Interview: Unmasking Dishonored’s Harvey Smith

By Nathan Grayson on October 17th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

Dishonored is pretty great. Incredible, even – at least, in places. We’ve had many wordthinks about it, and odds are, the future will bring many more. Those, however, are for another time. Today, we’re giving the angular, Viktor-Antonov-designed spotlight over to one of the main minds behind the whale-powered wonder, Harvey Smith. From System Shock to the original Deus Ex to an ill-fated Area 51 reboot to a canceled RTS and even a brief stint in mobile gaming, he’s seen all corners of the gaming industry. But – dare I suggest it – there’s far more to life than videogames. So I sat down with Smith to discuss how and why he does what he does, and as it turns out, he may well be just as incredible as the game he played a crucial role in creating – if not more so.

There are some people whose entire life stories come tumbling into view the second you get a good look at them. What they’re wearing, the way they move, how they introduce themselves, how they style their hair, where their eyes dart, where they don’t. No, it’s not generally a good idea to judge a book by its cover, but the cover’s there for a reason. It’s a window into their world, a shrieking neon sign of history.

Harvey Smith is not one of those people.

Sitting down across from him in a dimly lit corner of an ornate, extremely spacious hotel lobby, it strikes me just how much he stands out – precisely because he shouldn’t stand out. He’s dressed plainly, clad in a black T-shirt and well-worn blue jeans, and reclining casually in a floral print chair. This is the co-creator of Dishonored and one of the principle minds behind Deus Ex – among many other things – but unless you knew him, I doubt you’d be able to pick him out of a crowd. But then, they say the ones with the least to talk about often speak the loudest. Meanwhile, Smith – after all he’s seen, done, and been through – has far more to say than most. So instead of getting a mohawk and a megaphone, he creates.

But where exactly did his drive to spin Dishonored’s taut web of brainy, freeform stealth and all-out chaos come from? Well, like a significant number of people, he began life as a child. He always had a playful streak, too, but even back then, he did things his way. “Basically, I took a Robin action figure and put him in gray and black tights,” Smith reminisces. “He had the little domino mask, and I added gray and black tights. I thought the boots from the Tin Man were cool and gray, so I put them on. My grandmother came in the room and looked at the action figures I was playing with, and she said, ‘Oh, no, you broke your toys!’ I said, ‘No, I made a new one.’”

Obviously, Smith was a bright and creative child, so I ask whether or not that carried over into his school work. Turns out, it didn’t – but absolutely not for the reasons you’d expect. Plenty of brilliant kids slip past the modern education system’s suffocatingly narrow net, but Smith’s youth was far from typical. Tragedy struck early, and it was savage in its attack.

“My mom died when I was six,” Smith explains, clutching his arms and breaking eye contact. “She OD’d in front of me. My dad killed himself. Those two things didn’t happen in a vacuum. There was a lot of trauma that led up to those things, a lot of chaos. Everything would have been fine. I was just a blue-collar kid in a small Texas town. It probably even would have been fine with the drugs and stuff, and the physical abuse. But when you have a parent die that early, it’s shattering. Especially your mother. It’s a lot to come back from. I was that kid. It probably led to writing and escapism and all of that stuff.”

“Teachers always said the same thing about me: ‘When I talk to this kid, it’s amazing. When he’s really excited about something, it’s amazing. But if he’s not, he barely passes. He isn’t achieving what he could achieve.’ I think sometimes kids in school are dealing with depression and they’re checked out. Only when somebody reaches them, or when they’re talking about something very exciting, do they light up. That was me. I was not a very good student at all.”

I start to see it. When he gets onto a topic he’s really passionate about, his entire demeanor changes. He leans in, he talks much louder, his eyes light up like wild excitement is trying to burst forth from them in laser form. By no means is he a sad or dour person – quite the contrary, in fact. And he’s very conscious of that. His youth, he notes, definitely shaped him, but that didn’t have to be a completely bad thing.

“Kids are good at figuring out how to survive in their environment,” he says. “If you ever talk to the kids of alcoholics, they generally are very good at understanding a social situation, because they had to read people constantly. There’s that. If you talk to kids that are alone a lot, or dealing with something very consuming, very negative, very depressing or whatever, they find a way. People cope. They adapt. So I think fiction and games… I think a lot of people just appreciate those things, and then other people are consumed by them, drawn to them. They use them in some way that helps them.”

