The Gaming Pulse: Dissecting Dishonored’s Heart

By Paul Walker on December 19th, 2012 at 3:00 pm.

There’s no question that Dishonored’s Heart deserves celebration. Fortunately RPS contributor Paul Walker has done that in fine style, digging in to what makes the object so significant to the game, and speaking to co-creative directors Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio about how it came to exist, and their feelings about its part in the game.

Dishonored’s Heart is an object which lives up to its name in many ways. It breathes life into the game’s characters, imbues the city of Dunwall with soul, and helps the player to feel the melancholy tone which permeates all facets of its world. Characterised by the intersection of the mystical and the technological, it distills the very essence of the pseudo-Victorian steampunk landscape in which Dishonored’s tale unfolds. It is presented to the player as a navigation tool — a guide to lead players to the occult items littered throughout the fictional city of Dunwall. But, as co-creative directors Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio told me, “It also plays a part related to informing their decisions about when to apply violence or not, making it a really interesting, more subtle part of the power fantasy.” Here we start to get to grips with what it is the makes the Heart so compelling.

It is able to do all this because the Heart speaks to the player. It can be used to reveal the history of a particular place, or to unveil a character’s dark secrets. It may comment on a given individual’s personality, or it may tell you their most personal hopes and dreams. Occasionally, the Heart will even ruminate on its own origins, displaying a chilling semi-awareness. It does all this with a beautifully subtle tone which, while always resigned, is at turns lined with traces of contempt, warmth and sadness.

Smith and Colantonio explain that the multiple roles fulfilled by the Heart are the result of a process of evolution that reflects the always-changing dynamic of game development.

“Initially, the Heart was conceived as a means of locating assassination targets using vibration and sound mechanics,” Smith and Colantonio say. “We thought about having it talk and feel alive, like it had its own agenda, similar to the Eye in Thief. So while planning for the Heart, we kicked around those concepts and a number of additional fictional ideas supporting it. But once we’d had enough people play the game, it was obvious that we needed something more direct in helping players find their way to the targets, so the team created a system for HUD markers that helped guide the player.”

Arkane found that the Heart’s role kept changing as they developed, but its narration was always there. “We went through many rounds of changes around navigation features,” Smith and Colantonio continue. “And once we decided to let the player use the Heart to find Runes and Bone Charms, even that changed repeatedly as we experimented with how obscure or overt we wanted it. All along, we were also writing lines for the Heart, based on its perception of specific or general-case characters in the world. It served as a great way to reinforce our themes and helped differentiate the social classes in the game.”

The developers’ comments certainly chime with my experience of playing Dishonored. The Heart does do a great job of differentiating between social classes and giving focus to related themes of justice, power and equality. One of the most striking examples of the way in which the Heart is able to do this is to be found in the stories which it tells regarding servants at the player’s base of operations. In keeping with the Victorian-like setting of Dishonored, the service staff will not offer much to their perceived social better in conversation, and generally limit themselves to polite trivialities. It’s logical, but it leaves these characters with little to make you feel that they are real people and means that they are perfectly placed to fade into obscurity. This is where the Heart comes in.

Through the Heart, I know that one young woman dreams of a life on the seas as a whaler while she works herself to the bone. She is also simultaneously aware that she will never be able to fulfill this dream because of her sex. I know that another servant’s exterior calm belies an inner turmoil — the hand life has dealt her leaves her contemplating suicide on a daily basis. By giving me these insights the Heart renders these characters tangible. They become more than props used to fill out a fictional world. They become people with personal tragedies, frustrated desires, hopes and regrets.

As I infiltrate the gated communities in which the privileged are ensconced in relative safety and comfort, insulated from the decay and disease which envelopes the rest of Dunwall’s population in abject misery, it is the humanity of those at the bottom of the social ladder which makes this injustice matter. By humanising Dunwall’s inhabitants, the Heart makes Dishonored’s social dynamics relevant.

“Themes of how you use the power you’re given — whether its authority, social class and privilege, or the allegorical supernatural powers — are close to the centre of the game and the world”, Smith and Colantonio told me. “The Heart seemed like a good way to focus on the emotional core.”

