Diecast #47: Thief

 By Shamus Mar 4, 2014 80 comments

Here is an entire episode dedicated to a single game. Thief [4] has been a long time coming. Some have been excited to see it return. Some hopeful. Some outraged. Some resigned. But now we’ve played it and we can see the result for ourselves.

It’s not the game we hoped for, but neither is it the train wreck we feared.


Direct download (MP3)
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Hosts: Josh, Chris, and Shamus.

The entire show is about Thief, so no timestamps. We spoil some of the themes of the story during the show, but nothing that shouldn’t be incredibly obvious after the tutorial.

At the 57-minute mark we talk about the ending, so you might want to skip that part if you’re spoiler-averse. Although as Chris says, the story is pretty much broken, and I don’t think spoilers will hurt you. And by “broken” I mean, “clearly a patchwork of different revisions of the story that don’t fit together or form a proper sequence of events”.


20202020There are now 80 comments. Almost a hundred!


  1. Nimas says:

    Yay, the adventures of Garrett the kleptomaniac thief. I was really annoyed especially after the opening had Garrett specifically say “It’s not how much you steal, it’s what you steal.”

    • Naota says:

      Not to mention how totally innocuous most of the objects Garrett takes are. Is there some teeming untapped market for ink wells, scissors, and fountain pens that makes rooting around a house for them even remotely worthwhile? Judging by the economy at play here, I think an unscrupulous housekeeper could probably make more money than Garrett in a single night.

      Looking back, I think the least valuable thing Garrett ever stole (besides Lord Bafford’s kitchen fare, by way of his stomach) was candlesticks from rich aristocrats’ tables, and then only the ones that were cast entirely from gold.

      • Nimas says:

        Oh god, or the worst of all, the ‘service please’ bells. WHY? Why would a ‘master thief’ put something in his pocket that is by definition supposed to alert people to your presence?

  2. Humanoid says:

    Nice and early this week, never let it be said that Josh doesn’t aim to please the (now) paying customer. :)

    • Shamus says:

      Disclosure: I edited the episode this week, since Josh hasn’t beaten the game yet and we talked end-game spoilers.

      • Humanoid says:

        So the cash rolls in and he does a booze-fuelled runner. :P

        Was going to ask how the logistics of spoilers would work since he’s still in the episode, but then came to the segment where it was explained.

      • KremlinLaptop says:

        Ahhh! Might that be the reason for the background hum in this one? Listening on headphones there is a very definite background hum through-out when Chris and Josh speak. It’s absent in the previous diecast and in this one I got used to it pretty quickly. Sort of super-nitpicky BUT in fairness it is an audio medium.

        Also what sort of microphones do y’all use? I sort of recall something about Josh having two headsets on all derpy while recording SW. I’m sort of hopeful Josh could use the Patreon monies to get a new and “professional” mic setup, since right now he sounds like he peaks out the mic just with his indoor voice. Might just be me on that one, though.

        • Humanoid says:

          I’m not one to really notice, but that said, I wouldn’t mind if the first month’s funds were distributed as a one-off to all the hosts to get better mics. I realise though that desktop mics might not be practical for everyone due to household circumstances, but spending about $100 each on something like a Blue Microphones/Audio Technica desktop condenser microphone ought to go a long way.

          • Cuthalion says:

            Second this.

            My recommendation: I got an Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB off Amazon when it was on sale for like $45 a couple months ago when a podcast about podcasting recommended it, and it sounds quite lovely. Definitely adequate for podcasting. Link: http://amzn.com/B004QJOZS4

            -It’s cardioid, so it ignores a lot of noise from other places in the room, but isn’t so specific that you’ll screw it up by moving your head slightly.
            -Dynamic instead of capacitor/condenser, so it should be less fragile, though it may lack slightly in the detail you’d want if you were recording acoustic instruments. But you’re not.
            -USB and XLR output both, so you don’t need special equipment and can just plug it straight into your computer.
            -Built-in headphone jack, though this can occasionally do weird things if Windows decides that this is now your default speaker system, and you’re trying to figure out why your speakers or normal headphone jack stopped working… Also, watch out for the blue light, which comes on whenever it has power, even if the mic isn’t on. I, uh… might have taken longer than necessary to figure out why the light was on, but I wasn’t recording.
            [Edit: Oh, and mine came with a tiny little stand so I could set it in front of me on my desk. I'm assuming they all come with that.]