That in mind, it only seems natural that Smith eventually went on to craft the very type of thing that gave him such a powerful outlet when his life took a turn for the worst. It was not, however, a direct A-to-B path. His first stop after leaving home was actually the Air Force, of all things. He needed to get away, and the Air Force provided a consistent, reliable way of doing that. “I ended up going to Germany to do this satellite communications work, living in this little village 30 minutes away from the base,” he recalls, now visibly animated. “My ex-wife and I toured Germany, and it was great. I went to university there. I was a lit major and a psych minor. I didn’t graduate, but I went to school for several years. I have to say, the whole experience was fantastic.”

“At one point I went to Saudi for a while. Between Desert Storm and Operation Southern Watch. We were enforcing a no-fly parallel or something like that. A line that Saddam Hussein’s planes weren’t supposed to cross. The stuff was fascinating.”

But after six years of that, it was time to move on, and Smith was once again without a handy golden arrow or a series of invisible walls to guide the way. It was only after a good friend who worked at Origin (the real Origin; not the EA download service) suggested Smith turn his videogame obsession into a career that he decided to set up shop in Austin, Texas and give it the old haven’t-quite-graduated-from-college try. What ensued was, well, probably worthy of its own comedic Hollywood montage.

“I tried for six months to get a job there as a designer or a writer,” Smith continues. “I played in a Shadowrun campaign that met in the boardrooms after hours. I played multiplayer games in the QA test lab. I played on their softball team. I went skydiving with Richard Garriott. There was a team skydiving event that I wormed my way into. Jumped out of a plane with those guys in San Marcos. And I still couldn’t get a job. Then there was an ad in the paper that said, ‘Wanted: Testers. $7 an hour.’ I took it.”

It was a humble beginning, to be sure, but Smith was fortunate enough to find himself surrounded on all sides by greatness. Even as a tester, he worked on Wing Commander and System Shock. Not a bad way to start, huh?

“I can’t complain,” he replies when I point out that his time at Origin ended with the tumultuous cancellation of an RTS called Technosaur. “I did stuff that was amazing. I worked with Richard Garriott a little bit. I worked with Warren Spector. I got to see every aspect of game development. I worked as an AP. I worked as a designer. I worked as a tester. I worked with the translators for a while. I moved around a lot in there. People really responded well to me. I was given a lot of opportunity based on the work I was doing.”

All this time, I’m continually stricken by Smith’s ability to put a positive spin on life’s most nauseating ups and downs. It’s not denial or anything like that, either. But whether life hands him lemons or a box of live hand grenades, he’ll find a way to make lemonade. Even so, Smith won’t deny that his early experiences strongly influenced his later works. In a lot of ways, however, that made Deus Ex an ideal project for him to really flex his creative muscles on.

“I still, to this day, love games where I’m in a dark, creepy, scary place, and I’m underpowered, and I’m facing monsters, and I master those monsters by defeating them with trickery, stealth or whatever,” he says, a grin creeping across his face. “I think there’s still a component of that, that is… The reason that’s soothing or titillating in some way is that it’s based on some pattern that a lot of people share. Anybody who’s gone through something like that when they’re very young, in a formative time.”

Deus Ex, however, also allowed Smith to reconnect with his background head-on – or rather, to express it in a more direct, contemplative way. “One of the missions I worked on in Deus Ex is the mission where Nicolette DuClare goes back to her house, six months after her mother’s assassination,” he explains. “It’s the first time she’s been there, and she’s kinda sad about that. So you explore her empty house with her. And by the way, there’s no monsters that attack in the house. There’s no enemies. It’s just an empty house. I had to push for that on the team, because everybody was filling all the rooms with bad guys.”

“It just resonated, right? It’s not so much that there was a direct connection to any specific thing [that happened to me]. It’s just that when I think about an idea that’s appealing to me… You meet this young person and she’s tough on the outside, but she’s really hiding the fact that six months ago her mom was killed, and it’s really affected her. Going back to the house is a big deal. It’s where she lived with her mom, and you’re exploring this empty house as she roams from room to room making comments with you as she goes. She follows you and comments.”

And while Deus Ex’s development wasn’t without its moments of drama and disagreement, the finished product went on to become a medium-defining classic. But even that didn’t catapult Smith down the road to easy street. Good times, unfortunately, were followed by a pretty lengthy spell of bad.

“I was disappointed with decisions that we made on Deus Ex: Invisible War. Things also went very badly at Midway [with Area 51]… Area 51 was just super-troubled development. It was a very large organization. It was hard to get anything done. Nobody was really empowered, I think. After I was gone – after I got fired, frankly – all of their studios shut down. One thing was not the problem. It was not isolated.”

