The lights are on
Arkane Studios is betting that two minds are better than one. Harvey Smith and Raf Colantonio have teamed up as equals, serving as co-creative directors for Dishonored. We spoke with the two of them about sharing the workload and what life is like on a daily basis at Arkane Studios.
How did you come to work together?
Raf Colantonio: We met when he was doing Deus Ex and I was doing Arx Fatalis. Both of us had a passion for this type of game, the legacy of Looking Glass, Ultima Underworld, System Shock, that kind of game.
Harvey Smith: Yeah, we both cited Underworld as as our favorite game of all time, the game by Doug Church and Looking Glass. And so Raf came over for a visit and stayed with us [Ion Storm, creators of Deus Ex] for a while in Austin.
Colantonio: Yeah, just for fun, just to see those guys. Because previously I had made a visit to Origin [Origin Systems, creators of Ultima Underworld, System Shock] and I said to Harvey, "I think I met you at Origin."
Smith: I had been the lead tester for System Shock, and he had been testing and promoting System Shock in Europe as well. You know, both of us just drawn to the title by the guys that had made Underworld. Kind of our heroes, really. And when he visited Austin we remembered that I had given him a tour of Austin at one point. Our mutual interest in this type of game, more than an interest really, has drawn us back together over and over, critiquing each other and talking about what we are working on and all that. And so it seems like it was just a matter of time until we wanted to work together.
Harvey Smith, co-creative director for Dishonored.
You bill yourselves as co-creative directors on this project, right? How do you handle that? It is sort of a unique dynamic.
Colantonio: Well I think that both of us used to be very over-direct with what we would express to the team and we would be very opinionated. We've been used to doing that, both of us in our own... kingdoms. When we decided to work together we had to make a few adjustments about making sure that, before we talk to others, we are both in agreement. And most of the time we are both in agreement, like I'd say a good 80-90% of the time.
Smith: Like stating things not so strongly as normal, being a little more respectful. It generally produces better results because it's an area where I'm weak and he steps up creatively or vice versa.
Colantonio: The 10% of the time that we differ we usually come up with something that would probably be better than...
Smith: Individually, yeah. And you know it's funny, people act like sharing a role is an impossible thing -- to be avoided or whatever. And we kind of wondered, "Oh, is this kind of crazy? Is this going to compromise the vision?" But I think it's stronger, and I talked to one of my friends on the Uncharted team and they have not only two creative directors but they also have two lead designers, I believe. So you know, I think it's the right people with the right communication skills and an alignment already.
Raf Colantonio, co-creative director for Dishonored.
So you've talked a lot about your inspirations, but what do you guys feel makes Dishonored unique? What makes it an Arkane game?
Smith: Dishonored is a game where you play this supernatural assassin in this very odd retro-future industrial world and the core stealth combat gameplay is complimented by all these powers that you have, and they layer together really well. It is one of our principal beliefs that you shouldn't protect the player too much from seeing something awkward. Instead, it's better to empower the player to do these things in a general purpose kind of way. Not at the right moment or in a particular scripted encounter, and so we don't pre-plan some of the things that are the most fun in our games.
[Next up: One game, two studios]
Email the author Ben Hanson, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.