            Josh probably already knows a good bit about mics and stuff, so this post was probably pointless. BUT STILL.

      • BenD says:

        Ah ha! Is that why all of the pauses for thought and such are missing? It sounds very good, but I kind of miss the heavy silences in which I could giggle.

      • Dave B. says:

        Shamus, I like how you set artist and album tags on the mp3 file. Now if only Josh would do the same…

  3. Has there been a AAA-level RPG or game with RPG elements where the main quest didn’t suck rocks in the last 5 years? I can’t really think of one, myself.

    I’m torn between thinking the main quests get too much executive meddling or are overworked because it’s the MAIN QUEST and so forth. Alternatively, it could be that they start out as tightly-written narratives, but a lot of key plot bits get edited out or changed to accommodate the sidequesting and more free-form elements needed to make it less on rails. Or, of course, they could start out bad and stay that way.

    Whatever the cause, something’s rotten and needs fixin’.

    • Nick says:

      I’d argue for Dishonored. The presentation (mostly the silent protagonist thing) was a bit off, but it was a decent story with a some interesting twists.

      • But the main quest involved talking to the Outsider. :(

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        I guess that would depend on how you define “main quest”. I know that for me the delivery on that was lacking. Most of the villains were somewhat moustachetwirling, the plot twists were transparent, the morality meter that totally isn’t ended up giving you bad or good ending despite claims of otherwise (I consider the ending a part of core story), Outsider was a blatant plot device and the only satifsying antagonist makes just a short appearance.

    • Naota says:

      The Witcher 2 probably defies this trend, to the point of being arguably too complex for the player to fully grasp at the pace the story moves. I had a few moments where I had to stop progressing and just sit there trying to piece together what was going on in order for the narrative to make sense in my head. On one hand this is a bit of a failing , on the other I’d so much rather this happen than if the plot were to be stripped down and simplified for fear of my being lost. Delivery and presentation is the problem, not complexity, and I don’t really trust big AAA studios to understand that difference.

      Of course, Witcher 2 is something of a special case, as it doesn’t have the overbearing executive pressures of a game like Thief or Skyrim.

      • Karthik says:

        Since you only ever get Geralt’s viewpoint, The Witcher 2′s plot is indeed too complex to figure out all the elements of in one playthrough. But it was also not presented well enough for me to believe this instead of thinking it’s a botched, convoluted mess, because given these two options, the latter is much more likely in today’s AAA games.

        But playing it a second time and making the opposite Act 2 choice led me to realize CDProjekt has it all figured out. There is a consistent and causal chain of events; the game just doesn’t deign to break it down and show you all the links right away. It also finally drove home the notion that there are too many significant powers at play here, and that there is no correct choice to make.

        The most interesting little thing I found about the game was that if you wanted to understand the lore, the setting and its kingdoms better, your only in-game option was to buy a series of very expensive maps and books with gold. This was a game where you procured the equivalent of Mass Effect codex entries with in-game money that you needed for potions and armor.

        CDProjekt Red’s making games with AAA production values and an indie heart.

        • Naota says:

          Pretty much this exactly – from the top down the plot is coherent and all of its events are rooted in some kind of logic, but almost no attempt is made to reach out to the player and ensure they’re picking up what it’s laying down. It’s the polar opposite of what I’m experiencing right now as I play KOTOR, where I’m reminded of the major plot points ten times on my way to complete them and patronized by a game that seems to think I have the memory of a goldfish and the reasoning capacity of an infant.

          It’s the Boardwalk Empire of big video games, in the running with a dozen clones of 24.