Indeed, without the Heart, you would be left with little more than a series of signifiers — this area is dilapidated so these people are poor, this person is well dressed so they are rich, and so on. The Heart adds a touch of nuance by providing an emotional and personal context to these signifiers with the little secrets it draws out from Dishonored’s characters. It does so with degree of subtlety which would be lost were it necessary for NPCs to blurt out their most personal thoughts to someone they barely know.

It’s not just the depth that the Heart gives to Dishonored’s characters which makes it so important, but also what it is able to do for the game’s locations. One mission requires you to traverse a heavily guarded steel bridge. Were it not for the Heart, this bridge would be nothing but a rather stale backdrop, an arbitrary place for play to happen. But the Heart speaks, telling the player, “I smell bones in these pylons, blood beneath the stone blocks. Men died building this structure.” It tells you that, “abandoned woman, ruined men, plague victims have all leapt from here.” The bridge now becomes a symbol of elitist power, an avatar of the social system which sends the vulnerable to their death through exploitation or despair. The Heart gives the bridge a sense of place within its fictional world, tethers it to that recurring theme of social inequality with which Dishonored is so concerned and uses the location as an instrument through which the game’s tragic and melancholy tone continues to reverberate.

I find myself returning to the word “subtlety” again. Dishonored doesn’t scream, “Look! Look at this rich man! Being all horrible to these humble poor people!”. The beauty of the Heart is that it circumvents the need to frame the injustice of Dishonored’s social system in such a ham-fisted way. Just like the real world, injustice is often not so visible, it can be hidden behind social conventions, institutions and culture — that’s what the Heart captures so brilliantly by extracting little stories from the world around you. The Heart ensures that the tragedy of Dishonored’s world is more than a result of the machinations of a cartoonish antagonist (though there certainly is an element of that in the game). It is also about the way that injustice is ingrained into the social system itself, literally part of the fabric of Dishonored’s reality as the example of the bridge demonstrates. In this way, the Heart makes a sophisticated point about the nature of inequality and gives the game a class consciousness which supplements the more familiar tale of good versus evil told in the game’s main narrative.

At this point, it’s probably becoming clear that the Heart plays somewhat of a peripheral role. It is never used as an essential plot point in the games narrative and the player doesn’t have to use it to get any additional information about the world if they don’t want to. But despite its place on the sidelines, it is unquestionably a vital part of the game’s world and a brilliant piece of design. Given the degree to which the Heart enriches the experience of playing Dishonored, I wondered if Smith and Colantonio were concerned that players might neglect to use the Heart and miss out on so much.

“Occasionally [we were worried], but it’s part of what we love in games: being empowered to approach the game expressively means the experience feels like yours, which is one of our big creative goals. So we suppress that worry, choosing to trust the players as much as possible. We’re big fans of pull-based narrative. Whenever the player is in control of the pacing and is engaged, games rich with story content feel better. If I want to know more, I pursue it. And that’s yet another way in which no two players will have the same experience.”

The pair revealed they were a little surprised to discover how much people liked the Heart. To be sure, there are many other things that make Dishonored exceptional: the joy of exploration and discovery, the satisfaction of successfully implementing a carefully laid plan to sneak through an area unseen, the unique and invigorating experiences which Dishonored’s heady blend of mechanics combine to create. But for me, the stories and secrets that the Heart extracts from the world around the player, and the way in which these stories enhance that world, is just as important a factor in Dishonored’s success — certainly more so that the functional role which the Heart performs as a navigational aid.

It’s clear that Smith and Colantonio are passionate about giving the player freedom and in this sense the Heart seems indicative of the way Arkane approach game design. “This undertaking belongs to you because of how you approach many different things. Not just the pathway, the powers, the moral approach, or the sequence, but also how much of the game you see and which parts interest you,” they explain. “By contrast, being railroaded through dialogue — the same conversations everyone else hears — is not as interesting because it never feels like the player drove it. We do that at times too, but we prefer the pull-based method where the player chooses what to reach for.”

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95 Comments »

  1. 1Life0Continues says:

    It may have just been me, but my suspicions on the Heart’s origins (no spoilers) also allowed me to feel a sense of trust in the things the heart was saying. It did come to Corvo from a fairly suspicious source after all.

    Once I realised what it was I was holding I felt a strange attachment to the object. It’s weird, but the mere idea of it being what I thought it was (obtuse much?) allowed me that little bit of immersion.

