Let's face it, there was always going to be a backlash. This is Thief, after all - the origin point together with System Shock and Deus Ex for every first-person title that isn't purely about killstreaks and ironsights. Playing the game in October, I found myself getting irrationally upset about minor discrepancies or deviations from the formula. Since when did Garrett need a set of display cases? Why can't I shoot a Rope Arrow into this goddamn oil painting? And so on and so forth.
That's not to say that there isn't room for criticism - read my original Thief hands-on for more on that front - but developer Eidos Montreal has done a lot to win the trust of prickly fans. The studio culled the newfangled XP system following an outcry, for instance, and producer Joe Khoury is hopeful that players will learn to live with the changes and additions. After an hour in the City, I spoke to him about the importance of player choice, and how Thief's universe has buckled and shifted in the years since the equally controversial Thief: Deadly Shadows.
To get shot of the boring technical questions, how representative is your PC build of what we'll see on consoles?
Pretty close. I think for next gen consoles the visual fidelity will be closer than that. I'm not really sure about the exact differences between the PC version and the next gen ones.
Have you made use of the Xbox One's motorised triggers, Kinect or other platform-specific features?
We haven't really announced any of that stuff yet. We're still evaluating what we can do with the actual peripherals.
Is there a Cradle-style level in this game?
There's some horror elements, for sure. A particular level? We haven't really discussed any of that stuff yet.
I guess you don't want to spoil the surprise.
That's the tricky part - knowing what we know and getting some of the comments that we get about it, I think we're just eager to release some information. If you were asking me, and he wasn't there, I'd be like 'hey, guess what we're doing!' I think there's definitely a time to be talking about every single thing, and we're definitely excited to be talking about it.
[PR interjects] A good answer is that we are aware that in the previous versions there was that standout level, so we looked at what worked in those games.
Are Hammerites and Pagans in the game?
They're in the game in a subtle way, as you'll see when the game releases. They're not in the game in the same way that they were in the first Thief, but we've given them an homage. Those guys in particular, we do give them a bit of a mention. It's a reimagining.
Is it still the case that you're building the universe around an opposition between the industrial and the natural, between science and superstition?
It's not the machines. It's a struggle between the oppressed and the rich. It's the idea of finding a balance in a city that's been struggling for a long time with the poor having nobody to be a voice for them. The way the Baron sees the evolution is through technology, and through the machines, but also the underlying statement here is also that the people who have access to this technology are the rich and the elite - and that's where Orion comes in, where it's like at some point, the people need to stand up and say 'no, we're a part of this future as well'.
Have you taken inspiration from any particular works of literature, in addition to the original games? Or was it all derived from the previous games?
No, there's been some inspiration in a lot of different media, literature as well for sure.
But you're rather not say which for the moment.
Especially for our inspirations, it's very rewarding for the player to come back and say 'was this your inspiration' and for us to say 'you got it', rather than us saying 'our inspiration was this, this, this and that'. I think it's so great when the message comes across and we have gamers telling us 'we picked up on the fact that you were trying to hit that not, hit this note'. That's one of the biggest rewards. I think even when the game comes out, you won't hear any of us saying... for sure we can talk about high level inspirations, but in terms of the lower notes I think it's such a big reward to hear it directly from the fans who have played the game.
Is it harder to market a game, when you don't want to give this sort of thing away?
I don't think so. I think if you look at the basic pillars of this game, I think people are very interested in playing a game where violence doesn't play a huge role, for example. There are ways to go about eliminating enemies, but it's not the core message we want to give out with this game. The fact that Garrett doesn't like the attention, doesn't like to be in trouble, doesn't like to go around causing a ruckus. He's more of a person who says 'leave me alone to do my job, I'll get things done my way'.
I think for us it's very interesting that we're providing a game for people where for once we're saying OK, you need to analyse the situation you're in. Kind of like a big, big puzzle. We throw you into a situation, we say 'here are your risky areas, here are your safe areas, here's your reward. There's a reward here, a big jewel, but in order to reach that you need to go through this. What do you do?' Like with the first Thief - 'here's your opportunity, find your own way'.
And not necessarily spoon-feeding anything to the player, especially for the City - we highlight paths, we show you what to do, we give you the tools to navigate, but how you get there is your choice. And doing so without attracting attention, I think that's the core difference between Thief and other games today.
In some ways this is more restrictive than previous Thief titles - the Rope Arrow can only be used on certain surfaces. How far can you push the player's ability to experiment with the tools, before you lose the ability to guide them?
