Interview: Dishonored’s Harvey Smith Reboots the Stealth Genre

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Interview: Dishonored’s Harvey Smith Reboots the Stealth Genre

Dishonored for PS3

Outside of PlayStation’s own announcements, the indisputable big-buzz game of Gamescom 2012 was Dishonored, the upcoming PS3 first-person stealth adventure from Bethesda. With relatively low-key showings in Cologne from many of the other major third party publishers, Dishonored really got its chance to shine last week and it duly dazzled all comers.

Dishonored for PS3Dishonored for PS3

For the uninitiated, the game puts you in the shoes of wronged assassin Corvo Atano who is framed for the murder of an Empress – his former lover. You’ll be sneaking around a dark, atmospheric steampunk world, combining supernatural powers and a range of weaponry to avenge her death and unmask those who’ve conspired against you.

To be clear, when we say stealth we don’t mean the signposted sneaking of, say, recent Splinter Cell titles. The AI here is unforgivingly old school – more redolent of the likes of Thief. And that should come as no surprise – co-creator Harvey Smith worked on that series, as well as the original Deus Ex and BioShock precursor System Shock. We caught up with him back stage at Gamescom to learn more about his latest project.

PlayStation.Blog: What are Dishonored’s core gameplay building blocks?
Harvey Smith, Co-Creative Director, Dishonored: It’s a matter of falling back on values. We generally like the first person perspective – to give you that ‘you are there’ thing. We like RPG upgrade systems. We like analog AI, so enemies are not necessarily aware of you or unaware of you – they’re uncertain. They may have heard you, but they’re not sure, so they go and investigate. Surfing the edge of awareness, basically. We love highly mobile games; we don’t like games where you’re heavy and stuck on the ground and you have big weapons and you can’t get on top of buildings as they’re just props. We really want you to be able to flit up there like a flea.

PSB: The stealth mechanics seem really challenging compared to more recent examples of the genre…
HS: We decided to go with ‘view cone’ based stealth. Enemies have a view cone. Their peripheral vision is weaker and they don’t see as well up high – it’s squashed so you can hide in the rafters. The deal is that if you’re in front of their view cone they see you, no matter what the lighting levels. Even if I turned out the lights right now, I’d still be able to see you, right? So we decided to go with something realistic.

The truth is that we tried all of the models you can think of. We tried the ‘pool of shadow’ model, but modern players would say the AI looks bad if I’m in a shadow and an enemy walks right by me. That looks dumb. They want a more reactive system. And that makes it a little more hardcore. To sneak, you really have to stay behind cover, lean out behind walls. It requires you to really know where an enemy is looking and avoid that range.

PSB: You claim that it’s possible to finish the game without killing a single person. How challenging is that going to be compared to going in guns drawn?
HS: It’s pretty easy to avoid killing a standard guard. You just throw a bottle and when he goes to investigate you sneak by. But it gets much harder for the key targets. For example, there’s a mission where you get sent to kill two brothers who are corrupt members of parliaments. You can go straight ahead and kill them – they’re in a bathhouse – or you can do a side quest for a crime lord. If you do the right things for him he will have them captured, their tongues cut out, their heads shaved and then put to work in their own mines where nobody will know it’s them. It’s poetic justice. It’s dark, but not as dark as killing them. The two approaches are hard in different ways. The game gets very reactive if you just go in guns blazing – it fights back. But, on the other hand, stealth demands patience.

Dishonored for PS3

PSB: Many older gamers will be really excited to hear about a return to these sorts of values, but do you think younger gamers, who’ve never played Thief or the original Deus Ex, will get it?
HS: I have a great deal of faith in those people. When we release a game like this kids sometimes come to us and say ‘this game blew my mind; I didn’t know games could do this; I only played very linear games before’. That’s what we like to hear. I actually have more faith in the 13-year-olds as they’re playing things like Day Z or Dwarf Fortress or Eve Online. They’re hungry for highly interactive, non-dogmatic experiences, I think.

Dishonored creeps onto PS3 October 9th in North America. Look out for more coverage here on the Blog in the coming weeks!

Comments are closed.


  • Woah. I forgot that this game was coming out that soon! Looking forward to it!

  • Definitely excited for this one! Gives me vibes of Bioshock at times! :D

  • While I find the premise intriguing, I’m going to wait a long time on this. I’m a little leery of anything from Bethesda since I’ve played Skyrim on both consoles & the problems have only increased with each patch, even on the X. I realize that Beth is only the publisher here & Jeff said the game ran fine on the PS3 @ Gamescon, but after being continually burned by Beth, I’m going to be more cautious.

  • If you played Deus Ex and BioShock and like them well this is the game if they had a kid.
    When i first seen game preview, i was in shock. The game looks like no other and the game play will set a new high if done right. The videos of this game dosent do it justice, but they get the blood going on and off screen. This game may hit all time must get list. Look up web v’s you will see what i mean. Cant wait!
    Thanks Fred, keep us posted on this game.

