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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182 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

AlexFili
AlexFili

Throwing objects is so last decade

MidnightMeteor
MidnightMeteor

Will get this in the bargain bin later this year, that is all ;P

mrferrari_basic
mrferrari_basic

Really cool idea by them to go with a steampunk feel.

SeAzhrei
SeAzhrei

Why would you cut that ability permanently?! That had dlc second playthrough written all over it! Damn you and your balancing! GIVE US BACK LEVITATION!!! (er, wait a second...)

Pulfasonic
Pulfasonic

Well at least it wasn't New York...

max-hit
max-hit

Maybe they should have made other changes to the gameplay. I enjoyed Mark of the Ninja more than Dishonored. There is no challenge in Dishonored.

DeFiLeDTitan
DeFiLeDTitan

"We felt that Japan wasn't good for us, because we don't know this culture as Europeans,". 

It's called a book guys. You know, those things in libraries that everyone has to walk by to get to the computers. Hell, You can go to Google and type "history of feudal Japan". Racist say hungry troll!

gamergath
gamergath

Don't worry Arkane, with the PS4 & next-gen Xbox coming out, you can make the biggest sequel game ever or just another fun IP like Dishonored. Can't wait GOTY 2014/2015. ;)

TheThoughtless1
TheThoughtless1

My only problem with the game, was the fact that every environment was modular. Every area felt small and cramped because they weren't connected and it made the entire game feel small. (I may play too many open world games) 

ShadowofSonic
ShadowofSonic

I loved this game, but I must say, setting the game in feudal Japan would have been very interesting!

SUNDRAGONJ
SUNDRAGONJ

I really liked this game, the graphics were that of a lesser Bioshock series but still good enough. The voice acting great, but the gameplay was amazingly brilliant. The story was a bit to obvious in my opinion and that was a total let down. Even with all the flaws the game was a joy to play. For all the haters out there, if you don't like dishonored then why the hell would you read an article on the very object of your disliking? You lot are stupid. Good day.

TheLeftHandDoom
TheLeftHandDoom

I thought this game was incredibly boring and tedious.

auntbessie
auntbessie

I don't agree that the graphics were stunning, they were mediocre at best and that's on a pretty decent PC but I guess that's down to some ropey old engine that they must have borrowed but the gameplay was great, I was really surprised at how much I actually enjoyed it.  I'd put it in my top 3 for last year, would love to see a sequel

sdoxas
sdoxas

I thought that was a shot of David Cross. 

godsend1989
godsend1989

This game is a must play no matter what !!!

JBStone1981
JBStone1981

Anything would have been better than the steaming pile of puke that they actually released. No idea why people like that game at all.

godsend1989
godsend1989

Dishonored best shiit i played in ages, totally worth it congrats u guys this game makes you feel powerful, i liked first Bioshock but this is just next level, dont compare Bioshock infinte with this, because they are both masterpieces.

Dirk_McHardpeck
Dirk_McHardpeck

Boy am I glad they didn't set it in the middle ages. An assassin sneaking around in the middle ages would have been too much like Assassins Creed.

dmdavenport
dmdavenport

Dishonored had a definite Bioshock vibe, but that's not a bad thing. I enjoyed the world and congrats to the devs for creating a worthwhile new IP. We don't see enough of the them these days.  

tweezzzy
tweezzzy

dishonored sucked asshole.

the graphics are circa 2009 and the pc port looks terrible. it just does. Unreal Engine 3 shows many signs of wear. the gameplay feels like thief + assassins creed in first person. the game is not a true open world fps, where the "open" element exists within the confined areas you are given to do missions. i felt on a rail the entire game. item finding to build powers makes it feel like sleeping dogs. there is no sense of vulnerability in Dishonored. i never once felt threatened by anything that attacked me due to the overpowering abilities i had. to add to that, the A.I. is pretty horrific. its great to have alot of options when you want to kill people, but what is the point if they are just cannon fodder and stupid as bricks. its like wayne gretzky playing in the minor leagues. dialogue is nothing more than scripted cutscenes with no choice from the player.

bioshock infinite makes dishonored look like childs play.


DARKKNIGHTPRABZ
DARKKNIGHTPRABZ

this game was successful and one of the best games of last year. Im glad they chose a fiction city, because in a way they can now doo sooooo much in terms of culture, history , fiction. And add to the universe, it was a blessing in disguise it seems. 

However i would of literally loved feudal Japan,... jeez the thought of being a FP , samurai or ninja... one day this dream will be fullfilled i hope.

Ladiesman17
Ladiesman17

Dishonored was okay, but Unreal 3 not utilized really well in that games.

if you compare other games with same engine (Hawken, BulletStorm, DmC, Mass Effect 3, Borderlands 2)

Dishonored sucks in comparison.

Wastlander3000
Wastlander3000

Hmm, so Dishonored was meant to take place in feudal Japan? How interesting. They still made a great job with the final product nonetheless.

Chaos_Dante_456
Chaos_Dante_456

I always felt the inherent thing holding Dishonered back was that adding some of the abilities or equipment I would have liked to have seen or making power usage a little more frequent would kind of break the game. Don't get me wrong still a good game that i enjoyed, I do wish they could have put the other abilities in at least as unlockables or something on a bonus playthrough.

Peazo
Peazo

the biggest change was adding xbox360.  "we need to downscale team.  A lot!"

ZRavN
ZRavN

Very interesting article. I hope dishonored was successful enough to get a sequel or a followup game. Arkane seems wicked talented and I really enjoyed dishonored. 

Slash_out
Slash_out

The jumping on top of items thing while stoping time might have been really fun :).

One of those things you'd randomly find  (as with other powers) and think "oh shit ! I can do that?!"


Anyways, don't stop there guys :). Dishonored 2 or a completly new franchise, I don't care, just give us another quality game please :).

s_h_a_d_o
s_h_a_d_o

"We felt that Japan wasn't good for us, because we don't know this culture as Europeans ..."

I've mentioned this fact before... such creative integrity (which I applaud) never seems to hinder Japanese game developers (et alia) from appropriating elements of European culture. :|

pokecharm
pokecharm

feudal Japan might have been really cool too - we can dream

EPaul
EPaul

Always nice to hear the cut features from the game