Dishonored interview: Raphael Colantonio & Harvey Smith on endings, the state of the FPS & new IPs

We recently sat down with Dishonored co-creators and directors Raphael Colantonio and Harvey Smith to look back at the success of the game, it’s creation and the state of the FPS genre. Here’s what they had to say.

OPM How satisfying is it to have created a new IP that has been successful on both a critical and a commercial level?

Raphael Colantonio It’s taken some time to sink in, but it feels very good. Harvey and I have been passionate about this kind of game from the very beginning. That’s the kind of game that inspired us in the first place to work in videogames. For us to have the luxury to do one, and having a publisher that supported us and believed in us to make one, and being successful at it – not only critically but also commercially – first of all was a stretch. It was a big honour for us to have this chance to do that. Now that it works it’s incredibly satisfying, because I think Harvey and I have always had to fight the cynicism about this genre.

Say hello to Dishonored co-creators and directors Raphael Colantonio (L) and Harvey Smith (R)

OPM It’s a genre that’s historically been associated with PC, so are you particularly happy to see how well the game has succeeded on console?

Harvey Smith Yeah. We had advocates on our team from day one for PC, Xbox and PlayStation. That was very important for us. We wanted to do that all internally. A big challenge for the game was preserving the depth and freedom of play, and the core values that we have around these hybrid FPS/RPG/stealth games. We call them immersive sims, and preserving the depth of those and being true to our values but at the same time adhering to the traditions of the console – making sure our trophies were cool and our UI in all three platforms was good – [was challenging]. There’s even a difference in the UI [between] PlayStation and Xbox, because you have to respect what core gamers like on each platform. So that was one of our priorities.

OPM When it comes to launching a new IP, what are the most challenging aspects?

Dishonored PS3 screenHS Well, we always tell people that it’s inconceivably harder. It multiplies the difficulty of everything. In our case I think that’s true not just because it’s a new IP, but because it’s a new world. [There were] all the normal difficulties of making a game across many languages and across three major platforms, as well as all the difficulty with making such an ambitious game – this is not just a paint-by-numbers game. On top of that it’s a new IP, and so you have to educate people about what it is. It doesn’t take place in a normal world: it’s set in a world that doesn’t even have the same calendar, religions, mythology or continents.

Publishers recently have been very afraid of creating new IPs because it’s more investment. New IPs usually barely make their money back.

OPM Do you think the advent of the next-gen consoles might halt the steady stream of sequels that we currently see?

RC It’s hard to tell. For sure, publishers recently have been very afraid of creating new IPs, because it’s more investment. New IPs usually barely make their money back. It’s only with the sequel that you start making money, if the first one was successful. So there are a lot of risks. It is funny, because we’re always hearing that the reason why there are no new good IPs is because it isn’t good to launch a new IP at the end of a console cycle. But hopefully publishers will follow through with what they’re saying – that the only reason there are no new IPs is because of the old cycle – so let’s see what happens with the new cycle. We hope so, because it’s a big trend right now on forums and with players: everybody is complaining about playing the same games over and over. As gamers we would like to see [more new IPs], and as creative people we would like to see that.

OPM What do you see as the trends that have emerged in the FPS genre? Is it moving in a positive direction?

HS There are very pure shooters that follow a linear scripted path and focus on hyper-real art and guns – and that’s obviously not as interesting to me and Raph and our team – but one of the trends is adding RPG features as a means of providing an alternative mode of interaction. Gamers want something novel and they want something broader, deeper and richer. In our case, it’s a crazy idea but we took this game about an assassin and we let you finish the game literally without killing a single person.

We try to constantly provide other forms of interaction when you play the game. What [exactly] are you doing when you play: are you setting up tripod traps? Are you taking photos? Are you using vehicles? Are you updating your character in one direction or another? Are you playing co-op? Are you defusing bombs or picking locks? I think from our perspective we’d like to see more open worlds, more non-linear flow, more forms of interaction besides shooting and running. We’d love to see more simulation, and more options for how you complete a mission – not just getting to the exit and killing the monsters. I guess that’s partially a prediction of trends and also partially wishful thinking.

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OPM In terms of Dishonored specifically, is there anything you’d like to change or fix, were you to follow up the game in the future?

RC Our values always articulate around simulation, depth and player choices, and I think we will probably improve upon that. The thing with these games that have a more freeform kind of gameplay is that as much as they give freedom, which is cool, they’re also harder to make. We constantly blend simulation with shots that are more like art, compared to some other games that are way more controlled. I think one thing we hope, in our case, is to improve some of the high drama moments, while keeping the values that are so important to our kind of games.

OPM Of every possible climax to Dishonored, is there one that you consider to be the ‘proper’ ending?

RC For me, I like things to be good at the end. I feel better emotionally when Emily is alive, and [the plague] gets cured by the two scientists. That’s what I like.

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