It wasn’t by design, it was purely by accident.
When Warren Spector asked tester Marc Schaefgen to play through Ultimo VI to check for bugs, he had no idea of knowing Marc would make a discovery that would transform his design mindset, and set his career on a new trajectory. He had no idea. It was by accident. Not design.
On that day Marc transformed into a tiny mouse. He sneaked under a portcullis. He found a loophole, a new way of solving a puzzle Warren Spector had set, inadvertently changing the way he made games forever. But it was an accident.
Yesterday I played Dishonored. I transformed into a fish, and I solved a puzzle. It was purely by design.
Later I also transformed into a mouse, much like Marc Schaefgen did all those years ago — although I suppose it was bit bigger, more like a rat — and I solved another problem. I didn’t change the trajectory of anyone’s life whilst doing so, least of all Warren Spector’s, but in some strange way it felt like a homage to that early moment in Spector’s career — the moment he realised that choice could be a meaningful and powerful game mechanic.
Because, if anything, Dishonored is a testament to choice.
In Dishonored I possessed a fish. I did this so I could swim through a tiny grate and sneak into a party wearing a mask. I did this so I could assassinate Lady Boyle, the woman who was hosting the party. But this was my second playthrough of the mission, the first time was far less spectacular.
The first time I just climbed up a wall, stole someone’s party invitation and, then, voila. I was in.
I suspect that was just one of many ways I could have made it into the party. As I walked past I heard a handful of NPCs mention a balcony — almost certainly that was a cue to get me thinking about a completely different entry point.
And that’s just one simple problem. In Dishonored there are seemingly endless matrices of choice, multiple different ways to approach multiple different problems. Room to breathe, room to think, space to engage meaningfully with an environment.
Once inside the mansion, mingling with the other party goers, it’s easy to become bewildered by that space. As gamers we’re used to blunt direction, we’re used to Sully suggesting to Nathan Drake that he climb that wall; solve a puzzle in this particular way. In Dishonored all you have is chatter, phrases that work as clues; clues that get your brain firing in multiple different directions.
So Dishonored feels different, it feels like a response to the way in which we’re constantly spoon fed our next decision, the way choice is removed from us. Most modern games skip the thought process and go straight to the action, but Dishonored revels in that thought process. In Dishonored you listen, deliberate, and then act.
That’s kinda interesting.
I have no idea how the section of Dishonored I played fits into the game as a whole, but I hope it’s indicative of the pace and feel of the overall experience. I get the impression there will be a real ebb and flow with the pacing — almost like Assassin’s Creed. There’s the investigation, the problem solving, the action, and the escape.
But more than anything, there’s that responsibility of choice, and the feeling that choice means something. It’s not by accident, it’s by design, and that’s perhaps the most intriguing thing about Dishonored.