Deathloop and Dishonored: how Arkane worlds are born, word to the developers

Deathloop and Dishonored: how Arkane worlds are born, word to the developers

Deathloop and Dishonored

There are two types of developers in the industry: those who experiment with a different genre at each release and those who remain tied to a specific type of game. However, it would be wrong to think that innovation and experimentation are the prerogative only of the former, indeed. Trying to renew, or innovate, while remaining within the established limits of a genre is an even more difficult undertaking, if we then talk about immersive sim the challenge is even greater.

Arkane Studios, however, knows its stuff, and after years of activity it still manages to amaze the public. What often sticks with us about Arkane games is the game world, the settings, the cities, the individual architectures ... and there is a reason. In fact, behind the indelible memories of the players, there is an accurate formula, which combines artistic direction and level design in a functional and indissoluble way. So what is Arkane's magic formula?

We had some little secrets revealed by the Arkane Lyon team, in particular by Damien Laurent, Level Art Director, and Geoffroy Espinasse, Lead Level Artist who both worked on Dishonored and Deathloop. In this interview we will therefore talk about how the French development team created the islands of Gristol Serkonos and Karnaca, on a journey to discover the secrets of the worlds of Arkane.

Geography and demographics

Damien Laurent, Level Art Director (left) and Geoffroy Espinasse, Lead Level Artist (right) Why Arkane's worlds seem so alive and authentic is the depth with which the development team works on their creations, always maintaining two main axes of reflection: geography and demography. Laurent and Espinasse tell us: "Vision is always our starting point, functionality and graphics come later. Our ambition is to build a credible city that you can immediately immerse yourself in. We strive for authenticity, depth. and memorable architectures and therefore we treat our cities as characters in their own right. This allows us to have an anchor, an element that involves the player with familiar elements and in which he can relate quickly. We then work in successive layers, starting from the foundations - geography and population - and without neglecting any of these phases to ensure a logical construction ".

The Dunwall River Bridge is a place all players remember well When it comes to designing a new world, you starts from its geography: we are therefore talking about climate, terrain topology, flora and fauna. From here we then move on to the population, defining their roots and culture, but also the customs and reasons for driving people to settle in a specific area. These are all details that subsequently affect urban planning and architectural choices, such as the massive use of whale oil in the city of Dunwall, possible thanks to the thriving cetacean fishing, as opposed to the use of wind energy in Karnaca, subject to strong wind storms; the consequences are subsequently visible in the cities, with a major whale slaughterhouse at Dunwall set against the elegant wind turbines visible throughout Karnaka.

The goal, as mentioned, is to create credible worlds, without however falling into hyperrealism because those of Arkane are still fictitious narrative universes, with their own logic but at the same time characterized by exaggerated and highly iconic elements . "We can count on a sort of constantly simmering broth of ideas between storytelling, design and the art sector, which feed each other to push the craziest ideas in depth and make sure they always intersect credibly in the narrative and serve accordingly. the game experience. This is how we came up with the idea of ​​dust storms on the heights of Karnaca or Villa Mecania "

The view of Karnaca from the Aventa Alta district Who has played both chapters of Dishonored will certainly have noticed the difference between Dunwall and Karnaca, thanks to the painstaking work of the development team during the conception phases of the world. Dunwall is the capital of the empire, a city architecturally inspired by the Anglo-Saxon world (in particular London and Edinburgh) and which lives a centuries-old history. Here the influence of the empire, the aristocracy and the clergy is strong, a kind of cradle of the old world which, when the player visits, is shattered piece by piece, amidst power struggles and rampant disease. of the plague.

Karnaca, on the other hand, is a city with fewer years on its shoulders, founded as a colonial settlement whose only function is to exploit the abundant natural resources to supply the empire. Social status here is more fluid and less stringent than Dunwall's oppressive social ranks: there is nothing a little money and audacity cannot buy in Karnaca, and indeed its citizens have pioneering resourcefulness, like the settlers who conquered the United States and Australia in the real world.

In Blackreef, Aeon has adapted the existing one to the needs of the program These rules also apply to Deathloop, with the necessary plot differences. The starting point is always to give a soul to the place and to those who populate it. Blackreef is a small, cold island lost in the northern seas, first a humble fishing port and then becoming the base of the Aeon program. When Visionaries and Eternalists arrive in this desolate land, they bring with them numerous resources, but certainly not infinite. The path of "razing" and rebuilding from scratch was certainly not viable, given the particularly adverse weather conditions, so the only alternative for the Aeon program was to adapt the existing one to their needs, converting the old villages of fishermen in something comfortable and close to the tastes of the time. From here the strong contrast is created between the frugal style of the pre-existing buildings on the island and the psychedelic 60s that are the backdrop to Deathloop. "In the subtext" the developers tell us, "there could be an allegory of a break with our previous games: the Victorian architecture is somehow a bit 'outdated' and we are building something new on its ruins"

Building the game world

The possibilities offered by Arkane Studios level design are really many Obviously the worlds of Arkane are beautiful not only to look at, but above all to play because a lot of that that is visible on the screen is explorable and, to make the difference, is the way in which it can be explored. The freedom of approach offered to the player is always vast and of the highest quality, creating unforgettable gaming experiences. What seems to us a large playground, free and never driven, is actually created with an incredible amount of detail and much more guided than we can imagine.

