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Arkane Studios discusses ‘Dishonored’, next title, and PS4, Xbox One development

Arkane Studios Logo
Arkane Studios Logo

One of 2012’s most well received games was Bethesda and Arkane StudiosDishonored. Seeing release in Oct. 2012 for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC, Dishonored was given high marks by critics and went on to sell over 460,000 copies during its opening month in North America.

Due to strong sales, Bethesda announced in Nov. 2012 that the game had exceeded expectations and that Dishonored would become a franchise. was given the opportunity to talk with Seth Shain, Systems Designer and Associate Producer at Arkane Studios, about the development of Dishonored, the game’s downloadable content, what is next for the development studio, and what the company thinks about the PS4 and Xbox One.

We start with the development of Dishonored's DLC.

Examiner: Was the Brigmore Witches something that was left out of the original game?

As we were wrapping Dishonored and we knew we would be heading into DLC land, it freed it up some resources for us to figure out what our DLC was going to be. The thing that seemed the most obvious was the prospect of playing as Daud. In so many ways, Daud is the other side of the coin to Corvo. After a month or two of development of what that may be, we came up with the locations that are featured in both of the DLCs. We made the decision to have both of the DLCs be two parts of Daud’s story.

Examiner: How important was the idea of having your DLC decisions carry over into this final one?

That was a really cool feature and we talked a lot about how central that should be. We decided that we can’t have too many things rely on that because then we risk alienating players who didn’t play The Knife of Dunwall, but do want to play Brigmore Witches. So we needed to make sure we could support players who haven’t played Knife of Dunwall. We also wanted to reward the players who have played Knife of Dunwall and wanted to continue with Brigmore Witches. There’s some optional content in Brigmore Witches that is unlocked by having played Knife of Dunwall. They are ripple effects from things you’ve done in Knife of Dunwall. The things you’ve done, you’ll see the consequences of them in Brigmore Witches.

Examiner: When the game was launched, were the elements of the game that you guys felt like you missed?

One thing we really listened careful to was how people reacted to Dishonored when the game shipped. Something we heard loud and clear was how people wanted to play the game non-lethally more than we thought people would. So one of the loudest criticisms we heard was, ‘we want more non-lethal options.’ We used the DLC as an opportunity to explore more non-lethal options. Those were fun mechanics to play with and tools that Corvo lacked.

Examiner: What are the biggest things you’ve learned about Dishonored since the game has been released?

It’s interesting what the public latches onto and thinks is important, versus what we thought they would find important. I don’t think we anticipated that people would like the heart as much as they did. So it was really thrilling to see how much it mattered to people. There was a point when we were considering cutting it and we rallied around it and fought to keep it in the game. It was hard, but we kept it in and it really became an essential part of the game. We’re blown away by how much people have responded to the lore and to the world. We like to watch people play the game on YouTube or Twitch. There’s this one particular guy who we are fans of watching play. He seems to intuitively know exactly what our clues are pointing to and we are blown away that someone can be that insightful with our game. That makes us feel like we are doing our job.

Examiner: Do you feel like you’ve created something new and successful that has not been seen before in the industry?

It’s not like Dishonored created a new genre. The DNA of Arkane is first-person, immersive sim and we are certainly not the first one on the block. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a great prequel to that series. We knew there are gamers out there who want games like that. Then we saw how that did and said ‘this is proof that people do want to play these games and there is room in the market for games like this.’ The response from people validated that people really want to have this kind of experience. Additionally, people want gameplay options, they want to be able to tell their own story and make their own decisions about how stealthy or lethal they are. One of the things I have been excited about with DLCs is the addition of the difficulty level, Master Assassin. That is the realistic simulation mode, where if you get wounded once, you’re pretty much dead. The new level really makes powers like Vitality or the bone charm Tough Skin matter a lot more. Suddenly having those are the differences between dying or surviving.

Examiner: What has been your favorite part about developing Dishonored?