    • Corpital says:

      I find all this rather interesting, even though it is a horrible downward spiral. Main stories are hated, but side quests often get praised? More and more games are made to be open world.
      The game would have been rushed anyway, but now your workload has increased by several orders of magnitude and everything will be even worse. Maybe even the open world part itself has to be cut (we all know the example).

      This is not just some companies trying to catch massive profits while limping with a broken leg. This is them amputating their healthy leg to build a crutch from the bones.

      Err…sorry for the macabre analogy. Too tired and grumpy right now for something with cars or a comment related to the topic at hand.

    • Matt K says:

      I’m about halfway through Kingdom of Amalur’s main quest and it’s not too bad so far. I wouldn’t call it amazing but it’s not bad and it’s set up so you don’t feel bad for doing a bunch of sidequests instead.

    • Zukhramm says:

      Do I get to include JRPGS?

      Either way: New Vegas.

    • Ehlijen says:

      Saint’s Row IV

      It wasn’t perfect, but for me it hit just the right balance between aggressive absurdity, still making some sense and undermining itself at every opportunity.

  4. Jumus says:

    Even the guy who got to the top of the Thief learderboard despised this game and had a lot to say about it, I recommend his stuff if you like lots of detail http://www.gatheryourparty.com/articles/2014/02/28/thief-review/ needless to say its great to finally hear the diecasts opinion on the game and have it early too! Will making episodes centred on one game be a common thing?

    • Humanoid says:

      Wouldn’t mind them as one-off specials in addition to the regular weekly, but that’d be a 50% additional time commitment for each host, so I wouldn’t demand it as such. It’s just that I like the Diecast as a bit of a “what’s hot and what’s not” overview of recent games – plus random tangents about non-gaming life events.

    • Karthik says:

      Wow, that’s a damning review, and in stark contrast to what the Diecast crew has to say. Now I’m confused. Shamus and Chris said the game, while suffering from many issues, still manages to be Thief-y, but almost every single mechanic discussed in the review is worse (by design or implementation) than in the older games.

      And I find myself unable to shrug away reports of on-rails cinematic setpieces and an abundance of inane cutscenes, especially with many ending with Garrett in a detected state. A poor (or ham-fisted) narrative is tough to stomach in any game; in Thief it sounds so out of place I’m actively pushed away.

      • Chris says:

        It’s possibly an issue of expectations?

        Shamus and I were geared up for this to be an absolute trainwreck where a woe-is-me goth version of Garrett took a blackjack to the kneecaps and an arrow to the eyeball of anyone that stood between him and his vengeance for Erin In A Fridge while Stabbing Westward plays in the background. Call of Duty from the Shadows; God of War with eye liner and a hoodey.

        This game is not that. It is, especially with a bit of fiddling, actually pretty faithful to Thief’s core mechanic set. You don’t realize how much you’ve missed slinking in the shadows until you realize most modern stealth games don’t really care much about slinking *or* shadows. This Thief really digs that style of play, and rewards those who enjoy it.

        That said, it’s a rushed, broken, tragic, rewritten mess of a game. And if you went in thinking it would be The Next Thief and saw that it didn’t live up to those expectations, you might be understandably frustrated or angry. The sound mixing is terrible and the game is riddled with bugs. The noise-for-walking-on-surfaces stuff is modal and choke-point-y, the light mechanics are a bit simplified, the jumping is contextual, the rope arrows only work on preconfigured spots. The lore of the old games is gone and what they’ve replaced it with is nonsense – four plots written on top of each other the way the city rests on top of older versions of itself. If you went in expecting something as intellectually stimulating as Thief, or the next level of Thief’s core mechanic set, yeah, you’ll think it sucks.

        So it goes both ways, I think – is this a game worth championing because, despite its dev hell and horrible failures, it occasionally recaptures the spirit of the games that came before it in a new way? Or is this game just a crappy, unfinished knockoff that doesn’t live up to a legacy of influential games? I think one’s response to that question is mostly a matter of perspective and expectations.

