* Dishonored Preview - PC Gamer Magazine:
* More details of Dishonored - Character, Gameplay, Story, Place and Possible Spoilers.
- If you're looking for a reason to start getting excited about Arkane Studios' new game, try the talent behind it. Harvey Smith was lead designer on the original Deus Ex. Art Director Viktor Antonow designed City 17 for Half-Life 2. Raphael Colantonio, Arkane's founder and president oversaw Dark Messiah of Might & Magic, a game that broke new ground in intimate first-person swordplay in 2006.
- This first-person action-RPG combine everything they've learned in the last 12 years. Building on Dark Messiah's combat, it offers even more intricate interactions between swords, guns, magic and stealth. And it takes place in an outstandingly original world.
- It's a world difficult to write about sounding like a press release, but these words must be said once: unique, beautiful, stylized. "It's a retro-future industrial world," offers Colantonio. He adds "it's not se in LA, or New York", in a tone of voice that quietly, wearily acknowledges, America's ubiquity as a setting. Dishonored's location is inspired by historical Europe.
- The early concept art in particular, show a town that's plainly London. But since those early pencil sketches, the world has been processed and reimagined, with influences from geography and history woven into its fabric. It's a world that's been distorted, flexed and infused: drained of surplus detail and colorized with a palette as subtle as it is compelling. It's a distinctly new world.
- You play the bodyguard of the Empress. Colantonio describes him, confusingly a both a bodyguard and a "supernatural assassin." But then a gain what is an assassin, if not a kind of highly proactive bodyguard? You've been wrongly accused of murder, and your game will be occupied with putting things back to their rightful place-or just getting your revenge.
- Dishonored is a daisy bed of possibility, in which the player's creativity is encouraged to roll around. "We could talk about any aspect of the game for hours, but encouraging player creativity is the most important thing," say Smith, who co-created Dishonored with Colantonio.
- "In most games, the player can do one thing, but that never spills over into his other abilities." To give an example: many games let you shoot guns, and just as many let you throw grenades, but it's a rare game that lets you throw a grenade and then shoot it out of the air."We've gone in the other direction" Smith say. "We offer the player powers and system that interact. Sometimes sloppily, in ways that we can't predict," he adds, in a tone that's not apologetic.
- The Kingdom has its own problems. Rats, emboldened by the plague roam in packs. These are rats capable of leaping onto men and tearing them apart before they hit the ground. Thugs take advantage of the chaos, looting buildings and attacking people. The guards that roam the city aren't able to keep the peace, even though they alone are able to pass freely through the rat-and-human-frying Walls of Light.
- Electricity is a sticking point of steampunk world, where clockwork and supernatural forces normally dominate. But Colantonio and Smith have come up with a pleasingly off-key energy source: the rich, waxy oil of whales has recently been hardnessed, kickstarting an industrial revolution. Jars of orcine blubber provide these forcefields with their energy. Knock out the jar, and they'll fail, but that leaves the rats free to roam a new area of the city.
- The rats are one of those interactive system Smith mentioned. Prowling the city according to their own set of rules, they'll avoid large groups of people, but if they see a lone figure, they'll attack. Rats are tied into another system: the level of Chaos prevalent in the kingdom." The way you handle yourself and accomplish your missions affect the entire kingdom", explains Smith. The more you disturb thing, the more Chaos you're contributing to the world. "We decided early on not to make it good versus evil. Since you're an assassin, we have Chaos on a scale that reflects that profession. You be tight and efficient, or a sloppy bull in a china shop".
- So, if you stealth your way through a level, leaving guards unmolested with heads attached, you'll cause no Chaos. Barge in like a big Stabby Susan, killing everyone you see and you'll generate plenty. With more Chaos in the kingdom, the value of life is cheapened. Out of fear and self interest, NPC's will make less generous decisions. The story will branch in more dystopian directions, with betrayals increasingly common. And there'll be more rats.
- The first demo I'm shown takes places in gray-walled room, textureless test chamber used by Arkane to try out all the combinations of player powers and enemy types. It's not designed for public consumption, but it gives and idea of Dishonored's most important network of system your assassin's abilities.
