Experienced Points: 10 Great Things About the Thief Reboot

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Mar 11, 2014

Filed under: Column 38 comments

Which is worse: To get an in-name-only remake that – while perhaps good – has nothing you liked about the original, or to get a remake that’s horribly flawed but retains glimpses of the original brilliance? Honesty, I still don’t know. These kinds of choices aren’t fun to make.

This new Thief reboot is clearly the latter. It’s deeply flawed, but occasionally good.

I have no idea what Square Enix is going to make of this. Given the complete hodgepodge of features in this game, it’s pretty clear the team didn’t know what kind of game they wanted to make. Was this supposed to be a power fantasy, like Dishonored? Or was it intended to be a slow-paced stealth game? Was the team even thinking about this distinction, or were they too preoccupied with the story?

And if the devs don’t know what they wanted, then I imagine the publisher knows even less.



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38 thoughts on “Experienced Points: 10 Great Things About the Thief Reboot

  1. Benjamin Hilton says:

    I believe there are two main reasons why a new team does a reboot or sequel years later, and both reasons have their flaws.

    Reason #1: Marketing.
    In many cases where the game is indeed fun to play but is fundamentally different from the original we ask “why didn’t you just make a new IP?”
    The answer is marketing. By making a reboot you get to start with a base of fans, instead of trying to build one from the ground up. Similarly it gives your artists and writers a jump start.
    A good example of this is The Bureau: Xcom Declassified. If it weren’t for the name and the designs, you might have no idea it was supposed to be connected to the original.

    Reason #2: They are in fact fans of the series.
    In this scenario, the game play may not change much, but often the story goes in an odd direction that angers fans.
    The flaw here is that you are essentially giving a new group of people free license to make their fan-fiction canon.
    This can easily be seen on a larger scale with comic books. The stories have gone on for so long with different writers that they have long since ceased to resemble any sort of structured narrative.

    Unfortunately there is really no way to stop this. The desire for sequels comes from both ends: the publishers want to make money from the IP they own, and fans always want to know where the story goes next, or what their favorite old game would look like in a new system generation.
    Then they get mad when it isn’t what they expected.
    But as artists you really can’t expect the new team to simply ape the old: they want to leave their mark, not copy and past what another team did. And unless they can read minds, there is no way for them to truly see the original vision the creators had, so it will never flow perfectly.

    Anyway I know that was long and meandering. Thoughts?

    1. ET says:

      I personally wish more devs would be willing to copy/paste the original content of an older game, but in a new engine.
      Basically, keep the aesthetic of the older graphics/sound, and the feel of the original mechanics, but fix bugs, exploitable not-quite-“bugs” (like potions of +10k stats in Morrowind, or abusing burst-mode JHP in Fallout 1 & 2) and stuff like that.
      For example (as far as I understand) Skywind is basically the same Morrowind game, but in the Skyrim engine.
      In fact, you need a copy of both games in order to play this new version.*

      Hell, I’d pay for a remake of the first two Fallout games, where it’s just the original games, but in the FO3/NV engine.
      Although one thing they’d have to fix, is either to disable fast travel, or make it so that you’d have random encounters.
      That’s actually a problem with the fast travel button in all of the FO3/NV/Skyrim games: you ordinarily have random encounters as you travel along the road, but the fast-travel button just instantly teleports you, robbing you of the opportunity to have these interesting encounters.
      Like, the reason I use fast travel, is to avoid the long boring walking not the random encounters with traders and bears, which actually make the game fun! :S

      * I actually suspect this is for legal reasons, and not actually technical at all since:
      1. They’re redoing all of the graphical and sound assets.
      2. I seriously doubt that the two games data files are at all compatible.

      1. Alex says:

        “Although one thing they'd have to fix, is either to disable fast travel, or make it so that you'd have random encounters.”

        You could do this by adding a network of nodes like the ones used for AI pathfinding. Instead of just teleporting from your current location to Node B like it is right now, teleport to Node A and then plot a route either automatically or manually that takes you to your destination. Depending on the path you took, you might hit different encounters, each with their own engagement radius (with a Perception bonus for hostile encounters) – a well hidden ambush would have a small engagement radius, while a well established toll gate would be visible a long way off.

        And you could use the same “plot a course” mechanic for vehicles – if you want to ride shotgun, just tell your companion to take the wheel and where you want them to go, while you enjoy the scenery.

      2. Benjamin Hilton says:

        Skywind is done as a labor of love by fans.

        The point I was making is that developers are artists, and no artist simply wants to copy another.

