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 Thief  producer on next-gen dev: 'We're trying not to go crazy'
Thief producer on next-gen dev: 'We're trying not to go crazy' Exclusive
June 11, 2013 | By Patrick Miller

June 11, 2013 | By Patrick Miller
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    12 comments
More: Console/PC, Production, Exclusive, E3



Gamasutra caught up with Square Enix's Thief producer Stephane Roy at E3 today. Here are a few choice extracts from the Q&A, about the challenges of rebooting a classic IP, next-gen production and development, and creative influences."

Learning lessons from Deus Ex: Human Revolution on rebooting a beloved IP:

"It was cool to have [the Deus Ex: Human Revolution dev team] in the studio with us because it's easy to think that '[Thief fans] are telling us we have to have this and that and go there", and they remind us that we have to be cool and trust our instincts, because they had to do the same thing with Deus Ex."

On managing budgets for developing content in open-ended games:

"This type of game, as a producer, can be really frustrating. You have this setting in a garden, let's say, and if you play like a perfect thief, like a ghost, you'll see a scripted event where two guards talk about their wives, and the captain is doing something, it's rich and you are in the universe and you can hear the conversations -- it's a lot of money, a lot of energy for my team to make all that. But then you do something, the guard says 'ALERT' and all that vanishes -- psshh! It's not there.

"What we do is that we ensure in the level design that all the ingredients are there; you have reasons to provoke things, making sure it's so well done that nothing feels scripted. We want the player to think, 'Hey, I have this idea!' Yes, you have that idea, but we're going to help you to have this idea, because trying to do everything is just impossible."

On next-gen dev practices and advantages:

"For this generation, what I really appreciate, and I don't think this will last very long, but people are not complaining about limitations. What they have in mind on paper, we can make it happen. It's fresh air, you know -- 'Can we do that? Yes, we can!'

"We're trying to not go crazy. We fell in this trap where we said, 'Oh, let's just produce more!', it became unmanageable, the costs just exploded, and at the end of the day the player didn't receive what they should have received. The machine is more powerful, and here is where this matters most to our player, but the player didn't ask for that over there.

"It's really important from a production point of view that you can tell which departments are most important. If you're making a dancing game, your animations will be really important, and you need to follow that to support this vision. You can't tell every department 'You are all equally important!' or you'll have a hard time closing the game."

On creative influences:

"Mark of the Ninja, it's a small indie game. It's been great to see that sometimes you don't need all these features to make something fun. Sometimes, more complicated doesn't mean it's fun. Movies have been an inspiration, too -- Sherlock Holmes has been one, the combat in the movies, the story in the novels."


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Comments


Michael Joseph
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"This type of game, as a producer, can be really frustrating......

What we do is that we ensure in the level design that all the ingredients are there; you have reasons to provoke things, making sure it's so well done that nothing feels scripted. We want the player to think, 'Hey, I have this idea!' Yes, you have that idea, but we're going to help you to have this idea, because trying to do everything is just impossible."
---

that's a rather remarkable quote. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't he saying we're going to create an experience that is on rails but which doesn't feel like it's on rails?

Good luck with that. My expectations for this game have suddenly fallen off a cliff.

A S
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Sounds very similar to DE:HR, no?

Michael Joseph
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Yes it does. For me that's not a good thing.

To each his own I guess.

I'd prefer to play a rogue in a more rogue-like fashion.

Bart Stewart
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That's the quote that jumped out at me, too. It's hard not to read this as, "We prefer to make a highly controlled game; the difference is that we're hiding how controlled it is."

I did play and enjoy all the previous Thief games. And I strongly prefer the first two, as well as the first Deus Ex, and the first System Shock, so there is a chance that my reaction is just "hurrr, this sounds different from what I remember, so I don't like it."

But I believe there's more to it than that. The reason Stephane Roy's comment makes me less interested in Thief 4 is that, like BioShock Infinite -- which I did not enjoy -- the developers of this Thief seem to be choosing to move further and further away from what made those original Looking Glass and Ion Storm games great: real player choice.

Of course there are always constraints and limits on what players can do. But that's a red herring; there is an important difference between a game explicitly designed to support multiple problem-solving styles (like the Looking Glass and early Ion Storm games) and today's games (including BioShock Infinite, Call of Duty, and nearly all other AAA games) that are designed to try to control every possibility. The former games are intended to allow player freedom in a mechanically detailed world; the latter games offer developer-dictated interactive cutscenes in a visually detailed world. That is not the same thing at all.

That doesn't mean Eidos are wrong to make developer-controlled games. Those sell to console players, unlike the original PC-based System Shock/Thief/Deus Ex. Maybe getting highly controlled entertainment experiences is the best that gamers can hope for now, and those of us who enjoyed the originals should just be glad somebody's willing to sell us things that revisit the settings of those games.

Maybe.

I haven't played Thief 4. I did see the E3 gameplay (with Keighley) that apparently didn't go as planned. So I'm not willing to write off Thief 4 now. Deus Ex: Human Revolution wasn't as open as the original, but it was a good game. It's possible that Thief 4 will be a good game.

But right now, with the decisions that have been announced and shown, I'm not getting my hopes up for a "Thief game." The illusion of freedom is not freedom.

Dane MacMahon
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David Gaider talks a lot about this on the Bioware forums. He basically said, especially during Dragon Age 2 discussion, that they focus on the illusion of choice, not actual choice, and you just have to make the player feel like they're deciding something. The Walking Dead arguably did the same exact thing.

If Thief has the goal to do the same thing, but with non-linearity out of linearity, that wouldn't surprise me. This project is obviously troubled and needs to tone things down to hit release.

Not that it's a good thing.

John Flush
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@Dane - "The Walking Dead arguably did the same exact thing"

Exactly. And I pissed me off. I still haven't finished the last episode because of it. the first bit of it I was: "I can't wait to play this again", then I realized (and confirmed it with others) that it really isn't giving you any choice at all. It lost a lot of steam with me after that.

Daniel Backteman
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You're speculating about this all too seriously. It's a game, of course you cannot do anything. All he is saying is that not everything will work ("Rubbing my butt against the lock should open it!"), and they are trying to provide hints on what can work.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the game in on rails. It might be, but nothing in that quote reveals such direction.

Leave your opinion for Thief intact and please don't punish people for not speaking PR fluff.

Michael Joseph
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I'll definitely keep an open mind.

For me the central question is will the new Thief be something I'll want to replay over and over as was encouraged in Thief 1 & 2?

Or will it be like Dishonored where you get through it one time and you're done. Sure you can attempt to replay it at different difficulties and without killing anyone, but you just don't care to.

Maria Jayne
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@ Michael Joseph "Or will it be like Dishonored where you get through it one time and you're done. Sure you can attempt to replay it at different difficulties and without killing anyone, but you just don't care to."

Speak for yourself, I've played and completed all the Thief games and I replayed Dishonored precisely to be a murderous evil bastard. Doing that in any of the thief games was irrelevant, they all ended the same no matter what.

Dane MacMahon
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As we head into the world of 8GB of RAM and such, while budgets were already too high last time for the market that's out there in most cases, dev teams are going to have to learn and practice restraint.

Caleb Garner
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I just hope they keep the same voice actors! I loved that T3 kept the integrity of the voice actors after a sizable gap in time between T2 and T2.. Garrett simply won't be the same without the same voice voice.. or the guards..

Luis Guimaraes
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Just as expected.


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