    It’s a fantastic device, both mechanically, and from a story standpoint, and I hope Arkane can find ways to take us back to Dunwall and indeed the entire world, because what I glimpsed of it in such a small area made me want to see it all.

    • Ansob says:

      I would imagine you’re meant to trust the Heart and feel attached to it, given who the game hints at it being.

      (For reference, it shares a voice actress with an important early-game NPC who is only seen briefly, and when you reach Dunwall Tower it tells you that “you and I have both been here before.”)

      Funnily enough, once I figured this out, the realisation made me virtually stop using it.

      • Drinking with Skeletons says:

        I realized who it was from based on a conversation with Granny Rags after leaving the Golden Cat. Coupled with the Heart’s occasional “Oh-why-am-I-not-dead-this-is-horrible” dialogue, I found it to be quite disturbing overall.

        Frankly, the greatest failure of Dishonored’s plot may be that it doesn’t say what becomes of the Heart after Corvo wins. Keeping it around for kicks seems kind of monstrous.

        • marianthomas4 says:

          @Loise, you make $27h…good for you! I make up to $85h working from home. My story is that I quit working at shoprite to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $45h to $85h…heres a good example of what i’m doing..Read More

        • Pindie says:

          Yeah that’s as if at the end of Front Mission 1 on SNES the player character just got into the mech and rode off. Apologies if you did not play the game (you probably should anyway).

        • grenadeh says:

          Wait…I honestly never realized or considered that but now that I read your comments I think I know who it is too. That changes things. Not how I feel about the game because I love it – mostly – but that does change things, wow.

      • Atrocious says:

        Oh snap! How did I miss this? It’s really awkward.

      • Yglorba says:

        The heart’s origins are made explicit if you use it on Daud, though a lot of other things hint at it.

      • Pindie says:

        I must say it was such a blatant thing I expected a plot twist. As aa matter of fact I was convinced they’ve set up a plot twist where nothing was true and you’ve been manipulated, it just fit so nicely. I was already getting ready to praise the writing.

        Foolish of me to expect smart writing in video games, huh?
        Instead they played it with straight face.

      • mistery says:

        I used it even more after realizing where it came from. I never connected to the NPC and never felt motivated by the story. That heart completed the story for me. It gave me incentive to go and do what must be done. The subtelty of that heart was the best part of Dishonored for me.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Oh fer crying out loud. How did I not realise what the Heart was? God I’m an idiot.

  2. kataras says:

    I loved both the Heart and the artwork. i liked the game but I loved those.

    • grenadeh says:

      I really did love the artwork too. Frankly I hate HL2s art and I don’t care for how pretty much anything in hl2 looked but in Dishonored it’s awesome. The environment was very well done and all of the posters and ambiance of a boat dependent society (other than the lack of boats) made me enjoy the environment thoroughly. I mean the whale oil is ridiculous but the environment is so cool, I wish it was true open world.

  3. Paraquat says:

    This is a great article. There were so many instances where I couldn’t bring myself to kill a guard because of the pathos conveyed by the heart.

    • LuizPSC says:

      Looks like i forgot to hit reply, derp derp

      I begin to kill more people in the game because i discover about pointing the heart to others hearts.

      I pointed on soldiers, and stories about murder because of boots, and sister killing, and if you not kill this men, he gonna kill 600 children in the future (kiding about this one, only two people), but later i keep thiking if the heart is tricking me to give food to rats.

      Paraquat, is appear the Heart told other stuff about the soldiers, i wonder is related to chaos level, high chaos would make the heart talk about the good deeds of the Soldier to you stop kill everyone, and with low chaos, would make you kill the evil scum.

    • Ernesto25 says:

      I felt the same doing a non lethal play-through but the hear said the guard would kill 2 more and take his own life if he didn’t die today.

      • Eddy9000 says:

        Oh same here, I hate how non-lethal runs are always presented as more ‘humane’ rather than having a different set of consequences and taking the opportunity for a more in depth exploration of consequence and morality. Dishonoured suffers from this a bit but the heart really does add a dose of consequence to the act of not-killing. (the nigh-impossible to complete non-lethally section of DX:HR which has a rather fatal consequence is another good example)

        • Ernesto25 says:

          yeah i fell at least dishonored endings weren’t too OTT like bioshock’s for example the (MILD SPOILER) outsider doesn’t condemn you if you chose to kill more than you don’t kill.

