Following the release of Prey - Arkane Studios’ System Shock-inspired sci-fi RPG - Arkane’s founder, Raphael Colantonio, announced that he was leaving the company. Dishonored 2’s co-creative director, Harvey Smith, also moved from the Dishonored studio at Lyon and travelled back to the US to oversee the Austin branch. At this point, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider was around halfway into development, but Smith was forced to take a more hands-off approach for the second half.
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“It’s a shock, because Raph and I have been working side-by-side for nine years,” Smith tells us. “For Dishonored 1 we were in this weird role where we collaborated very tightly. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also gratifying - and I learned a lot. We were already friends, but I got to know him much better. Then we said ‘let’s do separate projects - you grow the Austin studio and I’ll go at my own [project]’. Before you know it, four years went by.
“Then, just as I move back, he’s announcing that he’s leaving. Going forward, I’ll focus more and more on the Austin studio and what we’re going to do there. Death of the Outsider is my wrapping up with the guys in Lyon - the first half of that we planned together while I was living there, but the second half was worked on while I was living in Austin. I’ve been communicating with them through video conferences and stuff, so they carry a lot of the load of the second half of it. Kudos to those guys.”
Colantonio is currently still around in a consultancy role, helping with the transition. The presidential, operational responsibilities are all completely new to Smith, so he’s happy to have the founder still around as an advisor. Colantonio’s continued presence also helps the Lyon studio adapt to the changes. Still, it must be strange for Smith to step away from Dishonored a bit - the series that’s dominated his life for all these years. Saying that, Dishonored was never only Smith’s baby.
“Look at what Raph did, and what Sebastien Mitton did, and you’ve gotta look at what Ricardo Bare did,” Smith says. “Then, for Dishonored 2, we had Sachka Duval, our narrative designer, she just kicked ass - she did so well. And by the time we hit Death of the Outsider, she and Christophe Carrier, the level design director, and Dinga Bakaba are all credited with ‘additional creative direction’, because on Death of the Outsider we were leaning on them so heavily while they’re in Lyon.”
Smith sees his personal Dishonored journey as an eight-year arc, all of it beginning with the murder of the Empress in the first game. On that fateful day, all the major players were there: Corvo, Daud, Emily, and even Billie Lurk, the star of the upcoming expansion. “This is really the last piece of that big story, with Daud and Billie being the central part of it,” Smith says. “For me - and I think for Sachka, and even for people who didn’t work on Dishonored 2, who feel some pride in the thing, like Ricardo and Raph - it’s a big, meaningful moment. Death of the Outsider was the ideal way to end this part of the arc. It’s all hinged on this one political assassination.”
Like the major players in Dishonored, the pieces have shifted on the development team since that day, too. Just as players get to experience Dishonored through a brand-new protagonist in Billie Lurk, the writing team was refreshed for the Death of the Outsider. For the first game, it was Harvey Smith, Ricardo Bare, Austin Grossman, and Looking Glass’ Terri Brosius - who wrote over half the lines for the talking heart, one of the fan favourite components of Dishonored. “Then for Dishonored 2, we hired Sachka, and if it’s true to say that Dinga was my right-hand man on the project, Sachka was left-hand woman,” Smith explains. “By the time we get to Death of the Outsider we knew we needed more support - Austin wasn’t as available, Terri wasn’t as available, they had other games going on. Obviously we weren’t working with Ricardo.
“So we found Anna Megill, who’s a very veteran game narrative designer/writer - she now works with Sam Lake at Remedy. She moved to Finland. We also interviewed and hired Hazel Monforton, a PhD student who’s a Dishonored fanatic and had written a bunch of analysis on the games. She wrote something that I loved about the Outsider and it rang very true, and then her samples were amazing. Also, Sachka really came into her own for this project and drove a lot of the narrative design, while I framed it all and gave voice to some of the characters and oversaw the whole thing. Sachka was really the driver on the ground - as the lead there, she deserves a lot of credit - but picking up Anna and Hazel was really useful. And also, I never got to work face-to-face with her, but we picked up an intern named Sophie Mallinson.”
Sachka Duval already has experience writing for the series with Dishonored 2, but her responsibilities were bumped up. Outside of Duval and Smith, though, the entire writing team is new blood. On top of being fresh talent, they’re also all women, other than Smith. This wasn’t an intentional decision - they just hired the best writers they could, though Smith does value inclusivity.
“It’s part by design, because it would be nice if your team had parity or if you had representation from everybody, but it’s an ongoing struggle because women are discouraged from applying and they have more to deal with while they’re employed at most places, so they burn out quicker, I think,” Smith explains. “In any case, we went after hiring where we could and were like ‘let’s bring in the strongest candidates’, but in this case they happened to be, yeah, the whole narrative team except for me were women. There was this funny meeting where I went by Lyon and Anna and Hazel were meeting with Sachka, and I stuck my head in the door and I said something like ‘oh, I see you’re already having the meeting about killing all the men’. They all laughed and Hazel was like, ‘while you’re here, you might as well be the first’. We joked about it through the course of development, but they were incredibly professional and really talented.”
Behind this new blood, there’s Arkane founder Christophe Carrier, who also handles lead level design. Smith says Carrier is “a big part of the secret sauce” that makes Dishonored’s world feels so coherent, along with artist Sebastien Mitton and the environmental artists. That means Death of the Outsider will still be recognisably Dishonored. In fact, Smith says bringing on the new talent allowed them to add even more detail to the world, since Smith and Ricardo Bare were making it up as they went along with the first game, throwing in writing based on research of Victorian England. Duval, along with the new writers - Megill, Mallinson, and Monforton - already had an idea of the world, as they’d seen it from the outside, as fans. “These are all people that knew this world we had created and they took it as canonical, as the gospel. Whereas, for us, it was bits and pieces we’d made up along the way. So they take it to a new level of sophistication.”
One of Dishonored: Death of the Outsider’s new tricks is allowing Billie Lurk to steal the visages of those around her, adding a completely new layer of tactical considerations to the game: social stealth. As we wrote about in our article, Smith didn’t think the power would work to begin with, but the game design team pushed the feature and it’s now one of his favourite things in Death of the Outsider. It just goes to show how much something can be refreshed with some new faces, even if you are ripping them from unaware guards.