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AusGamers Dishonored Developer Interview with Executive Producer Julien Roby
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 12:34pm 21/09/12 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with Arkane Studios Executive Producer, Julien Roby, to discuss all things Dishonored in likely our last developer interview for the game before its release. Read on for what he had to say...

AusGamers: Julien, you guys have been earning critical accolades wherever the game is shown, however, many are still wondering if you can pull it all off, all the way through. Can you talk about the team’s approach to level and mission design based on systems exploitation, especially in the wake of having so many unique uses and combinations of said systems being discovered as you push through development?

Julien Roby: As you said, we’ve been really pleased with how well the game has been welcome so far (Official Game of Show at GamesCom!!) and yes, I can understand people may have some reserve on the final game given that we are definitely trying to push the game very far in terms of player choices and the various ways you can play it. This is definitely a very hard goal to reach, but we knew that from day one – this was the kind of game we wanted to make. So we forged all our production around that. We’ve worked super hard to make sure each of the game missions will deliver the same kind of depth and options people have seen from the hands-on sessions so far.

It’s been more than three years at developing game systems that work as a true simulation (as opposed to pre-defined scripted events) to make sure the game can almost “live” on its own and let players experiment as much as they want. Every single decision we’ve made on the project was based around some simple but big ideas: “Say Yes to the Player” and “Let the Player express His Creativity and Playstyle”.

We’ve spent ton of time on playtesting the game with external people to make sure the game [is] working fine and [is] well balanced around those goals. At this point, we’re very happy with how things are shaping up for the final version of the game. We really hope players around the world are going to like it.

AusGamers: From the outset, the team has been very conscious of pointing out that this isn’t an open-world sandbox title, but rather a mission-by-mission, level-by-level progression with a toy box of abilities – how have you handled pacing and story progression with this in mind, and how dynamic is the game and its characters based on each person’s individual approach to the game’s systems?

Julien: We really wanted to have a super detailed and hand-crafted experience in each of the missions, so you play through environments that look like people lived in them, with some sort of history. You’ll encounter guards that have believable conversations and are not just waiting here to be killed by the player, etc. So we spent a lot of time trying to balance and implement how [many] things you would find in each missions and tried to put that in “layers” so that whoever wants to play the game straight-forward, can do that -- running from main objectives to objectives. But whoever wants to dig deeper into the world’s story and such can spend a lot of time going off the main path, explore the streets, abandoned buildings -- inside the current mission -- to find books, notes, loot and even eavesdrop on conversations [to] feel immersed in a believable world. And on top of that we had to add subtle variations here and there to support consequences to your actions.

AusGamers: If players were to follow the game’s tutorial advice and walk the main path through each mission, without exploring everything else on offer, or experimenting with Corvo’s myriad tools, how quickly could someone play through the game? And with that, and the above question of level-by-level progression, in mind, have you guys thought about designing each area and mission for old-school speed runs and the like? (An odd question, I know, but the game seems somewhat fitting for that type of approach based on what I’ve seen).

Julien: Based on the stats we got from the playtests we ran, the average time playing the game under the conditions you mentioned is 15 hours. And yes, once you know the game and the locations and become expert at using the different powers and gadgets, there are definitely ways to shortcut missions to make you feel even more badass!

AusGamers: Moral choices have come up throughout the team’s tour of duty for the game, but little is known how these will actually work and affect the game. Is it simply a binary system like the one seen in the first BioShock, or are we looking at something a bit deeper – what sort of rewards can players expect based on whether they play to preserve life, or diminish it?

Julien: Basically we track down how much chaos you create throughout your missions (ie how many people you’re killing) and based on that we branch dialogues, change how many rats are to be found in the streets, populate areas with civilians or plague victims, add more or less security devices such as Walls of Light to some areas etc. So it’s a lot of subtle touches here and there, but more importantly it also fully changes the game’s ending. So this is really based on your full game path and not just based on a single choice/switch at the very end of the game.

On top of tracking chaos under the hood, there are also tons of mini consequences based on some of your more minor actions you can take during your game. For instance, steal the cider bottle on the table while Sokolov is painting Campbell at the beginning of the game, and the bottle will disappear from the finished painting later in the game. This kind of thing, where it really feels like the game world acknowledges your action, even if there’s no gameplay implication, but just to make sure the world feels like like.

AusGamers: You have an incredible art style throughout the game, with some of the best art-direction in the biz, as well as a massively realised world created as a contextual backdrop for Corvo’s adventure (to put it mildly), but it would seem like a missed opportunity to not delve further into what Dunwall and the greater world of The Isles and the Pandyssian Continent have to offer. Is Arkane, or Bethesda (or both), looking into transmedia for the Dishonored IP at all? Obviously you’re just focusing on getting the game out, but on the presumption it’s a success, is this something you’d like to explore/pursue?

Julien: There’s nothing more than the game I can tell you about at the moment, but as you said we created a world that is larger than the game itself. This was made to make sure things seem believable and consistent, like a real world where we have zoomed in for the game. So basically we have tons of story, locations and characters that would be awesome to explore in one way or another in the future – that is for sure!

AusGamers: Obviously a large part of this game is its gameplay systems – specifically Corvo’s abilities, can you talk at all about any abilities you toyed with that just didn’t fit into the game? Perhaps something was too powerful or hindered the player rather than helped?

Julien: The one I can think of on top of my head was something we called “Rage Scorpion”. It was something that was supposed to turn guards against each other. Pretty interesting concept in terms of gameplay options. But at some point we had to make sure we didn’t go crazy with tons of feature as we would rather ship a game in good shape with one less gadget than a game with tons of gadgets that would be roughly finished. Obviously we chose to go with something more polished and stable.

AusGamers: You have six active powers as part of Corvo’s arsenal – was there any reason behind only six? It seems like, on PC at least, you’d be able to bind every power to a key with Mana being the only barrier to use – was it the limited console controller that reined that number in a bit?

Julien: Not really as we have a selection “wheel” for the powers that could hold more than six of them, even on consoles. The call here was more of a qualitative call. As I said before, it was more about “do we want to have 12 rough powers that are not fun to use, or six of them perfectly executed with lot of depth?” Also if you look at the powers that we have, the depth of their systems make it so that they are very versatile powers and can really be used in really different ways to support both extremes of a stealth playstyle and a full-on action playstyle – making them more than just six powers. There’s definitely a lot you can get out of each of them: use devouring swarm to spawn rats and attack your enemies, or possess one of the rats you spawned to go through a tiny vent. Use Bend Time to take advantage of guards in combat by firing multiple arrows at them while time is stopped -- or use it to sneak through an area unseen as the guards’ vision is frozen in time...

AusGamers: Being a part of the Bethesda family, have any of you had a chance to play around with Carmack’s Oculus Rift prototype? Is it something you could see Dishonored supporting? And if so, how would the team adjust the game’s HUD to suit?

Julien: Some of our guys tried it – and loved it – [it] would probably be something cool to explore but we don’t have any plan related to that at the moment.

AusGamers: Finally, when I last spoke with Harvey at E3, I asked about the potential for mod support, and he said he’d love to be able to do it, it just wasn’t officially on the cards at the moment. Is this an active discussion among the team? It seems like a game perfectly suited to the mod community – even a level editor on consoles would work a treat…

Julien: Sorry, nothing I can add to this for now.
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