Tuesday, November 13, 2012

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The Story of Dishonored: How the Hit Game's Immersive Narrative Was Crafted and Told

Dishonored Story

Dishonored, the new immersive stealth game lead created by Arkane's Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio, is great in a lot of ways, chief among them this: Dishonored is at heart an immersive story, plunging you into a vividly realized, alternate universe that looks very much like ours, but operating under its own internal logic, myths, cultures, which you learn about through interactive osmosis, as you explore, accomplish tasks, and (yes) fight and die a lot of times. The story itself, in terms of written and spoken dialog, is massive, Smith and Colantonio tell me, the size of a substantial novel:

"Roughly 90,000 words in AI-driven one-liners (or 'barks') and spoken dialogue, and another 40,000 written words in the form of notes, books, graffiti, etc." Were that put into a book, it'd be over 500 pages. The cast of characters in Dishnored is also voluminous: "[A]round 50 named characters, major or minor, and another 50 alluded to in works of fiction."

To bring the narrative world of Dishonored to life, Arkane's team drew on lots of influences, from novels and films, and even pop music. Smith and Colantonio discuss those below -- and how they emerge, within the game (mild SPOILERS ahead):

Dishonored setting

How they conceived the overall narrative of Dishonored -- and changed it during level design and testing:

"Over time, we worked out a story that felt classic and familiar: The beloved, trusted protector falsely blamed for the death of his love, the Empress. We knew that we needed something that would resonate, and that once we finished working on it, the details of the missions and the world itself would make the story fresh and interesting. We care a lot about the emergent narrative - made up of second to second player actions - and we believe that also modifies a player's understanding of the plot. Working with our art team, level designers, and lead level designer Christophe Carrier, we first brainstormed out a set of interesting mission locations (like costume ball, monolithic bridge or flooded/ruined part of the city), and we discussed interesting assassination targets, eventually combining those elements."

The main literary influences to Dishonored's story:

"In working out our setting and characters, we were looking to do something less common in games, but the process was very organic. Many people on our team made mention, on a weekly basis, of various influences from Herman Melville to Mervyn Peake. You could point to Thomas Burke (for Limehouse) or Dickens as general influences, and as people who have added to the cultural map that most of the team shares. During development, we discussed the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Michael Moorcock, Neil Gaiman, and others. Films like Gangs of New York, Perfume, and Anonymous factored into our research. As we've mentioned before, some of us love the Decemberists and took small influences from the lyrics of Picaresque and Her Majesty."

The inspiration for Dishonored's setting:

"The setting was inspired by our literary and film influences, research into the Plague, reading up on Victorian London, and the combined talents of our art director, Sebastien Mitton, and visual design director, Viktor Antonov. Those guys looked at dozens of painters - whose histories they know from a lifetime of study - and drew from their works. Plus the ongoing ideas contributed by team members in Lyon, France and Austin, Texas guided us, and every week someone suggested something that influenced our direction."

The story elements they're most proud of, that many gamers might miss:

"We're most proud of the emergent narrative, where players come up to us and tell us crazy stories about what happened as they were playing based on the interaction of systems and their own self-imposed goals. But in terms of embedded narrative, we could both name a dozen little things we loved: The Heretic's Brand; Campbell showing up later as a weeper; Emily's final drawing (based on high/low chaos); the Empress' little room of leftover stuff in Dunwall Tower."

Read about the game's heritage with the classic Thief games here.


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Iris Ophelia

If anyone's playing this game, be sure not to miss out on the lines spoken by the Heart when you point it at other people, there are some amazing storytelling gems there.

Nox Vought

Dishonored is amazing and parts of it can be challenging to get through (some people said it was too easy, uhh I disagree). I love the art and atmosphere in the game. 2012 has been a great year for games. If Bioshock Infinite would have come out this year it would have been the best year ever in the history of games.

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