Harvey Smith From Arkane talks Art, Gaming and Dishonored!
Today, we are very pleased to bring you an exclusive interview with the master minds behind the upcoming title “Dishonoured”, normally I would elaborate on the nature of the game right about now, tell you it’s genre and special traits. But I’m going to have to disappoint you on the genre front, like when a lover of the arts creates something fantastic or an astrologist discovers a new planet, it’s hard as all hell to put Dishonoured into a specific genre. It’s genuinely that amazing. It squeezed into the mold with the intent of shattering it. But for your sake I’ll try. Dishonoured is a “stealth-action-adventure-persistent world-art-shoot-hack ‘nd slash-exploration-em up”. The last time I felt this way about a game was when I first got my hands on Fallout 3 which, just like Dishonoured attacked the common conventions found in games with a sledgehammer.
Harvey: Videos game are on the path to artistic resonance faster than photography was
But I digress for the uninformed. Dishonoured is one of, if not THE most ambitious game that is slated for release this year. Without spoiling too much, you will take control of a supernatural assassin called Corvo Attano. Corvo was the bodyguard of the Empress but he is now bound in chains after being falsely accused of her murder. Now being falsely accused, as I’m sure you can agree wouldn’t be a horribly nice thing, so Corvo does what any good protagonist would do. He ventures out into the Empires capital city of Dunwall and uses his plethora of gadgets and supernatural abilities to attain vengeance. Now, your mind has no doubt been saturated with games over the past years and as such you are conditioned to kill everything with a pulse that doesn’t look, sound and smell like you.
Even in the stealth classics “Splinter Cell” you can only sneak so far before you need to perforate someone. But not in Dishonoured oh no no no. If you don’t want to kill anyone. Then Don’t. If you want to cut a bloody swathe through the streets, then knock yourself out. If you want to pick and mix your play style as if Corvo has a crazed alter ego, then dig in. In Dishonoured every one and no one is a target. Take to the streets, towers, sewers and buildings of Dunwall and do what you think needs to be done, but take heed, here there be consequences. This is a persistent world unlike any other. If you do something to upset the balance of power then you will know it. You can choose to pass through unnoticed and leave the world in its quasi peaceful state or just put foot to ass and topple the established order. But that’s enough from me, you’re really here to hear Harvey Smith talk. So be it!
Hi I’m Andy from from Video Game Sophistry, We have Harvey Smith here from Arkane Studios, how are you today Harvey?
Hey Andy! Great, calling from Austin, Texas it’s very good to talk to you.
Absolutely, and today we are talking “the” most anticipated game of 2012, a game I think I’ve seen every screenshot, video or article about…”Dishonoured”. Now for the four people in the world, who don’t know, tell us a little bit about the game.
Well first of all that’s really flattering, it feels like we’ve come out of nowhere because it’s a brand new ip.
So dishonoured is competing with, you know all these games that have a three or four behind their name, and this is the first in the series so it’s completely novel, in the game you play a supernatural assassin in a steam punk city, you know so many games are set in modern L.A. robbing a bank or some sorta elves and dragons land or some sort of sci-fi soldier fighting aliens or a modern military complex. And that’s one of the things we’re happiest about; we’ve created a world from whole cloth largely that is influenced heavily by the Victorian period, American waling cities or London in the 1850’s.
Now, in terms of the narrative, what does dishonoured offer, who are we going to be playing as?
Oh well, you play the role of Corvo Attano who is the royal protector, he is the body guard to the empress and you get falsely accused of killing the empress, of her murder. We wanted to choose a really classic story line like that because so many of the elements in the game are very unfamiliar so we needed something to, you know hook you. But then what’s really important to us is that the way the games mechanics work, the minute to minute story that you tell yourself as you play from your actions, you can do so many things that are nonlinear, it just forms a narrative in your head, we have a tern, the embedded narrative which is basically the story, you’re Corvo Attano, bodyguard of the empress, and the emergent narrative which is like “I leaned out, I knocked a bottle over, a guard heard it and he came to check out what had made the sound and I possessed a rat and slipped away under the table.
