Dishonored's End: Harvey Smith & Raphael Colantonio on Designing a Game That Changes Based on Player Behavior
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:
"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:
- How Dishonored Honors Thief: Arkane's Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio on Dishonored's Debt to the Immersive Stealth Classic
- The Story of Dishonored: How the Hit Game's Immersive Narrative Was Crafted and Told
- Dishonored Players Evenly Choose High Chaos "Evil" & Low Chaos "Good" Endings; Creators Harvey Smith & Raphael Colantonio Have a Theory Why