As promised, here’s the second interview with a Dishonored dev. Our first with co-creative director Harvey Smith is already live, where we talked about inspirations for Dishonored, not judging player choices and the many different approaches to the stealth/action (and that’s putting it simply) title. Seth Shain, assistant designer at Arkane Studios, went into greater depth about what’s powering Dishonored, including PC specifics, the rich history behind character factions, intelligent auto-aim and the validity of ‘save coughing’. Read on to find out more.
Atomic: The guys who work the crank. What are they called?
Seth: That’s a Musical Overseer.
Atomic: And they’re the ones that stop the magic abilities?
Seth: Yeah. Yeah, the Overseers are… one of the religions in the world of Dishonored in Dunwall is the Abbey of the Everyman, it’s the Overseers. They’re a religious sect and they’re puritan in a way. They hate The Outsider, they hate magic, and they try to do away with that. So some of them are witch hunters and they try to root out that evil wherever they see it, and they have… we’ve developed the religion, there are the seven strictures which is sort of like their Ten Commandments. And so there’s a lot of fiction in the world that supports this. They talk about witches they’ve burned, and they’re always accusing people. So the Musical Overseer, his whole job is to ferret out people with magic. And so that’s why that musical device is something that stops magic… somehow, it uses a mathematical formula to create music that counters The Outsider’s magic. They do things like, they’ll patrol the street and they’ll be cranking their machine and, there’s a book about this in the world, a woman is walking on the other side of the street and she’s just singing to herself, and this guy’s turning the crank and, as they pass, she stops singing. And so they accuse her of witchcraft because clearly her singing was magical, so they burn her. *Laugh*
Atomic: And he laughs!
Seth: Right. And I think some of these things are based on… we did some research on the Salem Witch Trials and some of it was based on actual witch trials and stuff like that.
Atomic: How many religions have you got in the game, then?
Seth: The Abbey of the Everyman… I don’t know if The Outsider is really like a religion, necessarily, it seems more like a force in the world. Because The Outsider, he’s there, he talks to you, there are other people who are marked by The Outsider and have some magic ability, and there’s a lot of lore in the world about the past and a lot of backstory about how people used to carve these charms and imbue them with The Outsider’s magic.
Atomic: But Corvo has a tattoo on his hand, right? Is that visible?
Seth: Corvo has the tattoo, the mark of The Outsider on his hand.
Atomic: So he’d be pretty easy to spot.
Seth: I don’t know that everyone has their mark visible. I’m not even sure if everyone’s mark is visible. I don’t know how much we’ve developed that concept but, certainly, for a first-person shooter when you’re looking at… when your character has two arms on screen, it really pays off to reinforce that as many ways as you can, and so we have the mark of The Outsider on the hand and it does things like glow when you use your magical power.
Atomic: Especially when he does… I particularly enjoyed the Iron Man landing.
Seth: Yeah, and you can see it glowing when he does that.
Atomic: You seem to have an intricate auto-aim system at play in Dishonored. Can you break down how it works?
Seth: Sure. In the right hand you have the sword and in the left hand you can have any gadget or power that the player has. So for the gadget—the crossbow or the pistol—how do you aim those? You have the sword and you have the weapon in your hand. How does the game detect what the player’s intention is at what they’re aiming? Are they aiming at that guy 20 metres away, or are they aiming at the guy that’s one metre away; and they’re aiming with their sword. And so the game… it’s impossible for the game to know what the player’s doing, because we might say, ‘Oh, yeah, always bias the guy who’s closer. Just triage it.’ But then we’re defeating the player’s intentionality. The player might just be blocking that guy and shooting the other guy who’s on his way. Especially if it’s a Musical Overseer and you want to take out the musical overseer so you can use your powers, right. So you run into a lot of those pitfalls.
So we came up with an auto-aim system that sort of, as intelligently as we could make it, guides itself. I don’t know if you noticed, but when you have things like the crossbow or the gun out, it’s sort of like a floating reticule that kind of goes onto the target that you think it wants. And then you shoot when it gets there. And that’s something that we looked at a lot of third-person games and a lot of their auto-aim systems to figure out how they did it, because third-person games have some of the same challenges for auto-aim. And so we looked at some of those and we decided, ‘Hey, if we take this and change a couple of things about it, this might work for our model, too.’ So we’ve come up with an auto-aim that you probably haven’t seen in a game before, but I think it works. And no-one’s really complained about it.