        Artist: “I want to be a great painter!”

        Man: “How will you do that?”

        A: “I will paint the Starry Night, as made famous by Van Gogh.”

        M: “Umm are you going to put you’re own twist on it?”

        A: “No”

        M: ” Will it be some sort of commentary on the original, or Van Gogh himself?”

        A: “No”

        M: “So nothing different at all?”

        A: “Well I am going to use modern acrylic paints and a new canvas.”

        M: “…..”

        A: “Surely this will show everyone what a great artist I am!”

        Kinda silly right?

        1. ET says:

          It’s silly, but also a metaphor which has been stretched too far.
          Lots of old video games were severely limited by the software tools, and hardware constraints of the time.
          Computer tech has followed an exponential growth of capability for the better part of a century.
          Even if you wanted to only remake a game from thirty years ago (early 80s), you’re going to have CPUs which are about 20 thousand times as powerful.
          (Memory and disk space will be in the same ballpark, even though their doubling time is a bit faster/slower, since exponential is still friggin’ exponential.)
          I doubt that the paints of today are similarly 20000 times better than the paints of Van Gogh’s time. ;)

          1. Benjamin Hilton says:

            ok but again my point was not about technology. It was merely that artists want to do their own thing, not just ape someone else.

            1. ET says:

              I got that.
              However, you’re referring to artistic works, which are finished, or at least “good enough” for the artists to release them to the public, as a finished piece.
              I’m referring to people fixing things that were severely broken, due to the lack of tech at the time.

              1. Benjamin Hilton says:

                Fine it was a bad example…but merely fixing something still doesn’t let the artist express themselves. oh never mind, at this stage I think you’re willfully missing the point.

        2. Someone says:

          There is actually a whole school of artistic thought dedicated to the imitation of other works of art. It goes back all the way to the ancient greeks, and has been with us until 21st century. See this link. Photorealism and Hyperrealism can also be considered imitations of other art forms (namely photography). We can also look at appropriation art , readymades and found objects as a form of imitation.

          In short, imitation has been a part of art for a very long time, and it will probably continue in the future.

    2. syal says:

      Keeping in mind with #2 that having the same team do the sequel (in a timely fashion, or otherwise) won’t actually prevent that, as it might still go off in a direction fans don’t like or expect.

      1. Benjamin Hilton says:

        This is true, just look at Mass Effect. *Shudder*

        It is also Important to realize that even if it is the same developer, members of the original team may have left and been replaced, so there will still be a difference.

        I think this is part of the appeal of the auteur designer…one person’s vision. But with Ken Levine and Bioshock we’ve seen that has it’s own set of problems.

  2. modus0 says:

    Hmmm, I pretty much agree with your points, though I would suggest one change:

    Reduce the amount of time Garrett spends ogling the collectibles. It’s rather aggravating when you’re doing a Ghost run, and there’s a guard patrolling nearby, and Garrett wants to spend several seconds admiring the jeweled mask (with glass “gems”) while the guard is getting closer to a point where he’ll see you.

    As for a sequel, on one hand I want Eidos Montreal to do one, under the hope that they’ll fix the problems; but on the other hand I want them to stay away out of the fear that they’ll “fix” the wrong things and make the game less Thief.

    1. rofltehcat says:

      Yeah it is pretty annoying. Wouldn’t be so bad if you could still grab stuff with your other hand and still had full movement (or could cancel that crap).
      If they want us to admire the findings, there could be a (skipable) section after missions that consist of Garret placing his newly found treasures on a blanket, maybe polishing them, inspecting them closer (e.g. only sees the mask’s jewels are fake once he has the time to inspect it further). They could even put some of the exposition into these sequences.

      It’d also feel more natural than having the senseless, stupid and boring vitrines in your hideout. Jup, having those around isn’t conspicuous at all in case someone check on the mechanism and having them around in case one of your “friends” who may not know where you hide isn’t strange either.

    2. ET says:

      I think they could keep the long animations for collecting loot if:
      1. The long animations only play when no guards are around. Otherwise, it’s short animations.
      2. The long animations are only randomly played some fraction of the time, instead of the short ones. (This way, you don’t get sick of them so quickly, or at all, hopefully.)

      As for the sequel being done by Eidos, I think it wouldn’t be too bad.
      Judging by what Chris said in the Die Cast, it sounds like they had genuine fans on the team, who look like they care about making a good game, worthy of the “Thief” name.

      1. rofltehcat says:

        Or they could just slow down the game world while examining them, like they do when using focus, but without the blue effects.