Well in the final game you'll be able to hide the visual cues. In the demo today there are a lot of subtle hints, but I could throw you back into that same map without any of those hints. There are a lot of discoveries - 'oh, I didn't know I could go up this way, I can shoot a Rope Arrow here, I can go through that passage way'. That option becomes available in the final game.
There are some limitations to architecture. You could throw a Rope Arrow into certain spaces and go up, but the reality of the City is that the choices that you have - we don't necessarily [explicitly] guide the player towards one way or another, but we guide them using the reality of the architecture of the City, and let you make your choice about how you get there.
How much is there to discover on a second playthrough? Is it worth backtracking when you unlock new tools?
Yeah. First of all the jobs, side quests, stuff like that - you don't have to play them at all during your first playthrough, you can always buy all the tools you need, the wirecutters and so on, you can buy them through the evolution of the game. You can omit doing any of the jobs and come back on your second playthrough, and go through these jobs and side missions with the tools you acquired on your first playthrough. A lot of the gameplay that we have in the City is optional - you can spend a minute there, you can spend hours there if your want to - and towards the end of the game, all of the City's quarters will be unlocked, so you'll be able to revisit areas that were closed up for narrative purposes.
[PR interjects] You can also replay story missions if you want to. Replayability is a big focus.
You can visit Basso, and he'll say there are a lot of people with interesting loot for you. But at the same time, some documents might reveal the same kind of information, not tied to Basso. 'Hey, I've got this watch in my safe'. There's tonnes of little opportunities like that - you can even pick up on things while listening to a conversation between two characters. 'Oh, I've just bought this new necklace, blah blah blah.' So if you think that it's limited to just the obvious, you've got a lot more exploring to do, because there are a lot of little things we've left for the player.
How have you changed the districts from the previous games? Stonemarket's new layout feels much more organic.
Some districts you pass through on missions, and others are more open. As the game evolves, the balance of power shifts a bit, and some of the characters you'll see on the streets will evolve as well, some of the districts will change. And again, it's trying to mix in the story of what's going on with these people into what you see in gameplay. That's the evolution you'll see throughout the game, there are definitely some changes in the story that Garrett witnesses live on the streets, rather than just in missions.
About Garrett - he feels much more visible nowadays, thanks to those cutaway takedowns and cinematics. Do you worry that this will seem too showy? In the other games, he's more of a floating camera.
I hope not! Who knows how people will experience that feeling. I think with the narrative means that we have available this generation, there are ways to tell a story, there are ways to develop a character that are very interesting. And I think for these specific moments, these cinematic cutscenes where you see Garrett talking to other characters, just give a bit more depth to the character. But I think when it comes to being immersed... These moments in which the player has to guide Garrett are when we want the player to be completely immersed in the character.
Do you think you've overcome fan resistance to the reboot now? To certain of the changes that you've made?
Good one! I think hopefully, our greatest sense of satisfaction will be when the game's released and that's where we'll overcome fan resistance. I think there are a lot of optimistically curious people just as there are some fans who don't know the full extent of what we're doing, so for sure they're basing their impressions on the little information that they have, and that's concerning for them.
We haven't shown everything we have in our pockets yet. And I think when the game hits the street is when there concerns will be met. We're looking forward to that day. Right now the team's working so hard to bring the game to where it is, taking into consideration everything that everybody's saying.
When I read a lot of the comments I do know where they're coming from, and I can guarantee that the team knows where they're coming from, and part of that is just 'wait and see, judge for yourself'. Hopefully it'll be good.
We're fairly confident, but then art is very delicate to judge - it's an opinion. There's a lot of people that remember things differently for the first Thief, and what they like about the first Thief games. And hopefully 15 years from now people will be talking about what they remember about this Thief, in comparison to the first Thief! We're reading what they're saying with a lot of care, the team is very aware of what's being said.
As a studio, you seem to have a very defined style now - first person, action-adventure, lots of choice. Are there any other genres you're interested in?
Yeah, sure. So far we've released those kinds of games, which I guess would lead to that impression, but there are a lot of experienced people on this team at Montreal, there's a bunch of other studios that we have back-and-forths with. We have people that we recruit from other studios, we lose people to other studios, so we have such a wealth of experience that if we wanted to venture off in another direction, we would have the means to do it.
On that note, you may be interested to read that Eidos Montreal is working on a new Deus Ex Xbox One game for the Deus Ex Universe project, which spans a number of platforms and media. Thief hits North America on 25th February, Europe on 28th February, for current gen, next gen and PC.
Source - OXM & CVG