The day the game launched, we watched this guy on Twitch and we really enjoyed watching this guy play. One of our designers just happened to be watching him and then I saw him watching, and eventually we had a big screen and the whole office was watching him play. We were all watching him get to the end of the game, and he was challenging us by saying, ‘you’re not going to do it,’ and when Emily fell, the look on his face made everything worth it. That’s what Dishonored is about and that’s what we are about, creating meaningful choice that lead to unexpected results, but results that do follow logically from those actions. We feel like for years we’ve been hearing players say, ‘I want games where my actions have meaningful consequence.’ We really feel like we did that in Dishonored and we feel like we succeeded in more ways than we failed, which is really satisfying.

Examiner: Was Dishonored a game to really bring unfamiliar and new emotions out of players?

We don’t build games that encourage drunk walking. That’s something we actively fight against. If we see players drunk walking through a game and they don’t know why they’re doing it, that to us says we’re failing. When we see that, we try to make the player stop and pay attention to their actions. We have a lot of mechanisms that give the players feedback on what they’re doing. We wanted players to feel like their actions did matter and they did matter to this little girl. The chaos system in general was a way we could make the player think about what they’re doing. We were really proud of being able to do that.

Examiner: What was the worst moment of development on Dishonored?

It’s hard to see things get cut sometimes. There are things you are excited about and you want the game to have more features, more levels but the reality of that is we have to ship the game eventually and it’s hard to make those calls. The hardest thing to do is cut something because when you do that, you feel like you’re letting some people down who worked on it. You don’t want to say no to things, but ultimately that is what you have to do in order to get the game shipped.

Examiner: What direction is the studio heading in now?

We’re going to have another project and we’re in the concept phase of that now, it’s nothing we can talk about yet, but we’ll be excited to announce it soon. Arkane grew a lot during the development of Dishonored and a lot of people who have helped finished Dishonored weren’t even there at the beginning, and I’m one of them. So for a lot of us, it’s our first-time getting to be at the pre-production stages at Arkane, and getting to see how we are going to see what our next game is. That’s really exciting and we’ll eventually have something new to show.

Examiner: Is there a certain type of genre that you would like to see get made?

When we look at the next-gen and see what’s going to be capable on those, some of us are pretty realistic about what’s going to go down. We know if we have more memory, the artists are going to use it up as fast as they can, so the joke in the office is, let’s design as much of the game before art has a chance to steal all of the memory. But that’s just the constant negotiation with the art team for dynamic gameplay. [The next-gen] means game worlds will be richer and have higher density of interaction. On Dishonored, all of the things you can interact with are relatively expensive and the static stuff that doesn’t move isn’t, but when you have art pylons, balls of light, levers and characters, it’s just more expensive to put in the game, in terms of performance and memory. What we’re excited about with the next-gen, is being able to have a higher density of activity in the space, and it means we can think more in terms of systems interacting. It means the worlds will be more beautiful and the characters will be more fleshed out, we have more bones, we can have higher densities around bones, animation will play out on characters better and it’s something that’s very exciting. That’s something we have been limited on, how many different ways can a character die or walk, but now we have more memory, we’ll have that many more ways to do those things. For sure, what we’re going to do next is first person, immersive sim because that’s what we’re about.

Examiner: What is next-gen about?

There is some incoming technology that will enable things we haven’t seen before. We’ve got the Kinect being built into the Xbox and then the PlayStation has the touchpad, and the systems going to have so much connectivity built into them. We’re going to see new stuff and people will find great new ways to use the technology. The first round of next-gen games is probably going to be the development community figuring out how to build next-gen games and how to take advantage of all the new features. Once we can figure out how to harness all of that, we’re going to have some great games for the next-gen. I hope it’s more than just making things prettier and having more cinematics because I think we can do much better than that.

Examiner: Will grasping the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 be easier to master?

It’s hard to say because we haven’t gotten our hands on them yet. As long as the tools are solid, it’ll be fine, but the next-gen consoles seem to be much more in line with a high-end PC. I do think what we can do on console and what we can do on PC, will have a lot more parity between the two. It just means having more dynamic things we can have in the world at the same time. It’ll be interesting.

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