I’ve commented on Dishonored, both entries of its DLC, and its Sequel in the past. It’s a franchise I’m comfortable calling one of my favourites. Now, here we are, at the final entry for this place, a final journey to the Kaldwin Era of Dunwall, and it is with joy and sadness, I return once more, to get to the root cause of all this chaos anew…
Prey is an immersive sim game, an Arkane game of that mould that echoes System Shock and Dishonored. They’re first-person not-shooters, games that we’ve had a hard time giving a genre name to in these past few whens. Back when they were new they were another type of RPG, in the vein of Ultima Underworld, but as engines improved and the games moved with them, they’ve existed in the shadowy space alongside your more combat-oriented first-person shooters. This legacy, which Campster has covered over on his channel, has its latest incarnation here in Prey. Continue reading
You had to know this was coming.
I haven’t done a proper Game Pile for Dishonored 2 for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I felt quite disillusioned about reviewing or writing about games for a while there, but as I return to writing here I realise that a large part of the allure of games reviews for me was a regular piece of content to create. Something as simple as ‘what’s my opinion of thing.’
With that in mind, let’s complain really quick about a thing about a game I really like (and I do really like it (and the people who say it’s too much like the original can suck it)) which I think was a mistake, and talk about Corvo’s Voice.
Corvo in Dishonored didn’t talk. As some of you may remember I had the theory that his muteness was not a simple videogame choice ala Gordon Freeman’s protracted, almost comedic silence, but was a byproduct of trauma from his time being tortured in Dunwall Tower. In Dishonored 2 they put a kibosh on this theory (though not completely) because they prove that Corvo can talk – suggesting that his silence wasn’t a byproduct of having, say, his tongue cut out (which I know is a Bit Extreme).
The voice of Corvo in Dishonored 2 is Stephen Russell, who you may know if you look these things up as the voice of Garrett from Thief. Now, I’m not going to lie to you, for all of my playing of Dishonored 2, I haven’t actually played Corvo that many times. I mean, why would you. The thing is, every time I’ve done so I’ve been struck quietly by how the voice of Corvo just feels like a slight mismatch.
I’m not trying to talk down to Russell’s work or anything; he’s a fine, competent actor, and I know he can do voice acting I quite like. But Corvo’s voice in Dishonored 2 isn’t a problem in who does it, or even how, but that it’s done at all.
I feel, in part, that I kind of liked that Dishonored‘s Corvo wandered rooftops without talking to himself. I liked that he was actually silent – for one reason or another. The shift from Corvo silent to Corvo speaking feels like one of the few things between these two games I really wish they’d done differently.
I think in part it would have served to highlight a character difference, but also, suggest a lineage of continuity between the two games that has been slightly marred by this addition. It begs the question of why Corvo speaks in 2 and not i n1. And he talks a lot – about random things he passes by, about parties he’s getting near, about his thoughts of each of the targets as he inspects their homes – it’s quite reasonable to assume it’s inner monologue, or dramatic imposition on the story, and it’s fine, but it is… striking. It is distinct.
Think about what you’re doing when you add a feature you were formerly missing, and ask yourself what it changes about the thing you’ve created.
I kind of already want to apologise for that post title. Moving on.
Writing advice time. Specifically, writing advice about signalling characters of diversity. I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to me talking about Harry Potter as a universe, but one of the complaints I’ve had is of what I call ‘Dumbledore Diversity,’ the notion that an author can, post-fact indicate the orientation of a character that is never otherwise signalled in the media, and that isn’t, in my opinion the same thing as writing media that has actually included marginalised people.
God, I love this game.
Dishonored was a 2012 original-IP project that came out of Arkane studios to the sort of hushed reverence we reserve for albums from long-dormant artists. To this day I can’t tell you the names of the people who made it but we knew, based on all the news around it, that Dishonored was being made by people who knew what they were doing, and if they just could avoid screwing it up, we’d have something really special on our hands.
I have sunk almost two hundred hours of my life into Dishonored, a game that is renowned for being too short and reptitive. In its cornucopia of achievements, I’ve somehow managed to find these hours of tense pleasure without ever actually raising a gun on someone.
To me, Dishonored is half a game, and a half I fucking love.
I’ve written about Dishonored to some extent, in the past. Reviews of the game and its DLC, and a single article about Corvo as a representative of the Dads Of Gaming. I know I bring it up almost any time I’m talking about Stealth games too. Still, this month I’m going to take a little bit of time to talk about this game that’s eaten so much of my time and I’ve enjoyed feeding it. Continue reading
I feel a tiny bit cheap reviewing DLC, now. It used to be that DLC was a rare thing in my life, that games typically didn’t have expansion after the fact unless they were major bug-fixes. When I reviewed The Knife of Dunwall, I was at a loss. What to say about it beyond that it’s more Dishonored, and pretty good?
Maybe I could talk about how Daud’s blink power is so much cooler than Corvo’s, even though Corvo’s is probably more useful for speed-runners and other elites. Maybe I could talk about the way that Knife of Dunwall and Brigmore Witches, as linked DLC represent an interesting kind of midquel, a mid-game expansion that ideally should be played in-flashback during the mission you attack Daud’s base. I could maybe elaborate a little on the way Daud, as a speaking protagonist, still performed almost-identical missions to Corvo. Orrrr….I suppose I could talk about how the themes in this final part are a change – and an improvement on the original game.
That last one sounds good. Let’s do that.
I just achieved a 3-star rating on Dishonored‘s Dunwall Trials DLC, specifically the ‘Mystery Guest’ challenge. My method was pretty horrible, though; I found one clue, then killed the first person who matched that clue.
About ten times.
Eventually you’ll get the ‘Lucky Guess’ bonus.
