Thief Autopsy Part 1: Prologue

  By Shamus   Mar 24, 2014   105 comments

So Thief has come and gone. Based strictly on how much discussion it’s generating, I estimate that upwards of six people bought it. It’s not generating buzz the way Tomb Raider or Human Revolution did. It’s not generating controversy the way Duke Nukem Forever did. And it’s not getting public derision the way Aliens Colonial Marines did. The game is barely a month old, and the conversation is basically over already. 6.9/10. Meh. Which is a shame. This game is not nearly the train wreck that Aliens: CMJudging by reviews. I haven’t played Colonial Marines. was, and I hate to see it forgotten so soon.

So let me do my part by meticulously picking at the game and pointing out all the flaws. Partly because in the world of games it’s better to be criticized than ignored, but mostly because that’s what we do here.

The various appendages of this game simply don’t fit together. Normally I blame these kinds of problems on bad writing, but in this case I think the game suffers from a severe case of re-writing and script tampering. Examining the story feels like an archaeological dig where we try to figure out what era the disparate pieces belong to.

thief2014_nitpick2.jpg

We start off with a little tutorial where we slink from one apartment to another while the game teaches the player how to sneak, extinguish lights, loot stuff, etc. Once the player has the basics down, we hear pounding footsteps on the roof outside. It’s time to meet our woman in the fridge.

Their introductory dialog:

Garret: Care to make a little more noise next time?

Erin: How else would you know it was me? (Beat.) Basso did tell you we were working together on this, right?

Garret: Well I showed up, didn't I? What do you think?

Erin: I think you haven't changed a bit.

Gah. It’s not the worst dialog I’ve ever heard, but there’s definitely something wrong here.

I like to think the game designer reviewed this scene with the level designer and threw up his hands in frustration, “You fool! I can still detect faint traces of blue in the skybox. The design document clearly calls for low-contrast brown with complete uniformity, yet I can still differentiate between foreground and background elements. I can even see this incredibly important central character without needing to squint very hard, you complete hack!”
I like to think the game designer reviewed this scene with the level designer and threw up his hands in frustration, “You fool! I can still detect faint traces of blue in the skybox. The design document clearly calls for low-contrast brown with complete uniformity, yet I can still differentiate between foreground and background elements. I can even see this incredibly important central character without needing to squint very hard, you complete hack!”

She says: “How else would you know it was me?”

Wait, is she taking pride in being noisy? And is she suggesting that she’s so notoriously and uniquely noisy that it’s kind of a calling card? Or is this supposed to be sarcastic? At first I assumed her dialog would be clearer once we get to know her character, but I’ve been through the whole game and I still can’t tell what this was supposed to mean.

He says: “Well I showed up, didn’t I? What do you think?”

Again, you could take this either way:

  1. I dislike you so thoroughly that I would never work with you, therefore my showing up serves as proof that Basso didn’t tell me you were involved.
  2. I wouldn’t have known to meet you here if Basso hadn’t told me, therefore my showing up serves as proof that Basso did tell me you were involved.

This is kind of an important distinction. This dialog exists to establish their relationship, but it’s not working because I don’t know what either one of them is trying to say.

She says: “I think you haven’t changed a bit.”

This is a standard screenwriter shortcut for “Okay, I’m done showing you these two people know each other, time to exit the conversation.” But since the previous dialog didn’t make any sense, we don’t know what to make of this. What aspect of his character “hasn’t changed”? He doesn’t know what’s going on? He’s hostile towards Erin? Grumpy? Difficult and obtuse?

This is a running theme in their dialog throughout the game. It’s both incredibly cliche while also failing to give the viewer anything to work with, character-wise. It’s confusing. And not in a “mysterious” way, but in a “muddled and distracting” kind of way. My guess is that this dialog has been written, re-written, re-organized and re-cut as the team fussed with the story, and the constant edits turned what was probably envisioned as straightforward “friendly rivalry” banter into this complete hash.

This is the start of the antagonistic relationship between Erin and the player. During the rest of the tutorial Erin uses every moment of screen time to make herself as unlikable as possible.

  1. She pretends she’s going to hand Garret a piece of paper, but at the last second she the drops it on the floor so he has to stop and pick it up. In real life this isn’t a terrible thing, but in the context of a movie this sort of behavior is usually performed by a villain. The writer has someone act like an ass to make it easier to for the audience to hate them.
  2. She murders a young guard, instead of knocking him out. Keep in mind that in the Thief universe, murder is portrayed as the work of an amateur. The game isn’t just telling us she’s a bad person, it’s also telling us she’s a terrible thief.
  3. She repeatedly insults Garret. It’s not playful buddy-cop “just like old times” kind of stuff, but more like watching a divorced couple trade barbs. And since Garret is trying to get her to show restraint and be a thief, it’s pretty natural to expect the player to take his side.

thief2014_nitpick3.jpg

This character is about to exit the story and I assume we’re supposed to feel something about that when it happens, but I have no idea what the writer is trying to do here. There is no warmth or friendship between these two. There’s not even respect. If I hadn’t known where the story was going, I would have assumed it was setting her up to be some sort of backstabbing villain. She’s certainly not sympathetic.

Erin uses this claw-thing to scale walls. It lets her reach places that Garret can’t, but he claims it’s “holding her back”. I assume he means emotionally / professionally and not in a practical sense, because it really does seem like a good tool. After yet another argument Garret pickpockets the claw from her.

They get to the manor where a bunch of cultist guys are doing a cultist thing. Garret and Erin are up on the roof, looking down on the proceedings through a giant domed skylight. Main elements of the scene:

thief2014_nitpick5.jpg

  1. The Baron, an industrialist and the nominal leader of the city. He’s leading the ceremony.
  2. A book with a gear on the cover and a lock over it.
  3. The primal stone, a glowly sea-green thing that’s used to unlock the book. This is what we were supposed to steal.
  4. The ceremony summons a vortex of green light and smoke while the Robe Guys chant.