          EDIT: Come to think of it the (SPOILER) guy i branded as a heretic i later discover to have the plague and die penniless so maybe it would have been just as bad to just stab him in the face. Same with Lady Boyle if you chose to send her away with a creepy man for the rest of her life against her will or consent (SPOILER). Simply thinking about dilemma’s like this got me engrossed in dishonored and the walking dead.

        • GoliathBro says:

          I did both nonlethal and lethal playthroughs.

          Lethal: stabbity, done, thank you, bye.

          Non-lethal: hnng. some seriously disturbingly dark shit. In every case, I felt the non-lethal approach led to worse consequences than death. I enjoyed this a great deal.

          • Haplo says:

            Killing Steampunk Pope with poison is pragmatic.

            Chaining Steampunk Pope to his own chair and branding him with the irrevocable brand of a heretic is creatively vindictive, fittingly ironic and requires way more effort. The man who persecutes others as heretics for personal gain has been branded himself- and he deserves it far more.

            It’s actually a curious look into how ‘non-lethal’ doesn’t mean ‘nice’. Or even ‘merciful’.

    • Sami H says:

      My biggest issue with the heart is that while I loved the dialogue, the generic NPCs shared the same dialog and critically, the game made no attempts to track what it had just said about a particular NPC. Use the heart on a guard and get a story about wanting to go back home to see his son (example), but use it on the exact same NPC again and you would get a different (and often contradictory line) to the first.

      When I discovered this (i.e. in the first mission you get the heart), I adopted the pattern of finding a safe vantage point and just using the heart repeatedly on the same NPCs until I had heard all of the dialog options. When the game introduced a new type of NPC, repeat. Still loved the voice acting and the intention behind it, but (personally) having it pick a random line and then *remember it* for that particular NPC would’ve sealed the deal for me.

      And for those who might’ve missed it, the heart also has things to say about pretty much every location you visit, sometimes different things depending on where in the map you are.

      • Snidesworth says:

        Yeah, the Heart’s mutterings for random NPCs were only useful as flavour instead of giving the otherwise identical NPCs any characterization. It was particularly bad that one of the NPCs at the Hound Pits shared the same lines with those for female commoners.

        Still, I’d like to try playing through the game again and using the Heart once on everyone you encounter and, based on what it says, deciding whether to murder them or not.

      • malkav11 says:

        Unfortunately it seems pretty bad at discerning whether you want to hear about the location or the NPC that you are directly pointing it at.

      • GeneralTso92 says:

        I dunno if it was just me, but the Heart completely ruined the ending.

      • grenadeh says:

        One of the major factors that detracted from the game for me was the fact that guard npcs literally had 3 different lines of dialog, maybe 4. It was almost always the same thing over and over so I felt no remorse in killing these carbon copies – and thats completely aside from using the heart.

      • Haplo says:

        Yeah, absolutely. One of the most awesome things was hearing about how a guard keeps a lock of hair from everyone he’s killed, only to find out that apparently they -all- do that.

        If my 10-versus-1 street brawls are an indicator, anything that results in Corvo dying by angry wave of guards leads to a very clean-shaven Corvo.

  4. Teovald says:

    My only problem with the heart is that it was way too noisy to keep it for a long period of time (it could be argued that it is intended to be bloody noisy). But it adds a lot to the atmosphere by revealing the story of the characters and places.

    • Ansob says:

      My main problem with it was that you had to pull it out to listen to it, which meant you basically couldn’t do anything else while you held it. I think it would have worked much better with the Heart offering you commentary unbidden (you could still pull it out to find stuff).

      • Snidesworth says:

        At that point it would stop being something that you prompt for information and starts being something that never shuts up.

        I loved the Heart, especially once I started to put the pieces together about its origin, but if it had been piping up without my control I probably would have had a very different opinion.

        • Ansob says:

          I want to hear the setting-building that’s done through the Heart. I also don’t want to have to carry it out and press a button every few seconds to get that, because I’m lazy. :P

          • Snidesworth says:

            That would be lovely, yes. But what if it chirped up when you were desperately trying to listen to something else, whether that be an conversation between two guards or the sound of a roaming Weeper? It would also remove the simple satisfaction of being able to inquire about the setting and receive an answer, instead replacing it with a game telling you something that it deems important or relevant to its interests.

