During a talk at GDC 2013 called "World of Dishonored: Raising Dunwall," the game's art director, Sebastien Mitton, said that visiting locations to study their people, places and things was a key component he used to create the visual design of game's host city, Dunwall.
Narrating a slideshow filled with his inspirations, Mitton showed how Dishonored evolved from its earliest concept stages, when it was set in medieval Japan. The developers then shifted locations to 1660s London because they didn't feel comfortable in their historical knowledge of the Asian setting. They eventually created Dunwall, which was heavily influenced by London and other European cities.
Mitton said that Dishonored contains something of a science fiction gap that combines the steam-powered technology of the 1600s and modern accommodations of the twentieth century like electricity. To set the visual tone for Dunwall, he began by studying artists of the time period, including Jean-Eugène Buland, whose The Gambling Hall is pictured above.
The indispensable element in creating Dishonored's visual style, however, came from visits to the cities like London and Edinburg. Like Dunwall, these cities are a concoction of history and modernity.
"Making trips is not just going into a location and taking photographs of textures and more textures and more textures," he said. "It's to feel the city, feel the life of the city. To be on location, to talk to people."
He showed photographs of the buildings and people of the European cities he visited, and even clockwork museum pieces that inspired the items scattered around Dunwall. Mitton said that his goal was to capture the essence of a city and its people so he could envelop Dunwall with sense of "mysticism," rather than strict photorealism.
"It was very interesting to be [there] and visit," he said. "Also by night, because there are different tones. I'm from Lyon in France. It was instrumental — the lights and street lights react differently. It was so dark in some streets that lights were on by day. These are small notes that you can bring back and put in your game.
"If you don't visit, you don't know."