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Dishonored is a story built on morality, chaos and whales

Not your average steampunk setting


The upcoming Arkane Studios title Dishonored is detailed by lead designer Ricardo Bare.

Dishonored is the story of morality's greyer shades, of freedom of choice - and of whales, according to the game's lead designer Ricardo Bare. Arkane Studios, the development team behind the upcoming steampunk-like saga of protagonist Corvo Atano, built a city from the ground up featuring its own lore, history, plagues, religion, and spin on the industrial revolution. Their Dunwall has gone through a revolution in technology. It's a coastal town whose entire technological infrastructure and economy is based on a whaling industry in which huge ships go out to sea to capture the animals, kill them, and harvest their oil to power technology throughout the city.

This is just one aspect of the world which the team developed to provide the background of their latest title.

"We've kind of built a religion from the ground up," says Bare of the additional background information that forms the setting of the game. "One of the factions in the city is called the Overseers, and they have a pretty significant role to play.

"There's a very mysterious figure in the game called the Outsider, and it touches a little bit on the religion of the game. The overseer is not very fond of this guy, but he's this very mysterious... it's not quiet clear whether he's benevolent or whether he's evil. But he's definitely interested in the player character."

Bare clarifies that it's not directly based on the steampunk style we've previously seen in other media. Dunwall is based largely on London of the 1600s, despite featuring the combined forces of the supernatural, high-tech technology and a dusty steam-strewn city.

"We started with our art directors and our designers," he says, "we started by doing a lot of historical research on places like London, and things that happened around that area, like the 1600s, the 1700s, and we were really into this industrial sort of revolution type stuff the further along in time you went. And then we started adding all this alternate technology because it was our own world, and so what we have is the city of Dunwall, a completely invented place and it's sort of steampunkish."

Dishonored is, however, influenced by the likes of Thief, Deus Ex and Half-Life. The game's development team includes a number of veteran designers who worked on these games, from Harvey Smith to Victor Antonov who were crucial in the development of Thief: Deadly Shadows and Half-Life 2, respectively.

The result is a game that shares the DNA of these choice-driven, stealth-oriented, and atmospheric titles. And the result, according to Bare, is a game in which each time a user goes on a mission, the way they solve that mission is entirely up to them.

"So you can go into the mission and decide that you're just going to tear it up. You're going to destroy everyone in your path and play like a butcher, and if you do that you're kind of committing yourself to a darker ending at the end of the game. But you could also decide to go into the game very stealthy, very careful, very meticulous.You can explore, find out things about the city, the history, you can do side quests that will help you with the main quest, and player who does that kind of thing will be committing to a different sort of ending at the end of the game. And they'll have a completely different experience."

The possible endings range from "very dark" to "less dark" depending on play style, alongside mid-game consequences based on the way the user accomplished missions. The player can choose not to kill main targets, for instance, but this is more difficult to manage successfully.

"The players who do that will really have to explore and do some side quests, and it's a really cool way to get rid of your targets because instead of just a straight up brutal assassination, it's a little bit more finessed and it kind of has some poetic justice built into it."

Built into the title is a morality system that gauges the user's moral and immoral actions. Arkane was conscious of the tendency for games to simply provide a black and white binary, offering users a simplistic distinction between good and evil actions. Instead, they plan to create more subtle possibilities in the game which each offer short- and long-term consequences.

"If a player just walks into an area and starts killing indiscriminately - kills innocent people that are not really necessary to complete the quest - the game keeps track of that kind of stuff, and it starts to destabilize the city and leads to a darker ending. So there's some short-term consequences, like because you killed a bunch of city guards now there's more rats in the streets. But the really important part is the long-range consequences. The fate of some of the characters and the way the city ends up is going to depend on how you handle the problems in the game.

"We decided to stay away from sort of a good and evil, binary black and white system. It's more about stability and chaos. Are you going to leave this society more destabilized, more in the throes of chaos, or are you going to do just what needs to be done to get the job done, and leave the city in a better place?"

Dishonored is scheduled to release October 9 in North America on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

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