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The Downfall of the Thief Series 84

Posted by Zonk
from the where-it-went-wrong dept.
Via Kotaku, an interview at Evil Avatar about the bad end of the Thief series. They discuss the game series with designer Randy Smith, who details the fine points of the early games and the ignoble end for the trilogy of games. From the article: "I view Thief 3's more action-inclined gameplay as being more than necessary for a mass-market acceptance. The problems with Thief 3 were the same as the problems that plagued Deus Ex: Invisible War - it was the tech. The team scaled back the freeform design, incorporated loading zones, not to mention the unstable frame rate and other misc. issues derived from the technology. The gameplay was relatively solid by comparison."
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The Downfall of the Thief Series

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  • by alfs boner (963844) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @04:08PM (#15543078) Homepage Journal
    I find the Thief series redefined what a FPS could be. The game had many things that made it unique. For one, you couldn't just attack a whole army of soldier, because you were guaranteed to get killed.

    It also rewarded you for just sneaking around, stealing and not getting caught. At the time, it was the only game in the FPS category that you could complete without killing anyone. Even now, I haven't seen a game where you could do that.

    The one thing that disappointed me the most was that no one else got into the thief genre. Once the company went belly up, I haven't seen a game that created the same tense, yet immersive environment that Thief 1 and 2 (haven't played 3).

    • It also rewarded you for just sneaking around, stealing and not getting caught. At the time, it was the only game in the FPS category that you could complete without killing anyone. Even now, I haven't seen a game where you could do that.

      Emphasis mine... Strange, as I have Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory at home. The only way to get 100% complete on any level is to not kill anybody while still completing all objectives.
      • Don't forget the hitman series. Hitman 1 I don't believe was completable without killing anyone (that damn rambo mission), but Hitman 2 & 3 definitely were. It didn't involve the light meter "hiding" spot stuff so much, but I think between that and Splinter Cell you've got tons of Theif like gameplay available. Both of those games are going to have next-gen sequels too, so the genre isn't going anywhere.
      • Emphasis mine... Strange, as I have Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory at home. The only way to get 100% complete on any level is to not kill anybody while still completing all objectives.

        All of the Splinter Cell games have been that way. Also, don't forget the Hitman games. While they do allow you the option of running and gunning through the game (nearly impossible in Splinter Cell, impossible in Thief), you can only get Silent Assassin rankings by leaving no trace. That means not killing anybody but your

        • Tenchu wasn't something you'd complete without killing, but it did encourage the use of stealth. I only ever played it on the Playstation, and then Tenchu II (I think) on the Xbox.
    • The first game I've played that has re-created the fun of Thief 1 is Oblivion (when played strictly "thiefy").
    • It also rewarded you for just sneaking around, stealing and not getting caught. At the time, it was the only game in the FPS category that you could complete without killing anyone. Even now, I haven't seen a game where you could do that.

      Maybe you would enjoy Cold War [coldwar-game.com]. One of its modes is pacifist where you can't kill anyone ... which adds a certain edge to sneaking around distracting Russian guards with AK47s. Best of all, it's available for Linux [linuxgamepublishing.com] as well as Windows.

      Cheers,
      Toby Haynes

    • I enjoyed the different era. It seems most FPS are either modern combat, WWII oriented, or set in the future. But Thief was just so different in the time that it put you in. Though some of the missions put you in "OMG WTF were they thinking" mode, like the Spiders in Thief II for instance, wtf was that about? And the robots?

      I'm still waiting for that FPS that puts you in a trench in WWI, or charging over the top of a trench into machine gun fire. Why hasn't this been done yet?
      • I'm still waiting for that FPS that puts you in a trench in WWI, or charging over the top of a trench into machine gun fire. Why hasn't this been done yet?

        The gameplay is too linear, everybody is a camper, and each level lasts three to five seconds.
    • it was the only game in the FPS category that you could complete without killing anyone

      when I played it, I was so used to the "classical" fps approach that I killed every single enemy...
  • Typical (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Reason58 (775044)
    This is what you get when you compromise your vision and integrity for the dollar.