  • The game seems like it has promise, but it is being published by Bethesda and their publishing record is very very poor. I’ll wait for reviews. I also wish it wasn’t in first person.

  • My second most anticipated game this year behind XCOM. However, I’ll be getting them on PC, not PS3, sorry. :(

    Though when Dishonored comes down in price I might double-dip on PS3. We’ll see. :p

  • While the game looks cool, I will be waiting for sure on this one only because Bethesda is the developer. They’ve got a pretty poor track record at this point.

    Fallout 3 (Glitchy)
    Fallout New Vegas (MORE Glitchy)
    Brink (Piss Poor)
    Skyrim (…..fallout without guns..and glitchy)

    So yeah… Bethesda, your games are worth bargain bin $5 to me now. Good work giving yourself a reputation for being lazy.

  • As a rabid fan of the Thief and BioShock series, Dishonored looks like GOTY 2012 to me. And from what I’ve gathered from some of the devs here at Arkane in Austin, they tend to agree. October 9th can’t come soon enough.

  • .I really looking forward for this game, but the fact that Bethesda is publishing It makes me worry about how unpolished the game will be.

  • wow 7 you must have bad luck then.

    Fallout 3 (one bug, oh no reload save file)
    Fallout New Vegas (one bug, oh no reload one save file again)
    Brink (amazing but younger generation pisses on new things)
    Skyrim (yea, really glitchy ;^)

  • @7 It’s not made by Bethesda….it’s published by Bethesda.

  • Looks like my type of game except for the whole Bethesda thing. Everyone who has taken a trip to their forums or had one of their other games glitch out, will probably wait to buy this.

  • And yes I understand Bethesda is only the publisher, unfortunately withholding my money seems like the only way to get through to them.

  • I’m with Skrawny. The only reason Bethesda gets away with publishing such sloppy unfinished games is because people buy them, and the gaming media that reviews them only plays them for a few hours and doesn’t see all the problems that accrue as the save files grow.

    I’m very excited by this game’s potential, and it’s definitely on my wish list, but I’ll wait until I hear actual customer reviews before getting it.

  • I’m wary of anything that comes from Bethesda. Looks interesting though.

  • The reveal trailer looked very interesting, but when they showed gameplay, I was disappointed, to say the least, at how much design was ripped straight from Bioshock, from the character design to the combat, straight down to the gold highlight around items of interest. That was a big turn off, and I love Bioshock. I just don’t want to pay for the same game. I’ll have to see more gameplay and know that it runs well before I do anything.

  • so, when Atano dies, does someone come on the com-link and say “Snake?….Snake…!?!…. Snnnnnaaaaaakkkkkkkkeeeeeee?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!”

  • Im one of the few who has no problem with Skyrim. I didin’t have any problem since i bought it last november. I still installed all of the patches and have a 200 hour gamesave. I will definitly buy this game, it looks very very good and very, very fun!

  • This game looks so awesome. Wasn’t really interested until I saw it on GTTV… now it’s one of my most anticipated games for the remainder of 2012. Looks really original, like Bioshock was.

  • i don’t support Bethesda anymore!!!

  • glitchthesda usually gimps the ps3 version. I’ll pass.

  • well… open world games are bound to be more glitchy than other games, thats a given cause it impossible to test everything you can do in them by themselves.

    so the more people buy the game, the better its going to be.

  • Don’t care if Bethesda published/developed/coded/drew/printed/molested/or wrote this game. It looks pretty damn sweet. It would be pretty funny to see a multiplayer using the same battle system. That would just be a clusterf*** of people teleporting and possessing people and rodents.


    I had this game pre-ordered before the whole Dawnguard fiasco.But like so many of Bethesda’s other games being screwed over for PS3 users and us PS3 getting very disrespected, Im done with Bethesda. I swapped my Dishonored pre-order for Playstation All-stars Battle Royale. I also because of so many awsome games coming in 2013, traded all my games with Bethesda anywhere on them to Gamestop and put pre-orders in for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, Crysis 3, GTA 5, and Bioshock Infinite.
    So I no longer own Elder Scrolls IV:Oblivion, Fallout 3 GOTY, Fallout:New Vegas, Rage, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, or any other Bethesda game. Money better spent for other game companies. This is what you deserve Bethesda!!!! You screw over players, kick them while their down and play favorites ,we players screw you back and disown you!!!! I.E. talk about irony we PS3 owners have been “Dishonored”.

    P.S. I’m surprised Anonymous hasn’t done anything about this yet. It’s clearly hit a fever pitch about Bethesda screwing PS3 owners for the last time.

  • I never had a problem with Skyrim….

  • Oct, I forgot it was coming out this soon. With everything else set for 2013, I assumed this was too.

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