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.
If you didn’t get a chance to read part one, you can find it here.
CGM: How Death of the Outsider compare to previous entries in the series as far as length goes?
Harvey Smith: You know we call it a stand-alone expansion, not a full sequel or anything like that. We didn’t put Dishonored 3 on it. But honestly the way that Knife of Dunwall and Brigmore Witches are just DLC, they’re short, but for most players, DOTO is somewhere between 9–12 hours long. It ended up feeling more like a decent finale, an appropriate or proper ending to that arc. I think Dishonored 1 was similar in length for more people, we thought of it as a full game. But Dishonored 1 is much more like a bunch of one-off missions that add up to the story whereas this is one big mission with pieces that you pick up along the way.
CGM: Are you sad to say goodbye to the franchise? Are you ready to move on?
Harvey Smith: I don’t know if there will be more Dishonored games or not, I hope so, but definitely it would involve different characters and different scenarios—not the Outsider— maybe a different time period? For me, it’s been eight years and I started with Raphael Colantonio a good friend and Ricardo Bare who worked on Prey with Raph and we didn’t know anything when we started working on it. We were like “it’s London in 1666, and are we going to kill the pope?”
That was something we talked about, the year of the great fire and the last year of the plague—not coincidentally—and then we started advancing it in time because we wanted more technology, then we started talking about maybe an American whaling city in the 1800s. It just drifted and then one day we had magic in the game and said “this isn’t on Earth anymore” so we literally drew a world map and made a calendar for an alternate universe and alternate timeline. It does feel like the 1850s.
That was the beginning of Dishonored and we were making it up as we went and trying to keep track of it all and by the end of Dishonored we’re hiring people like Sachka Duval our Narrative Designer who has played all the games and she knows everything about the lore and takes it as canon. She comes in and she starts adding to it with us but she’s steeped in it. It becomes more and more like “We know what Dishonored is, we know what the characters are” it’s a little more locked down as you get toward the end. It’s a very different challenge than the “What do we do, what is this,” it’s a wide open thing at the beginning and very narrow at the end.
By the end of [DOTO] we hired people to work on it and they came in and they already knew Dishonored really well. We hired Hazel Monforton who was working with Sachka and she’s working on her Ph.D. and she wrote this huge thing about the Outsider and her understanding of our world and lore is some ways—while it’s not as well-informed as mine because it’s in my head—but everything that’s in the games is in her head and her broader understanding of literature and history is better than mine and therefore she contextualizes our work in a different way. It’s fascinating to work with people like that on your game after a certain period of time.
So am I sick of Dishonored or do I love Dishonored? It’s probably a bit of both. First of all, it’s a rare opportunity to get to create something new, an IP. I was talking to a friend earlier about the Umbrella Academy [the books], they’re great. He [Gerard Way] did two volumes and there’s a rumored third volume but it’s been stalled for years and there’s also a TV show coming. To create something out of nothing that takes on culturally, imagine J.K. Rowling, there’s a theme park. It’s mind-blowing. It’s a rare opportunity, first of all, to get to do that no matter how big or small it is, whether it’s a comic book or a theme park.
Then to be able to stay with it for that long? In videogames, people are swapped on and off projects and things like that, but to actually also be able to say “we wanted to have a beginning, middle, and end.” It’s not like a cash cow and we’re going to make the same dude [Corvo] over and over again. We’re going to go to Doud, then Emily, then we’re going to resolve this. We’re going to kill the Outsider. It doesn’t mean the end of Dishonored but it does mean the end of this arc. It’s a very rare privilege that we just got lucky to resonate with people so in that sense you have to think that this was eight years of my life. It goes from being a job to being “I’ll be remembering this when I’m 80.” It was an incredible opportunity and connecting with the fans that have done music, cosplay, art, tattoos, it’s amazing. It’s mind-blowing. I will always miss it.
I honestly don’t know what’s in the future. I don’t want to imply that I do but at some level, it’s probably time for me personally to move on to something new. But I’ll always have a special place for it because it’s eight years of diving into that lore, working with new people, new gadgets, and new moves.
Our lead designer for Dishonored 2 is Dinga Bakaba and I worked with him on Dishonored 1 but he was just a designer on the project. By Dishonored 2 we made him lead designer and for Death of the Outsider I planned it while I was living in France and maybe the first half of it I worked on and then I moved back to Austin and they did the heavy lifting of actually finalizing it. So in the credits, we say Additional Creative Direction: Dinga Bakaba, Sachka Duval, and Christoph Carrier. Those guys are so pivotal to this and you really get to know somebody when you sit side-by-side with them for four years and you wrestle and solve problems. Some of those guys I’ve worked with for eight years now. It’s bigger than going off to university with some good friends; it’s huge. It’s the length of a Ph.D. or something. I can’t get my head around it. It’s impossible to actually explain.
It gives me a tiny insight into what people like J.K. Rowling must experience. Her experience is a million times bigger of course and probably has a million times more money but still. I read this quote from Willie Nelson that said basically he is a guy known by one name. Everywhere he goes people are like “Hey Willie” and he knows none of them, but they all know him and they all speak to him as if they know him because they listen to his music and have an intimate relationship with this creative guy through music. He said the world is very strange because his work has affected other people and they speak to him as if they know him. I wonder what that’s like. It must be a trip, but when we come to places like QuakeCon and it’s really cool to interact with people who have either just played the games, and maybe couples that met over it.
We had a Dishonored event in London not too long ago, a dinner, and one person proposed on the spot to their partner. We knew about it in advance so we took the heart device, this thing that speaks to you in riddles, and we talked to the voice actress, April Stewart—who is also the Mayor in South Park. We asked her to record some lines for the Heart for this proposal and she was totally down with it. We sent it to the audio guy and he processed it with the sound effects the heart makes. At the event, our PR people had a stuffed heart to give the one person and they proposed to the other person by holding the heart up. The heart said all these lines about their partner and stuff and it was beautiful. So you do stuff like that and that’s just the players.
We also interact with critics who are thinking about your stuff and they have a broader and deeper understanding of all of it because they’ve studied media for so long. It is mind-blowing and if it was a one off project and you were here talking to me about “Oh I got to work on the new Star Wars or whatever,” that would be one thing. It would be cool and I’d do my best. But when it runs eight years and it’s a whole arc and you see a whole culture form and you hire people who were probably in high school when you started this it becomes something totally different. I worked on all these games but I also worked on Deus Ex and Deus Ex 2 and people are still talking about those games. People make mods for them. There are comic books and novels and it’s pretty trippy, it’s hard to get your head around.