Smith, however, eventually bounced back. He kept on pushing forward, and ultimately, it led him to a job at Arkane meticulously crafting his dream game alongside co-creative director and good friend Raphael Colantonio. It’s been a long road, certainly, but Smith chalks his recent good fortune up to the fact that he never lost sight of what actually mattered.

“You know, I just love games,” he enthuses. “I love talking about games. I love playing games. I love designing games. I’ve always believed that you should ignore all that [negative stuff] and just keep working. It’s a good philosophy. On our worst day in video games, we’re doing intellectually and creatively stimulating work.”

“If you’ve ever had anything bad happen to you for an extended period of time, it relativizes things. From that point forward, you know what a good day and a bad day are. A lot of people have never had much of anything bad happen to them. They don’t know what a good day and a bad day are. ‘Oh my God, this is terrible, our plane’s delayed. We’re going to get to Italy later than we thought!’ Oh God, your life is terrible. I think that’s one of the things that helps you deal with adversity. Keep an idea of the relative scale of adversity and how good you actually have it.”

Similarly, when I point out that Dishonored is an exception to triple-A gaming’s sea of same-y, too-safe sequels – a much-needed breath of fresh air in an industry sector choked by stagnation – Smith doesn’t even bat an eyelash. Things could be much, much worse, and as far as he’s concerned, they’re not even all that bad by any standard.

“That’s such a trivial negative,” he fires back. “If I got discouraged by that, what would my father’s suicide have done to me? That’s hardly a blip. I’m getting to do what I am excited about. Raph and I are thrilled about this game. It’s just that it’s hard to do good things, by definition. There’s always going to be a small subset that we consider ‘good’ or ‘interesting,’ and the bulk is going to be average.”

“But no, I don’t find any of that discouraging. I wish we were all freer to do the things that we want. I wish money fell out of the sky and funded everybody’s dream game. But no, it’s not discouraging to me. Everywhere I look I see games I want to play. Monaco, Day Z, Red Dead Redemption, BioShock Infinite, Spelunky. In every direction there’s a good game. I don’t even have time to play all the good games around me right now.”

When we first began talking, I noticed that Smith reclined far back in his chair – almost like he was leaning away and attempting to disengage. But no, that’s not the case at all. Smith is comfortable. He’s in a good place, and he’s not taking it for granted. What’s done is done, and what’s up next will happen when it happens. And when it does – whether it’s good or bad – he’ll keep moving forward. Because, after all he’s seen, done, and been through, he knows he can handle it.

“People call me an optimist,” he concludes, rising from his seat. “But I do think, at a more true level, it comes from that perspective.”

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55 Comments »

  1. Drayk says:

    What an amazing guy…

    Can’t wait to finally play the game.

  2. Vegard Pompey says:

    Oh, if only Dishonored had been as interesting as this guy.

    • RodHope says:

      Oh, if only! Oh wait. It is. It’s ace.

      • coarse.sand says:

        Well. the story was fairly rote, but everything else was pretty amazing once it managed to get rolling. Still, it’s only the last third of the game that really sticks out for me as an incredible experience. That’s a long setup, but it definitely paid off.

        • AJ_Wings says:

          I thought the first two thirds were incredible, The Overseer’s Headquarters and Lady Boyle’s Party being the highlights. The rest not so much.

          I’m actually interested in how they’re going to handle the DLC, with it featuring different leading characters from different parts of the world.

          • pupsikaso says:

            I’ve only played up to the point where you meet your secret benefactors in the bar, but I was pretty disappointed by it. As a stealth game I think it’s incredibly lackluster. I’m sitting in plain sight, in a lit-up place, having full line of sight to a guard, and yet somehow he is unable to see me?

          • sbs says:

            Unless you’re already playing on highest difficulty, try raising it, it ups the awareness.

          • Brun says:

            The game picks up once you gain access to runes (magic). The stealth aspect has to be relatively one-dimensional for the first mission since your only stealth ability is hiding.

          • KenTWOu says:

            try raising it, it ups the awareness.

            Unfortunately, AI is pretty weak even on the highest difficulty.

          • Hidden_7 says:

            That video didn’t show me anything particularly bad about the AI, and the description is just a laundry list of things that aren’t really in any other stealth games and are usually axed for balance/fun reasons. It all seems very par for the course for stealth games.