    It is funny he mentions Deus Ex, as I loved the original game and was left extremely disapointed with it's incarnation. Not only did they lose their extremely strong original fanbase that helped to build them, but they lost the mainstream appeal they were so desperately hoping to cash in on.
    • "This is what you get when you compromise your vision and integrity for the dollar."

      Disclaimer: I program games for a living.

      The way the games business works these days, there's a very significant chance that compromising their vision and integrity was required for the developer to be able to make the game in the first place.

      It's very easy for the developer to end up handcuffed into making compromises they (obviously) would not want to make because when it really comes down to it, the publisher

      • I wouldn't be surprised at all if the developer was staring at the choice of "Make the game, but with a few changes that the publisher is convinced will lead to sales" or "Don't make the game at all".
        And that is exactly where the decision between integrity and money come into play. Of course it is all shades of grey, just some greys are darker than others. ;)
        • Re:Typical (Score:3, Insightful)

          by CaptainCarrot (84625)

          Game programmers deserve to get paid, and game companies deserve to make a profit. It's very easy to sit back from a distance and preach to others about integrity. It's not so easy to be the guy running a game company that's barely breaking even because artistic vision is more important than commercial success.

          I very much wish that Thief as originally conceived had sold better. We'd all be seeing more games like it now if it did. LGS managed to put two games out according to their original vision -- before

          • If companies always follow the same formulaic sytem for game making then the result is a lot of commercial success and a stagnant industry devoid of innovation.

            Integrity, vision, and not making games for the lowest common denominator are what push gaming (and any industry) forward.
            • Integrity, vision, and not making games for the lowest common denominator are what push gaming (and any industry) forward.

              And ignoring commercial success is a recipe for going out of business. You don't get mch innovation or forward movement that way either.

              Look, I'd prefer it if the real world could work in this naive, idealistic way myself. I much prefer something like Thief (or whatever would follow it) to the latest finely-rendered twicthy gorefest. Unfortunately, it doesn't and it doesn't do much

              • Complacency for the win.

                Practically every great game ever made was done so by people not content with the current industry.
                • So who are you asking to take on all the risk? Should the developer do it himself? Or do you expect a publisher to altruistically throw money around chasing art?
                  • Risk will always be involved; that's a necessary part of gaining anything. Of course, if people in decision making positions within those companies truly had their "finger on the pulse of the gaming community", and weren't detached, suits who base their bottom line on market trends and focus groups then the risk really isn't as great as you might think.
                    • You generalize in ways that make me chuckle. Obviously someone has their finger on the pulse in a lot of these places - there have been a lot of great games throughout the years. Conversely, there have been a large number of unsuccessful artsy for the sake of being artsy games than never recovered their investment.

                      Like it or not, it's a numbers game because it costs money to do the development. It's not all focus groups and market trends (and you denigrate these like they don't work.) What it sounds lik
                • No, realism.

                  Investors don't throw their money away to produce something that will only yield them marginal returns that don't reflect the risk. In the case in point, the Thief series had a track record. It had already shown itself to be hugely innovative in terms of gameplay (and sound modeling, but not graphics or physics) and capable of attracting a small devoted following. See thief-thecircle.com [thief-thecircle.com] to see just how devoted -- the fan-made mission community for Thief 1 and 2 is still going strong after all

  • Deus Ex 2... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Omicron32 (646469) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @04:12PM (#15543128)
    Ugh. Everytime I hear about Invisible War I can't help but cringe.

    I really don't know what they were smoking when they decided to make that game and call it a sequel to perhaps one of the best FPS/RPG games ever made (IMO).

    I almost cried when I played it, I was that disappointed. :(

    At least Thief 3 kinda kept to the theme of the Thief series. Though I still think Thief 2 was the best - The city level when you're heading across rooftops etc was awesome...

    Damn, I gotta dig that game out and play it now.
    • Re:Deus Ex 2... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Danse (1026) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @04:33PM (#15543311)
      Ugh. Everytime I hear about Invisible War I can't help but cringe.

