By Nathan Grayson on August 14th, 2013 at 6:00 pm.
Dishonored lacked multiplayer, $5828375 worth of microtransactions, and hyper-linear setpiece rollercoasters, yet for some reason everybody loved it. It’s almost like people want intrigue, options, and whale-oil-based societies from their games. Almost. So, with the new (and excellent) Brigmore Witches DLC bidding adieu to the first game’s creaking, disease-infested Dunwall, what’s next for the best sneaky-stabby series to come along in years? Bethesda’s officially calling it a “franchise” now, so a sequel’s all but certain. Where might it go, though? Could multiplayer be in the cards? And where does Arkane think the first game failed? Also, were Dishonored’s two DLC episodes – with their tweaked powers and fairly vocal main character – a preview of things to come? I spoke with Dishonored co-creative director Raphael Colantonio to find out.
RPS: Playing as Daud in the DLC has been fascinating. I immediately gravitated toward playing Corvo as non-lethally as possible, but Daud’s personality made me feel more comfortable with killing where necessary. His power set was more tailor-made for it as well, but I definitely felt more driven by a desire to be a character.
It’s all about players, not about what the designer wants them to do. This is the foundation of all our games from now on.
Colantonio: Yeah. This one is not a silent protagonist, so we wanted to bring that aspect of his personality. It is funny in a way that people tend to play Daud differently than they play Corvo. They feel more inclined to role-play. We’re glad that’s the case.
For us, Daud had just had to have a voice because he was so well defined by Dishonored. So we decided to riff on that and go deeper. Play with the character. With Corvo, we just wanted to make sure it was the player. And also, we were introducing players to a new world [in the main game], so having a hero that was more like an observer as opposed to an imposed mentality made sense.
RPS: For the series’ future, do you think you’ll go back to silent protagonists, or was Daud a test for characters with more personality?
Colantonio: We always come back to the same thing: both can work and be done well. It’s gonna be interesting. We’re thinking about this very exact topic right now, though. It’s at the heart of our discussions right now. Are we gonna go with a silent protagonist or not? Doing that with Daud was a way for us to test a little bit. See if people like it. So it will also depend on what we hear from players [after they finish Brigmore Witches].
RPS: Speaking of, Dishonored is a “franchise” now, according to Bethesda. Hooray, it’s all growed up! Is that what you always wanted for the game? Did you originally envision the world for the purpose of telling multiple stories and expanding to other locations?
Colantonio: It is incredibly satisfying. We started with nothing. I still remember the days where we were on the white board saying, “OK, this game is going to be about an assassin with supernatural powers.” And eventually, it became what it is now.
It’s very validating for us, because it’s the kind of game we always wanted to make. They’ve always been hard to sell. Were they not accessible enough? Was the market not really for it? Did the publisher not really understand it? Were we not good at it? I don’t know. But the point is, these kinds of games have always been hard to make and sell. Having success with it tells us we should keep all these values and do more of this kind of game. I think hardware is powerful enough to accept these kinds of games with all the depth and memory they need, which was a challenge a few years ago. So it all says stronger than ever that we should keep doing these kinds of games.
RPS: Speaking of, we’re on the cusp of a “new” generation of hardware (except on PC, where things are always awesome all the time). How do you see the sort of game you make evolving? More scope? More depth per location? More sophisticated AI?
Colantonio: The next generation is mostly going to be all about memory. That’s gonna be the big difference for us, anyway. More memory means more entities, more density, more AI with more variations in their animations, bigger levels with less loading, etc. And also saving the state of things so that when you come back to an area, things are entirely [as they were]. Backtracking is actually embraced by the system as opposed to being a problem. It’s all good things for us.
But the values we hold will remain the same. It’s all about interactivity and choices, consequences to your choices, many ways to do things, exploration, verticality, and all kinds of player tools. The more kinds of tools we can give to the player in a very simulated environment, the better the experience is.
It’s all about players, not what the designer wants them to do. This is the base foundation of all our games from now on. The more power and memory we have, the more possibilities we can give to the player.
RPS: Are you going straight into the development of another Dishonored?
Colantonio: I can’t say exactly what we’re working on yet, but I can say that it’s definitely going to be a similar type of game. Choices, multiple objectives, branching paths, and things like that. Those are our core values and they will stay that way.