            The only thing that demonstrated that seems odd to me is the cant’ see through transparent objects, however a) it wasn’t a totally transparent object (it had things to obscure vision) and b) I completely understand why they did that, given the stealth model’s reliance on obstructing vision to stay hidden, but stealth requiring access to information to make your decisions on.

            This old chestnut about “bad AI” seems to get brought out whenever any stealth game shows up with AI that don’t notice every little thing a human would. This is intentional. It’s a gameplay system, it’s not designed to be realistic. You couldn’t realistically sneak around a small house like that patrolled by roving guards without being detected. It’d be impossible. The AI is designed to give you a certain amount of leeway that you can then exploit to win. Truly good AI would catch you almost immediately.

            As far back as Thief people have been complaining about “bad AI” when they are really talking about gameplay decisions. People complained that guards didn’t notice and relight doused torches, calling it “bad AI.” So much so that in the first level of Thief 2 they had two guards comment on a torch when you doused it, and bicker about who would relight it. Almost as if to say “yes we could do this if we wanted to.” That very feature had been in earlier builds, it wasn’t a problem to make happen. It however, wasn’t fun, didn’t feel fair or balanced, so it was removed. The fact that the maid noticed the open safe proves that if they wanted, they could have the AI notice all sorts of evidence of your passing, open doors, open chests, missing or moved items. They chose to reserve it for truly important things, like when they’ve been pickpocketed or a safe is opened, rather than every little thing that’s changed, which seems like a reasonable compromise between watching the evidence you leave, and not being able to do anything for want of slightly less suspicious house servants.

            Dishonored’s stealth system is based around obstruction, staying out of sight lines, rather than a more traditional shadow system. As such, when a game like Thief or Splinter Cell lets the player “cheat” by being perfectly hidden in deep shadow, Dishonored gives the player slightly more leeway in what constitutes a sight line. Guards are a little weaker in their peripheral than a real person would be, to give you room to hide. It’s an intentional game balance decision.

            It’s fine to criticize the game for being too easy, that they got the balance wrong, but it’s not for want of “better AI.” That’d be like criticizing something like Call of Duty for having terrible wound simulations because it has regenerating health. It’s fine to be against regenerating health as a gameplay mechanism (I’m not a huge fan), but recognize that COD could have an ArmA style health system where single shots can be fatal, and most wounds require doctoring, and that they very intentionally didn’t do that because it didn’t fit with the game trying to be made. You want to see some “good” stealth AI? Look at those same COD games. The enemies are real good at spotting you and knowing where you are in that.

            In short, good stealth AI is AI that allows you to be stealthy, not AI that prohibits it, as realistic (and easily achievable AI) would.

          • KenTWOu says:

            That video didn’t show me anything particularly bad about the AI, and the description is just a laundry list of things that aren’t really in any other stealth games…

            Whaaaaaaaaat? I think that you didn’t like stealth genre at all. So please, buy and play Splinter Cell:Chaos Theory or Thief series and then make such ridiculous statements! By the way these games have AI that allows you to be stealthy. Even Deus Ex:Human Revolution has better AI!

            They chose to reserve it for truly important things…

            Doors are the most important part of any serious stealth game! Unfortunately doors are not so important in Dishonored. Yeah, he can’t see you!

            Dishonored’s stealth system is based around obstruction, staying out of sight lines, rather than a more traditional shadow system.

            Thanks, captain obvious! By the way, I really like this idea.

            The fact that the maid noticed the open safe proves that if they wanted, they could have the AI notice all sorts of evidence…

            That’s why I included that moment with the open safe! Yeah, if they wanted, they could! But somebody or something didn’t allow them to do it. Didn’t allow them to do the best stealth/action game of the decade! Because they already have almost ideal stealth levels in their game! But without compelling AI these levels can’t really shine.

          • Hidden_7 says:

            Believe me, I love stealth games. When asked what my favorite game of all time is, I say either Thief 1 or Thief 2, depending on my mood that day. I’ve played through both multiple times on expert. I’ve played through Splinter Cell 1, 2 and 3. I just got done playing Mark of the Ninja to write this comment. In any RPG I’m given my first choice is to play a thief type character and go the stealth route. I’ve gone full stealth in Deus Ex and DXHR. I’ve played plenty of stealth games, it is among my favorite genre.

            The actual state of doors tends to be pretty unimportant in stealth games. Guards do not notice opened doors in Thief 1 or 2. In Thief 3 with the hardest difficulty they will in certain areas notice if specific doors are open and shouldn’t be, and even then these are usually limited to a comment bark rather than the AI actually going into an alert status. The actual act of opening a door generates no sound, and a guard won’t notice it if he sees it happen, only if it opens to reveal you. The idea that doors and their states is the most important thing in any serious stealth game is ridiculous. Any AI that pays a mass of attention to doors is a niche feature that does not show up in the greats.