Garret and Erin bicker some more. The Thief-Taker General (the Sheriff, basically) is down on the street, but sees the two thieves on the roof. Then a few seconds later he’s somehow up on the roof with them. Erin ends up falling through the window and right into the vortex. Garret swings down. It looks like he falls, but it also looks kind of like he’s trying to rescue her? Maybe? The roof collapses and the scene is cut off.

This doesn’t feel like a proper ending to the scene. It’s not a fade to black or a cliffhanger, because it cuts off the music and sound. It’s more like someone pausing a DVD than a scene transition. A proper scene ending would have the music build to a crescendo before ending, and it would hang at a black screen for a few seconds. Instead we go from mid-musical note to a completely silent loading screen.

My theory here is that during development this scene was written and re-written. I’m betting there was more action after the ceiling collapse, but those events were removed from the story and the cutscene was messily truncated rather than properly re-editing it.

We’re off to a strange start, and while the gameplay improves the story is pretty much downhill from here. Buckle up.


A Hundred!5105 comments. Quick! Add another to see if this message changes!


  1. SubmersibleScout says:

    The dialogue you quote sounds empty. Kind of like the writers are going for style and texture without content. Having not played this section, it sounds like there’s little to no work on character or motivation, but I’d be curious to know what the writers were going for.

    • el_b says:

      something he didn’t seem to pick up on was that from line to line, she switched from being kind of a bitch, to sounding like she was going to break down and cry. Its like she’s a reverse Madison Li from f3.

  2. Dev Null says:

    I’m not claiming that this is what they did, but I kind of like the idea of a game where the dialogue is so completely ambiguous that you could have two completely different plot arcs branch off of the same conversation, depending on how the player took it and reacted to it.

    Be an absolute bear to write though.

    • Jack Kucan says:

      I would love to play a game that does this. :3

    • MadTinkerer says:

      There are a few intentional examples of that in Skyrim (which I’m playing right now, originally following along with Spoiler Warning but now completely diverged). Like the part of the Assassin’s Guild quest where you have to kill someone, but that someone can be the person who’s forcing you to kill.

      In another, weirder, example: to start the Dibella quest, you have to be a woman and you have to break into the Shrine of Dibella. There’s then a slightly plot-holey conversation where the head priestess says she’ll forgive you for breaking in if you go find the “Sybil” (a girl who happens to be the Chosen of Dibella, but not actually named Sybil) but it’s supposed to be done secretly.

      Anyway, you just broke through an owned door in the city. Which means you might have a guard trying to arrest you as you’re talking to the head priestess. Which means one or both conversations may be interrupted by the other, and since you’re too busy smoothing things over with the head priestess to surrender to the guard right away, the guard will aggro and hilarity will ensue. Then, if you die, the game will load from the last autosave, right after you broke in, and even more hilarity will ensue. Unless you’re a good enough criminal to avoid getting caught breaking in, in the first place.

      So assuming you finish the quest: You break into the temple, spill the secret to at least one NPC after being ordered not to, bring the Sybil back and receive Dibella’s Blessing for not being an icky man. Thus proving you are trustworthy by initially having to act extremely untrustworthy. Which makes sense if you actually are trying to break in and steal the statue, but no sense at all if you’re trying to befriend the priestesses/Dibella.

    • Dude says:

      That’s the Mass Effect series. Except, the “arcs” only last five minutes after.

  3. papersloth says:

    “a glowly sea-green thing that’s used to unlock the book”
    The way I got it is that the ring we steal at the foundry unlocks the book, which in turn unlocks the primal stone. Even on the screenshot it’s subtitled “present the keys“, and it is assumed that the ring had some significance.

    But yeah, it’s a heap of nonsense. Later on the game will make references to this scene with flashbacks (“Cornelius”) and cutscenes (Thief-Taker General got his leg hurt in the split-second it took Garrett to use the claw). Except the player either didn’t notice those details or doesn’t care (with the constant “I’m slipping” by Erin).

  4. Sleeping Dragon says:

    I agree completely that Garret’s and Erin’s relationship feels much more antagonistic than it was probably meant to. Even on Garret’s side, what with the whole stealing the claw thing*… in the middle of hostile territory? I mean, who couldn’t see that it would end badly? Before I realised the whole fridge aspect I thought she would be a competitor throughout the game, or an ex-thief turned assassin whose actions would interfere with Garret’s.

    *And I couldn’t help but find his use of it later a bit hypocritical, despite the argument that he uses it “properly” and that he’s a real master thief already so it’s not infringing on his thiefines.

    As for the ritual scene… is it ever actually explained how Garret gets out of there? It’s covered how he spends the next year but I don’t remember that particular problem being addressed. Maybe they were trying to preserve the “it’s Garret’s eye!” reveal? Which is silly because I think everyone saw that coming from a mile away. Though maybe it’s just me knowing that your eye is special is something of a Thief thing.

    • modus0 says:

      Nope, never explained (at least in game, the mobile-only Companion App might cover it) beyond beggars finding Garrett afterward and nursed him back to health.

    • syal says:

      Haven’t played the game, but it sounds like they were going for a sort of father-daughter relationship, with Erin being the stereotypical rebellious-teenager-establishing-her-independence-by-rejecting-authority figure, and Garret being the patient-father-waiting-for-his-daughter-to-grow-up-into-maturity-while-also-learning-life-lessons-of-his-own character.

      Wouldn’t be the first time I’d seen someone employ that dynamic and immediately thought “That girl had better be the villain by the end of this”.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        Except I don’t think it really works, there are hints of a past master-apprentice relationship there, with possibly some vague implications of romance, but past the initial (somewhat ambigous as Shamus pointed) interaction it quickly became apparent to me that there is very little connection between the characters. I don’t know if it got cut or lost in the re-write but the whole relationship, whatever its exact character, between Garret and Erin always felt particularly flat to me. Not only I, as a player, did not feel invested, I don’t think Garret as a character really showed much of that either. I thnk it would feel like a more realistic motivation if Erin was pestering Garret with nightmares rather than sending psychic calls for help.