RPS: I take you’re staying focused on single-player, then. Is multiplayer at all in the cards? I mean, Dishonored obviously didn’t need it, but is it something you’re at all interested in exploring?
Colantonio: We might be interested by multiplayer. And this would not necessarily be the traditional multiplayer approach. But primarily, we are storytellers. That’s the part we like. So as long as multiplayer does not go against that – which is unfortunately often the case with multiplayer because you have to remove any story bits because they go at odds with the strict values of multiplayer – [we're interested].
But yes, generally we’re more into single-player. Someone playing at their own pace, which is another thing that goes against multiplayer values. In multiplayer, there’s a group, so everyone has to worry about going forward or being shot at. But we’re also keeping an eye out for ways to do multiplayer the right way.
RPS: So your fellow creative director Harvey [Smith] is out in France now, and you’re based out of Austin.
Colantonio: We switched [laughs].
RPS: You both worked together in Austin for Dishonored. How has that changed things? Are both studios coordinating on a single project, or are you developing separate games?
Colantonio: It is different, because when we worked for the first time together, it was something new for us. You know, two hotheaded creative directors working together on one game. That was an interesting process and we really loved it. Now, you know, it’s different again. We still text all the time, so that’s handy. We also video conference every morning. I mean, we don’t go to lunch together or anything like that. But other than that, we’re still very present.
Usually we’re all focused on one project, one team. Right now, though, we’re in transition, so we’re still working out how exactly we’re gonna do that. But every round of games has been a different adventure for us, so we’re gonna see how this one goes.
RPS: So you guys and Prey 2? Definitely not happening? I already asked Pete Hines, but just to be absolutely sure.
Colantonio: No. We’ve been looking at where that rumor came from, and I really don’t know.
RPS: Back to Dishonored, then. When I play, I’m pretty non-lethal. But honestly, that path ended up being kind of a letdown for me in your game. Many powers – whether Corvo’s or Daud’s – felt like they only reached their full potential when used for maniacally creative murderkilling. Is that an area you’d like to expand in future games?
Colantonio: Yeah. I mean, you know, to be fair, the non-lethal thing in Dishonored 1 started as an easter egg almost. It was a mandate that both Harvey and I had that was not so exposed initially. We wanted to find a way to complete the game without killing anyone and make it super hard, but we wanted to stick to it. This survived all along throughout the design process, but it didn’t become a big deal until our second E3 when everyone got to play. Then we realized that everyone was super excited about the fact that you could finish the game without killing anyone.
But it was more inside for us than a true mandate. Harvey and I committed to it, but the rest of the team only started to embrace it later. So it was not as supported as we would’ve liked it to have been. In the DLC, we tried to support it a little better and build chaos in from the beginning, etc. For future games, we’ll definitely make sure we try to support it better.
RPS: Did you have any early ideas for the DLC that were even more out-there than exploring Daud’s perspective? More far-flung locations? Characters? A day in the life of The Outsider, just running around messing with people? Recording pranks and tossing them up on YouTube?
Colantonio: Yeah, I mean, you know there are The Isles, and we were like, “What if we play this on a different Isle?” But Daud came up pretty early in the conversation, and everyone was in agreement on it. Everyone was excited. So it pretty quickly became apparent that it would be our DLC.
RPS: Are there any places in particular that you’d like to visit in the next game? Or even time periods? I mean, I loved reading books in Dishonored. Are there any topics you explored in the lore where you were like, “Wait, why don’t we just make a game about this?”
Colantonio: Yeah, that’s actually how we designed Dishonored from the beginning. The lore is actually way bigger than the game itself. There are a few places we could go and explore given the opportunity. Definitely the islands around, but also all the big continents. Anything is possible.
RPS: Could I become a whaler? Could I write mournful shanties about my lonely life at sea and become the wailing whaler?
Colantonio: [laughs] The open-world version of Dishonored, maybe? That’d be nice. Or maybe you’ll have to play the MMO version [more laughter].
RPS: I would absolutely play that. And if there was any lag, you could just claim that everyone’s blinking everywhere. It’s perfect! Thank you for your time, and thank you for humoring these very silly ideas. Most developers just throw things at me until I go away.