Dishonored Dev: We ‘Adjust the Game to Meet the Challenge’

Figuring out just how powerful to make the player is tough in Dishonored. With a mess of supernatural powers like the ability to possess your enemies, summon rats to kill them, and teleport, coupled with tons of gadgets like grenades that stick to their targets.

And then there are the abilities that players think of that surprise the designers, said Dishonored Lead Designer Ricardo Bare. Often players will use their abilities in creative ways to do things that weren’t what the designers planned or expected, he said in an interview with Game Front at E3 2012.

“That is one of the challenges we faced as developers with this kind of game, where we let the player have these really amazing powers that they can combine in ways that surprise us all the time,” Bare said. “Somebody just comes up with an exploit, it’s like, ‘Holy crap, this dude just combined the double jump with the blink to totally blow past this security checkpoint.’”

But as powerful as players are in Dishonored, more often than not, the game designers choose not to take powers away from them in order to balance things out.

“More than half the time we say, ‘That’s okay, let’s let the player do that,’ and instead we will try to adjust the game to meet the challenge instead of nerfing the player,” Bare said.

Among the cooler not-quite-exploits Bare said he’s seen is players avoiding death from falling from great heights with creative use of their powers. Escaping from assassination situations can often get pretty hairy, especially when players are spotted in the act.

Even in the hands-on demo I played at E3, there seemed to be a lot of verticality to the world. In the hands-off demo led by co-creative directors Raphael Colantonio and Harvey Smith, protagonist Corvo Atano found himself in a high building with nowhere to go and guards closing in.

“[One of the coolest I've seen is] using possession to break your fall,” Bare said. “Sometimes people will climb up really high on a building, start a big ruckus, kill their target and then need to get out in a hurry. So they’ll just leap out and fall five stories, and right before they splat on the ground, they’ll fire off their possession spell and take over one of the guards on the ground.”

Possession in Dishonored actually works, it seems, by physically transporting Corvo into the person he’s possessing — it’s not a remote possession situation in which his physical body is left somewhere, unguarded.

Situations like leaping from a building to possess a passer-by and escape enemy soldiers give players a lot of freedom, and Arkane Studios have looked to provide a lot of opportunities for players to make their own decisions on how to deal with the tasks at hand. But it’s not an open-world game, Bare said — it’s divided into missions, but each of those missions provides a lot of freedom.

“Dishonored is not an open world game, there is definitely a sequence of missions that the player plays,” Bare said. “However, each time the player goes to a mission location, the freedom they have is to do things in whatever order they what, whether or not they want to do sidequests, whether or not they want to explore to uncover story bits or extra things they want to upgrade their powers. So when you get dropped off in a mission, there’s not like an ‘A, B, C, here’s how you have to complete the mission.’ It’s totally up to you. You can observe, explore, make a plan and try to execute that plan.”

Certain situations will require players to follow the plan set out by the game, though. In the hands-on demo, players are tasked with kidnapping a doctor, and despite his pleading, it’s impossible to finish the mission without knocking the man out and carrying him off. Bare said Dishonored offsets moments when your objective is set off for you with the ability to choose how you handle those situations.

“In that case, your allies, these conspirators who are waiting for you back at your home base, they need to interview him. They need to extract some information from him. So you gotta take that guy back,” Bare said. “However, when you take him back to base, the way you extract information from him is up to you.

“There are other examples too, like, there are people who offer you side quests, like, ‘Hey, I know you have to go eliminate this really important guy. While you’re there, my uncle works in the city guard — please make sure he doesn’t die. He’s not a bad man, he just works for bad people. Let him live!’ So you can take that side quest on, and if you do, it has consequences. It affects how that person who gave you the mission talks to you, and it also affects down the road if that guy’s still alive, he can help you, and it has a different ending for those characters lives as well.”

How you choose to play through Dishonored will also have an effect on what ending you receive. Bare said that there are fluctuations on either a positive or a negative ending, but he didn’t say precisely how many endings the game would have.

“One of the important core values for us as a development team, the kinds of things that really get us excited in other games that we play and that we wanted to do for this game, is to make sure that the a world is really rich, with lots of cool powers and gameplay mechanics that players can combine and use in their own way. And one of those choices includes the choice to be really brutal or to be nonlethal and more surgical in the way that you play the game,” he said. “And if you start to go down a path where you’re really killing a lot of people indiscriminately, you’re committing yourself to a darker ending at the end of the game. By contrast if you play in a very careful away, if you don’t’ kill a bunch of innocent people, then you’re committing yourself to a less dark ending.”

Follow Hornshaw and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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