            Of course, the simple solution is to remove the requirement of the Heart being in your hand for when you want to give it a poke, which satisfies both the desire not to be interrupted and not to have your magic/crossbow/useful tool hand tied up whenever you want to listen to it.

          • Ansob says:

            I agree with you with regards to the difference between asking/being told. I’d honestly be satisfied with a single button that triggers the heart dialogue, that way you still get to “ask” and I still get to not have to stand still while listening to it.

            Admittedly, this is a tiny niggle.

          • GreatGreyBeast says:

            There must be a compromise. A key that calls up an insight from the heart without having to equip it. Sortof like how most games (but not Dishonored of course) have a dedicated grenade key that doesn’t need to be equipped first.

            I actually didn’t realize till reading this that you could get info about specific people. Equipping the heart also means raising your sword, and I didn’t like doing that around polite company.

          • Network Crayon says:

            Actually you have a point, whilst i see how its a brilliant tool that allows you to ‘Ask’ about the world but in my experience of the game i ended up walking around with it everywhere like a compass, letting it lead me to everything and everyone. So in my experience it ended up being a narrator anyway a little bit.

            I would have made it a secondary function of one of your weapons or other items, a dual purpose might have increased the choice of my curriosity, rather than using it as constant guide through the game.

          • grenadeh says:

            Then the solution is to have it always on but one key to enable/disable/mute the audio. It repeats the same crap anyway if you stand still so all you have to do is have it perma-on but not in your hand taking space. I personally don’t mind the way it functions though so i don’t care.

  5. Khalan says:

    I kept forgetting to use it other than to find the charms and runes. I’ll have to remember for my next play-through.

  6. AmateurScience says:

    Strong stuff. I must admit I do admire Mr Smith’s approach to games (great piece by him just went up on PA Report discussing FC2). I really loved Dishonoured too.

  7. reallyjoel says:

    Unfortunately I neglected the heart much of the time when I played this – I regret that now. Another game that did something similar really good was Metroid Prime that let me research background story of the planet I was on through the Scanner. It was the first game ever where I was interested in actually reading about everything. Mostly because I could come at it in my own time.

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      I just wrapped up a playthrough of Metroid Prime 2 (the Wii version with updated controls and rebalanced to be less “fuck-you” hard) and kind of felt like going on to MP3. Unfortunately, I had played that game already and the savefile is now used as a New Game+ slot, meaning all of the scans I did during that playthrough are locked in.

      That’s great for completionists who want to get a 100% but missed something time-sensitive, but it really hurt my enjoyment. It felt like the game was already “done,” and after playing for an hour or so I quit and haven’t gone back. It really is an important mechanic, though I don’t know that I can explain why.

  8. AltF4 says:

    I’ve been stuck on mission 7 due to lack of desire to finish this. First half of the game is by far the better experience. The second half just drags.

  9. MOKKA says:

    Oh wow, I never used the heart in such a way and therefore had no idea about that. This is what I liked in Dishonored. It actually let you miss parts of the game, if you did not pay enough attention to it.

  10. Mungrul says:

    I was also somewhat confused by criticisms of the game focusing on the silent protagonist, as the Heart very much became Corvo’s voice for me.
    It was very reminiscent of Garret’s inner monologue in the Thief games, with a similar world-weariness.

  11. qrter says:

    I loved The Heart, except for one thing – I thought the voice acting was weak.

    That said, I also think weak voice acting was a general complaint for the whole of Dishonored, in some large part because of the Hollywood cast – voice acting is its own skill, very different from acting on stage or screen.

    • Snidesworth says:

      While I agree with you about the voice acting in general I thought the Heart was rather well done. Most of the time it speaks with a slightly mournful tone, telling you of the sorry state of the world but unable to engage with that suffering due to its nature, its detached state even letting it stray into the role of an impartial observer, marveling at the horror show. Then, occasionally, something would get through to it and it would speak with seething hatred. At other times its self-awareness would surface for a moment, with its voice taking on elements of confusion and terror. I wish I had thought to use it on a certain NPC in the Flooded District, as I’m sure its reaction would have been a treat.