            And your suggestion that that screenshot is somehow damning sort of blows my mind. OF COURSE he can’t see you. You’re using the peek through keyhole ability. Its entire purpose is to let you see what’s on the other side of a door without exposing yourself. Can you imagine if he COULD see you? You’d have no idea he was there until you looked through the door, which is a feature designed to safely let you scout out a room. You’d attempt to peek hole look and be totally ambushed and detected. He’s presumably not moving around standing in one spot, so you can’t listen at the door and hear if anyone is on the other side. It would just mean that completely randomly you’d have a chance to be immediately caught if you looked through a keyhole. So you wouldn’t. It would make the ability useless. It would shift even more reliance to the Dark Vision power.

            My point in mentioning that Dishonored’s stealth system is based on occlusion is to point out that whatever your stealth system is based on, you’re going to have to have it cheat in the player’s favor. Thief was about shadows, so you were invisible in deep enough shadow, and for most shadow could not be detected unless someone was a couple feet away from you. This is, on the surface, terrible AI. It can’t see a fully grown man standing in a dark patch in the room? You could make a similar video for Thief or Splinter Cell showing people walking right by someone merely crouched in the corner. And because of the way the lighting system worked, there were always the inevitable area here and there that looked a lot brighter than it was. So you’d have someone standing in a well lit corner that the game nevertheless thinks is dark, as guards stare right at him from two feet away. It would make the AI look terrible, and make the greatest stealth game of all time look awful at its job.

            But it wouldn’t be. Because the point is that the guards have selective blindness that you are then able to exploit. That’s the game. That’s the GENRE. The selective blindness the guards have in Dishonored is just different. They can spot you in even the deepest shadow if you’re not otherwise obscured and they’re in a reasonable range. However their peripheral is pretty weak, they never really seem to pay attention to anything at a distance, and the requirement for being “obscured” is a lot lower.

            I stand by my statement that that video showed par for the course stealth AI. Here’s what would have happened differently if that had been in Thief:
            1. The guard would have spotted you through that glass case. That’s an odd one, I understand why they did it, but you’re right, that’s a little strange.
            2. The second guard might have seen you as you approached at that angle. However he might not have. The Thief guards didn’t have the best peripheral vision either.
            3. You would have failed the mission on that third guard, because let’s face it, expert or nothing :P
            4. When you blinked on top of the bed the maid might have seen you since the Thief view cones aren’t as squished vertically, but it also looked like you were in pretty solid shadow, so you’d probably have been fine.
            5. Unless it were Thief 3 on higher difficulties, the maid would not have noticed the safe being opened.
            6. The maid would not have stopped to admire that painting. She’d have stuck rigidly to her patrol route.
            7. Overall you would have been moving slower, as Thief had a slower max speed required to make no sound and no magical teleport. Obviously. This is a facet of Dishonored’s desire to have a quicker more fluid stealth.

            That’s it. Everything else could have been a Thief playthrough. As a further note, here are some things Dishonored does add to the stealth genre, that I’ve not seen others do effectively before.

            1. Patrols routes aren’t as rigid. People can be detoured from them by various things. Here we saw the maid admire the painting. Sometimes people will warm themselves on the fire, or duck off to take a piss, or stop to have a conversation with another passing guard. All this is unscripted actions the AI may take based on random factors, and things near them in the world.
            2. AIs notice if patrol routes have been vacated, either because someone has deviated too far because of the things I just mentioned, or because you’ve removed them from the patrol. Once this happens they switch their route to cover the vacated one, or simply fold bits of the vacated one into their patrol.
            3. If they’ve had a confirmed engagement with you, they will never go back down to fully unaware. They will resume their patrol, but they will be more alert than they were, and will pass on this alertness to other guards they come across. That is, there is no “must have been rats” (though there are a LOT of rats in Dunwall) if it absolutely was definitely you. It’s “he got away.” They’ll calm back down, but into a different state than if they thought they saw/heard something, but ultimately concluded it was nothing.

            tl;dr Anyone who thinks Dishonored’s AI is considerably worse than others in the genre is remembering those games with rose coloured glasses. It is on par with it’s predecessors/contemporaries, has a slightly different implementation in some ares because of different design goals (about speed, sight lines, rather than methodical shadow hiding), and actually makes a few notable improvements.