  5. Naota says:

    The bug Chris mentions with the sleeping guard hit me as well… only it wasn’t so innocuous in my case. Turns out that if you load a save where you’ve left a safe door open anywhere near a sleeping guard, upon loading they will spring from their slumber, draw their sword while standing on top of the chair, then teleport all the way across the room to stick their head practically inside the open safe while screaming “We’ve been robbed!”

    Yeah.

    In fact, here. It’s so easily repeatable that I’ve got a video of it happening.

  6. hitboxnotfound says:

    So quick poll (can’t listen to pocast yet – work) who among the crew has played The Metal Age?

  7. Nimas says:

    I hated the thief taker general…he killed Jenivere! That was the one moment in the entire story I felt some legitimate sadness. I completely avoided even knocking out guards, but him I actually straight up killed. I always imagined Garrett’s line to be “I don’t usually kill people, but this is for Jenivere.”

    • syal says:

      I’m just going to assume it reads “my pants” under that second spoiler.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      I hated him but on another level entirely. Pretty much from the first moment I heard the name I knew he would be as subtle as the High Inquisitor thing in Harry Potter, and boy did the game deliver. I generally tend to have a problem with writers trying to create the characters that player is supposed to despise because they most often overdo it. The Thief Taker General is so overdone he’s charcoal, the type of antagonist who kills his subordinates, kicks puppies, constantly hypocritically professes self-righteousness mostly through empty platitudes, idle threats or mentions of violence that he ordered commited/likes to commit/will commit (that have nothing on the hammer’s “the thieves were made to ingest the tongues of their liar brothers”). With just the expecations from the name the moment I first saw him I immediately thought of Allo Allo trademark gestapo limp. And just to make sure that you got it that this is a very bad man they also make him a pedophile with tendendices towards brutality, as revealed in one of the brothel conversations… subtle, reaaaal subtle.

  8. Neko says:

    Incidentally, the title says this is #46 while filename (correctly) says this is 47. Thanks to caching, this has probably already been pointed out and fixed but thought I should mention it anyway.

  9. Disc says:

    I guess I’m one of the few who actually liked the sword in Thief 1 & 2. Considering some of the places you go, I’d rather bring a sword, just in case things go really bad. With all the undead, murderous wildlife and creepy crabmen with massive clawswordthings-for-hands (edit: or Craymen as they’re called) I’m just glad to have more direct means of dispatching them and fighting back. Not to forget all the Trickster minions.

    It would have probably made more sense to make the blade shorter for convenience, but it just never felt too out of place for me.

  10. lucky7 says:

    I like the idea Garrett sells the stuff he steals back to the City at a higher price.

  11. Janus says:

    Concerning stealth in Dishonored – its stealth-system does include light-levels & they are pretty important. Beyond a certain distance hiding in the shadows works pretty well – it just doesn’t work close up (and it shouldn’t).
    No matter how much I love the Thief games (and I do), it always was pretty silly to hide in a dark corner right in front of a guard, who’s staring right at you. I actually really liked Dishonored’s focus on line of sight…

    Also: No Pagans vs. Hammerite conflict? That was like the most interesting part of the City/world building in Thief…

    • Humanoid says:

      Mr Garrett has learned the first lesson of not being seen, not to stand up.

    • Benjamin Hilton says:

      I have to disagree with you a little bit here. From many games of adult hide and seek (hey it’s still fun, come at me bro) I can testify that wearing dark clothing and staying perfectly still in a shadow can actually cause people to walk right past you.

      It may only work like fifty percent of the time, but then neither me nor my friends are super ninja thief….things.

      • Janus says:

        Really? If they’re actively looking for you?
        Huh, well I bow to your practical experience.

        I still call shenanigans on the green glowing eye in Thief 3 though :) Even if Splinter Cell was a lot sillier in that regard.
        And I would never criticise someone for giving in to his/her inner child.

        • Benjamin Hilton says:

          Haha Yeah I will agree on the glowy eye thing….

          As for the hide and seek, I think it is more of a mental thing than a physical one:

          No one looks off to the left into a shadow because “hey if there was someone there I would obviously see them already” so in the end you’re hiding in shadow from their peripheral vision and mental assumptions and not their direct scanning.

