Harvey Smith ponders Dishonored 3
During our interview with Arkane Studios’ Harvey Smith, he revealed his initial hesitance to return to Dishonored and his thoughts on Dishonored 3.
Harvey Smith, co-creative director of Arkane Studios, is one of my favourite people in the industry to interview. With so many runs on the board through his 22-year career – most notably via the likes of System Shock, Deus Ex and Dishonored – he doesn’t tend to weave and duck out of questions. His answers feel honest and he clearly enjoys exploring the meaning of his work, the philosophy of play and the relationships players have with his games.
I recently had the chance to chat in-depth with Smith about his next game, Dishonored 2, which is out on PS4, Xbox One and PC on 11 November. It’s looking great, but it could be the last we see of the franchise in the foreseeable future. As with all his answers, when I asked Smith about the likelihood of the studio returning to the Empire of the Isles for a Dishonored 3, the response was honest.
So do you feel when you come out of this experience it will be time for a break from Dishonored?
I don’t know. I don’t make plans that far in advance. The situation just ahead changes so much, it’s very hard to plan as you end up disappointing yourself or even surprising yourself. After the end of the first game I was really sick of working on Dishonored, but then I had this spark of an idea about Emily and it all lit up for me. So I don't know what is going to happen; I really don’t know how I am going to feel. By the end of Dishonored 2 I will have worked on the two games for almost eight years, which is a long time.
What was the spark about Emily that lit it all up for you?
It’s funny as people assume we have some sort of overarching plan [for the Dishonored series], but the truth is, we didn’t know what was going to resonate with players. Our temptation was just to pick-up where you left off, and Corvo was going to go on a new adventure. But the haunting thought we had was, what if we advanced 15-years and the little girl Emily had grown up. Then we imagined leaving Dunwall and going to another place, because it offered a pretty narrow view on the world based on England or Edinburgh in this alternate reality.So we started tossing around locations and our art director, Sébastien Mitton, really wanted to explore the south – a place that, in our world, is based on Italy or Spain, or even architecturally Cuba. So we redirected to the area he was interesting in and exploring it as a concept, because in the first game we had just sketched it out. But it all started with us thinking about Emily.
I do get the impression that Dishonored 2 is more a story about Emily than it is about Corvo?
That’s fair to say. If you look at the two games, [focusing on Emily] kind of completes the circle. This man Corvo came from a different country; he is a foreigner who got accepted into the family. His job was to protect the woman he loves, but he had to watch her die. So he must raise their daughter, who grows up and becomes the ruler. And we can now explore how this event affected both of them. So it really is this deep dive into the impact of this one political assassination – well as deep as a video game can go; it’s not Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or anything.
During development we became more excited, too, because Emily was new. And she was your moral reflectivity in the first game: we found a lot of people changed the way they played when they saw her dark disturbing drawings about her daddy killing everyone. So it’s interesting having her and her new powers. But then we also started to think about Corvo aging and the impact on him of losing the woman he loves and trying to protect his daughter. Of wondering how long he can keep doing it. And also going home, because Karnaca is where he is from. With all this, Corvo started to become more interesting, too.
We then thought about the idea of putting a voice to both of them. So we decided to use that to help provide clues about the world, and to react to low chaos and high chaos, offer branching dialogue on what they have done in the past and so forth. We cast Erica Luttrell as Emily and she just knocked it out of the park, but with Corvo, Raf [Collantino, co-creative director] and I started talking about Stephen Russell as Corvo. He just brings a gravity to the part where it seems like he is a man who has seen too much – so we kind of fell in love with Corvo all over again. [Having the two characters] is basically us trying to have our cake and eat it, too.
There’s a nice connection there, too, bringing the worlds of Thief and Dishonored together through Stephen Russell, who voiced Garrett.
Dishonored 3 is definitely no certainty. Raf Collantino has already moved off the Dishonored franchise. In fact, he has moved out of the Lyon studio altogether and is working on the new Prey game from a new studio based in the USA. Smith is clearly showing signs of tiring of the series and it would appear that even Dishonored 2 was lucky to get made. Let’s not forget that Smith was happy to walk away from the Deus Ex series after just two games; a series that had an even greater reception than Dishonored. If this new game sells well, which I suspect is likely, perhaps there will be some pressure from Bethesda to continue the series in the future. But even if it does happens, it’s 50-50 as to whether Smith would be involved.