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Thief: Deadly Shadows Interview

/ May 1st, 2004 No Comments

The thought struck me one midnight a few months ago. I sat playing an excellent fan mission for Thief 2, muttering “ohgodohgodohgod…” to myself as master thief Garrett crouched in a darkened corner with a horrific Haunt monster approaching and poised to attack. It occurred to me then that no game – not even the thrill ride that was Half-Life – has gripped my senses to the monitor as much as Thief. The 500 or so MB of generally excellent fan designed missions for Thief and Thief 2 now on my hard drive attests to this, as does my continued habit of replaying both original games.    

In May, Eidos and developer Ion Storm hope to slip Garrett back into the gaming spotlight with Thief: Deadly Shadows, the third installment of the Thief series. Ditching the usual shooter kill-‘em-all conventions of first person games, Thief instead challenges players to be careful, crafty, and hold their nerves in check even when they lean around a corner to see their end coming right toward them. Jordan Thomas, Lead Designer of Thief: DS, took time to answer some of the questions we had about the game, including where it stands in the first-person action genre, its game play changes, and its open-ended design (also provided us some exclusive screenshots as well!)

Q.
What do you think earned the Thief series its distinction as “the thinking player’s shooter?”
A.
I think ‘shooter’ is a bit of a misnomer, to be honest. Most run-and-gun titles are variations on ‘dodgeball’. Thief is ‘hide and seek’ in a very rough neighborhood. Garrett, our player character, is extraordinary in an atypical way. As a master thief, he can become invisible and inaudible when he wants to be. That alone is still relatively rare among video game protagonists.

Garrett is vulnerable, however, when cornered. Only recently has the gaming public become familiar with that paradigm: sneak or be surrounded. It’s a rough but rewarding transition.

Why? Well, stealth in Thief: Deadly Shadows is a very active process. Flitting from pillar to pillar, easing slowly across metal grates, scaling a wall to bypass a sentinel in pursuit of a golden goblet – these are very tense, strategic actions on the part of the player. And that’s to say nothing of the myriad tools you can choose between. Dropping softly down behind a guard and watching him crumple in a heap from your swift blackjack strike is, well, criminally satisfying. That’s a fair departure from ‘bang, you’re dead!’

Q.
John Carmack described in a CNN interview awhile back about how he was concerned with making games simpler and more accessible rather than more complex. What are your thoughts on how simple or complex a game should be?
A.
’m a firm believer in a layered approach to game design. The initial pick-up-and-play experience should be easy to understand, appropriately challenging, and highly rewarding. Wrapped around that, you’ve got a deeply simulated world that responds as expected when the player decides to branch out. And, you drop hints about that latent depth.

If he or she desires a break from stalking guards with the dagger, and wants to try crushing them under a giant stone urn or leading them into a pack of ravenous zombies, that second layer of interactivity is there, waiting.

There is absolutely no reason why a game cannot be utterly sublime in its simplicity at first glance, and support dizzying possibilities for action and consequence. Chess and Go are perfect examples.

Q.
Is there anything about Thief: DS’s design that you would consider simplified or made more complex compared to the previous Thief games and if so, what do you feel the change adds to the experience?
A.
I’d say that Deadly Shadows requires you to endure fewer eccentricities of experimental design (being unable to physically defend yourself at all on Expert difficulty, for example) than the previous games.

Lockpicking has also improved a great deal. In T:DS, you actually feel out the tumblers of a lock, bypassing them one by one by searching for audio, tactile, and visual cues. It’s something that you, the player, can actually seek to master as you play, which has real in-game results.

But if you’ve stolen the key already from a guard, you simply pass through. Easier than the previous titles, in the latter case. In both situations, though, the player chose a stealthy course of action that enhanced their experience, and that’s what we were after.

Q.
Can you please give an overview of the Thief: Deadly Shadows story? What are the inspirations for its rather dark mix of industrial and fantasy conventions?
A.
 I’m not much for plot spoilers, but I will say that Garrett has decided to work with the Keepers, who are a clandestine secret society interested in preserving a sort of murky “balance’ in the City. They study ancient texts full of arcane glyph-magic, and presently fear an impending “Dark Age.”

Garrett somewhat skeptically employs his larcenous talents in order to prod them along, because he has already seen evidence of troubling times ahead for the City. As the finest thief that ever lived, he has a vested interest in the continued well-being of his crimescape. So he decides to act upon his own interpretations of the Keeper prophecies. And as he begins to discover, some very dark writing is on the wall.

