The Art of Dishonored 2
The team behind The Art of Dishonored 2 had the philosophy of creating fine art for games, according to the wonderfully concise forward by Sébastien Mitton the Art Director at Arkane Studios. He points out how before they draw, they gather a bunch of reference material. Materials ranging from unique books featuring the masters to the depths of the web to photos of locations all accompanied by pages of notes.
I agreed with his statement about aesthetics being more than just the graphics. Look at indie games such as Undertale and The Binding of Isaac and their visual identities are instantly recognizable. Look at generic shooters where the lack of clear visual design creates a bland palette of grays and browns and everything looks samey. Despite cutting edge graphics being used in many triple AAA games have any really stood out among others as unique? It is this distinction that can make certain games stay with you and withstand the test of time. One such game is Dishonored 2 and the result of its success is present in this book.
The book is divided into the world, characters and creatures, flora and fauna, weapons, handcrafted objects and illustration. Each section has an introduction where references and inspiration were cited, how they approached the development of their concepts and some lore of Dishonored 2. It provides a comfortable and interesting entryway into understanding the visual design process that Arkane Studios went through. There are brief captions for concept works on how different departments collaborated on certain designs a notable example being the Clockwork Soldier’s early designs that were so challenging they were sent back and forth between just about everyone, artists and non-artists.
The creation of a new setting and themes for Dishonored 2 while carrying over themes from the previous game resulted in a new location: the island city of Karnaca. It drew inspiration from architecture of the British colonies from around the world (including Cape Town here in my country, South Africa – yay!). Thus a new southern, Victorian style was born. It takes gameplay into consideration such as providing a natural landmark for players to orient themselves: Shindaerey Peak.
The artworks themselves are gorgeous often being double spreads with some featuring a characteristic style akin to painting with a palette knife. Warm and cool colors bring mood to various areas like the greenery of the new coastline and the cold grey isolated alleyways. Use of lighting is wonderful, and rays of sunlight dapple the inside of Victorian-esque abodes. Rough yet precise development designs are also present.
Characters and creatures
Attention to details, accuracy and backstory was in mind when designing costumes and characters. Artists drew inspiration from various sources ranging from the Mexican Revolution to classic artist Delacroix among others. Apparel and physical attributes have stories to tell. Thus a variety of body types were designed for the game from the roughened skin of square-jawed miners to the soft smooth tone of the prim upper class. Corvo and his attire was redesigned to reflect his new position after 15 years since Dishonored’s events.
Flora and fauna
There are a swath of new animals, plants and insects that were conceptualized. I get happy seeing some influences close to home: there are creatures that look like aardvarks, baboons, rhinos, weavers and buck. There are tons of designs that I can see have familiar animals and plants peeking through. I wish I could go through them all but I’ll leave that joy to the buyers of the art book.
Different characters and factions require different weapons. So there’s a cornucopia of functional, steampunk-styled weaponry designs with various artistic flairs. A detail that impressed me was how the thugs’ sword showed off rough welding between the blade and hilt. This emphasizes what an appropriately crude, raw weapon it is.
Careful world building can be seen with the designs of the everyday objects inhabitants would use. Arkane Studios took into account how and why crafters of their world with their technology would build objects. There are intricately detailed props from posters of past in-game events to blueprints of in-game objects.
These form part of visual storytelling that was used for promotions and that can be gleaned from in-game inhabitants or explorers. Artworks were done to represent in-game painters and each has their own distinct style. They form part of legends you learn about and develop areas you can’t visit in-game but fuel your imagination.
A small thing I’d like to mention is I have been following Dishonored 2 artist Sergey Kolesov on Facebook (Like his page here). I could tell by all his Dishonored 2 posts that he had pride in the game. He frequently posted his works, advertising the game and talking about it like crazy. I had never seen anything like it. I am quite impressed and feel he has helped bring this game into the light. So just a shout out to him! If a respectable artist believes in their work it increases the reputation of the game in my eyes.