      2. Decius says:

        The long animations were only for a small number of special items, and they can be cancelled. (it was r-click for me, but I remapped literally everything)

        Fun side-note: My happiest mapping had l-click mapped to ‘grab/use’ instead of ‘attack’. That my primary way of interacting with the world wasn’t combat is a sign that they did something Thief-like.

      3. Dude says:

        Eidos Montreal showed they’ve got the chops with Deus Ex: HR.

        I think they can make a lovely Thief game, given another shot at it.

        1. Jacob Albano says:

          Every time somebody says this, I feel obligated to point it out:

          Nobody who worked on Thi4f also worked on Human Revolution. Neither team’s failings or successes should reflect on the other.

  3. Retsam says:

    “This new Thief isn’t some Duke Nukem Forever-style trainwreck.” Man, it would have been great* if it had literally been “Duke Nukem Forever” style, with Garret having “babes” hanging off his arms, and cracking off color jokes, and taking pot shots at competing games (“Dishonored” more like “Disinterested”), etc.**

    *Did I say great? I meant to say “terrible but funny”

    ** Disclaimer: I haven’t played DNF, so my characterization here might be off.

    1. ET says:

      A bit off, from what I’ve heard about the game.
      (Which I think might be exclusively from Chris’ Errant Signal episode on the topic.)
      The original Duke Nukem 3D was indeed poking fun at contemporary media.
      e.g. “Hail to the king” sounds like it was from the 1992 film Army of Darkness.
      But in the reboot Duke game, he’s just using those catch-phrases like they are his own, instead of making fun of stuff from newer films or other media.

      1. Benjamin Hilton says:

        There were a few modern references..I remember Duke looking at a Master Chief style helm saying “Only wimps wear armor” or something like that..but over all they were few and far between. I only got halfway through the game myself, and never went back.

      2. Tizzy says:

        As I recall, the totality of DN3D’s dialogue was lifted straight from Army of Darkness. Or almost all.

        Which shows how profoundly the industry has changed since the late 90’s. Can you imagine nowadays a game lifting its catchphrases from some other medium? Unbelievable!

    2. Will Riker says:

      Sadly, Duke Nukem Forever was both terrible and not funny.

      1. Benjamin Hilton says:

        It’s like they knew there were supposed to be references but didn’t understand why, so they were just thrown in out of context. I think this is why so many of the jokes fell flat.

        1. Tizzy says:

          To be clear, it’s not as if DN3D was that funny…

          But it was another time, when having even an attempt at humor was already outside bold and new. Plus, it was both gleefully tasteless, and completely unpretentious, and that gets you forgiven for a lot of flaws…

  4. Paul Spooner says:

    If nothing else, the “lots of options for adjusting difficulty” is a great step, not only for the game itself, but hopefully for AAA games in general. Sadly, this particular brand of developer humility shows up inconsistently in both mainstream and indie games alike. “Don’t Starve” (or, “Starve No!” as my kids like to call it) is another great example of a high degree of configuration to fine-tune difficulty and play experience in games. Minecraft is a great example of a game where it is sorely needed, but isn’t really present at all.

    1. Tychoxi says:

      Yes, this is something I have been wanting to become commonplace for the longest time. Much in the same way we can customize our video options, we should be able to modify gameplay options.

    2. Mephane says:

      There are just so many things screaming for that kind of customizability. Just a few relatively generic examples from the top off my head, some of which would so simple to implement that the UI for changing them is the hardest part:

      – Auto-regenerating health: off/low/med/high, combat/non-combat
      – Inventory size: realistic/generous/infinite, weight-based/slot-based
      – Ammo capacity limit: off/low/med/high
      – Ammo types: realistic/one-size-fits-all
      – Death penalty: off/low/med/high/hardcore(start over on death), money/xp/time/loot
      – Auto-aim: off/slight/heavy
      – Camera: first-person/third-person/top-down* **
      – Quick Time Events: off/fast/slow

      (*I hate how the Borderlands games enforce first person view when you have these fantastic character designs and collectible skins you never get to see outside of the inventory screen.)

      (**I want to commend ESO with regards to this point, it allows first and third person view and the latter can be played both over-the-shoulder (my favourite) and top-down, as the camera angle can be moved freely in third person mode.)

      1. ET says:

        For that matter, content which would earn higher-aged ratings could be optionally installed.*
        Like, blood, sex, swears, etc.
        I’m replaying the original Fallout** and it’s got togglable blood.
        It doesn’t have any passwords, and is installed by default, but it at least shows precedent for devs putting options like this in their games.

