Dishonored’s Ricardo Bare: Geek For All Seasons?

Writing And Gaming

Long before he was hired, Bare convinced Harvey Smith to give him tour of Ion Storm’s offices. At one point, Bare said, “We started talking about games I wish I could play. [I told Harvey] ‘I like RPGs a lot, and I like first person shooters a lot, and I wish someone would make a game that has the action and physicality of a first person shooter, but I can talk to people, and upgrade powers’. He swiveled around in his chair and loaded up Deus Ex, and my jaw hit the ground.”

With Dishonored, Bare has almost come full circle back to Deus Ex. He said as much when discussing the construction of the game. “The way that we try to craft levels, [that] is something we all brought with us to this game,” he said,explaining that they approach their games with intent to “create interesting context, as interesting as we can make it, give the player all the tools, and then just turn [them] loose, let them poke at the level and do things their own way. And make sure there are multiple ways to accomplish something, make sure that they’re all supported as much as we can possibly support them. That’s the biggest thing, I think. It’s a style, the same way you could look at movie directors and think “hey, I can tell what his movies are”, that’s our level design style here. ”

Even so, Dishonored has some striking differences from its long-ago predecessor, among them the the fact that player choice is reflected in the end as the logical progression of events, rather than presented as a selection the player must make right at the end. It’s here, perhaps, where Bare’s interests in prose fiction and gaming cooperate most fully. “I talk about it as ‘natural consequences’,” he said. “It’s not that we came up with this chaos system to judge the player as good or bad, as much as we’re saying that this is what we think happens when you murder a bunch of people. It’s abstracted, of course, because it’s a game and it’s simplified, but we do manage to convey the idea that if you murder a whole bunch of people [as part of completing your story], things get worse. Harvey said something funny the other say, that if you read a book, and the main protagonist was just slaughtering everyone, and then everything turned out great at the end, you would call it a shit book.”

Bare was quick to note the strong connection for him between gaming and fiction, particularly his background with table top gaming, which he says “is strongly connected to fiction and to game mechanics at the same time.” That’s as true for him as it is for the rest of the Dishonored team. Back at Ion Storm, Bare, Smith, Martinez and Powers (along with some friends at other Austin-based developers) played table top games like D&D and Planescape together, but rather than sticking to the modules, they used the setting as a jumping off point and created their own fiction. “They were also really good dungeon masters,” Bare said, “which is, I think, what you have to be to be a good level designer. You have to create this sort of background tapestry, and a loose framework for what’s going to happen, but you have to always be on your toes. At least the way we were playing, you have to be ready to accept that the player is going to do something unexpected.”

“Writing the kinds of games that we make is like being a dungeon master. You have this loose architecture, like ‘when the players gets here, this guy is going to tell the player this, but after that the player might go here, here, or here, and I need to be ready to react to that.’ And that comes back to the interactivity. In our games, the player is free to do a bunch of different things, so when we write for our games we concentrate much more on the detail of the world, the characters, the sort of stuff that the players can voluntarily soak up. Things like overheard conversations, or books that the player finds. To me that stuff is more important than telling a canned story.”

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