          • KenTWOu says:

            tl;dr Anyone who thinks Dishonored’s AI is considerably worse than others in the genre is remembering those games with rose coloured glasses…

            Please, stop this rose coloured glasses thing! I’m playing both Splinter Cell:Chaos Theory and Deus Ex:Human Revolution right now !!!

            DXHR guards hear when you pull out a drawer, they hear when you open a door/window/wardrobe, they see when you do it and they becomes suspicious and trying to investigate that and say different phrases: Who’s there? Did you see that? The Door opened but no one came through… And DXHR doesn’t have light and shadow system!

            The actual state of doors tends to be pretty unimportant in stealth games…

            Splinter Cell:Chaos Theory is laughing at you! Its guards know even more tricks! They could see when you break the lock with your knife, they could notice when you hacked an electronic lock, they could notice if you switch off a computer, or a light, or change smart glass transparency with your OCP on your pistol. Dishonored housemaid doesn’t notice when I’m extinguishing candles right in front of her nose!!!

            Even this SC:CT training video shows more tricks than Dishonored guards know.

            Dishonored does add to the stealth genre, that I’ve not seen others do effectively before….

            Unfortunately that’s not important when AI completely ignores almost all your basic actions!

            OF COURSE he can’t see you. You’re using the peek through keyhole ability.

            He is using it too! Just imagine if he could really see you! It will be the best stealth situation of the year! …of the last decade! And he doesn’t do it every time, he walks away periodically. And his timing is perfect to give you enough time for an assassination and clean up the mess inside the room! But that’s pointless, cause he can’t see you anyway. And that’s a shame! Especially for an immersive sim genre.

          • Goodtwist says:

            @ KenTWOu
            I started reading your reply to Hidden_7 but I then didn’t bother because of your condescending manner.

          • KenTWOu says:

            @Goodtwist
            I’m saying this without sarcasm. You comment was very important to me. I’m not an English speaking person, my English isn’t strong enough to express myself. So I apologize for my manners, I didn’t mean that. And doors are very important. Sam Fisher proves that.

          • KenTWOu says:

            @Hidden_7

            In Thief 3 with the hardest difficulty they will in certain areas notice if specific doors are open and shouldn’t be, and even then these are usually limited to a comment bark rather than the AI actually going into an alert status.

            That’s what I want! We’re talking about an immersive sim here and such reactions help to create more believable world. Dishonored isn’t one of them in this regard.

          • Josh W says:

            That’s pretty insightful 7, I like the idea that dishonoured focuses on a different avenue of the stealth game, and it makes me wonder what other games could be out there that do something similar:

            I often feel like assassin’s creed’s disguise/crowd mechanics could be beefed up, and that could form an interesting centre piece for a stealth game, just as dishonoured focuses on the clarity of people’s vision and the way they’ll see things from a corner of their eye.

  3. Toberoth says:

    Brilliant interview and writeup, thanks Nathan :-)

    • Nathan Grayson says:

      Thanks for the thanks, everyone! You’re all unbelievably kind, so I’m worried that — by acknowledging it — I’ve caused you all to disappear forever. That’d make me very sad, so don’t cease to exist, please.

  4. andytizer says:

    Thanks for this very frank interview, it’s fascinating seeing how his life experiences influenced the game’s story, mechanics and atmosphere so much.

  5. DiamondDog says:

    Another great interview, Nathan. You are now the Michael Parkinson of RPS.

  6. ukpanik says:

    Just finished the game last night. Loved it. I want more!

  7. Kollega says:

    News related to the game: i just saw on Euronews that according to Google’s metrics, “Dishonored” is the third fastest-rising search term in Europe in the last seven days. Not just in video games, but in general. And i’m glad it is.

    EDIT: And now that i’ve read the interview, i’ve actually realized that i already knew all of this because i read The Mirror Men Of Arkane earlier.

  8. Stellar Duck says:

    Good interview with a very interesting guy!

    I just finished the game last night and for the first time in my life I can confidently say: roll out the DLC already! Can’t be soon enough. It would be easy to do right as well. Just do a mission that takes place either before or after the game, set up the context and sell it at a fair price and I’d be all over it and buy as many as you care to sell to me.

    • Screamer says:

      That Downloadable Content button in the menu is taunting me!

      • Stellar Duck says:

        Me too!

        Normally I’d be savaging the devs for putting it there but I just can’t find it in me to do that this time. I just want it to do something.