          In all fairness I’ve done the same thing: Iv’e walked by a tree only to realize after the fact that the whole time my friend was just lying perfectly still flat in the shadow the tree cast.

          In this case it was a combination of assumptions on my part as well my night vision being messed up from a bright light elsewhere.

          And that is important as well, if someone walks out of a brightly lit room into one with no light, then they are effectively blind for about 20 seconds until their eyes adjust.

          And now that I have completely over-thought this…I digress.

  12. Alex says:

    Chris, your “Bridge Escape!” song was awesome. I had to listen to it three times. Thanks for that. :D

  13. How does this episode not have a tag along the lines of “Shamus drowns in tea” or “The Boss Young Tea Party?”

  14. Chris says:

    Re: Bone Breaking: This is why you don’t do a live podcast without prepared notes. I swear, I swear I heard something like this at some point, but I guess it was a joke in response to the real controversey: As of only ~9 months ago, the game had an XP system that rewarded things like headshots. And still has things like Assassin’s Creed style vertical takedowns, though they’re not nearly as horrible as you’d think. My guess is that at some point a joke embedded itself in my head and became something I thought of as fact, and since the game’s had so many revisions and changes I didn’t think of anything of it when it wasn’t there.

    The lesson, clearly, is: Don’t get old, your mind slips away.

  15. Phantos says:

    “…the story is pretty much broken, and I don’t think spoilers will hurt you. And by “broken” I mean, “clearly a patchwork of different revisions of the story that don’t fit together or form a proper sequence of events”.”

    I see that a lot more lately in video games and movies. That feeling when you realize the story probably never made it out of a first draft.

    I feel it deserves a name. If it doesn’t have one already, maybe it could reference Mass Effect 3, Fable II or The Dark Knight Rises somewhere?

    EX: “The Frozen Draft”.

  16. Shamus, here’s a possible Experienced Points article subject:

    AAA Imitates, Genius Steals. Given how many AAA-level games have almost-but-not-quite hit the mark in terms of writing, mechanics, and core concepts, could this be an opportunity for smaller studios to, in essence, take those same concepts, fix everything, and slap a new coat of paint on it? In other words, is there now a desire in the market for someone to make a less flawed Thief, Skyrim, etc.?

    • karthik says:

      The announcement of XCOM: The FPS That Never Happened directly precipitated the conception and announcement of Xenonauts. Three years later, both The Bureau and Enemy Unknown are out, the XCOM itch is pretty much scratched for most people, and Xenonauts is still in beta. It plays… okay, I guess, but despite owning it I doubt I’ll be playing it at release.

      We may want purer reboots, but I don’t know if indies can deliver on reactionary efforts in a realistic time frame.

      As for Thief, I’d argue the closest thing we have to a true spiritual successor is actually Tangiers, a game to which Thief is not the ideal or aspiration, but the starting point. They’re aiming for immersive-sim-ness, which already beats what Human Revolution and Thief 2014 tried to do.

      (EDIT: Interestingly, both of them were funded on Kickstarter, so the desire’s there.)

      • Mersadeon says:

        I think the problem with “purer reboots” is the same as with bitter chocolate and black coffee: people say they want it because it seems refined and classy, but all they actually buy is sweet chocolate, sugar for their coffee and less “pure” games, because when they actually try it, they notice that bitter chocolate is, you know, bitter, just like black coffee. And when they play some hardcore oldschool games their nostalgia goggles fall right off and they notice they just want something that keeps them occupied for a while.

        • Starker says:

          The problem with this theory is that Thief 2 fan missions still get created and played. There are hundreds of fan missions and entire campaigns out there that rival the original games. Plus there’s The Dark Mod, which is as close to classic Thief as you can get.

          To stretch that bitter chocolate metaphor a bit, there are actually lots of people who do like bitter chocolate. People really do crave that old school experience or else games like Dark Souls would be a failure.

