The Sound of Silence

How important is sound to Dishonored’s stealth gameplay? The answers are in this Q&A with Co-Creative Director Harvey Smith, and a video that shows Dishonored’s stealth in motion!

[one_third]How important is sound to Dishonored’s stealth gameplay? The answers are in this Q&A with Co-Creative Director Harvey Smith, and a video that shows Dishonored’s stealth in motion![/one_third]

We’ve mentioned that Dishonored features full sound propagation in a manner similar to Thief – sound travels logically through the level, gets muffled by doors, and the like – but what other aural delights await the game’s sneaky, masked assassin? Arkane Studios’ Co-Creative Director Harvey Smith told reveals all.

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Sneaky Bastards: We noticed a new audio cue when you start getting detected.

Smith: There’s a little music stinger. Zshhing! People love that, and I love it too now. It freaks people out. It’s like the moment in Psycho.

How exactly does sound factor into stealth? Do different surfaces create different noise levels when walked on, or are those levels only affected by crouching and standing?

I think we’ve changed it a hundred times. In the original days, we had it much more tweaky than we do now. The way it works now is, when you’re in stealth mode, your feet are entirely silent on any surface. When you’re not in stealth mode, there are a couple of different volume levels based on quiet surface, loud surface, and then there’s also sprint, which is even louder.

With the Dark Vision power activated, the sound that the player’s footsteps make is visualised with expanding waves. The noise that enemies make is also visualised in a similar manner.

And that’s visualised in the Dark Vision power as well.

Oh yeah. You noticed that. We never talk about that because it just confuses the shit out of people. But you turn that on, and level 1 of Dark Vision, you can see enemies through walls and their view cones. And at level 2, you can see useful objects, like chains that you might want to climb, or loot, and you also see the little ripples from your own feet.

Some of that stuff is tuned differently on difficulty levels. If you’re playing on normal or easy, knocking a bottle over might not matter unless a guard was twenty feet away. Then he might go, ‘Hey, what was that?’

But they’re much quicker to respond at Hard and Very Hard.

Do they hear further on the harder difficulties?

I don’t think so. It’s more like their reaction times are quicker. We have them ramp up to reaction – and I think we just shorten that. We have a guy Dinga [Bakaba, Associate Producer] tuning that right now. It’s super intricate. Dinga and Seth [Shain, Associate Producer], those two guys. We always say, ‘You can’t even spell stealth without Seth!’ because he tunes the lighting values, the reaction times, and all that. But Dinga and Seth, it’s super intricate, and Raf and I have changed the model, like I said, a hundred times over the course of the project. I think that’s where the last iteration of it was. If a player’s in stealth mode, he’s quiet. And then it becomes, ‘Are you in my vision cone?’

We always say, ‘You can’t even spell stealth without Seth!’

We’re really curious to see how people are going to respond to the stealth model, by the way. Because some people might expect a pure light and shadow model. Some people might expect just a view cone based on their experience with Metal Gear, or whatever. And we have this thing where it’s like, some sound – especially if you’re not sneaking – and a view cone, but the view cone is complex – it’s squashed at the top, so you can be in the rafters so they won’t see you as well. Their ramp-up is different based on difficulty level. And also, at a distance – at a significant distance, I don’t know, fifty yards or something like that – shadow suddenly matters a lot. If you’re next to a dumpster fifty yards away, the guy won’t see you if he’s just walking his patrol. But if you’re close to him in shadow, he’s going to see you if you’re in his vision cone.

It’s a hard thing to get right. Some people act like there’s the one right way to do it. But it’s like, no, every stealth game does this stuff differently. And it’s all about giving the player enough feedback so that they can comfortably ghost the level. And there were moments when we could adopt a model that would be really forgiving to the player, but occasionally the AI would seem sort of senseless or dumb. Or, we could go the other way, and they’re really quick-reacting, and you have to be very careful – you have to use occlusion, stay behind the walls, lean out, stay behind this object, wait until the guy turns his back and then move by in stealth mode. And we opted for that. We opted for a slightly more reactive mode, which I’m happy about.

If an enemy sounds an alarm, it won’t be long before you’ll be facing this many guards. In this situation, it’s better to run.

Is there an alarm system in Dishonored?

There are localised alarms, and if a guy sees you, there’s a percentage chance that, instead of engaging you, he will run for the alarm. And if he sounds the alarm, anybody in audible range will come. And then there are also places where, for a limited set of people, we spawn additional guys. It’s not infinite, or anything like that. And it’s from logical places.

If a guy sees you, there’s a percentage chance that, instead of engaging you, he will run for the alarm.

Is that a physical panel in the world?

It’s a weird-looking thing. It’s got these bullhorns on the top of it. It looks very steampunk. It has a circle around it and some electricity. They run for that and hit that.

Can you disable them?

Yeah. We have these little rewiring tools. The idea is that they short-circuit something.

Thanks, Harvey!

7 thoughts on “The Sound of Silence

  1. Why do associate producers tweak the core gameplay systems? Don\’t they have game designers for that matter?

  2. To be brutally honest the change to the sound factor to \’in stealth = silent\’ sounds like a game design shortcut. If you can never be truly silent the game has to be designed and surfaces carefully selected and placed but if you can go silent at will suddenly the design of what surfaces are where is almost entirely irrelevant.

    I like the way they\’ve described their use of shadow in terms of vision with it mattering less and less the closer someone is to you. I also like the idea of vision cones that are mostly flat because people don\’t look up or very much down when they\’re just walking around normally. I really hope they don\’t fall into the same vision cone trap of many stealth games and make the vision cones overly narrow, as if people can only see what they focus on. Ideally I\’d like to see a primary vision cone of around 60 degrees horizontally and maybe 20 vertically with sharper vision where it\’s easy for them to pick you out against a background and notice you even if you\’re in shadow and perfectly still, which it seems like they have. On top of that though I\’d like a much wider cone around that one, about 180-200 degrees horizontally and around 120 degrees vertically, where you can still be easily spotted if you move to quickly or to visibly but you can get away with a lot more than you could in the primary cone.

  3. Neat. Like the idea of those little ripples from footsteps in dark vision mode.
    I wonder if there\’ll be some glowing icons on top of guards that get caught you in their vision cones. Similar to what MGS do when such thing happens.

  4. It\’s a rare stealth game where you couldn\’t go silent at will, you usually just need to move slowly enough. With this there is just the one slow speed they need to be aware of, rather than a constantly shifting one over different materials. A slightly simpler interaction, and a little easier to balance, but not different in kind to other stealth games and considering that they are a) making sure the entire game can be ghosted and b) much like Deus Ex stealth is but one possible route through the game among many that all need to be balanced against, I\’ll forgive them this particular design shortcut.

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