        The world Arkane build is perfect for this: early industrial period and Dunwall being the heart of an empire (and government) means that there are docks, ministries, factories, powerplants, tenements, mansions of nobles, prisons, trading companies and the like I want to explore. It just screams to me to go see that world some more.

  9. Jason Moyer says:

    Great interview with an interesting guy. Also, I don’t give a damn what anyone says, Invisible War was great.

  10. Bolegium says:

    If you have 3 hours to spare, this lecture of Harvey Smith with Warren Spector from 2007 may be relevant to your interests. Until very recently I had been quite ignorant about Harvey, despite Deus Ex being one of my “most important things ever”. Seeing little glimpses of his personal history make him a very relatable and inspirational figure.

  11. HexagonalBolts says:

    What I really love about this game is the atmosphere.

    The plot is hammy, and painfully so at the beginning. Every five minutes there was an unsurprising twist, most of the characters are awkward stereotypes (‘bwahaha I’m so evil!), your character is absurdly trusting…

    But the atmosphere! The whaling, plague rats, brined hagfish, higgledy-piggledy architecture, winding alleyways, balconies, billboards, fog, gloom, dirt, flies… This is what makes the game.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      I have to concur here. Atmosphere is the only thing saving Dishonored from being a bad game. The stealth and combat mechanics suck, the plot sucks, and the characterizations suck. The overall blandness of Dishonored left me in no hurry to finish it, but the atmosphere is what kept me playing to the end — I was curious to see what kind of set piece the devs could come up with on the next level.

  12. Oryon says:

    What a damn amazing piece of journalism. Normally i’ll skim things but this just captured me completely.

  13. Artist says:

    The System Shock pick reminds me that I demand a remake with actual gfx! God, that was such a fantastic game…!

    • Bart Stewart says:

      Agreed. I’d like to play that, plus it’s near-impossible to show this game to anyone (or ask them to play it) and have them see how it was so satisfying. A graphical repaint with WASD+mouselook would go a long way toward helping people understand why we rave about System Shock.

      That said, supposing some enterprising souls did for System Shock 1 what was recently done for Half-Life 1, I wonder: would the gameplay hold up?

      The core story, the static (geometry) and dynamic (events) exploration, and the early form of problems-have-multiple-solutions gameplay (refined in Deus Ex) would still be fun, I think. Since those together arguably form the core play experience of SS, my gut feeling is that a respectful update would still be a lot of fun.

      But… there are some things that today’s gamers might miss. Today’s games, such as Dishonored, include lots of objects within a 3D space. Some can be interacted with for gameplay actions, and some exist just to help make the world feel lived-in (which is not unimportant in an atmospheric game). SS had some junk objects (e.g., beakers and skulls). But there weren’t many objects that could be used to help tell little stories as in recent Bethesda games (Fallout 3, Skyrim). A rebuilt System Shock could feel strangely sparse.

      Probably the most important “missing” feature, though, is that SS has no NPCs. You can’t talk to the monsters (robots and mutants). That would have been too much work in 1994, but it’s nearly expected in similar games today.

      On the other hand, System Shock 2 also did without NPCs, delivering story exclusively through audio logs and SHODAN’s taunts. And it’s still regarded highly. But dialogue options added a lot to Deus Ex, in particular adding an additional way to solve game challenges. (Dealing with Anna Navarre, for example.)

      On balance, I suspect a System Shock with updated graphics and controls would be very well received by those who enjoyed the original game. How would it stack up against modern games like Dishonored or BioShock Infinite, though?

      • ResonanceCascade says:

        Interestingly, System Shock didn’t lack NPC for any technical reason, it was a design choice. The Looking Glass folks were really disappointed with the fact that dialogue choices were being awkwardly handled with dialogue trees, so they opted to just remove NPCs completely and stock the world up with audio logs.

        Anyway, yeah, a System Shock remake would be interesting. I’m kind of astounded that no one has announced a System Shock spiritual successor via Kickstarter yet, since the franchise is lost in infinite IP hell.

  14. Radiant says:

    Dishonoured is a good bloody game.
    It has /some/ odd decisions in it that stick out more because the rest of the game plays amazingly smooth like warm butter.

    The health/mana system should really have been one bar one resource. Blinking around for free + being attacked usually meaning death/quickload meant that both mana and health bars were almost always full.

    The last couple of levels are relatively straight forward affairs compared to the earlier, wonderful puzzle boxes.

    Also, and this is huge, I don’t know why the objective markers are turned on by default. It cuts the game down by about 60 percent.
    Turn those buggers off and use the world to navigate damnit!