      I really don't know what they were smoking when they decided to make that game and call it a sequel to perhaps one of the best FPS/RPG games ever made (IMO).

      I almost cried when I played it, I was that disappointed. :(

      Yeah, I felt the same way. Deus Ex is among my top 3 favorite games of all time. IW was just a horrible, dumb, consoley mess.

      I haven't felt so cheated by a game since then, that is until I found out about the new Shadowrun game that Microsoft is putting out. Turns out it's a tragic abuse of the Shadowrun license. It must have been designed by a bunch of retarded monkeys to screw up so badly with a license that has so much potential.
    • If you can get Thief 2 to run on a modern system, please make a slashdot post about how. I have tried and tried; it just doesn't want to happen.

      The Thief series defined immersive gameplay, and the cutscenes were the best in any game ever. Period.

      • What exactly seems to be the problem? Maybe give this FAQ [ttlg.com] a whirl, it might have the answer. Otherwise you'll have to post some specifics, either here (where it'll probably get lost in the shuffle) or over on the TTLG forums, or their IRC.
      • Re:Deus Ex 2... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by X0563511 (793323) *
        Check this out:
        http://www.thief2x.com/ [thief2x.com]
      • If you've got a hyperthreaded or multi-core CPU (or just a plain old SMP box) you need to set the executable's affinity (via Task Manager) so it only runs on one CPU. Thief 2 kills itself when migrating between CPUs somehow.

        Runs great on my system (P4 2.5GHz, AGP Radeon x1600), which isn't exactly "modern" but isn't ridiculously old either.
        • It's stupid to reply to myself, but anyway...

          I used to play Thief 2 on my dual P3 666MHz system while ripping CDs. I'd set Thief 2 to use one CPU, and CDex to use the other. Worked like a charm, and was a very enjoyable way to get all of my audio CDs online.
    • I couldn't agree more. DX:IW and Theif 3 both seem completely compromised. Point the finger at "game god", Warren Spector, as he was running the show for both. Sure, he had different leads for each game, but the buck stopped with him. I refuse to beleive that as he played the betas for either of those games he said, "man, these games are fantastic!"

      I wouldn't be so angry if I hadn't spent $100 bucks on both of those POS.

      When I finally got my hands on some hardware that could run DX:IW, you know what I d
  • He said what the problem was in the first sentence in the summary here.
    "I view Thief 3's more action-inclined gameplay as being more than necessary for a mass-market acceptance."
    Exactly. Fans can put up with things like the loading behavior mentioned. Compromises to game play, however, aren't usually accepted. This seems to hold true for the Deus Ex sequel, as well.
    • I don't know about that- Clive Barker's Undying was high-quality, but sold disappointingly, and the only complaint I've ever heard from anyone about it is that it loads every thirty seconds. Maybe lots of loading is a killer.
  • Article Summary (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "We had to support the lowest common denominator (Xbox), therefore the PC version sucked"

    Same goes for Deus Ex : IW

  • by urikkiru (801560) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @04:33PM (#15543310) Journal
    Thief 1 + 2 were great games. Just spectacular.

    So when 3 came out and I snagged it, I was a bit disappointed. For starters, the memory limitations of doing a dual pc/console development, meant that the levels felt... cramped. This was in sharp, sharp contrast to the previous two games that were famous for larger, more sprawling/free form level design. Was a big *ouch* to say the least.

    Secondly, the first two games had quite a few places where you could swim under water for a variety of reasons. It was fairly important as a gameplay bit. In the 3rd one, I walked into ankle deep water, and the game promptly informed me that I had died/passed out, and put me straight into jail :P Total destruction of any immersion there.

    And lastly, the climbing gloves... First two games had you using what were called 'rope arrows'.(Arrow, rope tied to it, you get the idea) Also was a fairly useful/important gameplay feature, for a variety of designed for and not designed for puzzles/situations. Was an awesome feature. In the 3rd? They scrapped it entirely, citing issues getting it to work with the new physics engine. So we got... climbing gloves! Which were only useful in one instance, and pretty much a waste of time for the rest of the game.(The one instance was enforced, you *had* to use them to continue in the game)

    The only thing that saved Thief3 from itself, was the Cradle level. If it wasn't for that, I'd say it was a waste of money. But, I still have a copy, just for that level really.