  5. Naota says:

    I’m really not sure what was going through the art director’s head with these starting levels in particular. The world is so pervasively and aggressively brown that it actually browns out the blacks in the scene. It feels like my gamma setting broke on an old monitor, or I’m playing the Dark Engine Thief games without fixing the dithering. The absolute miasma of conflicting smoke effects don’t help either; mingling overhead into an ugly mess that looks more like a sky-toilet than any kind of atmospheric effect known to mankind.

    There’s so much brown going on that it was actually hard for me to find shadows, distinguish highlights on objects, or make anything out through the high-frequency, low-contrast noise. At one point I was looking right at Erin from street level and couldn’t tell her apart from:
    -The stone wall behind her
    -The metal pipes beside her
    -The wooden boarding under her
    -The sky above her

    • That would make stealth easy, anyway . . .

      • Geebs says:

        Yeah, I totally thought the same thing. So, your thief character is hard to see against their environment? Good job!

        • Naota says:

          lol, I suppose that is one way to look at it.

          Thing is, Erin wasn’t skulking in the shadows as guards went past or something – she just looked like Erin standing on a ledge that I was supposed to notice. It was the rest of the environment that looked like everything else in the environment.

          Everything from cloth banners to rotting wood to cobblestones to piles of leaves has the same hue, saturation, and style of highlighting. There’s such little high-level contrast and so much low-level visual noise that characters just blend into the background, whether or not they’re trying to.

          And god, don’t even get me started on loot. Russet brown coin pouches in a pile of dead leaves? Tiny grey gears on cobblestones in the dark? Screw you, game!

  6. Karthik says:

    Shamus, I’m curious to know if these are thoughts you had while you were listening to the dialog between Garrett and Erin.

    The most I would have taken from that conversation is: “These two know each other… somehow. Protege? Associates? Ex-couple?”

    But when I’m bombarded with visual and aural stimuli and getting accustomed to the controls, I don’t have the mental acuity to tell if there’s something off. I’m entirely primed to soak in the world and receive directions. As for ambiguity, I don’t grok even well-written, straightforward exchanges when there’s a lot going on in the game, so everything short of an infodump is a little ambiguous to me until later reflection. (Which I rarely get to if the game’s keeping my senses fed.)

    This is the thing about games for me: In the moment, there’s too much going on for any kind of analysis, and what is often inconsistent characterization and a tonal mess can feel like natural banter when your attention is diverted towards scaling walls and sneaking around.

    I wonder if problems that become apparent in post-mortems are ones you can hold against a game if they don’t register when you’re playing, or even if the only thing you perceive when you’re playing is that something’s a little off. Few people hate Kai Leng because of his final-fantasy-villain characterization or atrocious dialog; most do because of the direct impact he had on their gaming experience with his bullship cutscene powers and boss fights. Or perhaps the latter got them thinking about the former.

    (PS: None of this applies to the Assassin’s Creed series, because the writing and pacing are so rudderless everyone can tell it’s crap even as they’re playing it. Maybe they should keep their dialog but only play it when you’re busy tailing someone or avoiding guards.)

    • Bloodsquirrel says:

      A lot of people pay a lot more attention to a game’s story than you do. If I’ve reached that level of not caring what’s going on in a story I consider it a failure point.

      • karthik says:

        What I was getting at was: I’d like to pay more attention, but (i) I don’t have the bandwidth, and (ii) I’m not sure it’s worth it. Heck, I never skip cutscenes, even on second playthroughs.

        • Bloodsquirrel says:

          To quote Mr. Plinkett:

          “You may not have noticed… but your brain did.”

          If you’re paying attention to a story, you can notice that it’s bad without knowing exactly why until going back over to pick it apart. It’s also something of a skill that needs to be practiced; there are stories that I’ve always thought were bad that I was never able to truly disect and articulate until long after seeing them.

          Nowadays, I was able to identify exactly what made, for example, Far Cry 3 fall apart story-wise while playing it.

          • C0Mmander says:

            “You may not have noticed… but your brain did.”

            You know, while I do agree with it a little bit, that line sounds so douchey. It’s like saying: “­­­­­­­You may not know you hated that scene but you hated that scene anyway, because I’m always right.”

            • syal says:

              Considering the character that uses it has also killed multiple people for petty reasons, “douchey” is pretty accurate.

            • Bloodsquirrel says:

              No, that’s not what it’s saying- it’s used to describe good examples of writing as well. It’s about how people don’t always consciously realize what information they’re taking in. Being able to consciously pick those things out is what separates a really good critic from someone who can just say that something is “boring”.

            • Gordon says:

              I think you might have misunderstood the intended meaning of the phrase. It doesn’t mean that a story is bad even if you don’t think so, it’s more that your brain will figure out that something is bad, and pick up on the cues it doesn’t like, even if you don’t consciously register what about it you don’t like.

              I’ve had things like this all the time – like with Man of Steel, I realized about a third of the way into it that I did not like the movie, even though it took careful re-examination after the fact to figure out specifically WHY I didn’t like it (Lack of stakes, bland characterization, boring visual aesthetic…) Sometimes realizations about some aspects allow you to go back and apply similar reasonings to previous scenes, to discover why you didn’t like them. If you DID like something, the phrase probably doesn’t apply to you.

    • swenson says:

      Eh, YMMV. I hated Kai Leng because he was a lovely symbol of how little sense Cerberus made from an in-universe perspective in Mass Effect 3. But I tend to analyze story/writing as I go in games/books/movies, which I know not everybody does. Part of this is Shamus’ fault. :)

    • Lalaland says:

      Yeah I think this is pure YMMV territory really, for me a games writing has to fall into the 2/5 territory for it to start impinging on my enjoyment. Like Swenson Kai Leng stood out as bad writing to me straight off whereas ropy writing that was merely serviceable has passed me by (I swear to any-deity-you-care-to-mention that he was a Mary-Sue FU to the players). Equally the Mage quest line in Skyrim is crap and makes little sense but it never stood out as being really bad while playing it particularly as compared to the Thieves Guild stuff that was truly abominable and hurt my enjoyment of Skyrim while playing it.