As for book inspirations, they range from Oliver to From Hell. Movies range from The Name of the Rose to City of Lost Children.

Q.
How will the third person perspective change the game play in Thief? For example, will changing to 3rd person perspective alter the view in such a way so Garrett can avoid being surprised by a guard approaching from behind?
A.
Thief gameplay in 3rd person is still pretty tense, but it tends to be slightly faster paced and leads to more daring escapes than close calls. First person has the opposite ratio. I actually tend to use both cameras. First person for missions, third in the City. I may be in the minority, however.
Q.
Can you describe the open-ended aspects of Thief: DS game play? Are there any plans to translate the open-ended elements of the game into a multiplayer angle as well?
A.
 T:DS missions have the same structural feel as the previous titles; you are unleashed on a highly affluent establishment of some kind, including but not limited to cathedrals, castles, encampments, and mansions.

The level design is as realistic and as interconnected as possible; you’re free to take a window entrance, or secret tunnel, or clamber up to the roof. Once inside, there are multiple paths to any given goal. You’ve got a loose structure of definite goals, but the plan you execute is all yours.

Additionally, this installment of the series includes several non-linear city section environments. In those, you’re free to mug civilians, tangle with the City Watch, climb around on the buildings and harvest resources, and break into private residences at will. You make your own trouble.

As for multiplayer, well – Deadly Shadows is a focused single-player experience, but for the future? No convention is written in blood. The possibilities for innovations in stealth gameplay are limitless. ‘Hide and seek’ could easily become ‘sardines.’

Q.
One of the things I enjoyed greatly about the previous Thief games was the conversations the games characters would have as you sneaked through the shadows. Will we see these exchanges continue in Thief: DS?
A.
Of course. Any Thief game is an eavesdropper’s paradise. Deadly Shadows is no exception. Garrett doesn’t waste words, but everyone else has plenty to say about being forced to work the late shift.
Q.
What games, PC or console, are you being most impressed by at the moment?
A.
Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is certainly on my radar at the moment. Animal Crossing was also a very interesting experiment. Got to give Vice City a nod, of course. I recently played through Eternal Darkness, which was right up my alley. Morrowind also devoured many precious revolutions of my life’s clock.

The thought struck me one midnight a few months ago. I sat playing an excellent fan mission for Thief 2, muttering “ohgodohgodohgod…” to myself as master thief Garrett crouched in a darkened corner with a horrific Haunt monster approaching and poised to attack. It occurred to me then that no game – not even the thrill ride that was Half-Life – has gripped my senses to the monitor as much as Thief. The 500 or so MB of generally excellent fan designed missions for Thief and Thief 2 now on my hard drive attests to this, as does my continued habit of replaying both original games.    

In May, Eidos and developer Ion Storm hope to slip Garrett back into the gaming spotlight with Thief: Deadly Shadows, the third installment of the Thief series. Ditching the usual shooter kill-‘em-all conventions of first person games, Thief instead challenges players to be careful, crafty, and hold their nerves in check even when they lean around a corner to see their end coming right toward them. Jordan Thomas, Lead Designer of Thief: DS, took time to answer some of the questions we had about the game, including where it stands in the first-person action genre, its game play changes, and its open-ended design (also provided us some exclusive screenshots as well!)

Q.

What do you think earned the Thief series its distinction as “the thinking player’s shooter?”

A.

I think ‘shooter’ is a bit of a misnomer, to be honest. Most run-and-gun titles are variations on ‘dodgeball’. Thief is ‘hide and seek’ in a very rough neighborhood. Garrett, our player character, is extraordinary in an atypical way. As a master thief, he can become invisible and inaudible when he wants to be. That alone is still relatively rare among video game protagonists.

Garrett is vulnerable, however, when cornered. Only recently has the gaming public become familiar with that paradigm: sneak or be surrounded. It’s a rough but rewarding transition.

Why? Well, stealth in Thief: Deadly Shadows is a very active process. Flitting from pillar to pillar, easing slowly across metal grates, scaling a wall to bypass a sentinel in pursuit of a golden goblet – these are very tense, strategic actions on the part of the player. And that’s to say nothing of the myriad tools you can choose between. Dropping softly down behind a guard and watching him crumple in a heap from your swift blackjack strike is, well, criminally satisfying. That’s a fair departure from ‘bang, you’re dead!’

Q.

John Carmack described in a CNN interview awhile back about how he was concerned with making games simpler and more accessible rather than more complex. What are your thoughts on how simple or complex a game should be?

