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Dishonored Interview with Raf Colantonio and Harvey Smith at Gamasutra

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Dishonored Interview with Raf Colantonio and Harvey Smith at Gamasutra

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 20 July 2012, 19:04:58

Tags: Arkane Studios; Bethesda Softworks; Dishonored

Gamasutra offers a huge 5-page interview with Arkane's Raf Colantonio and Harvey Smith, focusing on Dishonored, some of the design principles and procedures they adhere to, and how they came together out of a shared love of "very immersive first-person games with mixture of action elements, role-playing elements, stealth as a component wherever possible [and] emergent situations instead of everything hand-scripted," as Smith puts it. Have a few tidbits:

You alluded earlier to the fact that you can complete the game without actually participating in violence, which is interesting, but still the worldview -- the fact that you're an assassin and the fact that your main metaphor for interacting with the world is through conflict... Do you see a point where games can get away from that? Is that interesting to you?

RC: I think, in our case, what matters is really the possibilities and choices that we give to the player. Play style has always been something that we really want for the player. Why we expect people to stealth kill... We also like the fact that you can avoid that.

Initially, we just did it because we had passion, and we believe that only a very, very small percentage of players would do that. Then it kind of became bigger than we thought as we started to talk about it and to add to the game: you actually can avoid killing people and can finish the game without killing people. Yes, it's true, and it's part of our values. But also the fact that you could not kill them gives more meaning to the times you do; it was a choice between killing or not. Yes, it is important.

As to the point of it's possible to have a game system where you do not kill people, of course Portal is a good example of that. But, for sure, for a game in the kind of genre we're in, I think removing the choice from killing would be a problem. A lot of people, they want to have that choice.

Going back to the question of violence -- and, trust me, I'm not against the idea of having conflict in games -- I'm curious about why so many games are centered around it. There are reasons I can think about: for one thing, audience expectations, which you touched on, too. The built-in audience for games -- which we are. As well as creators, you just talked about the games that inspired you -- it's what you expect to be doing. It's what the audience is looking for, right?

HS: I think it's much deeper than that. I think it's poker or chess. Almost part of the definition of games at a formal level involves artificial conflict. Games are one of the ways that people, throughout thousands of years, have engaged in some sort of mock conflict in a safe environment. Violence and conflict are a huge part of the world. When you entangle with them in real life, the consequences are usually severe.

So people, I think, have devised this thing called "game" as a way of exploring conflict and exploring their relationships with conflict in a completely safe, abstract way. That's a neat topic that we don't sit around thinking about all the time, of course. But if you watch lion cubs bite each other and roll around on the ground, they're not trying to kill each other; they're engaged in some sort of conflict-based play. That's the same thing I think we're doing.

We all find conflict fascinating. If you're playing poker with your friends, someone crushes the life out of everyone else. It's absolute. There's not even a soft way to lose poker; you are crushed out of existence. So I don't think it's endemic to video games, or exclusive to video games.

In the sense that you feel like there's enough creativity and choice that you don't feel like there's anything to complain about, in other words?

HS: No, that's not my words. I think it's always worth disrupting things creatively, and complaining, and pushing harder, which is what Raf and I do half the time. We are not content with games where you march down a linear bridge and shoot a monster and don't have any choice but that and to exit. We like multiple solutions, multiple stylistic approaches, and multiple moral compasses in a game. We definitely are agitators in that sense; we want more out of games -- more atmosphere, more agency.

What I'm trying to say is that there's a natural ecology of things; it's impossible that everything is that -- you cannot have a 100 percent everything is better than everything.

RC: And also the advancement in creativity cannot be achieved at every game like it used to be, at the beginning of the medium. We are at the stage where, right now, it's baby steps, and everybody is aware. Everybody can't come up with something totally different in every way. Even the most creative game that you can think of right now probably can be composed of two games that are directly influential to it.

Something you talked about in the presentation was that you built systems of gameplay that interacted in certain ways to allow for emergent gameplay but then, as you saw different strategies emerge, you sort of tweaked the design to take advantage of some of the scenarios you saw emerging. It's a big question, but how does that work? [...]

RC: The way we do it is we work by layers, first of all. It's a very, very vague question because, at the end of the day, it's the heart of the nature of our game. It comes from some approaches at every level. It's true for the mechanics; it's true for the level design itself, and therefore the mission design; it's true for the architecture.

So, if we talk about the level design/architecture/mission design, we come up with a little story, and an objective, whatever the objective is -- reach this place or kill that guy. "Eliminate that guy" would be more accurate, because there are multiple ways to do it.

Then, we design the environment around it. We have a rough idea of the main path that we have in mind, and this main path might be based some of the powers that we have -- some of the mechanics. We know that there might be a double jump; we know that there's a blink [teleport]; we know that the player might have the tools to possess a rat and therefore go this way or that way.

That is the first draft, and then we let it organically evolve a little bit. We let the architects do their stuff, and they add some alternate paths. Of course, because nothing is scripted so much, we put the AI in there, and all the systems are simulated, so they interact with each other; they cross each other.

We let it live for awhile, and then we see naturally some stuff emerging. Even ourselves, before it goes to the players, in fact, the devs in-house will start finding some way to do things -- which are shortcuts, which are more fun. Then, if it's a problem, we fix it. If it's, in fact, something that we think has potential, then we encourage it and expand on it. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Then come the real testers, and they might find their own other stuff. Then we add some more mechanics later in the process, and not only this new mechanic offers new possibilities, but new bugs. At this point, you keep doing this; this is why it takes so long to make the game. Even though each level designer doesn't have that many areas to work on, they work on them for a long time -- for a long time -- and maintain them in every aspect.​

Sounds good, but will the game live up to the talk? After all, very few games do. We'll wait and see.

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