- Arkane's last solo-developed game (that made it to the shelves) was 2006's Dark Messiah. There's a reason that sentence was so clumsily loaded with qualifiers: the Arkane team worked with 2k Marin on Bioshock 2 since, and they've worked with Valve on The Crossing, a game that blended single player and multiplayer in it's early rounds of publicity. That project's currently "on hold", but when new employees join the company, they often organize a session.
- Dishonored's combat looks, at first glance, much like Dark Messiah's. There's the same tight melee, with a daggers being used to block as well as slice, and counter moves tearing open jugulars and in particularly effective cases, liberating the entire head from the shackles of its body. This was exactly what Dark Messiah got right. The "overlapping system" in Messiah involve causing fires, kicking people into spiked beds, pushing them along patches of ice you create, with your magic.
- To say Dishonored's system are more sophisticated although they cover the same mix of physical violence and magic is to grossly understate the fact. In his supernatural arsenal, your character has the power to possess people. It's slightly different kind of possession that most, though: your body physically enters that your victim. This means it's not just great for getting to places you might no be able to reach using the authority of your host, but also a useful way to teleport.
- You're not entirely safe to start a fight with your puppet, though if he dies you die. This is also true of possessing a rat. While there are passages through some areas open only to rats, remember that they're plague carriers get too close to a human, and that human will try to stamp on you. (if you're wondering how an assassin fits inside a rat, you should probably worry about possession first).
- You can also possess fish. Why? I'm expecting a practical answer. Maybe there'll be a fish on mark's bedside table, and you can pour your body into its gills. Maybe they're convenient hiding places while a guard passes. Or maybe the steampunk Thames supports marine life, and they're a fast travel option. Colantonio's answer is less pratical, but surprisingly, more satisfying. "We've created the system.
*We decided early on not to make it good verus evil:*
- If you can possess humans and rats, people would be angry if you can't possess fish". Fair enough. While entering the body of a fish might seems pointless you can't give people crazy toys and tell them to play sensibly. I'm secretly convinced this power will be useful in some way even if tit's a way that Arkane hasn't foreseen yet. That's pretty much Smith's point when he says that Dishonored isn't an "insulated" game. For example, two more powers are ability to double-jump and Blink a line of sight teleportation ability that'll be familiar to Warcraft mages and StaCraft Protoss players ( and X-men's Nightcrawler, for that matter).
- It lets you set down a marker and quickly teleport to that location. The double-jump ability, meanwhile, lets you get a line of sight on some locations that Arkane didn't originally mean for you to get to. Up in the chandelier, for example, where our man with the demo controller has unexpectedly taken us. "I've never seen anyone go up there before, says Colantonio. That might be a practiced bit of improvisation, but other uses are more impressive. Another of your Magical abilities is to bend time. This doesn't just let you slip through a room unnoticed you can pop into the room with time frozen, fire off three crossbow bolts, and as they leave your influence, they'll stop in mid-air. Return to cover, let time resume, and your bolts will find their trades simultaneously. Better still, you can combine time-bending with possession.
- Freeze time as a guard shoots, and his bullet will stop in mid-air. Possess him, and you can reposition him into the path of his own bullet. What's the benefit, apart from a likely Assisted Suicide achievement ? Well, you get to give yourself a pat on the back for being so clever. Finally, our demo-man shows off a trick that combines four powers. He summons a pack of rats, freezes time, place a proximity-triggered razor wire trap on a rat's back, then possess the rat. They presto! Your own remote controlled land mine. Combos like this are something that can only have come out in playtesting. It's difficult to know how free and easy you'll be with your magical powers in the game, however.
- It's controlled by "Spiritual Energy" that's replenished with a blue potion, while we're working with infinite supplies for the purposes of the demo. Raphael takes me on a short mission in the slick, colorized world. Low on fussy detail, but extremely high in personality, the gray skies and the brown brickwork are the dominant colors, but there's a subtle and compelling network of purples and oranges, and the blue of the new technology that's arrives since the whale-oil revolution. Our goal is to get hold of some information on a lawyer, Arnold Timsh. The information can be found in the Bitterleaf Alms House - which is locked. Fortunately, we're a supernatura assassin who laughs at locks.