    • Shamus says:

      This is a mix of post-play analysis and stuff I thought about during the game. The whole double-meaning of Garret’s “What do you think?” statement hit me while I was playing. I was yanked out of the game because I couldn’t figure out which way he meant it.

      But yeah, a lot of this only becomes clear in retrospect.

      • karthik says:

        You’re far more confident than me. When I hear something ambiguous or discordant in a game, I always assume it’s because I missed something and haven’t been paying enough attention.

        Which is why I enjoy reading you break this stuff down in simple terms.

        • Bloodsquirrel says:

          He had an article a while ago where he talked about that, and linked it to how much trust he had in the story.

          If I’m reading a really dense work (like A Song of Ice and Fire) I’m more likely to assume that I missed something, or that there’s deliberate ambiguity at play, whereas if I’m reading something that does it too much or that is slipshod in other areas (like Bleach), I’m going to assume that it’s just bad writing.

          • Ehlijen says:

            Or, if dealing with a foreign work, a suboptimal translation.
            (Not the case here, just thought it bore mentioning as you brought up anime).

            The problem here seems to be that the writers put tone over words to convey information.

            Almost all the lines are questions and what isn’t is mostly vague answers. These people are guarded and suspicious (as you might expect criminals to be), and also cool/edgy/sarcastic, cause that’s in these days.

            But rethoric questions only work if the answer is already known. It isn’t here.

            If they’d remembered/succeeded to make the words actually match the tone and intent, it could have worked. As it is, it’s confusing, as Shamus points out.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      To me,erin was grating since the moment I met her.Its only after I stopped and thought about it that I came to similar conclusions as Shamoose as to why I found her so grating in the first place.

    • Groboclown says:

      I’ve been stuck with the “crash on loading a save game” bug, so I’ve seen this intro enough to hear their dialog many times over. It’s given me plenty of opportunity to invent new interpretations for what’s going on, especially since I haven’t endured very far into the game.

      But even on the first time though, my first introduction to this character is seeing a young kid intentionally being a bad thief just to show up the “mentor” character, and it put me off to her right away.

      Maybe she appeals to the kids, but to an old man like me, it really made me hope for the rumors that she is removed from the game early.

  7. Stormcaller says:

    My feeling was that Erin was supposed to be the urchin (girl?) who tries to lift from him at the end of Thief3…

    After that, I presumed that he had tried to train her, but had failed as she was too impetuous, and then she left… no contact since till now…

    though i could have been reading too much into it :)

    • Kavonde says:

      That’s possibly who she was originally intended to be, back in the script’s first few geological strata. Unfortunately, at some point they decided that this game was a complete reboot of the Thief series. So, while the original canon is occasionally nodded at, the game takes place in a different universe and Erin’s not intended to be the urchin from Deadly Shadows.

      • modus0 says:

        I’ve had someone tell me that the Companion App reveals that this is actually the same universe as the previous games, but something like 400 years later; making this a different Garrett, and that apparently the original Garrett was captures and “treated” in the Moira Asylum where he died (hence the Mechanical Eye being there).

        Not having a device that can access the app, I can neither confirm nor disprove the info. Maybe someone here would be willing to clarify the matter?

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          This would actually fit with the feelings I got while playing, what with the obviously Keeper library level while at the same time the world in general felt like it progressed from fantasy-steampunk towards occult early industrialism.

          On a completely related note FU whoever thinks that putting this kind of lore stuff in any form of “companion this or that” is a good idea.

        • Decius says:

          Anything in the asylum can be attributed to the creepy horror scary part of the asylum.

        • Tom says:

          If you have to go outside the game to find all that stuff out, then it doesn’t do anything to alleviate the status of the actual game’s writing as opaque crap. This was one of Campster’s complaints during the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle.

          Also, that treatment of the original Garrett, plus the whole T4 dev process, reminds me strongly of Alien3 – muddled, endlessly rehashed writing, somehow keeping the tone of the originals yet still feeling nothing like them, and killing off beloved original characters in ignoble ways, offscreen, for no better reason than it being the quickest, easiest, laziest way to tie up all those loose ends and give you a free hand to write your own story without having to dovetail it properly into the established canon.

      • Decius says:

        It makes far more sense to conclude that it isn’t a reboot, but that the various factions have now faded from relevance and Erin is the bookend from the end of Deadly Shadows.

    • lucky7 says:

      That sounds AWESOME, as well as making the “You killed me!” or somesuch from Erin bearable, as he feels responsible for not training her well enough to survive.

      Example:
      (After guard murder)
      G:”I didn’t train you to do this!”
      E:”You’re not the be all, end all, master thief, Garrett. Who taught you your skills?”
      G:(Reveals Garrett was part of an assassin’s order or somesuch, and is still haunted by those he had to kill.) “I taught you so you wouldn’t have to do that. To yourself. To others”

      It’s not much better, but it’s SOMETHING.

  8. RTBones says:

    My hypothesis: the devs came up with a game, and released parts of it to gauge feedback. The community eviscerated many of the ideas released. The game, however, is well-along its development track, giving the devs an “oh sh!t” moment before the game is even finished development. Devs scratch their heads to come up with what to do to salvage it – then tell their coders to make much of the awesome/cool/fantastic/hated-by-the-community stuff they came up with as an option, so the features the coders just spent six months working on now get to be optional – making game balance all the more difficult. Of course, this means the entire game is in a state of flux, because a game that had thieves killing dudes as a central theme (rewards for headshots?) now is trying to have a thieves being more sneaky theme. Places where devs thought players would fight now get to be drawn up in a “I am sticking to the shadows” sort of way, even if the shadows were originally an option to the player. Of course, many of the movies (and the story) are already completed with the basic assumption that players would fight, and now make little sense when players sneak past. Doing them over would cost copious amounts of cash the devs no longer have, so they compromise. What you get left with, in the end, is clunky, disjointed, and generally lacking in cohesiveness.

