The Good Sewer Level: “Dunwall Sewers”

I’ve started a series of videos analyzing the level design and environment art of sewer levels in video games. In this first episode, I walk through the “Dunwall Sewers” level from Dishonored (2012).

Several concepts recur throughout the video:

  • The Dunwall sewers are home to rats. This is where the game introduces the consequences of the rat plague and shows the rats aren’t just woldbuilding and backdrop, but rather a real system that responds to the player. In the earlier parts of the tutorial, we heard about the rat plague, but here through the sewers we see what it means and what it is doing to the city.
  • The sewer is interlinked with the city above it. The two run in parallel, and the player must understand this truth about the sewers in order to see the city of Dunwall for all it is. For those who live on the surface, the sewer is out of sight and out of mind, a dumping ground without consequences. But as we move through the sewer, we see the rot beneath the city, how the dead become food for rats. This ties into film noir themes of the antihero delving into the shadows.
  • Lighting creates a dialogue between the forces intersecting with the sewer. We see the electric blue lighting of authority playing against the flickering warm light of lamps placed by civilians attempting to live in the sewers. We also see natural light in neutral white and subtle blue tones, which is there to remind us of the sewer’s relationship to the city above. The lighting is also another source of reference from film noir, using diagonal spotlights with sharp parallel lines cutting across it in bars, like The Third Man or Touch of Evil.

If this has you inspired to make your own sewer level, the Quake Sewer Map Jam starts tomorrow!

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