    But yeah, christ, what a wonderful game.

    • sbs says:

      The other abilities cost shitloads of mana, don’t know where you’re coming from unless you just don’t use anything except blink.

    • Brun says:

      The health/mana system should really have been one bar one resource. Blinking around for free + being attacked usually meaning death/quickload meant that both mana and health bars were almost always full.

      This makes sense for a full-on stealth/ghost approach, but for anyone that takes the “low road” of actually killing enemies the two-bar system is more logical. Combat usually means you’re making use of more mana-intensive powers (like Bend Time) than just Blink.

    • Radiant says:

      Maybe. I did use blink/agility more than anything else.
      But my issue was that my health bar was always full and I always constantly had a full quota of health and mana potions.

      With both bars as one you’d have more use for the food and tins you had laying around /because/ you’d constantly use your powers.
      I ate mostly out of some pokemon fascination to collect everything than for anything I had to manage.

      • Hidden_7 says:

        Yeah, I often had full health, and mana wasn’t much of an issue for me, because I ghosted and Blink was my favorite power. That’s to be expected though. You’re playing a style where you don’t get into confrontation, so of course your health isn’t going to move much, and Blink is designed to be an integral part of your skill set, so more or less free. Whenever I’d make use of other powers the mana drain was very apparent, with one slow time or possession usage usually taking up half my bar, and if I needed to escape, quick successive Blinks ate through my mana reserves pretty quickly.

        The times I’ve gotten into combat, it definitely makes sense to have two bars, it would be incredibly deflating without them. You wouldn’t feel free to use your powers in combat, since it’d be draining health you desperately need because of how fatal enemies are, and close call escapes would be all but off the table once you took a single gunshot and were thus essentially depowerd.

        So yeah, ghosting, pure stealth is a playstyle that’s intrinsically resource light. That’s the nature of it. It’s like complaining that you don’t really need any tools if you’re ghosting (traditional) in Thief. Well of course not, it’s a failure condition to use most of them. If you can’t douse torches, leave behind moss, knock out or kill anyone, or be noticed, then all the tools you use to do those things won’t be of much value. Same here, if you’re not engaging with enemies then you won’t really burn through the resources that are used for engaging with enemies.

    • Sic says:

      The first thing I did was turn every UI option off (including the crosshair).

      I’m pretty confident it was made to be played like this, as it played beautifully.

  15. Radiant says:

    Btw I hope Grayson gave Smith a fucking hug or something damn…

  16. ResonanceCascade says:

    Since the hivemind seems to have taken a turn for the worse, I should toss in that I thought Dishonored was fucking great. Great combat, fluid movement, fast-paced stealth, and a great world to explore and learn about.

  17. JoeX111 says:

    I wish someone would interview this guy about his approach to world building. I’d love to see how he approaches layering these complex narratives inside game worlds that just feel so alive. People praise his worldbuilding. Why not ask him about it?

  18. tomeoftom says:

    Yeah this article was great and this is the first time I’ve ever wanted an expansion pack or tidbit for a singleplayer game.

  19. Syros says:

    “Harvey Smith is not one of those people.”
    Dat anticlimax )) Well done, Grayson!

  20. Stackler says:

    What an amazing guy and incredible interview! That’s why I love RPS.

  21. Poliphilo says:

    Great interview! With one of my favourite designers no less, and all of which came as a surprise to me, what a guy. The next time I replay DX I will appreciate it even more. (And I’m going to love finally playing Dishonored this weekend)

  22. Bob says:

    My esteem for Mr Smith has gone up several more notches. Jeez, you think your own childhood wasn’t that great and then you read something like that….perspective I think they call it. As others have already said that was a great interview and thanks for bringing it to us.

  23. Goodtwist says:

    Congrats for the interview, Nathan Grayson!

  24. JCD says:

    Great work on the interview, Nathan.

    I’m about 10 hours into Dishonored and I’m really impressed. It’s nice to see Harvey have some success, after his troubles with Invisible War and whatever he did after that. The man is seriously talented.

  25. Cor Cordis says:

    All this time I mostly credited Warren Spector for Deus Ex and blaming Harvey smith for the fall of Deus Ex Inivisible War where he was more empowered in making it (so i read in relation to DX), and still I expected more from Area-51 based on that little credit i gave him for Deus Ex back then.
    After this interview, consider you credit restored to full capacity Harvey!

  26. mr.black says:

    I… This was beautifully written! I needed to read something like that today, thanks Nathan!

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