It’s a very unique sentiment that I don’t think you could hear and describe about any other game!
Yeah, it’s a good combination of odd things, but what’s most important at the end of the day is the players experience for us.
Back to the protagonist, Corvo Attano. Is he going to be a silent hero on a lone journey or is there gonna be some help along the way to help us get revenge?
Well we debated that back and forth, about giving him a very strong personality and voice or keep him silent and let the player project onto him, you know it happens in games sometimes if a protagonist is very strong with a very distinct personality then that may be at odds with what the player feels at a given moment or how the player reacts to something. So we kinda went with a blank slate for Corvo, he’s the strong silent type. He does have allies along the way who react to the way he behaves in the world and whether he plays very dark, or more surgical, you know more stabilized. And so there’s a big cast of characters that you might have heard some of the actor announcement’s recently.
Yeah! So can you tell us a bit more about the star studded cast that’s come into dishonoured?
Yeah, this is kind of a new thing for me but I’ve never worked with actors like this but I went to L.A. several times for a week or two weeks at a time, I think one time was three weeks and we worked with blindlight trying to get the cast we wanted and it’s kind of amazing you know? We always worked with good actors but we’ve got good actors that are also amazing names like susan Sarandon, an academy award winner plays granny rags, a characters in our world. And Brad Dourif who played Worm Tongue in The Lord of The Rings he’s a character called Piero he’s a natural philosopher and inventor. We have Clhoe Grace Moretz who plays Emily Kaldwin and she kicked ass, she did a lot of good stuff. So we just have all of these people, john slattery from mad men, he plays roger in mad men, you know all these guys are great their great to work with really talented people who are doing something new for them they’ve all done a lot of movie or stage work and with them, they would often read a line in the booth and then we would cue them up for the next line and it would contradictory. And then we’d read another line and it was contradictory to that one and they would stop us at some point and say “ I don’t understand, I thought earlier we established that he was angry throughout this, and now he’s saying you did the right thing” and we’d have to explain it like, well hey, think about it. This is based on what the player does so your charater is going to react one way or the other or a third way based on what the player does. It was so fun and new for us. I don’t think Susan Sarandon had done a game before so we were her first and when I was a kid she was one of my heroes, from the rocky horror picture show.
Yeah, a very unique experience seeing them working on your actual product. In terms of that, do you think personally that when you incorporate this Hollywood talent, it legitimizes an industry that should be legitimized but maybe not in some consumer’s eyes? Do you think there’s a component of that when you add these well-established names?
We talk a lot about artistic legitimacy. Already video games are ubiquitous and they already make a lot of money, but right now they are on the edge, like where comics are. There are some amazing comics. Like optic nerve. There are some amazing comics about relationships, fun home is about the death of a woman’s father and his coming out, comics aren’t just about super heroes, they are capable of a very high and low cultural lineage, and so far we have games that are mostly about action, there not perceived as being capable of doing. Maybe that helps, working with Kerry fisher, working with someone from mad men. I don’t know. I think more than anything is if games want to legitimize themselves they need to tackle more broad subject matters. And broadening in that sense, and broadening the type of people playing. We model running and jumping and shooting very well, but we don’t model falling love. I’m an optimist, im very confident and I love games and I love where games are going, there was an art history class I took were we talked about photography, and from the minute people started taking pictures to them being considered art was about 100 years, so I think in that regard we are ahead of the curve.
Where do you see dishonoured in the spectrum in this spectrum of games? Where does it land? Between the art house games that deal with that specific niche or to the more high end, big budget games if you will?