There’s been hay made about the daddification of videogames. For those of you not particularly clued in, the complaint runs fairly closely that when videogames were called upon to branch out and diversify from smart-assed wise-cracking twelve-year-old male protaganists in adult bodies power fantasies, and create characters who had some emotional depth, only one character emerged; a thirty year old male protaganist power fantasy. The fantasy was a robust one, because most guys making games were old enough to make or be dads, and since they were kinda steering the stories that’s what we got; a deluge of male authority figures whose emotional complexity oriented around the protection or recovery of a little girl. This trend was so common as to be laughable – culminating, I feel in 2013, a year that gave us Bioshock Infinite and The Last Of Us, two triple-A shooters where yes, there’s an emotional story to tell, but it’s an emotion that relies on a second party being infantalised and the drive to protect her being justification for brutal power fantasies.
I pay close attention to this trend because I know it affects me. I’ve always had a love for the person who beats on a bully, or the justifiable assault. I mean, if you know the point of Walk Tall, that was basically my family’s idea of a morally acceptable action, as a byproduct of our horrible fundamentalist Christian outlook. We wanted the power fantasy but we would jump through ridiculous hoops to justify it. When a game Daddifies the protaganist, then, I feel a thrill up my spine that makes me feel a lot better about being who I am. One game that Daddified and did it hard was the stealthy, stalky, talky, stab-em-up Dishonored.
I like Dishonored to an unreasonable degree, in that I have a collection of 300+ games and somehow I keep going back to play this one game, even after achieving the Ghost achievement which either indicates great skill with the game or a patience with the save-and-reload keys beyond mortal ken. Even weirder, despite there being a way to play this game where you actually kill people, I’ve never tried it. I generally consider Corvo the killer as a mistake, an error in play, and I think that’s part of the daddification.
Corvo, in my mind, is one of the best Dads in games, because Corvo’s power fantasy is one of restraint. If you want to play Dishonored and play it easily, that’s not hard. Just kill people. Combat in that game is pretty damn fast and easy. You can shank people in the neck and chain that into another kill, so even two enemies at a time are easy. To play Dishonored without killing people takes time, patience and effort. It’s a real challenge. It’s legitimately hard, and killing people makes it easy. That, to me, is an interesting morality system; good actions, mercy are in fact harder than evil actions. Good vs evil choices where evil is just mustache twirling is boring; I like Dishonored because there is a temptation, when you grow frustrated to just take the easy route. To just snap and start stabbing people in the head. That makes Corvo staying his hand, a power fantasy, but the power is internal. It is the power to look at himself and say No, I won’t do that, and there is one possible reason for why Corvo wants to hold back.
He wants to be a good example, a good father figure for Emily. The temptation is there for him to fall, to let Revenge Solve Everything… but he can stay his hand. He can resist, and that moral strength is more interesting to me than any amount of excessive violence and yelling WHERE IS SHEEEE you’ll find in other daddified characters.
Here’s something that I wrote on the Nanowrimo forums that I thought was interesting:
Well, I talked at length about the -punk type with friends and I'm on the internet, so surely my opinion is useful here.
The -punk group derives from the original word cyberpunk, which was a term designed to juxtapose. Cyberpunk was about 'high tech, low life,' where the trappings of film noir – grubby, small human interactions, criminal underclass, poverty and a lack of moral clarity – were wedded to futuristic views of technology.
-Punk sort of got watered down after that point, where it generally just means 'modern production using old style.' Consider that Dishonored, a videogame with whale-oil powered tesla coils and not-quite-flintlock guns was being called dieselpunk, Bioshock was called Decopunk and the Eberron campaign setting in D&D is called magepunk.
If you want your punk to come through with your steam, you need two things. You want deliberate anachronism, and you want juxtapositioning. The deliberate anachronism is easy – in an era of history when we didn't have cars, putting in steam-powered cars and an industrial tech revolution can shift things. In our world, these technologicla shifts brought with them social change (super-simple historical bullshit summary I know), which you don't have to have. But it's not the aesthetic of the setting, it's the elements of that setting that our technology would have helped us move past. Since you've said steampunk, you probably want Victorian England as your base. Corsets, goggles, tophats etcetera – but what made those settings interesting beyond the aesthetics? For my tastes, there's the class system, the just-world outlook where the poor were assumed to be dirty and sinful while the nobles were presumed to be nice and just. Find something in the Victorian era you think will make an interesting background element when it's juxtaposed to the story.
Because that's the trick. The Anachronism casts a background to the point you're trying to make. Alan Moore once said Nobody writes about the future, they write about now in disguise, and that' strue of Steampunk too. You can write a story which is set in Victorian England with phlogiston-powered steam-guns and rattling zeppelin sky wars, but you're really writing a story about people. If we keep with the class system idea, what about a character who is technologically gifted, but who has been caught up in a Jingoistic war movement to invade Poorer Country for its Phlogiston reserves?
Think noir, think contrasts. That's where good Steampunk (or good anything-punk) come from. Steam tells you what well you're delving into for your contrasts, and punk reminds you that the story is about people.
Man, some of these reviews can be insubstantial. Alright, did you enjoy Dishonored? Did you like Daud? If you answered yes to both of these, congratulations, you probably want to get The Knife of Dunwall.
I criticised Limbo for being basically a mood piece, with no clear plot and no definition of its own characters or setting. I criticised Deus Ex: Human Revolution for being a stealth and exploration based game that failed to entice me to explore it. When I started on Dishonored, SODOM point-blank told me that he felt the criticisms I had of DXHR would plague Dishonored and I’d therefore probably dislike it, too. Not so: No, I’m afraid, Dishonored is not just good, Dishonored is fucking excellent.