Ninjas. According to an interview with Raphael Colantonio and Harvey Smith, in the Official PlayStation Magazine – UK, that was the original pitch for Dishonored. Just “ninjas.”
The co-creators say that idea evolved into “supernatural assassin in a steampunk city,” and finally into, “an industrial whaling city beset by a terrible plague, the royal bodyguard is blamed for the murder of the Empress and must hunt down those responsible and exact revenge.”
This seems like quite the path from simply “ninjas,” but such is the wacky world of game development. What never changed though was the concept of player choice with the option of taking a more hands off approach to the violence.
Those interested in some additional insight on the evolution of this extraordinary game, as well as some more great quotes from Colantonio and Smith, check out the full making of article here.