    Just my 2cents.
    • Re: The Cradle

      Scariest. Level. Ever.

    • I found the climbing gloves to be quite useful, actually. I used them a number of times in the city to avoid patrolls, and get to hidden tunnels or rooftop areas. I also used them in several missions to get up to ledges, etc. I did miss the rope arrows, though. Rope arrows are more challenging, and ultimately more fun. (and I expect that one reason they dropped it was consolification, despite what they say about the physics)

      One improvement from Thief 2 was *I think* relative volume levels. In Thief 1
      • As other posters mentioned, I did miss the big sprawling maps. On a PC, that 5-part city map could have been all one map. Each mission could have been all one map as well. The best thing would be to use some warcraftish techniques to make the whole entire thing all one map ;-)
  • The Thief series is one of the best in gaming -- although Thief 3 does have its drawbacks, it lived up to the franchise reputation far better than I expected, and the inclusion of the between-mission city is IMO an interesting innovation.

    This interview, however, seems rather sparse and hurried...I kept waiting for more and better information to no avail. Certainly enough has been written about the fate of Looking Glass and Thief that this writing is unlikely to add much to the mix.
  • Minor Drawbacks (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Azarael (896715) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @04:39PM (#15543372) Homepage
    I wouldn't say that there was really anything wrong with T3. It was a solid game and I really enjoyed playing it. The Shalebridge Cradle level mentioned in the article was a masterful work of Horror.

    The only thing that I found lacking was that the city was very one dimensional and lacking in variety. Sure you could do some side exploring, but it was nothing compared the free form experience of the elder scrolls games. You were lucky if there was more than one road to take to get somewhere. The ability to explore and do minor missions in a 'full sized' version of the city would have made the game much better. It seemed like that was what they were going for, but had to abandon that for design reasons.

    • Sweet Jesus. This would have been an awesome feature. This is really what I wanted to do in the Thief series most of all. There could have been so many options.

      I can just imagine a huge city built like NYC with the gameplay of TES. Have some plot that you start to uncover as you play through the game. Build connections and fences. Can I get a paper towel?
  • Consolification (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pluvius (734915) <pluvius3@NosPaM.gmail.com> on Thursday June 15, 2006 @04:41PM (#15543391) Journal
    I view Thief 3's more action-inclined gameplay as being more than necessary for a mass-market acceptance. The problems with Thief 3 were the same as the problems that plagued Deus Ex: Invisible War - it was the tech. The team scaled back the freeform design, incorporated loading zones, not to mention the unstable frame rate and other misc. issues derived from the technology. The gameplay was relative solid by comparison.

    I believe the term they're looking for is "consolification." That's when the publisher of a game series that is traditionally for the PC (and for good reason) decides to focus on consoles due to their much larger audience, forcing the developer to dumb down the game both for the LCD of said market and to fit within the limits of the console itself (especially the controls). People complained about this a lot when Thief 3, Deus Ex: Invisible War, and other bastardizations of PC franchises were being released a couple of years ago. Now-a-days that sort of thing has slackened off a lot, but we'll probably start hearing about it again when Halo 3 comes out.

    Rob
    • I have to agree. While I did enjoy Thief 3, it wasn't as good as the first two. One of the things that really detracted from the fun (for me) was the loading zones. Some of the zones weren't even really that big, and it really spoilt the immersiveness of the experience. Loading when moving from inside a building to outside (or vice versa) I can cope with; when walking down a corridor? No. The loading zone mist looked stupid too. Ok, so at least it marked the boundary of the current zone, but a weird mist in
      • System Shock 2 is purer horror GOLD. It's the scariest game i've ever played aside from Silent Hill (1)

        Argh. You're making me want to play it all over again... And i've already finshed it three times. Too bad the last few levels are a bit boring compared to the first.
  • ...I actually liked DX2.