        * This is assuming that parents have appropriate admin privileges over their children, and/or are actually willing to physically remove their computers, or limit their use to need supervision.

        ** Well, the GoG version, which may or may not have some extra patches.

      2. Trix2000 says:

        Keep in mind some of these options (camera style in particular) could cost a lot more development effort/time to implement, so they’d only be a feasible option if the engine or system is build to handle either easily… or there’s very significant pressure to do so (ESO comes to mind for keeping the first person view…).

        Still, just having some of the options is preferable to few/none. Regardless of the intended experience or level of difficulty, it helps to allow the player freedom to tailor that experience to their tastes… even if it means they just go invincible with infinite ammo.

  5. Neko says:

    It would actually be pretty easy to remove some of Garret’s end-game tools so that a sequel retains some progression: Have one of Garret’s safe-houses get discovered. You could even do it after the tutorial level so that the game can introduce the tools first. Unlike Batman, Garret doesn’t have the millions and research labs to re-craft his gadgets – he’ll have to either hunt down the ones that were taken or save up and try to find new ones.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Or do it kind of half-way like the intro to Darksiders. That way you’re not spoiling the player for the end-game, or taking away the really cool toys.

      1. Benjamin Hilton says:

        That’s exactly what they did in God Of War II.

        Play through the intro with all your powers, then Zeus shows up to punt you off Mount Olympus (Figuratively).

  6. Karthik says:

    You’re more optimistic than I am, Shamus. I wouldn’t be peeved if Enix puts the lid on the Thief franchise for now, so it can be resurrected when the AAA industry has moved past its “cinematic” affectations and its tendency to put most of its money into the parts of the game design that matter least to a setting like The City. When their target audience expects more freedom, open-ended spaces and respect for its agency in the mainstream games it plays.

    Of course, whether such a time will actually come in the future is a toss up. We don’t need every AAA developer to make systemic, player-driven immersive sims instead of rollercoasters–just for this to be an acceptable and viable philosophy.

  7. Sleeping Dragon says:

    I was not in love with the grabbing animation, I couldn’t get used to it and it felt disruptive of my character control, similarly with how Garret would try to “stick” to a moving character I was stealing from when they started walking. I also had a minor gripe with the thieving tools because I was able to do a side mission with a painting available before I was able to buy the painting cutting tool.

    But since we’re talking about positives, putting aside the divorcing of the game from the established lore and judging it on its own merits the City did have something of a distinct feel to i. While the old games had something of a fantasy steampunk atmosphere I got a rather distinct early industrialization vibe from it, and having any kind of distinct vibe is nice. Also, as much as I liked the supernatural themes of the original games between Basso and Xiao-Xiao I would not be against exploring the City a little bit more, a few mansions with secret passageways and skeletons in the closet to discover would do the game good. Other than the bank mission the architect’s house looked promising, though it proved somewhat more limited than I hoped. The upgrade system was also pretty okay, both the focus mechanics and the tools, it gave a nice sense of progress and an extra motivation for hunting down loot.

  8. Phantos says:

    The generally disappointed response to the new Thief actually doesn’t surprise me, but only because I’m one of the few who thought Deus Ex: HR was, in fact a “Duke Nukem Forever-style trainwreck”. I’ve never had any reason to believe Eidos Montreal ever knew what they were doing.

    If Square-Enix looks at the underwhelming response and decides this is the final nail in that coffin, then good riddance. Yeah, it’ll be sad to see games like Thief fall back into obscurity again, but the world does not need another incompetent game developer ruining beloved properties.

    Of course, we could easily make the same claim about Square-Enix at this point.

    1. ET says:

      I think putting HR in the same bucket as DNF might be a bit harsh.
      Like, DNF had basically nothing salvagable, from mechanics, to jokes, to story.
      HR, I think, could have been gone from “good” to “just as amazing as the original” if they’d done a couple things:
      1. Redo or scrap the boss fights, mechanically.
      2. Rewrite or scrap the boss characters themselves, since they basically make no sense for the plot.
      3. Balance the size/usefulness of inventory items. For example, the jars of candybars are useless compared to the single bars, because of the numbers in each stack, and the energy restored. Also, the single bars offer more fine-grained control to boot.
      4. Balance the augments.
      Obviously, numbers 1 and 2 are more expensive, but 3 and 4 are extremely cheap to do.
      Like, it’s basically a couple afternoons of playtesting, and changing a few numbers in the game files.

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I’m kinda curious about this comparison, I imagine you probably already did during the DX:HR Spoiler Warning season but could you elaborate?

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