At night, Dishonored's sprawling city of Dunwall looks particularly magnificent. Lit windows dot a canopy of angular roofs and spires, and stacks continuously belch out whale-oil smoke—a signature of the city's bustling industry. It's easy to forget about Corvo Attano's errand of revenge and simply drink in Dunwall's details, but Arkane's journey building Dunwall was a far more elaborate process. At a GDC talk (via Polygon ), Art Director Sebastien Mitton describes how experiencing "the life of a city" visited by the team eventually shaped Dunwall's culture and identity.
Arkane trekked to well-known cities such as London and Edinburgh because of their mixture of preserved historical buildings and new construction. Instead of confining themselves to tourist routes, the team set a destination point and bee-lined for it using backstreets and alleyways. Mitton says such a method was instrumental in picking up on the essence of a city over simply gathering volumes of reference photographs.
"Making trips is not just going into a location and taking photographs of textures and more textures and more textures," he explains. "It's to feel the city, feel the life of the city. To be on location, to talk to people."
Mitton goes on to say Dishonored's artists were careful to pick up on subtle nuances during visits such as street light behavior to help furnish Dunwall with small touches of personality. Capturing a city's "mysticism" was the ultimate goal, Mitton states.
A more striking change for Dunwall's design was a shift from its original setting in feudal Japan. Arkane ultimately felt that its unfamiliarity with Japanese culture wouldn't align well with its intentions, so it settled on a "gap" between a 17th century appearance and a 20th century technology level. Mitton also brings up period artists such as Jean-Eugène Buland and John Atkinson Grimshaw as important sources of material.