    Or something to that effect.

    • Groboclown says:

      I’ve been fearful that they took a bit of the Ultima 9 approach. They wrote the script, then voice acted + mocapped part of it, then went through dev hell, which meant redoing the script, and then starting different takes. Eventually, someone had to come in and cobble together something that resembled a story with the pieces they had, because reshooting everything would be too expensive that late in the process.

      Edit: well, not Ultima 9. They had pre-rendered sequences that they used for advertising that ended up not being used in the game…

  9. SolForce says:

    “Paging Dr. Young! You are needed in the autopsy room!”

  10. Raygereio says:

    Erin uses this claw-thing to scale walls. It lets her reach places that Garret can’t, but he claims it’s “holding her back”.

    Maybe I shouldn’t attribute this to malice, when it can be adequately explained as crappy writing. But is this a stealth-screw-you from the developers to the fans of the original Thief games?

  11. LazerFX says:

    I never comment on your blog, but I’ve been reading it since… I can’t remember when, probably somewhere during the early DM of the Rings period.

    Just wanted to drop a comment in here and say that I’m going to read these articles later – a while later – when I’ve actually finished playing the new Thief game, so my comments may jibe/contrast with what you’re saying as I’m avoiding spoilers ;)

    I’m enjoying it so far… it’s a solid, capable game. Not flashy, not fantastic, but I’ve enjoyed the atmosphear (hehe – remember that show?). I just wanted to put my support to it, and say – I bought it, on PC. I know two people who’ve bought it (One on PS4 and one on PC) on my recommendation. All of us have reasonably enjoyed it… And that’s all I wanted to say ;)

  12. So… “Thief Taker General” is not a joke, and is an actual thing from the game..?

    • Grudgeal says:

      Yes and no. He’s in the game for real, but I for one have a hard time not treating him as a joke anyway.

    • Henson says:

      That was my reaction. I can’t imagine any universe where “Thief Taker General” isn’t a silly name.

      Of course, I thought that “Collectors” from ME2 were silly, too…

      • Raygereio says:

        That was my reaction. I can’t imagine any universe where “Thief Taker General” isn’t a silly name.

        Thief takers were a real thing actually. In the 18th and 19th century in England before a professional police force was established, thief takers were private individuals hired to catch criminals (think bounty hunters).
        Some of the more enterprising thief takers figured that it was a lot easier to collect the bounties if you didn’t have to chase thieves all over the place. So they began to steal themselves and returned the stolen goods for the reward. A couple even organized whole gangs to do the stealing for them and turning their “employees” in as thieves when they outlived their usefulness.

        One of the more notorious thief takers was Jonathan Wild who had the nickname of Thief Taker General.

      • Hitch says:

        Well, having previously encountered The Witchsmeller Pursuivant and having read about Commander Sir Samuel Vimes taking umbrage at being called nothing but a thief taker before deciding that really wasn’t an insult, I didn’t bat an eye at Thief Taker General.

    • guy says:

      It doesn’t seem all that bad. It’s probably meant in the same sense as”inspector general” as opposed to the military rank, and even if it is the rank, he’s the guy in charge of the thief takers and rank names can be fuzzy.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        “It doesn’t seem all that bad.”

        The title?No,its not that bad.The character(if he can be called that)?He(or rather,it)is extremely bad.

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          Very much this, it’s a bunch of villain and “a character the player is meant to hate” tropes piled without rhyme or reason and blown out of proportions to the point of eyeroll-inducing ridicule. The name may be based in reality but because the character is so poorly handled it makes it sound like a silly made-up title meant to be sound menacing.

  13. rofltehcat says:

    No reference to the shift in color palette? :(
    I really like the color palette used at the very beginning. Later the game switches from orange completely to turquoise (exception: when there is lag-fire around). Mixing them up a bit would have been nice.
    But maybe they were afraid of the cliche blue-orange contrast criticism? At least blue-orange is still better than having just blue.

    I guess story-wise this can be partially explained by the change to Garret’s eyes. But still some variance would have been great.

  14. Bropocalypse says:

    This is clumsy even for video game dialogue. It’s like bad fanfiction, or something- The sort of writing from someone whose knowledge of the creative process is so underdeveloped that they simply have things happen and have people saying trite lines without it having any underlying logical meaning.
    Actually, it reminds me of that one Homestar Runner cartoon where Strong Bad and Homestar are buddy cops. Except, of course, that was self aware and done for comedic purposes.

    I would hope that Shamus is right in guessing that this is due to a large number of revisions and bad editing, because the alternative is worse- They just didn’t care.

    • some punk says:

      This company made Dishonored before this game. So you know that they have the chops to create a great game. The problem may come down to who actually had a say in how the story developed. It’s too bad that this game isn’t doing well. I really wanted to see a Dishonored sequel.

      • Sagretti says:

        Thief is by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix, Dishonored was by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda. There is no major connection between their development teams, even if Dishonored cribbed a lot from the Thief series, and the new Thief took some elements of Dishonored. Thief’s failure would have more chance of endangering the future of the Deus Ex franchise, really.

  15. newdarkcloud says:

    I think Garrett is trying to say that Erin’s over-reliance on the Claw is “holding her back” from using her actual thief skills, which he apparently thinks she has.

    Which is funny, because Garrett goes and starts using the claw right after taking it from her.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      True,but he does say something like “its quite useful when you use it properly”.

      • newdarkcloud says:

        I believe he says “It’s quieter than Erin made it seem.”

