Invent

The Problem With Thief


Speaking at the ACMI Game Masters Exhibition in Melbourne, Warren Spector has elaborated on his frustrations with the Thief series and how they related to the origin of Deus Ex. Our transcript follows.


“Let me be clear: Thief is one of my favourite games. I love the Thief series. I adore it. But my frustration was very specific. I would sit in on team meetings as we were testing the game. There are countless places in various Thief games – let’s talk about the first one – where I would sit in on a team meeting and say, look, I’ve been playing the game, and that spot is too tough for me to sneak past. I can’t do it. Let me use my sword. I’m not gonna use it all the time! The weapons were purposely de-powered, not to encourage, but to force people to play the way the game required play, right?”

“It was a stealth game. If you made the weapons too powerful, the team feared that no one would sneak. Games are work. That’s the truth that dare not be spoken, right? The reason I don’t believe we will ever be a mass medium in the same way that sixty million people will watch a television show, or fifty million people will go to see a movie around the world – games are work, in a way that other media are not. Sneaking is hard work. It is harder than swinging a virtual sword, or firing a virtual gun.”

Games are work, in a way that other media are not.

 
“I was the producer, and I could have put my foot down. I always say, I’m the guy on the team who has one more vote than everybody else combined. But you want to use that power carefully. On Disney Epic Mickey 2, I used it twice. I don’t want to talk about what they are – after we ship, I’ll tell you.”

But Thief was a stealth game. And the fact that it was too hard for me to sneak past these places – yeah, okay, I’m a lame gamer, I’ll deal with it. But, in the back of my mind, I was thinking… I’m going to show these guys. I’m going to build a team and make a game where you can fight, sneak or talk your way past any problem, and show them that they are completely wrong. And there were some curse words in there that I’m not gonna say.”

“And that was where Deus Ex came from – that frustration that the team was so stubborn – and for Thief, so right. I was going to show them there was another way. Dammit.”

 ACMI’s Game Masters Exhibit is currently open as part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces program.

Daniel Hindes

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Neon Struct Developer Interview – Structural Analysis
Neon Struct Stealth Review – The Fluorescence Age
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A Midnight Sermon
Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Conclusion
Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part
Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part
Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part
Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part
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6 Responses to The Problem With Thief

  1. By Sabathius, July 3, 2012 at 4:10 am

    Great, great article on a subject I just adore. The only thing I wish is that it were longer. I respect everyone from the Looking Glass team, Warren doubly so. He has brought a lot of gaming goodness into the gaming world, and I’m grateful to him (and everyone else who lovingly brought Thief into this world).

  2. By Frank, July 3, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    “It was a stealth game. If you made the weapons too powerful, the team feared that no one would sneak.” Which is unfortunately why Splinter Cell is not a sneaker anymore. Sam is the ultimate soldier with instant-kill options. Maxime Beland should read this. Then again, he wanted to make it a shooter anyway, not a stealth game.

    • By Linkage, July 3, 2012 at 10:31 pm

      I don’t entirely agree. I think Splinter Cell still has its share of potential for stealthy play, even though various aspects of the game design get in the way. If you took Conviction’s mechanics with no changes and just put them in a differently designed campaign I think you might just be able to bring out a noticeably better stealth game even if not the best.
      Even instant-kill options and so on I don’t have a huge issue with. I really don’t mind adding more action to the Splinter Cell games, as long as the core remains stealthy enough (which in Conviction, it didn’t).
      I suppose we just need to see how the Toronto Team goes with enforcing that balance in Blacklist, even though I really don’t know of those chances.

  3. By cuc, July 5, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    The strictness of a pure stealth game’s fail state, that’s one of the central topics in Robert Yang’s Dark Past series, isn’t it?

    http://www.blog.radiator.debacle.us/2011/07/dark-past-part-4-useful-post-or-randy.html

    • By Daniel Hindes, July 6, 2012 at 12:07 am

      I think his issue was a little separate from the idea of an insta-fail state. Though the higher difficulties did impose that upon lethal action, the typical idea of insta-fail happens upon detection, which is something usually out of the player’s control regardless of the lethality of their approach. Even with that restriction, there are always other ways around (either by using gadgets or the environments), so I think Spector’s issue is more localised to a restriction of the direct path, rather than the concept of insta-fail that arises from it.

  4. By SoundMan, September 14, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Anyone else keeping up with the forcefully-retired Mr. Spector’s personal blog?

    http://junctionpoint.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/not-another-games-criticism-rant/

    I hope the man finally gets back to doing what he loves, without control over his future wrested from him by corporate entities. Maybe representatives of his idols will stay out of things next time.

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