Dishonored’s original pitch was “ninjas”

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I recently spoke to co-creators and directors of Dishonored, Raphael Colantonio and Harvey Smith, about the making of the game. We spoke about the concept’s initial creation and how it grew in to what we finally got to play.

The making of Dishonored

Raphael and Harvey are continuing their theme of answering questions together which makes it tricky to credit the quotes clearly so from this point in I’m going to refer to them collectively as Raphey.

According to Raphey the, “original pitch in the shortest form” was, “ninjas”. That then evolved into the “supernatural assassin in a steampunk city” idea and finally into the synopsis which was, “In an industrial whaling city beset by a terrible plague, the royal bodyguard is blamed for the murder of the Empress and must hunt down those responsible and exact revenge”. One of the defining parts of this story however was always that, “The player has the option of acting with restraint and can choose a less destructive path”.

Dishonored PS3 screenAn interesting part of the evolution was that of the tallboys. The art director Sebastien Mitton has already spoken about how that idea evolved from seeing a real life window cleaner on stilts. Raphey explains further, “The earliest version of the tallboy was a lamplighter who walked through town relighting steampunk streetlamps”. Whale batteries were then proposed as power sources because, “The whales fit with the pseudo-Victorian city”. There were also other less obvious influences: “The movie Gangs of New York, lyrics from the band The Decemberists. We were discussing many different media sources and random ideas, and all of it factored in”.

It’s been mentioned in the past that Corvo was left intentionally blank as a character. “That was a deliberate choice,” reiterated Raphey. “If we portrayed Corvo angry and seeking revenge, it might offend the nonlethal player who is seeking a stable outcome for the City of Dunwall, and vice versa”. He wasn’t always intended to be a mute avatar, though. “We added some text input options for Corvo around Alpha but never really went further. To this day, we wonder what the other version would have felt like in the game”.

Another thing that changed over time was Corvo’s Blink ability, “Initially, it was an optional power, purchased with runes, and near Alpha we made it part of the player’s core powers, after he gets the Mark of the Outsider”. That was due in part to the stucture of the environments. “We always intended to make the game open, sandboxy and vertical,” explains Raphey. “It’s one of the core values we share with our lead level designer, Christophe Carrier. We all love elements like getting on the roof, jumping into the water, finding a window entrance, or reaching the balcony. Blink capitalised on that”.

“Almost all the powers went through a conversation and white board phase,” they explain. “Followed by prototyping then refinement with multiple versions of tuning values, sound, particle effects, etc”. This testing lead to a range of eurekas. “We had many of those moments, like the first time we saw someone jump from a building roof and break their fall using Possession, seeing players ‘hide’ from patrolling guards inside rats, and the more exotic stuff like stopping time as a guard fires his pistol, possessing him and walking him in front of the bullet”.

Thanks to Raphael Colantonio and Harvey Smith for their time. Get all our Dishonored stuff here.