    At least, I liked the story. The gameplay was inferior to Deus Ex, and the whole thing was shorter and a little more straightforward, but in some ways it had an equivalent atmosphere. I'd still love to see the whole thing (DX1 + DX2) done as a movie, or novelized. It's fantastic escapist entertainment.

    In any case, the loading zones in both Thief3 and DX2 never bothered me. The framerate issues were a bit more of a problem, but I was willing to reduce graphic levels to play throug
    • The truth is, I think that both games suffered from the fact that they lack multiplayer modes, not so much because of the other factors. Half Life is in the same general story-driven genre and succeeds largely because of its extensive multiplayer community. Take it out, and I think that HL/HL2 would be in the same boat as these other games.

      Gotta disagree on this one. Sure, HL benefitted greatly from its online multiplayer community, but that was almost a completely separate thing from the game itself, wh

      • What I'm trying to say is that the "downfall" of these series was not the gameplay so much as the fact that everything that has massively succeeded lately has been multiplayer. Think WoW, Second Life, etc. The first "innovator" game in each DX and Thief series was quite successful, but the sequels didn't maintain interest as well as the original.

        I am fairly sure that the sequel games in both of these series, however, did well with fans of the original games. I suspect that their downfall came because the
  • I'm just going to point out that the quote in the summary appears to be the words of the interviewer, not of Randy Smith, which seems to be implied.
  • This is an interesting discussion.

    I liked thief and thief 2, didn't play thief 3.
    And actually LIKED Invisible War (reminded me of a good System Shock 2 which generally sucked).

    I also particularly liked the Thief mod for UT (the first UT the one that was the tournament mode only... came out about the same time as Quake3 tournament...).

    The fact that I liked the Thief mod for UT a bit better than thief tells me the technology side is pretty important to me (it was much better technically than the thief engine
    • And actually LIKED Invisible War (reminded me of a good System Shock 2 which generally sucked).
      Good sir,
      I must request of you that you immediately tear up your Geek/Gamer identification card(s), turn in your gaming mouse or mice, shut off all entertainment devices within your household, and wait near the front door. Our specialists will be arriving shortly to take you away for evaluation and re-education.

      Sincerely, Gamers everywhere
    • You are crazy. System Shock 2 is one of the best games ever. Better than Deus Ex, even (but with not quite as good feel/controls), and certainly better than Invisible War. And I liked Invisible War, since I knew it would disappoint somewhat compared to Deus Ex from before I started playing. Good game, but not a worthy follow-up.
      • Can you remind me why IW wasn't that great? I played it through on Xbox and didn't mind it. I played the original Deus Ex on a clunky old PC and thought the story was great.
  • by kaizokunami (982824) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @05:37PM (#15544020) Homepage

    As a fan of the series since the first game, I enjoyed Thief 3 despite the problems with it. The story was fun (the Cradle was easily the highlight of the game), Garrett was still Garrett, and being able to roam the city was fun. I honestly didn't mind the loading zones so much. And without giving away any spoilers, I found the ending to be a perfect "full circle" moment for the series.

    But ask any fan of the series and you know that T3 is not 'the end' of the Thief games. Look up the phenomenal T2X fan game based on Thief 2. It has new characters, new movies, great new missions, and feels like a natural addition to the series. There is also an extensive network of fan mission builders and modders out there still creating new content for these games.

    We're still sneaking around out here. :)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The most devoted Thief fans and fan mission creators are hoping to get the original Dark engine that T1 and T2 uses open sourced so that we could improve it and run it on other operating systems. Most fan mission creators still create missions for T2 rather than T3 since it's so much better and we hope to improve it further, so please sign this: http://www.petitiononline.com/TDPT2/petition.html [petitiononline.com]
  • Maybe the bow in Thief fired sucker-tipped arrows like the ones you can buy in toy stores. Maybe it fired marshmallow arrows. Certainly not real ones. Arrows are large, heavy and strike with enough force to penetrate plate armour. Except the ones in Thief, which did nothing but annoy people. Hint - if it doesn't incapacitate or kill, it's not a weapon.
    • In both Thief and Thief 2 and arrow is enough to kill any enemy with a well aimed shot. Exceptions are Burricks and those metal beasts in Thief 2.
      • Only if the guards haven't seen you. Once they do, I believe the headshot kill feature is disabled, similar to how blackjacking a guard on alert doesn't work. I suppose it's worth mentioning that the point of the weapon system in Thief was to reinforce the intended form of gameplay, that being combat avoidance. If you could run & gun through the mission then Thief would just be another FPS.
      • In Thief 1, I once took out a burrick with one shot -- it was in the tunnels in Down in the Bonehoard, and I got it in the eye when it wasn't in alert mode. I've never been able to repeat it.
    • Arrows are large, heavy and strike with enough force to penetrate plate armour.

