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Afterwords: Thief Devs Shed Light On Long Loads, Dishonored Similarities

by Ben Reeves on Apr 07, 2014 at 06:00 AM

Thief is a fairly traditional stealth game that pays homage to its original series class roots. While some people felt that it might not have been innovative enough, we had a lot of fun sneaking through its shadows. We spoke to senior producer Stéphane Roy about the game’s much debated development and its possible future.

Thief has had such a legacy, and inspired a lot of other games. Did you feel anxious at all working on the title?
Stéphane Roy: Anxious, blessed, apprehensive, lucky, worried...pretty much the entire gamut, but mainly excited. Coming onto a project like Thief, where there is already such an enthusiastic and passionate community is an exciting thing. While fans can be very vocal during the development process, it was good to get that kind of feedback along the way.

Something always ends up on the cutting-room floor; what didn’t make it into the final game?
Between the drawing board and the final product we always have to make some cuts. One example is with the story between missions 3 and 4 – there is a cinematic where Orion tells Garrett to go to talk to Jacob. Jacob is one of Orion’s supporters who has precious information to share with Garrett. Orion warns Garrett that he has to hurry since Jacob is due to be tortured by the Baron’s guards.

However, as Mission 4 begins, Garrett says something along the lines of, “Hmm, Jacob is already dead, so I have to find another way to get the information I’m looking for.” The original plan was for Garrett to make it to Jacob in time and have a conversation that filled players in on the information they needed. Unfortunately, for poor Mr. Jacob, we had to kill him off before Garrett arrived.

Considering some of the internal turnover at the studio, the game’s development got a lot of press. Did you think that was fair?
Did the game’s development seem all that different from most games? From my personal experience, honestly no. To complete a project like this, you need a lot of professional people with different expertise and personalities – you need very technical and artistic people, programmers, artists, designers, musicians, actors, animators, sound designers. Let’s be honest, it’s a challenge just to make sure all these people push in the same direction with the same goals. Am I surprised if sometimes there are diverging opinions? Absolutely not. There’s a proverb that I love that states: if everybody in a room all thinks the same thing, it means only one person is thinking.

Eidos was developing Thief well before Dishonored came out, so were you surprised that Arkane’s game explored so many similar themes, such as a city riddled with a plague, a resistance group, and a corrupt government? Were there any internal discussions to try and move away from similar territory?
Yes, when Dishonored came out and we played it, a lot of the people on the team were worried about these similarities – some were even paranoid that we had a mole on our team. We had quite a few discussions internally about this, but in the end we decided to stay true to what we wanted our Thief to be so we kept everything as-is.

The asylum mission seemed like an interested twist to the design of the game – offering fans a slower, almost horror-like experience. What inspired the design of this level?
During the conception phase we talked a lot about the DNA of the franchise. We noticed that the previous Thief games had these types of survival/horror missions. For example, a lot of people still praise The Shalebridge Cradle mission as one of their favorites. So the decision to include this type of mission was easy to make – it just felt right to us. We are very proud of this mission, and according to a lot of players, the Asylum is one of their favorites. A stealth game and a horror game have a lot of similarities so the fit is just perfect.

The original Thief voice actor Stephen Russell has a lot of fans; did you pursue him to play Garret?
We were all very big fans of Stephen Russell’s previous work on Thief – the originals would not have been what they were without him. However we did not make Thief 4; this was a new entry into the series, and we wanted to make sure that we weren’t presenting a carbon copy of the previous games and the previous Garrett.

The environments don’t seem overly large, so why are there so many loading screens in a game?
The richness of the art and audio, which support this story-driven game, contributed to the streaming needs. Audio is super important in a game like Thief, and we wanted to provide strong ambiance and an immersive experience for the players. The environments are not overly large, but most loaded sections are a playground of over 100 meters by 100 meters without any loading, where you can experience a seamless gameplay. Part of this justification also goes with the production's desires of placing the player in a very rich, but also distinct environment in term of assets and textures. Thief is a game of light and shadow, cat and mouse gameplay – to ensure that we were having the higher definition in term of shadows, we used pre-processed data (baked lightmaps) that were unique from one area to the other.

The creative team on the project wanted to change a lot of these numbers to enhance the experience, so our technical team needed to come up with dedicated streaming zones to handle the swap from one area to another, where they felt that it would also support the pacing of the gameplay experience. We needed to have these loading zones in there in order to create the rich, immersive environment you see in the game.

What was the thinking behind changing the utility of the rope arrow? In previous games you were able to use it almost anywhere.
We wanted rope arrows to be puzzle-like elements in the environment, allowing players who looked around to be rewarded. When players have a limited supply of rope arrows that can be used anywhere on the map, we found that people tended to not use them at all in fear that they’d be wasted. Now, when someone sees the rope arrow anchor, we want them to think and consider their options “I can either go up here or look around for another entrance.”

The game allows players to turn off almost every HUD element, which is a bold move targeted to the hardcore fans. How many players have opted to experience the game this way?
You have no clue how many people told us during the production of the game how tired they are of developers making games so easy that players don’t have to think anymore. At the same time, there are a lot of players who want to casually enjoy their games and if they get stuck, they will check for guides or walkthrough videos online.

Like we’ve said, it’s impossible to please everybody, so giving freedom to players is our way to provide a custom tailored experience for every type of gamer. We’re very proud of this feature in Thief and we’ve received a lot of compliments about this from the community.

We’ve seen a pretty good amount of people playing with the difficulty options turned on – 700 points is the minimum for one of the achievements – and we’re excited to see the online scoreboards get more competitive as players really begin to perfect their mechanics.

What do you think about BioShock Infinite: Burial At Sea – Episode 2’s obvious nod to previous Thief games?
In the last year, we’ve been asked many times if we felt there is a future for stealth game. Can you have a better answer than this game mode and nod to Thief? We’re all big fans of the BioShock games, and we all thought this was pretty awesome.


For more on Thief read our review, or visit our Thief cover hub.