      • qrter says:

        Well, your mileage may vary, ofcourse. To me it sounded like a girl badly reciting poetry. I think I wanted more emotion (during the emotional bits, when the Heart gets really sad or angry, I mean).

  12. ArthurBarnhouse says:

    What’s this? A different Walker? Is this like when Ken Cosgrove wrote under the pen name “Ben Hargrove”?

    • kwyjibo says:

      I didn’t even realise that John Slattery was in the game until I read it on Wikipedia.

      They should make these things really obvious, like Samuel L Jackson in San Andreas.

  13. FoSmash says:

    I thought the game was a dreadful waste of money. Playing as a totally overpowered super hero from the start; It only gets mildly challenging when the assassins turn up.
    The heart did offer an interesting aside, which did make me question my choices. Yet this mechanic was almost lost on me due to the lack of thought required using either the direct or the stealth approach. Very dull game as a result.

  14. Bolegium says:

    Great article, I really love the Heart in Dishonored for a multitude of reasons, and the last time I felt so affected by a game mechanic was for the reactive narration in Bastion. Fellow RPS readers may also be interested to read some words Robert Yang has written on the Heart, his praise is perhaps a bit harsher and more reductive, but apparently he still loves it just as much as everyone else, Paul Walker included.

    Which brings me to the question – who is this Paul Walker chap (who sounds suspiciously similar to that other Walker person) and writes good things? This being the first article i’ve read from the new Walker, I hope there will be many more to come.

  15. omicron1 says:

    I do wish Arkane had managed to tell a slightly less stereotypical “social commentary” piece. At this point, a game in which rich/successful people AREN’T Always Chaotic Evil would be a stunning revelation of originality.
    As is, it’s a fine Dickensian period piece. However, it has nothing to say with regards to the modern world that grumpy old Marxists haven’t said a thousand times already, and nothing new to offer even within that limited radius.

    • Ansob says:

      But rich people are Chaotic Evil!

      (Actually, they’re Lawful Evil.)

    • PleasingFungus says:

      Won’t anyone think of the rich?

      (Or, what Ansob said)

    • Eddy9000 says:

      We must have been playing a different game. Corruption in DH is presented throughout every level of social class, and the moral ambiguity of the resistance in the last chapter was much more nuanced than ‘chaotic evil’ I thought.

      • Ansob says:

        On the other hand, the “resistance” is comprised entirely of a social, political and military élite who make it clear from the start that their intentions are motivated by a desire to better their social positions rather than some great sense of justice.

      • Ernesto25 says:

        I felt the tone was more of a “power corrupts” when i got towards the end of the game.

        • Ansob says:

          Yeah – if anything, it reads more like an anarchist fable.

          • Eddy9000 says:

            I like your thinking but I wouldn’t say anarchist, the end is all about how people will descend into greed and self serving agenda without the rule of a well meaning dictator and a powerful Demi god whose single goal is to protect her. I’d go for more of a Nietzschian idea that without a god people will struggle for power themselves, and require a strong leader (or god) to maintain order. Alternatively an anti-libertarian or Marxist ideal perhaps? I guess that would assume that the ending represents an ideal though, which isn’t necessarily the case given the moral ambiguity of everything else in the game.

  16. Jahkaivah says:

    One of the things I really liked about Dishonored’s story telling was that there were (as far as I can tell) two plot points that the game never confirms, but does strongly hint at via entirely optional content. As such it’s possible to figure them out immediately (as I’ve seen some do during Let’s Plays), realise it at any point during the game or even beat the entire game and not figure it out at all (possibly to find out in distant future in a “What do you mean Paul didn’t have to die?” manner). The plot points i’m talking about being that Emily was Corvo’s daughter, and the other being that the Heart belonged to the Empress.

    • Jackablade says:

      -SPOILERS-
      Emily’s drawing of Corvo with “Daddy” written on it in big letters seems to pretty much be a confirmation to that point. I actually more or less assumed that was the case right from the opening moments of the game. I can’t remember if there’s a line there that makes it evident or whether it was just the interaction between Corvo and Emily playing together and whatnot.

