The Dishonored series premiered an astonishing and almost unbelievable six years ago, and has spawned a full sequel and two DLC add-ons. This Friday, the storyline will conclude with Dishonored: Death of the Outsider. While not necessarily the final entry in the Dishonored series of games, it will conclude a story arc eight years in the making. While covering QuakeCon, CGM was fortunate enough to snag an interview with Harvey Smith, the Creative Director and one of the original creators of the Dishonored series. In this two-part interview, Smith allows our readers a peek into his brain, and offers a personal account of the enormous IP that he helped create, and what it means to him to finally say goodbye to the world of Dunwall.
Stay tuned for Part Two, coming tomorrow.
CGM: Was it hard to come up with new powers for Death of the Outsider? How do you keep things fresh?
Harvey Smith: There’s a pretty big difference here, there’s a lot of experimental stuff in Death of the Outsider. We decided to let go of some dogma and go out on a limb a little bit. Billy doesn’t use potions to replenish her mana, it’s now timer based. The fiction behind that is that she doesn’t draw her powers from the Outsider, she draws it from the void itself. She could theoretically persist after the Outsider’s death. We know this is a game about stealth, infiltration, and assassination—sometimes fighting if you have to. Therefore, it’s not about summoning skeletons or casting a fireball and that narrows it down.
Constraint is a good thing for design, of course, filters. Knowing those things we say, “Within that suite of movement, sliding, assassinating, and dropping off roofs…what does an assassin need.” When a ninja is overwhelmed they need a smoke bomb to get away. So they probably need an escape power, a mobility power, an infiltration power, something to mesmerize enemies to slip past them, some sort of information collection power. We start thinking like that. For all the characters we’ve done, for all the protagonists, we can put something in those buckets. Her foresight ability is probably my favourite vision power that we’ve done. Foresight is really active and interesting, much more than the other ones. I wouldn’t say that her displace ability is my favourite of the news ones. It’s cool, but it’s not my favourite either. Emily’s far-reach is really cool, and Daud’s redirected blink is really cool, mind-bending. But her [Billy] Semblance power is really cool, even if I was really dubious about it in the beginning. Her gadget, the hook mines, are new to the series and they’re wildly cool. The designers did a great job. I think I pitched it initially but they took it further and did something much cooler with it than I thought we were going to do. They’re magnetic, you can put two up and pull people apart, put them on people and it will draw other people to them; it’s very systemized and works as part of the simulation.
Part of it is not allowing ourselves to be redundant, part of it is using the filters to decide “what is the function here that would make you feel not like a tank or a wizard but like the guy that can sneak in, take someone out, and escape.” Once you have those creative goals you’re not just making a game you’re following a vision. Billy is a very different protagonist than we’ve had before, her history and everything about her. Corvo to Daud was not that different, a royal bodyguard to an assassin, they’re both similar in other ways. Emily was a pretty big departure, she’s an Empress. Billy is an even further departure. Her powers are more curated than before. Before, we gave you a big set and you could spend points on them. This time we actually say contrary to what you might think, it will be more interesting if we give you a set and highly constrain them.
CGM: So you’ve designed the game around the powers rather than just throwing players in like, “who knows what they’re going to do?”
Harvey Smith: That’s exactly right. Often in our games, we do something like, “Okay what’s this scene about. High Overseer Campbell is about to poison this guard captain, what powers COULD the player have at this point?” Because it’s at least three hours into the game it’s possible that the player could have almost any of the powers. We can probably guarantee that they wouldn’t have “this” power at level 2 but almost any other. So we have to bulletproof for all of those and that’s a lot of work. How much special case work can we do to reward the player if they do that one special little thing to pay it off. Well, not much because it could be twelve different version of that. There are trade-offs, one is choice, the other is depth, so in the latter model, the one we used for Billy, we can assume certain things. You don’t have that power yet so we don’t have to bulletproof against. However, we know you have this power so if you think to do this one little thing with it we can pay it off. You take the face of the guard and walk past and they say “Captain” that kind of thing, and it’s like whoa that felt special. Or there’s a set scene between important characters and one says “I can join you in a moment,” you choke him out, take his face and walk over to the other important character and she continues on as if you were that guy. It feels very gratifying.
You obviously can’t do that in the same frame of time, the same amount of man months, if you have to support twelve powers. This is an experimental project. There are five Dishonoured titles and each one is a major chapter in the same arc. This is the finale. There may be more Dishonoured games going forward but this is the end of the one related to the Outsider, Billy, Corvo, and Daud, and it’s a rare opportunity to work on eight years worth of stuff where you get to have a beginning middle and end I’m grateful that we’re ending it with Billy, the death of the outsider it feels like a good thing.
CGM: Was Billy formed specifically as she is now or were you guys kicking around a few ideas before you landed on her?
Harvey Smith: Her as the protagonist came pretty late, like near the end of Dishonored 2 I would say. About five years ago as we were planning Dishonored 2 we were having a meeting, briefing the team, and I said I was thinking for Dishonored 2 we’re not going to use Corvo, we’ll jump forward 15 years, Emily has grown up, she’s the Empress, she’s off her throne and on the run. At first, it was shocking but people really quickly latched on to it. I said around that time that after Dishonored 2 we should do a DLC where you kill the Outsider. We had all these ideas we were going to pursue which we simplified later but it wasn’t Billy yet, but it was definitely the death of the outsider. Toward the end of Dishonored 2, you realize that starting during the Rat Plague when civilization itself was about to topple and Daud took this assassination job. When she dies, Corvo her lover and bodyguard is standing there. Her daughter Emily is standing there. Daud is there because he pushed the knife in. Billy is there because she’s part of the crew working with Daud. We did Corvo’s story, we then did Daud’s two-part story, and then 15 years later we did Emily’s. And while we were doing there—SPOILER—she’s living on the boat of Megan Foster, called the Dreadful Whale, and they really get to know each other and Emily takes a lot from Megan Foster and is Billy of course. While Billy takes a few things from Emily; she clearly has a lot of unresolved issues. The boat is called the Dreadful Whale which is an anagram for Farewell Daud, Emily goes back to Dunwall and Billy then says “I’ve been adrift, I’ve been lost I have to take control of my life again.” She goes back to her old name, she hatches a plan “I’m going to find my old mentor and look for some sort of closure for all this weird shit that’s happened to me.”
Want to hear more? Join CGMagazine for Part 2 on Friday, September 15, 2017.