Arkane On The Future Of Dishonored, Stories, Multiplayer

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.

Grrr, I hate hugs!

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.

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36 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    Lars Westergren says:

    > Or maybe you’ll have to play the MMO version

    I screamed “nooooo!” so loudly dogs several blocks away started howling in eerie harmony.

    Jokes aside (it was a joke, right?!), I loved the first game and would love to see more. I hope you can keep an emphasis on strong story and characters even if it becomes a franchise. Finished character arcs and so on, not endless cliffhangers and stories that never really go anywhere, just become more and more overloaded.

  2. Inigo says:

    Maybe this time they’ll hire texture artists who don’t throw a bitchfit when you tell them you want shadows in a level.

  3. Megakoresh says:

    Sexellent. I like the way that dev thinks. Oh, I also want telekinesis powers and PhysX so I can cover guards in whale oil. Always wanted to do that.

    In all seriousness, Dishonored has arguably the best World I have ever seen in terms of detail, uniqueness and just general atmosphere of industrialised world the way it would have been at somewhere around 1980 if it took a sudden strange turn at the beginning of 19th century. And magic and elemental stuff too. Despite the weirdness it manages to be so believable and engaging.

    There’s nothing more I’d want from Arkane than another game like Dishonred. Maybe more tightly focused on intrigue and characters, since the plague has been defeated.

    There’s only one question that they forgot to ask: the Heart. That was not some gimmick. That was one of the major mechanics. Dishonored would not be Dishonored without the heart, it was essential in player perception. He should have asked what they were planning to do about it. I highly doubt the next game will be about Corvo, so it’s a matter of great import as to how they will approach the question of player perception of the game world. They could do it via branching dialogue, Dragon Age style, but that is a huge load of money.

    • Nathan Grayson says:

      Yeah, I realized I forgot about the heart when I started transcribing this one. Turns out, transcribing takes a lot longer when you’re kicking yourself the whole time.

    • dolgion1 says:

      Imagine if they went the Bioshock route:

      There is always a plague, always a dishonored man, an innocent girl, and a heart.

      • Megakoresh says:

        Holy shit, I hope not!

      • Snidesworth says:

        I think a more likely theme would be “The Outsider is a dick and likes to set interesting events in motion.”

  4. Viroso says:

    Multiplayer would have been awesome in Dishonored. Even just a deathmatch mode. But multiplayer bad because halo call of duty baaaah

    • S Jay says:

      What about an asynchronous multiplayer where one side controls Daud/Corvo/Superman and the other side the guards protecting someone/something?

      That would be interesting, I believe.

      • mondomau says:

        Do you mean asymmetric? That would be pretty cool. There aren’t enough multiplayer modes that take the risk of having players be anything less than 100% equally balanced.

        • Sian says:

          Multiplayer games with classes are mostly not asymmetric because both sides usually have the same classes and abilities available to them. The AC games have certain modes that are asymmetric in that one side is the hunted, the other the hunters, but other modes are balanced because every player has the same abilities available to them, if they’ve unlocked them. “Most multiplayer focused indie games” is a bit vague, so I can’t really comment on that. I don’t know enough about the new batman (not out yet), nor do I own a WiiU, so I have no idea how asymmetric they are. So from my viewpoint, the only really asymmetric multiplayer you’ve mentioned is Splinter Cell, and not all of those titles were good.

          Asymmetric multiplayer is relatively rare, especially when compared to balanced multiplayer. More of it would be welcome.

    • Sharlie Shaplin says:

      People always scream for multiplayer, yet there is only ever a handful of people playing it in most games. Seems like a waste of resources to me.

    • QualityJeverage says:

      Except that’s not really what he said at all…

      Do you not have enough multiplayer games to play? Is it not ok for this dev to feel that single-player is where their strengths lie?

  5. willow says:

    I would like that you ask if they always thing to make a new Arx fatalis or a new true RPg game in other universe like arx fatalis.

    I have fear that arkane make only FPs game (the two last game from arkane are FPs (Dark messiah of Might and Magic and dishonored)) and/or Dishonored games.