- Overhearing a conversation in the street, it's seems we're not the first to try to get in: a man with a big ideas and bigger mouth had a key, but got himself killed on the roof of nearby building. They key is still there. I didn't get to play it myself, but the way the assassin moves appears to more like first-person platforming with a strong physical sense of your cahracters's body. It's Colantonio who hauls the assassin onto a balcony, leading to a room containing one of the game's collectibles Bone Charms.
- You can have a limited number active at any time, and each has a different perk: more benefit from potions stronger abilities, etcetera. They're distributed randomly, so every player will have a slightly different game depending on which charms they find, and when. We get into the Beitterleaf Alms House nor by retrieving the key, but by possessing a guard who's already inside the building. When the assassin leaps out of his body, the effects of on the temporary host are seen: he bends over, cramped and vomiting, making him an easy target for kill. Colantonio reassures me that it'll be possible to complete the game without killing anyone, although he admits that it would be "a pretty hard-core playthrough".
- We find a safe, and discover that Timsh has been falsely certifying people as plague sufferers so that they forfeit their property to the state. Like the whale oil, which has its root in its real-world use as lamp fuel, this resonates. After all, in some countries witches by people seeking to acquire their property. As much as its looks the parallels to reality make the stories of Dishonored's world easy to by into. It's not just the story and society in the world that have been crafted to he believable: an immense amount of research and care has gone into the architecture. Viktor Antonov left Valve after directing the creation of Half-Life 2's City 17. I got a call from Arkane, "Antonov explains, and they needed me to create a world quickly, with zero fiction.
- I know what Arkane's strengths are I worked with them on The Crossing and we had to present something to Bethseda every quickly. There is no legacy here, this is not a sequel. It was scary, but a real opportunity to be creative. Decisions had to be made about accessibility and originality, and crazy mystical stuff. Antonov is co-directing the art with Sebastian Mitton. "It is based on the plague in London." says Mitton, "but we are not being historical. We want to avoid the cliches."
*Best of British:*
- I'm shown the first round of concept art sketches I mentioned earlier."London is too quickly associated with steampunk and Jack the Ripper, so we wanted to get a different aspect." What followed were research trips, photographs, and distillation of what makes up British architecture." The renaissance in England didn't come through France," says Antonov. It was a weird renaissance that went through Italy, Austria, and Germany."
- He describes this as "really nerdy stuff" in one breath, but in the very next sentence he's saying "we had a lot of fun with a lot of architectural work, finding out which bricks were British." There's no need to apologize for that kind of nerdiness, the benefits we're getting from that research and expertise is apparent in every screenshot. In making the world unique, liberties have been taken.
- The walls of the Tower of Londong have been redesigned to fit the more claustrophobic authoritarian Kingdom. Road barriers are a forbidding black with aggressive teeth, reminiscent of occupied countries in World War II. "Tall Boy" guards stride around on nine-foot-high mechanical stilts to keep them safe from rat swarms, while other, spider-like structures hold guards high on their spindly supports.
- If inordinate care has been take over the architecture, then there's just as much love poured into the character design. The guards and the thugs share a uniformed feel in their period garb, but because I'm mainly shown combat I don't get to see the characters whose portraits line the wall of the room I'm in. The Aristocrats look impreious but besieged. The lower classes look weather-beaten and resolute.
- Like everything in the world, detail levels are kept stylistically low but every line carries meaning. One character I see being designed is labeled "Granny Rags". Her role in the game isn't exaplained. Arkane isn't ready for that yet. A female artist is putting the finishing touches on her 3D model. She's taken a month to create, and she's once of the most compelling characters I've ever seen.
- Part brutal nursemaid, part Nosferatu, her bouffant has seen some savage backcombing, and the blood that's made it to the surface of her lips look is like it had a hard time getting there. She's a defiant, proud, and it says something about the personality of a model when a dozen hateful conversations with here spring instantly to mind.
For all the talent at Arkane, this is the first time the team hast build their own world from the ground up. Bioshock 2
had the strong stylings of Rapture
to confrom to. Dark Messiah
had the Might & Magic
universe. Even Arx Fatalis
, while technically original, was conceived as an Ultima
game. Dishonored looks genuinely novel, fresh and oustanding, and if the system of the Kingdom, the combat, the factions and the Chaos all mesh together with the story, characters and architecture, this could be amazing.I apologize for a any word written incorrectly or missed