If you haven’t already done so, rush out and buy the latest issue of Atomic magazine to check out our hands-on preview for Dishonored. We were so impressed with Dishonored that we can already smell a contender for game of the year. What’s even more impressive is being able to sit down with one of the influential creative minds behind one of my most beloved games of all time—Deus Ex—and talk about Thief, Dishonored, Deus Ex and game design.
Harvey Smith, co-creative director on Dishonored, started off chatting about Threadless t-shirts and the somewhat controversial one he used to wear that got plenty of double takes. It wasn’t long before we got into the nitty gritty of talking about all things Dishonored and so much more. Check it out.
Atomic: So, I’ve got to get this out of the way at the beginning. Thank you for [the original] Deus Ex.
Harvey: Oh, great. Yeah. It’s funny, I hear that every once in a while, and it never gets old. I’m so glad that it still resonates with people.
Atomic: It’s just incredible. Did you get to play the Human Revolution?
Harvey: I did. I played about half of it.
Atomic: What’d you think of it?
Harvey: First of all, kudos to those guys [Eidos Montreal] for tackling an enormously complicated project. And I thought their production values were way higher: their UI, their cinematics, their art. However, their approach was a little different than ours. Our stuff was way more messy; it spilled over into each other, it creates many more weird moments that are driven only by your actions. Whereas their stuff felt a little cleaner; like the way you go through this room is you stop, you take cover, you shoot those guys and then you advance. I don’t know, I appreciated it, but it did not grab me the way some things grab me… like BioShock grabbed me.
Atomic: It’s interesting actually, because playing through the Dishonored demo, I saw quite a lot of BioShock in it. It felt really similar to certain moments in BioShock, particularly that opening.
Harvey: Did you play the first four hours of the game?
Atomic: First 45 minutes. It was great.
Harvey: What have you played of the game so far?
Atomic: I played the opening section, right up where you get that first Blink power.
Harvey: Oh, right.
Atomic: Yeah, yeah. And then they jumped me to the Boyle party.
Harvey: Lady Boyle’s last party. Did you finish that?
Atomic: Yeah. I tried to play stealthy…
Harvey: Because also on the show floor we also have a mission called Cauldon’s Bridge, which is the E3 demo. So if you haven’t played that, you should as well. Anyway, I’m just curious because not many people have played the opening of the game, so it was interesting to hear what your reaction was.
Atomic: I thought it was great, and I’m glad that I actually… as much as I’ve wanted to play this game since I saw it last year at gamescom, I’m glad that my first experience was the opening. Because you so often get dropped into a preview maybe 45 minutes in or maybe 2 hours in or whatever.
Harvey: This is halfway through the game, the Boyle party.
Atomic: Where did you start with Dishonored?
Harvey: Ah, okay. Where did I start?
Atomic: With the game. Was it the concept or was it we want to create a game where these genres blur together or we want to do a Deus Ex feel. Where did you actually start with Dishonored?
Harvey: I think it’s a really important point because Raphael Colantonio and I are the co-creative directors, we have about an 85% overlap in our values. And we are not just general game developers. It’s not like one year we could work on a racing game, and the next we could work on a shooter. We’re specialists, right. He worked on Arx Fatalis and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. I worked on the first two Deus Ex games. We’re very much into this type of game. And so the games we love made by other people are Far Cry 2, Stalker, BioShock, System Shock and Thief. And so whenever we sit down to work on the game [Dishonored], we knew from day one that a lot of the features and a lot of the feeling were going to be in the game, right? There’s going to be vertical space in the levels, there’s going to be multiple pathways, there’s going to be a stealth model, an analogue awareness instead of a hard awareness of when they see you and where they don’t—there’s going to be some uncertainty states in there—multiple play styles, choose the powers, and having values, falling back on values, having a specific set of creative tenants, carried us pretty far into the initial development of the game.
Atomic: What’s the challenge of what I like to call this ‘ultimate blurring’? Particularly playing the opening, I got to see that it wasn’t, ‘Hey, check out this game that lets you play, gameplay wise, in whatever way.’ You’re actually trying to tell a story and create an engaging world. It seems like instead of just aiming for, ‘We want really tight gameplay and have a bolt-on story,’ you’re aiming for something where you want to hit everything including great characterisation, great voice acting and so on. Was that something from the outset, or was that something that developed over time?