  6. corey321 says:

    Very good interview, thanks for this!
    I very much like the non-lethal playstyle question, as I felt that was a bit underdeveloped too. This needs to be fleshed out more in a possible sequel, adding more variation to it besides choking and sleep darts. It just screams for some additional features!

  7. XhomeB says:

    I enjoyed Dishonored and like it for being one of those rare games featuring nicely designed, open, replayable levels… But taken as a whole, the game was soulless and rather disappointing.

    Whereas Thief featured intriguing lore, fascinating characters, a great setting and all these elements felt coherent with one another, Dishonored had a great LOOKING setting and a POTENTIALLY interesting premise, but the story was almost laughably bad, the characters bland and forgettable… to make matters worse, Dunwall was simply a dull place. It looked great, but had no atmosphere or story behind it.
    Bland music, rather small levels, boring and super easy stealth mechanics dragged the whole experience further down for me.

    I wanted to LOVE it. I “merely” liked it. “Nice, but bland” is a perfect summary of Dishonored.

    • Blad the impaler says:

      It takes a brave man to say the things lesser men would only whisper in shadows.

    • dolgion1 says:

      I loved the setting. I agree the story really missed out. I could’ve been much more than that. I felt Arkane kind of played it safe there. More ambition for the sequel please.

      But the setting was creative and intriguing enough to keep me hooked by itself. The gameplay was the right kind of blend between “offensive” and “defensive” stealth/assassination kind of gameplay. The abilities were refreshingly empowering. I beat it on the hardest setting and did it in a non-lethal manner, but the difficulty could’ve been tougher. I know there is a super high difficulty mod out there. Might do another run with that, because I like my stealth games to be punishingly hard when you screw up. It ups the stakes and makes things more exciting.

    • elsewhere says:

      i realised something when playing brigmore witches last night… i had next to no motivation to read the books and notes lying around the place, and remember only occasionally reading these when playing the full game. then i purposefully started picking them up, they’re either contextless dreary notes from one character to another or melodramatic “ye olde timey” nonsense that seemed to be modelled on thief’s laughably bad writing. the art direction of this city is frankly phenomenal, i would say one of the finest ever. the writing that goes into the actual notes and dialogue and the story arc? so weak. i cringe when i have to listen to something the outsider says, but when the g-man says something in HL2 I’m a transfixed schoolboy. i pored over the posters and signs and voxophones in all three bioshock games. on the drawing board a city run by whale oil that has fallen apart from a rat plague and political corruption sounds kinda neat, but whomever they hired to make this a reality needs to be replaced before the next game is under way.

      • Snidesworth says:

        I think part of the trouble with Dishonored is that the characterisation and acting for most of the cast was rather restrained. They didn’t reveal much about themselves, forcing you to rely on the Heart and your own suspicions to build an idea of them. Piero and Sokolov are definitely the exceptions among the Hound’s Pit cast. The Brigmore Witches does better on that front, having fewer but stronger characters to such an extent that they’re painted with bolder brush strokes. Having Daud to play off helps as well, which makes me wonder if the main game’s cast would have been more engaging if Corvo was more than a cipher for the player.

  8. Paul says:

    No multiplayer please, thank you!
    I love Dishonored and cannot wait to play its DLC, it needs to stay singleplayer only, with 100% of the team focus and effort going into that, no distractions.

  9. derbefrier says:

    Dishonored while great on paper didn’t do it for me for some reason. Maybe its becasue I was really hoping it had more in common with thief than bioshock but one things for sure. If your gonna make more games like Dishonored please don’t be afraid to actually make them challenging. My biggest complaint with dishonored is the entire game felt like a walk in the park to me. Maybe I am just to awesome at video games for my own good but I suspect its actually becasue the game wasn’t well balanced around the superpowers. I do look forward to seeing were they take the franchise though it was a good start now lets see that masterpiece.