      Only if the arrow is fired from a longbow. If you use anything less, then the arrow can easily bounce off properly smithed armor. Just remember that good steel plate armor can even protect against an arquebus [wikipedia.org].

      The purpose of the short bow used in Theif is to fire the special-issue ammunition, mainly because using regular arrows is not recommended at the highest difficulty setting. In particular, it is designed to fire:
      - Water

      • The Huns' or Mongolians' composite (short) bow, for example, was good enough to conquer half of Europe. And they faced Roman legions in chain armour (lorica hamata) and even banded armour (lorica segmentata.) Now it may be useless against the gothic plate of the late medieval era, but to kill a stupid city guard in a chain vest, they're perfectly good.
    • Methinks you missed the point of the series. The sole use of normal arrows is to make a "clank" noise that might distract a guard. (And if you're *really* playing, you won't even do that. Guards should never even be alerted- you're a master thief, not some cutpurse.) Kind of like the sole purpose of the sword is to cut tapestries to see what's behind them. Other than that the two serve no purpose.
  • I played the first game's demo when i was using PC's and I liked it a lot. I had trouble staying in the shadows because there was so many cool ways to murder people that I couldn't resist attacking immediately. Awesome game. One complaint I had, funny, was it was too dark (bad gamma). When Thief 2 came out I left the platform but I heard it was good. Too bad.
  • by MemoryDragon (544441) on Friday June 16, 2006 @03:16AM (#15546964)
    This is a serious question, am I the only one. I constantly had the feeling Thief 3 was the best of the series, despite the loading zones. I always hated the mission and nothing except videos in between approach of T1 and T2. Thief 3 felt like a real world game, just like the underworlds.
    Sure you had the loading zones, but the overall feeling of the game was much better.
    • The big difference between Thief 3 and the earlier titles (and this is true of many games coming out in the last 2-3 years), is that they removed any degree of freedom that could allow the player to alter the path to the next objective.

      This new Thief was made for players that like getting carried through the game like it's a movie with buttons (marketing morons call these people mainstream gamers. It's the 'gamers' part that they have wrong). The first two were made for players that enjoy the possibility th
  • I'll be the first to admit, they cranked the atmosphere right up in Thief 3, with absolutely gorgous shadows and details in the levels. I know everyone here has been praising the Cradle level as possibly the scariest (and best) levels of any game out there.

    The rest I didn't mind (even the loading levels). However, I wished there was a level that could compare to the scale of "Song of the Caverns" in Thief Gold, or "Life of the Party" in Thief 2. None of the levels in T3 felt as grand as the two aformentio
  • The game was a bit less good than it's precursors. I wouldn't call it exactly a "downfall". The only thing i had with thief 3 was the city "hub". Because of seemless transitions between levels, you always had too many equipment/arrows/etc. on you for the mission, you never felt like you were gonna lack anything. You could basically take your time and kill everyone you saw. And as for the record, Thief's legacy lives on in other games. Oblivion features sneaking missions in which the sneaking mechanics loo
  • From the interview:

    Honestly, the stealth gameplay chemistry of Thief 1 didn't truly come together till very close to ship, possibly as close as a few weeks. Although we all had our suspicions, it wasn't until then that it was clear which types of content would be a good match for the game systems

    This is an incredible statement. Thief 1 to me has always been an example of a game design done right from the very beginning. For the designer to say that the "stealth gameplay chemistry" only came together right a

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