In a world where multiplayer is viewed as the only way to make serious money off video games, Dishonored seems a strange exception. So when talking to Dishonored director Harvey Smith during a phone interview last week, I had to ask: did he ever feel pressured to add multiplayer?
“I’ve been at a lot of publishers,” Smith said. “I’ve worked in games for 18 years. I’ve worked independently at times; I’ve worked in big teams, small teams. And I can honestly tell you, no smoke, that this is the smartest group of executives I’ve ever worked with.”
He’s talking about Bethesda, the publisher that financed and helped put out Dishonored. And he attributes part of Bethesda’s success to the way that they work with creative designers like Skyrim auteur Todd Howard.
“If you look at the success of Fallout and Skyrim and games like that, this is a group of people who have just sort of grown up in the industry trusting creative talent,” Smith said. “And it was such a good fit for [Dishonored developer] Arkane, we still are pinching ourselves. And so when we walked into meetings with all these guys… and we started talking about Dishonored, you know, it was very strange. Like it’s clearly outside their comfort zone at times. And so it’s a first-person action game with RPG elements and a stealth system. We talked at length about why view cones and simulation were important to us. We started making this art style that everybody was like, ‘Wow what is this?'”
“It was very nerdy and very weird and very novel I guess,” he said. “And at every step along the way those guys have supported us… This is as close as you’ll get to me saying that I have not had that experience with other publishers I’ve worked with, who forced us to bolt on multiplayer, or who said inane things like ‘First-person perspective doesn’t tell!’ or ‘RPGs don’t sell!’ I can tell you from the inside, 18 years, that this is a crazy, crazy business.
“Long story short: No one ever pressured us to do that. We told them that this was an aggressively single-player game, and they said alright, we moved forward, and that was it.”
OK, but did Smith himself ever think multiplayer could be an interesting addition to a game like Dishonored?
“I never — [co-designer Raphael Colantonio] and I, once in a while we’d start meetings with the team by saying ‘Well, guys, we have an announcement: we’re going third-person and we’re gonna add multiplayer!'” he said.
“We could probably envision the kind of game that would be fun to do co-op or whatever, but frankly, we are driven mostly by what we’d like to play… We’re going after a specific experience that we think we a hard sell 20 years ago, but moving forward, people are hungry for depth. And adding multiplayer to that might harm that in some way, I dunno. Our goals all along were singleplayer.”