  10. Lagwolf says:

    I hope the phrase “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is seared into the devs brains. No damn multiplayer, MMO/online BS just more single player goodness. The last DLC made it hard for it all to end. I am wanting more. It has been a long while since a game impressed me as much as Dishonored.

  11. Ross Angus says:

    I can’t look at the third screenshot without hearing “hound’s teeth” in my head.

    (that’s what you hear, when you activate dark vision, right?)

  12. Iskariot says:

    Great, great game. A big favorite of mine.
    Multiplayer not needed at all. There is enough of that shit all over the place.
    And MMO….. I will personally blow up the planet if this IP devolves into an MMO. :)

    What might be cool though is a more accessible open world, but I’d be happy too if Dishonored 2 followed the same formula as the first game. Just give me more.

  13. Zogtee says:

    I don’t want time and resources wasted on multiplayer. Expand the world, because the setting and the lore was the best thing about the game. Also, do away with the high/low chaos nonsense, because that put a lot of people off the game entirely.

  14. brutaldeluxe09 says:

    I love Dishonored but unless it’s something similar to the Dark Souls approach please spare us the multiplayer, it’s totally unnecessary. I suspect it’s considered important to them in an attempt to reduce trade ins on the consoles.

  15. Pamplemousse says:

    Maybe next time the game can not actively punish the players for using the tools in their arsenal. “oh noes! You can’t use that gun/explosive/potentially lethal device because it gives you the bad ending for losers and its terrible”.

    Setting up a system where players are punished for fatalities and yet also providing new and interesting ways of killing people is rather sad. Murder IS a failure in dishonoured; you are punished for it and thus is something to be avoided. This good/evil rubbish led to some absurdly contrived scenarios when your objective was simply to assassinate someone.

    And as much as I loved dishonoured (and I very much did) it often felt like the shying away from murder was trying to stop you from seeing how bloody easy it was to shoot your way through any scenario. The buggers would rarely bring you down if you went completely aggressive.

    Hmm… still a fantastic game though.

    • Asurmen says:

      I wouldn’t say it punishes you at all. The ending comes across as RPGish. You chose that ending. It’s only a failure if you wanted a non-lethal run through but decided to kill people, or you played badly (which kind of makes sense. How many films/books has an assassin had to kill due to a mistake?). You were given plenty of ways of non lethal and it was signposted pretty early if things were going south.

  16. horrid74 says:

    What is it about franchise that invariably drags people toward the lowest common denominator that is multiplayer? Multiplayer and franchise certainly have a relationship but it should be recognized as the position that developers find themselves in when they run out of good ideas for stories and content and see the reputation they built with earlier incarnations as a money maker they just won’t let die.

    Dishonoured was a great game with a fantastic story and rich world. What a waste. Hopefully Arkane will hold the line on their story telling first policy. It’s refreshing to see a studio with a strong “franchise” who place value on the integrity of their creation.

  17. KenTWOu says:

    Raphael Colantonio admitted almost all issues of Dishonored, that’s a very good sign. I really hope that the next Dishonored or its spiritual successor will fix these issues. That said, Dishonored is a must buy game for immersive sim and stealth fans.

  18. Totally heterosexual says:

    While I was a bit disappointed by dishonored, it was still nicely different and I hope the best for the devs.

  19. verbaloid says:

    This is a rare case where I would ask nothing more of the game than just MORE OF THE SAME, PLEASE! Dishonored is such a superb and insanely rich game that there’s nothing more to add other than more plot, more places to explore, missions to accomplish.
    Honestly, for me it would suffice if they’d just kept DLC’s coming, just keep’em coming!

  20. obd2 says:

    We’re thinking about this very exact topic right now, though. It’s at the heart of our discussions right now
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  21. obd2abc says:

    if they’ve unlocked them. “Most multiplayer focused indie games” is a bit vague, so I can’t really comment on that. I don’t know enough about the new batman (not out yet), nor do I own a WiiU, so I have no idea how asymmetric they are. So from my viewpoint, the only really asymmetric multiplayer you’ve mentioned is Splinter Cell, and not all of those titles were good.
    https://obd2abc.wordpress.com