"One of the characteristics of creating game environments in Arkane" the developers say, "is the synergy that exists between level artists and level designers. Both teams are on a level playing field and work daily. shoulder to shoulder to maximize the quality and authenticity of the game environments. The level design itself is the product of the work of these two teams, who tirelessly exchange ideas until the end of production, thus reaching the most satisfactory compromise in terms of gameplay and graphic beauty "

Deathloop and Dishonored are also characterized by similar modes of navigability and interaction with environments: the power of translation is essential to move, and the other Powers of the Outside / Tablets also modify the experience of the game is noticeable. To begin building a game world, it is therefore essential to know the maximum mobility possibilities of the player. Once the navigation metrics are established, they are integrated into the visual direction to define the typical spaces that will be explored, such as an apartment. Always in the spirit of maintaining a sense of credibility and artistic elegance, architecture must support visual direction as well as level design possibilities. The buildings are therefore built with modular pieces that allow the artistic team to respond to the needs of level designers in a flexible way.

The goal is to always incorporate as many level design elements as possible into the architectural proposal; for example, balconies, eaves or roofs. When the need is foreseen in advance, it is possible to obtain a convincing result in which the player will feel immersed without having the impression of identifying the paths that are proposed to him. Always in a spirit of flexibility, it is envisaged that each apartment can be visited according to the needs of the project, by opening a door or a window.

To create a stimulating game world, take into account the special abilities of the protagonists it is essential Arkane production can be considered, in this sense, almost on a par with craftsmanship. The team has always been reluctant to create game environments that are too large: their levels are smaller, dense and vertical than the maps of other games because the smaller the space is, the more it is possible to keep the quality level high. Nothing in the Arkane games is placed at random; everything is carefully thought out and positioned by hand, each element tells a story and works to create an atmosphere. "When we go into the details of our visual intentions, we can also apply some formulas to reinforce the originality. For example, if we imagine a modern style architecture, we will design it with ancient materials and tools. A sort of 'what if ... 'that we apply to architecture or manufactured objects; in Dishonored these are not mass-produced but handmade. We always try to exploit the specificities of the city that we have imagined down to the last detail, such as the use of wood to create the road paving stones, or building stones that contain silver veins in the Batista mining district ".

Another important point in Arkane games is verticality. Opting for a vertical dimension in an environment is above all a way to give elegance to the volumes, to give a certain dynamism and character to the composition of the image. Most importantly, it offers possibilities for creative movement to the players. Here Dishonored and Deathloop take two slightly different paths: if the levels of the saga dedicated to Corvo and Emily exploit the expedient of verticality in a masterly way, creating an incredible depth in the exploratory experience, at Colt and Julianna's house the situation is slightly different. . We had already told you in this interview with Dinga Bakaba, Game Director of Deathloop, how the development team had chosen a slightly different approach for Deathloop, creating slightly larger levels but reduced in height, obtaining a different experience. In addition, part of the Deathloop exploration is based on exploring the four districts that make up the island at all hours of the day, to see the map changes: a new way to explore the Arkane worlds.

Leading the exploration

Try navigating a Dishonored or Deathloop level with the HUD turned off, you won't regret it! As mentioned, the levels of the Arkane games look like a huge toy box, with numerous possibilities enclosed within it, which is delivered to the player without an instruction book. In reality, the work behind the scenes is a lot, but the result is never invasive because the tools and gimmicks used by the developers to target the player are wisely "hidden in plain sight". The litmus test, which we dispassionately recommend you do at least once, is to play Dishonored or Deathloop without any help elements on the screen: no life bars or mana, no graphical interface for weapons, objects or powers, no indicators whatsoever. The result is that even without any of these elements, you will be able to walk more than with dignity, because there will always be something that will attract and guide your attention. Word of the team! "Capturing and directing the player's gaze is of primary importance in the design of our levels, even more so when we consider the principles of the immersive sim genre that govern the design of our games. Since our desire is to be able to do so theoretically without markers. o Heavy UIs, which somehow take you out of the fiction and break the immersion, everything should feel natural and instinctive in the journey of the players. We want them to feel free and gratified by their choices, without ever feeling that they are being guided in their experience game.

There are several ways to attract the attention of the player but, overall, it is mainly about playing with different contrasts: dark / light; empty / full; horizontal / vertical; static / animated, etc. In general, the classical rules of image composition are also important. We use the perspective lines of the architecture as the base or top of the buildings to converge the or look, or let's play with the roads which are always a great path to follow. In addition, our games offer playable areas both on the ground and on the rooftops; It is important to give equal importance to treating these vertical areas and to make them visible to players as an option. Therefore, we can also use stairs or more generally slopes to allow the player's point of view to be naturally oriented upwards or downwards.

There are several ways that the team has used to guide the players in the navigation of the levels On another scale we can also control the level of detail of the image, for example by saturating with props a corner that we would like to highlight and creating the void all around. If the level of detail was always homogeneous, nothing would be highlighted and the player would have a hard time noticing anything. This also applies to the level of detail we add to our architecture.

Lighting is also a great tool to highlight and guide the player: a ray of sunshine that only illuminates one important building while everything else is in the shade; an artificial light that flashes to highlight an important door etc. likewise the environmental special effects, the use of objects of different saturated colors, the presence of moving NPCs, animated entities such as the rotating fan in a corridor, the global sound design. .. they are all complementary means to attract the attention of the player "

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