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        That bit felt really hypocritical to me. Oh sure, Garret can use the claw right, but not Erin. Erin needs to be shown her place, she needs to remember who the master thief is here. I know what they meant with the holding back thing but because the relationship between characters feels vaguely antagonistic it doesnn’t come off as care but rather some kind petty spite.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Yes,the presentation was poor,but the intent was to show the difference between an amateur and a master.

        • empty_other says:

          I am pretty sure Erin could use it silently IF she wanted. I thought it was pretty clear in that short level that she is figuratively screaming for attention while trying to keep the ‘tough girl’ facade, hence the noise she makes.
          Her reliance on the claw is probably because it was one of the only things that was truly hers (she most likely created it after Garret turned his back on her), everything else was either Garrets training or her dark passenger.

  16. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Thiaf is a mess.Gameplay is pretty good,but not good enough to carry the rest of the elements.The narrative is meh,delivered pretty poorly.But the worst offender is the sound.Whoever did the sound for this game needs to be strapped to a chair and have their eardrums blown out by amplified nails on chalkboard sound.This is the first game Ive ever played that is managing to infuriate me because of its sound,which is an amazing achievement.

    • ET says:

      Do you mean because of technical issues/bugs, or because the sounds themselves are particularly annoying?
      Or some other reason?
      Having not played the game, all I know so far, is all the bugs Shamus and Chris pointed out.

      Speaking of which, the sound distance-loudness thing*, seems like somebody just got the math wrong.
      Like, it’s cyclical: it’s to loud, then too quiet a foot farther away, then too loud another foot from that location, etc etc.
      I could be totally wrong, but that sounds a lot like a SIN or COS being put in the wrong place, or somebody forgetting to normalize direction vectors, from the type of bugs I got when writing projects in school.
      I mean, it could be something more deep, and rooted in whatever engine they wrote/used for the audio, but without any other evidence…I’ll pick the simplest answer.

      * Chris or Shamus posted this somewhere, or maybe it was in a Diecast? I can’t remember.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Ok,first there is the music.It is so loud that it drowns out everything,and it starts blasting every time enemies spot you,or you hit someone on the head.So imagine trying to be sneaky,coming from the shadows to the guard,knocking him out sneakily,only to have the loudest sting ever to blast from the speakers.Of course,no one but you can hear it,but it seems like the whole city became alert.Its extremely jarring.

        Then there are the ambient sounds,which cut out and appear whenever they feel like it.Sometimes youll be just walking around a house,and suddenly therell be this extremely loud rain from somewhere.You step back,and silence.Forward again one step,and loud rain.Same goes for fire,or the river.Extremely annoying.

        Oh,and tied to that,youll never know where anything is coming from.Left,right,behind you.No idea,the sounds are just coming from whichever direction they please,whenever they feel like it.

        And of course,theres the dialogue…Dear god,the dialogue…Ok,the dialogue itself varies from passable,to bland,to annoying.But thats not the main problem.The main problem is that it will repeat.If you remain in one area,you will hear the same dialogue over and over and over and over and over again,which makes even the passable one annoying.But,it wont just repeat constantly,it will start the new iteration of the same dialogue before the last one ends.At some points,you will hear three iterations of the same dialogue,one from the beginning,one from the middle,and one near the end.It really gets so bad that I had to turn off the sound just so I could climb a rooftop of one building without my blood boiling.

        Lastly,there are your footsteps.While these are the most reasonable of all sounds,pretty ok on their own,the problem is that no one but you can hear them.So you will go across the grass,hearing this loud rustling,but the guard literally a meter away from you will just stand there with his back turned,oblivious of your presence.So there really is no point in sneaking around,because despite your footsteps sounding loud while you move around,no one but you will hear them.Not even when you are going through a metal vent,having it boom around really loud.

        Some of these are bugs,but some of these are just incompetence.And all together,they make for a pretty lousy auditory experience.

        • ET says:

          That sounds to me like bugs and incompetence.
          I’m actually surprised that the sound engine is that buggy, and that the sound levels are that out of sync with the stealth model.
          Like…this is the type of stuff that should have been trivially noticed by any amount of testing greater than zero. :C

        • empty_other says:

          One time the audio from a character around the corner to my left came from the right. So i followed the direction of the sound into the wall where it suddenly changed direction. Seems like there was.. sound bouncing… Or maybe just a freak accident.

          Other than that, the direction the sound comes from is clear as day, in the x/y direction. I could mostly follow the position of guards by their footsteps (important knowledge before opening a door), but not which floor they was on.

          And then there was overlapping sounds. Not blended, just clearly overlapping each other.. And dialogue overlapping. Often multiple tracks from the same guard. While an important NPC was talking to you. Gah.

  17. Emlyn says:

    Well I was going to read the article but then you linked to TvTropes and I lost an hour of my life. Thanks Shamus.

    • newdarkcloud says:

      On a related subject, the TV Tropes page for this game says that this game canonically takes place 400 years after Deadly Shadows, with this Garrett possibly being a reincarnation of the original Garrett.

      If that’s true, it’s NEVER hinted at in the game.

      • Bartendelous says:

        You mean this bit of info from the YMMV page?:

        Author’s Saving Throw: The change in Garrett’s voice actor and the various Mythology Gags as placement in the distant past, in addition to the higher technology of the era is given a justification through the fact that this Garrett is in fact a Legacy Character of the former Garrett, whose adventures are heavily implied to be in the distant past, remembered only as the “Sneak Thief”. It appears that annoyances with the fact that it was a Continuity Reboot and/or In Name Only have been addressed by making it into a Stealth Sequel.

        What about the Thief Wikia? does it say anything about where to find this information?

        • newdarkcloud says:

          TV Tropes cites this timeline as their source. And Thief: The Dark Wiki links to this wiki, for the new Thief game.

          • Kavonde says:

            That makes my head hurt far worse than this game just being a reboot.

            I can almost–almost–let them get away with having a completely unrelated thief 400 years later also be named Garret. But having a fence named Basso? Nope. This game’s a reboot, and any claims otherwise are just flimsy handwaves to appease fans of the original.

