Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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Dishonored's End: Harvey Smith & Raphael Colantonio on Designing a Game That Changes Based on Player Behavior

Dishonored Low Chaos ending

SPOILER WARNING: Dishonored endings discussed and shown in detail below

Depending on your point of view, the least or most interesting aspect of Dishonored, the award-winning immersive action game, is how it ends. That's because the ending is meant to reflect the moral choices you make through the tens of hours you play it: Accomplish goals and defeat enemies through maximum violence, and get one ending. Play with limited brutally, get a very different culmination.

"Our intention was to give players choices," lead designers Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio explain. "Not just a binary 'push the button at the end' choice, but an ongoing aggregate through the game. A more or less background system that allows players to ignore it if they so choose, and play how they want. Further, we didn't want one ending to feel like a failure; in fact, both are shades of gray without an iconic identity."

As I wrote last week, players on Steam equally split on finishing the story with a violent "High Chaos" ending and a more peaceful "Low Chaos" ending. But from my experience, at least, the different endings don't have the same emotional satisfaction:

Dishonored High Chaos Ending

"Maybe it's just me," I told Harvey, "because I chose a nearly non-violent path, but the ending felt sort of anti-climatic, versus the Chaotic version which I've seen on YouTube and seems way more epic." (See below.) "Anyway," I asked him and Raph, "what was your design philosophy with crafting the ending?"

Their take: "It's a very hard problem, but what we wanted to do was make an ending that reflected the chill path the non-lethal player chose. It doesn't end with a giant, tense, chaotic situation (like a war or boss fight), but instead is more in line with that particular player's approach. Eavesdropping and stealth are still viable. Of course, the high chaos ending is more overtly dramatic. Personally, we don't like boss fights because they've gotten formulaic. So in general we like the path we've chosen, but of course there's always room for improvement as games figure out how to respond to player input."

You can watch all three endings above. For me, playing with minimum violence is not just a moral choice, but a player preference -- in many ways, it's more challenging and fun to be stealthy and non-chaotic, and my hope is to have an ending which reflects that preference, too, by being fun and challenging to the very final conflict. But as Harvey and Raph say, it's difficult to create a multi-path scenario that will please every player. Improved AI for NPCs will probably make better endings easier to implement. In any case, I can't wait to play the ending to Dishonored II.

More New World Notes coverage on Dishonored:


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Iris Ophelia

The high chaos ending absolutely feels like a failure impaired to low chaos. All your friends die, Emily becomes a historical footnote... Total bad ending compared to the pub parties an Emily the Wise in low chaos.


Good table-top gaming with a GM can involve lots of moral choices that guide the outcome.

Add what my nerd-pack calls "the minimum daily requirement of violence," which a canny non-violent player can avoid (sometimes at the expense of friends' characters) and you can have a lot of fun.

I hope online gaming finds this balance. For me, gaming that pulls me in is about story, not mayhem, as goal. That said, story + mayhem = good time.

Now if only we can add "talk/type and act intelligently" to online gaming as ways to do better in-game. While the strong and fast can win a fight, they rarely rule empires, says the Machiavellian table-top gamer.

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