That’s a really interesting question because dishonoured is definitely a kick ass action game were you play a supernatural assassin in a dark world where you can stop time, possess people, cut throats, shatter doors you’re that character, but at the same time at Arkane we truly are into doing more. It’s not a linear game its not scripted, it’s a bunch of systems working, you can play the game about an assassin were you can avoid killing anyone, when we tell someone about that they always ask “really? Even the main target?” Yes, even the main target. We set out as a goal, we settled on it about half way through the game to track how violent the player was being, and then stabilize or destabilize the world depending on that. And so you can wreck everything and kill anyone you encounter, or you can avoid killing innocents, or anyone. And then you end up with a world where the government a little more stable and things are a bit nicer. And that’s one part of it. It’s ambitious because it tries to have a foot in both camps.
That choice of being able to actually manipulate the world in a way where you don’t kill anyone, and then not only getting the satisfaction of doing that, but then actually seeing the effects within the world is something that very few games can do on any kinda level let alone make it a continuous theme. That is one of the biggest draws, from talking to other gamers who’ve been talking about dishonoured for a very long time that seems to be one of the biggest reasons everyone’s so excited, would you agree with that sentiment.
For sure, play it your way, choices and consequences are just ways of summing up things. Games have gotten increasingly conservative. You go down a street, you can’t go down the alley or along the roof, and at the end of the street there’s an encounter, and it can only happen one way and only when the monster is dead, a helicopter lands and you leave. That’s very linear and very scripted, that is not leveraging the best part of games which is the interactive systems. What we try to do with dishonoured, and I think we care about this more artistically than we do the subject matter of the other stuff, the systems are there. You can go down the street, over the rooftop possess a fish and swim through the river. And then when you get to then end where there is an encounter you can avoid any conflict by manipulating the stealth mechanics or you can stop time, or fight them. There are even story based alternate resolutions instead of killing the key targets in the game. We care very much about the possibility space, giving the player the option of telling their own stories.
Can you tell us a bit more about the universe that Corvo will be running jumping and murdering in?
When we started the project we thought we were making London 1666 the year of the great fire and the last day of the plague, and we were pursuing that for a while and we kept tweaking and modernizing it and moving it closer to the 1800 and adding weird elements like tesla like security systems and we got more and more into the Victorian thing, talking about natural philosophers and all the concepts that were exploding at the time, we also started talking about the waling industry and bringing in whale oil as a main source, and how cruel does that sound to our modern sensibilities? Anyway, we kept stirring it all and one day we realised we weren’t on earth any more so we should just admit it and draw a continental map and decide what world we want it in. imagine a world with a vast hostile ocean and a tiny chain of islands where all the civilisation is concentrated and they see the universe itself as hostile because of their relation with the ocean. And we call it the empire of the isles, there is four major islands one is cold and snowy to the north, it kinda reminds me of Russia before the revolution, then there is an island where it is still cold but it’s a little gloomier it’s like Scotland or Ireland. Then there is the Ireland were it takes place with the city of Dunwall where the game takes place the capital city of the empire, then to the south there is the Mediterranean island where there are pirates and what not and its nice and sunny down there. We started that and it sounds like the kind of goofy exercise you go through when your creating a fictional fantasy world. And then from there it spiralled into different things and we realised we need a calendar. I had no idea but there are many types of calendar, so we came up with a calendar each month has 28 days and there are1 3 months and we named them the month of high cold the month of tide etc bit by bit your world begins to secrete this distinct culture and flavour. And that’s where Corvo, in Dunwall. But the game feels much larger than the game actually depicts.
Sounds unbelievable, creating a culture and it’s unfortunate because adding those little details take the level of immersion and ramp it up to such a level that the players don’t even noticed it because they are that immersed that if feels natural.
It’s a funny thing you say that because we’ve found that people play through the game and they peak around apillar and listen to the characters talk, a corrupt aristocrat is profiting from the plague gripping the city, and he talks about his factory and the waling trade and then you carry on and you read a note or a book or some graffiti on the wall. You look at things. You look at guys on the dock or you see a boat going past with a whale hanging of it and you realize that you understand much more about this world than you would in a normal game. It kind of creeps up on you.
That’s Just a Tease! Listen to the Entire Interview Above!