      • Zukhramm says:

        Well if it’s not in the game it’s not in the game. Whatever hallucinations the developers might have outside of the game is irrelevant.

    • Trix2000 says:

      Only an hour? You got pretty lucky.

  18. Bartendelous says:

    May i suggest a drinking game for every time we read the words “re-written”, “re-organized” and “re-cut”? Cause i feel its going to be our explanation for 99% of everything that happened.

  19. Jason-L says:

    Haven’t played the game, but given the dialogue snippet and a background in pulp/pop culture:

    Garret: Care to make a little more noise next time?
    Translation: I heard you coming and I’m gonna take a dig at your skills, because that’s the kind of not-really-my-friend relationship we have.

    Erin: How else would you know it was me? (Beat.) Basso did tell you we were working together on this, right?
    Translation: I was purposefully making noise so you wouldn’t be surprised and over-react. That is, assuming the boss told you we were working together.

    Garret: Well I showed up, didn’t I? What do you think?
    Translation: I know something happened between us in the past, but I’m going to leave it up to you to decide if he told me and I came anyway, or he didn’t tell me.

    Erin: I think you haven’t changed a bit.
    Translation: You’re still an ass, but hey, so am I.

    It reads like an attempt to do a homage/pastiche of a Raymond Chandler/Mickey Spillane/Richard Stark hard-guy dialogue with just a hint of “hey hey, romantic comedy hate-now,love-later” in the mix.

    But that’s just working from the incredibly low-contrast, washed out pic and the name of the game being Thief, and the characters being a male and a female.

    • Duffy says:

      While I have not played it, it’s possible the delivery didn’t really sell those points. When read in abstract you can assume one way or the other. With some in-game context and delivery cues it should be abundantly clear. Kind of like how sarcasm is usual easy to recognize in person (unless the speaker is really bad at it or hiding it on purpose) but impossible in text without clues.

      I’m assuming since Shamus interpreted this initial introduction to the characters as such that they never did anything to change his mind or clear up the ambiguity later or waited so long as to be irrelevant.

      • Jason-L says:

        I’m just thinking if I was reading the dialogue in the script, that’s how it’d read to me. The in-game delivery and context is definitely important, though. It’s like reading the script to Grosse Point Blank and then watching the film – two totally different experiences.

        It’s just possible that when the game dialogue was written, it worked. The whole package put together, not so much?

    • Noumenon72 says:

      I think you got it! The one really confusing part was how you could reveal your identity just by the noises you make while moving. Your explanation reveals that the true meaning was “How else would you know [I was coming]?”

  20. urs says:

    I’ve been biting my tongue on previous occasions but…

    the artstyle you’re mocking here: I think that image is gorgeus. First of all, Thief is set when? 18th/19th century? Here, have some inspiration from that period. And why the hell not? I am quite sure that the maker of that particular skybox had a look at Turner and to him I say: Great job!
    Secondly, as less than vibrant gfx get dismissed quite often around here (I think), take an actual look at the real world without letting your brain get in the way with its knowledge of how, say, fire hydrants are very red but focus on the raw perception or, if that doesn’t work.. write a thing that extracts colours from a photograph. I did, here’s what I get when looking out the living room window on an overcast day (admittedly, these are the averages from a 6×5 grid): Well, I am not going to post 30 hex colours and imageshack has a trial period(?) which is over but it is indeed shades of brownish grey and only. That pic of Erin on the roof is more colourful than the view out of my window. Is what I’m saying.
    Just saying.

    Apart from that, uh, haven’t played the game. It does sound ‘meh’ with a good deal of ‘barf’ on the audio department so probably I am going to keep it like that. Too busy with Titanfall and [expletive] Dark Souls, anyways.

    • spades says:

      Thief isn’t set in the 18th/19th century. The architecture is inspired by that Victorian style tho

    • ET says:

      Those paintings may or may not have been the inspiration for the graphical aesthetic of this Thief game, but these things do not exist in isolation.
      I mean, for the better part of a decade, we’ve been inundated with 1st-person (and other) games with “gritty brown realism” as the aesthetic, which makes Thief look like it’s just following the same boring trend.

    • Trix2000 says:

      It’s not that things HAVE to be colorful so much as the need for better contrast I think. That and while the art style may work for still images, it’s not so great for a player looking around trying to resolve what things are in the middle of play.

      Of course, it all comes down to preference anyways.

  21. spades says:

    Voice acting is important here too! I thought that (because of how she and Garrett would talk to each other) the two were an item and not a master-apprentice duo. That and some of the lines.

  22. General Karthos says:

    I’ve noticed that in a lot of videogames, the story goes downhill from the start, as opposed to books where the story starts slow, builds up, and then winds down. The best parts of the story tend to come in the middle when it’s a book. When it’s a video game, most of the best parts of the story come in the beginning, in the early going. (This is especially true of series of games that are directly connected like Mass Effect and Halo’s “story”.)

    Is this because the goal of video games is now to give the players the illusion of choice while still forcing them down the main path?

    What I mean is this: For example, in Mass Effect (1, 2, and 3 all do this) you have multiple conversation options in a conversation, but since it’s critical that such and such information is conveyed, and such and such actions are taken, the response to all three dialogue options will be the same. The only question is whether or not you sound like a dick when you speak or not.

    In Mass Effect 2, when you find out you’re working with Cerberus, you have the option of saying “I’m not working with Cerberus!” which makes perfect sense given what happened between Shepard and Cerberus in the first game. But the response to that is pretty much to say, “Yes you are working with Cerberus,” and it’s never discussed again. The dialogue is exactly the same from then on as if you were going along with them willingly. The game is a much better story if you go along with the stuff that makes no sense and… that’s not a good way to write a story.

    It’s like trying to write a choose your own adventure book where you go to the same page regardless what choice you make, but the resulting page has to make sense no matter what choice you made, so the result is that the story is unsatisfactory, regardless of what you chose to do, because you never quite get to do things the way you want.