      • Jahkaivah says:

        Yeah when I saw that drawing at the time I had wondered if that meant he was actually her father, or whether that was a sign that she had adopted him as a parental figure as a result of having lost her mother. I guess it was because I hadn’t immediately assumed she was his daughter and the game leaves it so ambiguous that made me question it.

      • Jahkaivah says:

        Paul Denton from the original Deus Ex, I was referring to the people who only find out years after having the game that his death was entirely optional.

  17. itsonlydanny says:

    as a non-grumpy Marxist, I loved Dishonor.

  18. LennyLeonardo says:

    I very much enjoyed how no one seemed bothered when you stood right in front of them, staring while holding a knife in one hand and a beating heart in the other, listening intently to nothing.

    Corvo: “What’s that you say, heart, Sam has many scars, some from the nameless monsters of the deeper ocean?”
    Sam: “Um… I’m just going to… go.”

  19. PleasingFungus says:

    This was startlingly well-written! Exactly the sort of article that gaming criticism/analysis needs more of. (I just wish I’d remembered to use the Heart more when playing the game itself.)

  20. Flappybat says:

    I was so disappointed in the ending of Dishonored after the mystery of the outsider. First the plot took a cliché twist you can see coming a mile away and then the ending is thirty seconds of exposition that explains none of the mysteries and gives a simplified happy ever after/things continued to be bad ending.

  21. GreatGreyBeast says:

    One thing I didn’t like was the constant HUD markers, which took all the challenge and exploration out of finding your targets, and even made it hard to enjoy the environment since it just became walls in your way. Now I’m sad to learn the heart once had that role because it would have been much better.

    Though I still think the best solution would have been labeled maps of the mission area in Corvo’s journal. It makes perfect sense that he would have one, provided by Havelock of course, and I think simply knowing where the cellar/offices/master bedroom are provides all the clues the player needs (combined with listening to guard dialogue). Maybe a red X where the target is expected to be. Maybe.

    • tumbleworld says:

      I turned the markers off for my run-through. It kept the intrigue and atmosphere high.

      • GreatGreyBeast says:

        I’m sure I’ll do that for future playthroughs, now that I know where to go anyway, but I wouldn’t have liked it my first time. Without it there wasn’t enough guidance- I can see why the play testers were lost. But they went way to far the other way, and I think skipped some obvious middle options. Like using the heart.

        Really, it shouldn’t be hard to add an option for the target markers to only appear when the heart is equipped. I would find that a suitable compromise.

        • Runs With Foxes says:

          The first thing I did after installing the game was turn off all the HUD crap they put in to cater to the low-IQ playtesters they insist on targeting modern games at. It works fine without any HUD markers, because the art and level design means it’s pretty clear when you’re getting where you need to be.

          Thief-style maps would have been nice, but do you think those playtesters are capable of figuring out a map? Not a chance.

      • Josh W says:

        And gives you more reasons to use the heart. Perfect!

    • Yglorba says:

      What was wrong with Thief’s maps, anyway? Since they copied so much from that game, why not that?

  22. SuperNashwanPower says:

    Heh the heart made me think “oh cheer up you emo cow” :) I could see it sitting there with lots of heavy, smeared eyeliner on as it delivered its lines.

    Didn’t figure out it was meant to be ‘someones’ soul though. Interesting.

  23. tumbleworld says:

    It was the Heart that made me fall in love with the game. The nuance and beauty that it imparted elevated the whole experience into wonder. I found myself getting to new areas eagerly anticipating what new secrets she might have to share.

  24. Ted_Breakfast says:

    Paul Walker here. Thanks for the compliments on the article and thoughtful comments on the Heart.

    And to Bolegium, I also hope there will be more to come!

  25. zain3000 says:

    Perhaps it went over my head but I didn’t really get the sense that the Heart had an agenda of its own. I thought of it as an objective observer that was able to discern the secrets of all those it beheld. Although, maybe all that means is that the Heart was successful in tricking me into accepting its goals as my own!

    • Yglorba says:

      It doesn’t precisely have an agenda, but it’s definitely meant to be a specific person. (Some of the comments above spoil it, but you can probably figure it out on your own if you used the heart a lot, and Granny Rags also strongly implies who it is at one point if you listen closely — and using it on Daud or the Lord Regent in particular makes it obvious. IIRC if you pay attention to Piero’s audiographs, they make it clear he’s actually the one who retrieved the heart and made it into what it is in his sleep, presumably while under the Outsider’s influence. Though it must have been hell of a difficult to get it out with nobody noticing…)

  26. Sic says:

    The only problem with using The Heart a lot is that the lack of voice content shines through rather brashly.

