever

@addicted2050 @se007 @evil_devil_mons Skyrim may had "lots of loot" unfortunately most of it sucked. Weapons and armors you made and enchanted yourself, are better infinitely better than anything you find in the world.


One thing though, how can you say the Elder Scrolls games are quite poor, when you only played two of them? Morrowind is one of the best ones.

Umitencho
Umitencho

@balla_11 @Umitencho @manoogian Oh dear, who let the narrow minded weaboo in? So because someone made a mistake they live in the states? Lol. I should figured I was gonna get nit picked on by a billy goat weaboo. The point was that the idea of chakra did not come from or originate from Naruto and while it is in some myths and religions and its used in eastern medicine as well. I had no intention of giving him a full wikipedia rundown on chakra you google bot. Good day.