    I don’t know how much freedom of choice you have in Thi3f (I’m using that spelling because it apparently annoys everyone on Earth, especially since this reboot is apparently Thief 4, or something?), and I will probably never play the game, but I think this is a problem that all games have. By trying to create choice where none exists, they destroy the illusion of choice, and they destroy the story you’re supposed to be choosing about.

    • bucaneer says:

      A more prosaic reason for frontloading the cool bits in games is that a lot of people don’t finish games, and that (p)reviews in gaming media are often based on just the first few hours. If something interesting happens at the end, it likely won’t be seen and mentioned as often, and therefore won’t drive sales as much.

      • General Karthos says:

        This is true, and kind of depressing. I mean, if reviewers went through an entire game we might have to wait a little longer for an in depth review, but at least we’d have some idea of what we’d be getting. In an ideal universe anyway. In the real world, it’s hard to get an accurate take on what a game is like, since a billion-dollar company is going to pay (even if indirectly) for good reviews for its games. It takes a truly atrocious game to “score” poorly, and even if it does, the previews (which are always positive in tone) have encouraged a lot of people to buy it. (Duke Nuke’em Forever, anyone?)

        In an ideal world, reviewers would play the entire game through and score it accurately. But in the real world, reviewers play the first few hours and then give the score they were told to give it.

        Imagine if the rest of the world worked like this. “This vaccination works to prevent polio, but it causes heart defects a few years later. Still, 10/10.”

  23. Piflik says:

    The cinematic actually worked well for me. It ends rather abruptly, when Garret is hit by some rubble, and then cuts to him lying on a cart a year later, leaving the player confused about the time in between. But that is on purpose, methinks. Garrett himself doesn’t know what happened in between, or how much time has past and since the plyer is supposed to ‘be’ Garrett, he is not to know more.

    Sadly there is no real explanation later as to what happened or why he can’t remember…but that’s not the fault of that cinematic…

    • empty_other says:

      I was confused in the beginning, i assumed he knew what had happened because the text “A year later” was showing on the screen. How could he just have woken up if he knew it was a year later? But a few missions later he confirms that he didnt know it had gone a whole year.
      And, spoiler, a few more missions later and it is all explained.

      • Lisa says:

        They really needed to not put “a year later” but perhaps give some one-off dialogue in that first mission that has Garrett wondering how long he’s been out with all the changes.

  24. Alec says:

    Thanks Shamus.

    I have no idea if my post in the other thread contributed to any influence on you actually bothering to do this…but thanks either way :)

  25. straymute says:

    This reads a lot like a mangled version of the same intro Pratchett did for Mirror’s Edge.

  26. Starker says:

    Btw, it’s Garrett, not Garret.

  27. empty_other says:

    Is it just me or is all of Shamus’ screenshots… foggy? Side-by-side comparison to mine:
    http://onlyhuman.dk/files/thief2014_nitpick1.jpg

  28. Lisa says:

    I find this analysis really interesting because while I can see what you’re getting at, I didn’t take a lot of this stuff away from it myself.
    I did find the dialogue stilted, that much I agree on, however I ‘got’ the relationship between Garrett and Erin quite quickly – in fact that first conversation actually made a lot of sense to me. I do wonder if that’s a cultural thing though, because the barbs and comebacks are part of a lot of my friendships (and even more so of some friendships around me).
    Erin also reminded me a lot of friends I’ve had who have been ‘beaten down’ by life a lot. They swing from (apparent) overconfidence, to self-loathing to mistrust. Erin in the early part shows that, and later (obviously after the asylum and more) is even worse.
    On the other hand, Garrett sees himself very much as the mentor, even if he is too cynical and world weary to be very good at it. Which means that for all his confidence in himself and his abilities, his ‘teaching’ is likely to go awry very quickly.
    As to the ‘cut’ at the end of the prologue, I actually thought it made a lot of sense dramatically. Of course, I think this comes down to personal preference.
    The only part that really bugged me was how quickly the General made it to the roof. I get they were going for ‘dramatic-add-more-danger’ but that was one bit that felt very contrived.

  29. kikito says:

    Enjoying this autopsy, even if I didn’t play the game (It might be that reading the autopsy is more entertaining than playing the game itself!)

    I like that it’s titled “Part 1″.

    Also, doing companions is HARD. At least, likeable ones. Only a handful of developers have managed to pull that one out.

  30. UtopiaV1 says:

    I always enjoy these dissections of bad or mediocre games, it’s always fascinating to see where it all went wrong (as I haven’t played Thief yet, but being a casual fan of the first 3, it sounds like I shouldn’t).

    On a side not, I love Aliens: Colonial Marines. It is ‘the Room’ of videogames! It is such a bad game, it becomes compelling just to see how much they ruined the Aliens franchise. Plus it has 4-player split-screen coop, so you can have a full-blown party with your friends, playing the worst game of the past few years, taking a shot every time something is ret-conned or canon is irreversibly ruined!

    It’s the train-wreck you just cannot take your eyes off, so I would urge anyone who hasn’t played it (the thing is less than £5 now so there’s no excuse) to gather some drunk mates and have a bad videogames night with this thing as the main attraction, because it is such bad fun :)

  31. Bartendelous says:

    “The game is barely a month old, and the conversation is basically over already. 6.9/10. Meh. Which is a shame. This game is not nearly the train wreck that Aliens: CM[1] was, and I hate to see it forgotten so soon.”

    Well, its over because the conversation happened BEFORE the game was released, since the fans already knew it was going to be a trainwreck (specially after the gameplay footage became available). The fans DID warn Eidos in more than one occasion and they failed to listen, and i am not talking about just the issue of Garrett’s voice actor. They had concerns and made warnings since March 2013 and they STILL didn’t listen:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=namZ9xWhPZY
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5l5ZCb6LLE

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