A.

’m a firm believer in a layered approach to game design. The initial pick-up-and-play experience should be easy to understand, appropriately challenging, and highly rewarding. Wrapped around that, you’ve got a deeply simulated world that responds as expected when the player decides to branch out. And, you drop hints about that latent depth.

If he or she desires a break from stalking guards with the dagger, and wants to try crushing them under a giant stone urn or leading them into a pack of ravenous zombies, that second layer of interactivity is there, waiting.

There is absolutely no reason why a game cannot be utterly sublime in its simplicity at first glance, and support dizzying possibilities for action and consequence. Chess and Go are perfect examples.

Q.

Is there anything about Thief: DS’s design that you would consider simplified or made more complex compared to the previous Thief games and if so, what do you feel the change adds to the experience?

A.

I’d say that Deadly Shadows requires you to endure fewer eccentricities of experimental design (being unable to physically defend yourself at all on Expert difficulty, for example) than the previous games.

Lockpicking has also improved a great deal. In T:DS, you actually feel out the tumblers of a lock, bypassing them one by one by searching for audio, tactile, and visual cues. It’s something that you, the player, can actually seek to master as you play, which has real in-game results.

But if you’ve stolen the key already from a guard, you simply pass through. Easier than the previous titles, in the latter case. In both situations, though, the player chose a stealthy course of action that enhanced their experience, and that’s what we were after.

Q.

Can you please give an overview of the Thief: Deadly Shadows story? What are the inspirations for its rather dark mix of industrial and fantasy conventions?

A.

 I’m not much for plot spoilers, but I will say that Garrett has decided to work with the Keepers, who are a clandestine secret society interested in preserving a sort of murky “balance’ in the City. They study ancient texts full of arcane glyph-magic, and presently fear an impending “Dark Age.”

Garrett somewhat skeptically employs his larcenous talents in order to prod them along, because he has already seen evidence of troubling times ahead for the City. As the finest thief that ever lived, he has a vested interest in the continued well-being of his crimescape. So he decides to act upon his own interpretations of the Keeper prophecies. And as he begins to discover, some very dark writing is on the wall.

As for book inspirations, they range from Oliver to From Hell. Movies range from The Name of the Rose to City of Lost Children.

Q.

How will the third person perspective change the game play in Thief? For example, will changing to 3rd person perspective alter the view in such a way so Garrett can avoid being surprised by a guard approaching from behind?

A.

Thief gameplay in 3rd person is still pretty tense, but it tends to be slightly faster paced and leads to more daring escapes than close calls. First person has the opposite ratio. I actually tend to use both cameras. First person for missions, third in the City. I may be in the minority, however.

Q.

Can you describe the open-ended aspects of Thief: DS game play? Are there any plans to translate the open-ended elements of the game into a multiplayer angle as well?

A.

 T:DS missions have the same structural feel as the previous titles; you are unleashed on a highly affluent establishment of some kind, including but not limited to cathedrals, castles, encampments, and mansions.

The level design is as realistic and as interconnected as possible; you’re free to take a window entrance, or secret tunnel, or clamber up to the roof. Once inside, there are multiple paths to any given goal. You’ve got a loose structure of definite goals, but the plan you execute is all yours.

Additionally, this installment of the series includes several non-linear city section environments. In those, you’re free to mug civilians, tangle with the City Watch, climb around on the buildings and harvest resources, and break into private residences at will. You make your own trouble.

As for multiplayer, well – Deadly Shadows is a focused single-player experience, but for the future? No convention is written in blood. The possibilities for innovations in stealth gameplay are limitless. ‘Hide and seek’ could easily become ‘sardines.’

Q.

One of the things I enjoyed greatly about the previous Thief games was the conversations the games characters would have as you sneaked through the shadows. Will we see these exchanges continue in Thief: DS?

A.

Of course. Any Thief game is an eavesdropper’s paradise. Deadly Shadows is no exception. Garrett doesn’t waste words, but everyone else has plenty to say about being forced to work the late shift.

Q.

What games, PC or console, are you being most impressed by at the moment?

A.

Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is certainly on my radar at the moment. Animal Crossing was also a very interesting experiment. Got to give Vice City a nod, of course. I recently played through Eternal Darkness, which was right up my alley. Morrowind also devoured many precious revolutions of my life’s clock.

GI Staff

GI Staff

This post features writing by members of the Gaming Illustrated staff. Thanks for reading, and follow us on Twitter @GamingIllustrat
GI Staff

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