Mathew Codd interviews the art director at Arkane Studios, Sebastien Mitton, about the intensive four year process that went into creating Dishonoured 2 and it’s funky fantasy setting.
One of the most memorable things about Dishonored is Dunwall, the city in which it took place. Though heavily inspired by Victorian-era London and Edinburgh, it worked in elements of science-fiction, steampunk, and fantasy to create something strangely alluring. It made a fascinating playground for exploring, sneaking about, and playing cat-and-mouse with guards – an ideal setting for a stealth game.
It’s been four years since Dishonored opened the doors of Dunwall to the masses. With this week’s release of Dishonored 2, though, players will get to travel to the “jewel of the south”, the coastal city of Karnaca. According to art director Sebastien Mitton, Karnaca is a lot like Dunwall, but it has its own unique qualities.
“Imagine if you moved Dunwall to Australia or you moved Dunwall to South Africa—that was how I created Karnaca,” he told me. “While designing the city, I analysed how people from London adapted to different colonies in the world. They share some things, but the setup is different.” Both are big, bustling cities with a shared cultural touchpoints, but Mitton said that Karnaca’s tropical setting means that there’s more vegetation and more mystery. “Imagine Dunwall in the Congo islands.”
The new city also has its own political climate. “It’s ruled by an asshole who’s the son of a duke. He doesn’t care about the people there. He takes the money from the civilians, and his people beat them… So it’s going mad.” This violent rule is met with resistance from the Howlers, a revolutionary faction led by a man named Paolo (who’s played by Pedro Pascal, of Game of Thrones and Narcos fame). The end result is a city rife with chaos.
“People say sometimes it’s sunny in Karnaca, and it’s true that there is more sun, but the atmosphere is really weird and twisted. It’s not like a sunny place where you want to have a holiday.”
There’s a lot of work that goes into building a setting like this. Everyone in the art department is a specialist in some discipline or another, from architecture to anatomy, and the game designers and artists work closely together to create a levels that are lifelike and believable. But what happens when a player rushes through the game and misses all the little details that make it so? After all, one of the selling points of the game is being able to play however you prefer, be it slow and stealthy or with guns blazing.
“I’m not worried because even if you blink or rush somewhere, it’s better to rush in a good environment than one that is empty, or in an environment that isn’t meaningful,” Mitton told me when I asked if he’s worried that all his hard work will be wasted. “Some will miss a lot of elements, but I’m sure that some will see everything. It’s our philosophy to let the player do what they want.”
Like Dishonored before it, Dishonored 2 has a star-studded voice cast: Rosario Dawson, Robin Lord Taylor, Pedro Pascal, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Jamie Hector are just some of the people bringing the game’s characters to life. For the most part, these are actors who’ve made their names on film and TV, so how does one studio bring so many big names together for a video game? “A big check,” Mitton said, laughing. “Lots of money.”
On a more serious note, he said that the Arkane team tries to set a high bar for every aspect of a character’s design, including the voice, because failing in just one way could ruin the whole character.
“We spent four years making the world and creating these characters. We draw them, we put a lot of love in building them, then we put them in 3D, then we pay attention to the technical aspects of the animation, then we do the animation, then we do the voice. This whole process has to be equal in terms of quality otherwise something will not be right—like the voice, you can hate a character because of that.”
What’s also noteworthy about the cast is that there are a lot of people of colour in key roles. One of the two main characters, Emily Kaldwin, is played by Erica Luttrell, and of course, she’s supported by the likes of Dawson, Pascal, and Hector. The game industry is often criticised— rightly, I think—for its lack of diversity both on-screen and behind the scenes, so it’s refreshing to see a major release like this putting people of colour front and centre.
“We try do it as if it was the real world. We’re not looking at the Hollywood style or the European style. We try to make something multicultural.” Mitton said that the Arkane team received a lot of feedback about diversity after the original Dishonored, and that this was something they focused on with Dishonored 2. “There is a large variety of characters—all different and races and genders, so now the variety has exploded compared to Dishonored 1. We are really attached to that, and we try to represent everyone in lots of different positions in the world.”
Dishonored 2’s release this week brings an end to four years of hard work for Mitton and the rest of the team at Arkane Studios, and they’re looking forward to seeing how players respond to what they’ve built. “We are keen to see their reactions, hopefully it will raise some new ideas for the future. It takes so long to do…four years. Now we are OK. Now we can have a drink.”
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