    • X2Eliah says:

      for someone to make a less flawed Thief

      Well, Dishonored 2 might actually be a thing (ref: http://i.imgur.com/B5c87BB.jpg), so that’d fit pretty well, no?

      EDIT:
      @Shamus – is it just me, or is the quoted text in my grey commentbox the exact same shade of grey as the comment itself, with only a shadow on two edges for a border? This looks…. wonky.

  17. I never played the original Thief games, but I read a bit about “the dark engine” (their custom game engine). IIRC it had a bunch of odd features like nested Boolean spatial operators and some sort of spatial linking that allowed the AI to traverse the space dynamically. I wish more games were experimenting with the fundamental game engines instead of re-using the canned animations and models from the AAA pipeline.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      Young people these days! We don’t need your fancy innovations! Unreal Engine was good for your original so it should be good enough for your fourth sequel!

      (though to be fair building your own engine is probably damn costly)

      • wererogue says:

        Most of the big players build their own engine, and there’s almost always some kind of revolutionary big idea of how to do it better at its conception.

        95% of these big ideas drag down the first project due to poor conception, implementation, or support (i.e. tools implementation). A lot of them get ripped out and replaced with something proven when they game starts needing to ship. Sadly, AAA really isn’t the place to be playing around with the fundamentals, unless the game *needs* it – there’s too much invested to risk that the shiny assets won’t work.

        This ties in nicely with something Shamus mentioned before about how AAA is really a very fragile business model, and it might be a better idea to use low-cost projects to find a great idea, and *then* start throwing money at making it huge.

  18. Phantos says:

    “Then a cutscene comes up and it’s like: “Oh boy, here we go again.”

    Wait, who published this game again?

    Square-Enix

    Mechanic Voice: “DERE’S YEH PROBLEM!”

  19. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Who is this ‘we’ you are talking about?I never let myself get fooled by the marketing for thiaf.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      I take it I’m not the only one who actually calls the game this in my head? (also, sometimes in voice which often requires me to explain why)

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Its a catchy name,and an easy way to distinguish the original and the reboot without resorting to adding unnecessary words,like thief (1998),or thief the dark shadows,or original thief.This way,there is thief and thiaf.

  20. Kai von Eggenburg says:

    Thanks for the bit at the end :o) I’m glad you survived! ;o)

  21. Helios Apollo says:

    The game does have flashes of brilliance, like the Bank Heist mission (it was so fun and Thief-y that I decided to post a walkthrough of it – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56LXo7WHh6g )

    But as a whole, it was a letdown. Not a disaster, but not the game I was looking forward to.

  22. Aaron says:

    ok, i have not listened to the entire podcast nor have i read all the comments, but this is infuriating having you guys call my name every few minutes especially when you are celebrating the death of someone who at least shares the sound of my name

  23. GiantRaven says:

    I honestly don’t know whether to take this whole podcast as a positive recommendation or not. It’s fun, but also a complete trainwreck?

    I guess it’ll be worth a few quid a while down the line.

  24. Sleeping Dragon says:

    And before this podcast has even cooled there are already layoffs at Eidos Montreal, though they say it may be due to another project.

  25. Sleeping Dragon says:

    Oh, I forgot to mention it but when I got to the underground library I actually thought for a while that the new Thief was actually some kind of direct follow up to the old series continuity, though with a different Garret the Master Thief. Particularly on the account of, you know a huge, abandoned library of forbidden knowledge with keyhole and crossed keys Keeper marks all over the place, and the game did have that industrial revolution feel making it feel “later” in the timeline than the steampunky aspects of the previous titles. I\m actually sa bit sorry they did not go in that direction.

  26. utzel says:

    It all sounds very much like Hitman Absolution to me. That too had weird savegames that respawned all enemies, too many stupid corridor levels to play out a story no one wants, changed the disguise mechanic. Without Thiefs development hell it turned out better I guess (haven’t played Thief and probably won’t considering my backlog), at least without technical problems and glaring bugs or AI failures.

  27. Jamas Enright says:

    So, would you say this game had loot-onarrative dissonance? Eh? Eh? I’ll get me coat…

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