    It is an utter immersion breaker when two heartfelt (yeah!) stories are told about two adjacent characters, and they are identical. That actually made me not want to use The Heart ever again (and I didn’t actually use it on characters after that point — I was using it at the party).

    Of course, there is a limit to how many lines it can say about more “generic” characters, but I quite honestly wouldn’t have minded (as a project lead) to delegate a lot of resources at making it repeat itself rather improbable.

  27. MrBillwulf says:

    Does anyone know what the heart means when it talks about the Flooded District being built on the “deep ones”; is that just a reference to whales, or is there something more Cthulhu-esque in the lore?

    • Haplo says:

      I think it means just whales. Although in Dishonored, whales seem to be viewed by the world at large as basically being almost Cthulhu-esque anyway.

      There are sort of hints that the whales (aka ‘Leviathans’, ‘Great Ones’, etc) are linked to the Outsider, so yeah.

  28. KenTWOu says:

    I think that Dishonored’s Heart is the best mechanic of the game (while Blink is the worst, because it’s overpowered default power). That said, I think they should push The Heart further and use it as an interrogation device to get secret information from NPCs head and as shoulder angel which talks with you during the most important dialogues in the game, especially in the final mission. Sad they didn’t use The Heart that way.

  29. Bart Stewart says:

    In a way the Heart has a role similar to the “look at” and Examine commands in text and graphical adventures. (RPS had an article on this very subject a few months back, but the Search-O-Tron and Google are not revealing it unto me.)

    Where Examine also supports active gameplay mechanics (giving text hints for solving puzzles), the Heart focuses on giving the player emotional knowledge. You don’t need it to beat the game, but it deepens and personalizes the story and the world for those gamers who enjoy that aspect of games.

    Arkane’s surprise at the reaction of players to the emotional content of the Heart also reminds me of Valve’s surprise at how players of Portal responded to the Companion Cube. Maybe there’s a lesson there for game designers…?

  30. eclipse mattaru says:

    But once we’d had enough people play the game, it was obvious that we needed something more direct in helping players find their way to the targets, so the team created a system for HUD markers that helped guide the player.

    See, this puzzles me beyond words. Namely: What kind of morons do they use for playstesting these days? Are modern level designers that bad at their craft (and with the ridiculously tiny maps they work on, too)? Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?

    It’s been a long time, but I’m pretty sure that Thief 2 didn’t feel the need of putting floating arrows all over the place -even though its maps were notably larger than anything you could care to mention today-, and still, quite a few people managed to play it through to the end somehow. And I know kids are mind-numbingly stupid, but I sort of doubt we were that much more brilliant back then, anyway.

    Hell, even Deadly Shadows, which was seven kinds of miniaturized and dumbed down, didn’t have onscreen markers either.

  31. emmawatson says:

    just as Kenneth answered I am startled that a single mom able to earn $8418 in 4 weeks on the computer. did you look at this website http://www.fb26.com

  32. JenniferSimpson22 says:

    Jace. although Mary`s st0ry is astonishing, on wednesday I bought Lotus Carlton from having made $8651 this past four weeks and in excess of ten grand lass month. this is definitely my favourite work I’ve had. I actually started four months/ago and immediately started bringing in at least $74, per hour. I use the details on this website, Great60.com

  33. Chumbaba says:

    I sincerely dislike most aspects of Dishonored and keep wondering, why so many people love the game. For me, it’s just a Deus Ex for serial murderers with little to offer to stealth “no-kill” types like me. It kinda works, but I’ve played essentialy the same game many times before and Warren Spector’s game mechanics have always worked. As far as the Heart is concerned, to me it was stupid, not being able to sense the “big plot twist” or to tell me anything plot-significant about any of the characters. Just minor details, with no relevance to the game. Same as everything in Dishonored. Some nice details and ideas, but overall a boring game, recycling game mechanics from the past. Spector should really stop making those Disney games and return to show everyone how stealth thrillers are done.

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