FEATURE: Interview with "Thief" Senior Producer and Narrative Director

A look at the storytelling and development process of Eidos Montreal's upcoming reboot

Earlier today, you got to see my thoughts on a brief demo of Thief, the upcoming reboot to the classic first-person stealth trilogy. Shortly after playing the game, I got a chance to talk with Thief's Senior Producer Stephane Roy, as well as Narrative Director Steven Gallagher, and learned a lot about how they approached the franchise's new world.

 

First, why Thief? What made you guys think it was time to bring back one of the classic heroes of stealth gaming?

 

STEPHEN GALLAGHER (Narrative Director): Well, I can't really speak on behalf of the minds at the company, but we were looking back at the original games, and naturally, there was a lot of love for those first few games. They were something very different at the time--people saw this first-person game and everybody asked "Where's the guns?" You had Deus Ex with this awesome, branching narrative, and Eidos basically just went "Really? You guys didn't know this shit existed?" and it was a chance to fall in love with this universe all over again.

 

I wanted to bring up how you're encouraged not to kill anybody in Thief. In Deus Ex (and more recently Deus Ex: Human Revolution), if you killed somebody, it actually meant something--I mean, you could go around and gun everybody down, but nowadays, gamers seem to be getting used to the idea of worlds with consequences. Was that part of the process, that push to make you a part of the game's world?


SG: Well, we've talked about this extensively--we want gamers to respect Garrett. I mean, when this game comes out, you get it, you download it, and it's yours. But at the beginning, Garrett talks about how, as a master thief, you don't want to leave a lot of evidence. You don't want to leave a ton of blood on the floor and a bunch of dead bodies.

 

But at the same time, I don't want to tell you "hey, you're not supposed to play like that. I don't want you to play like that." It's still your game--if you want to push your moral envelope and start killing people left and right, that's fine. With Garrett, it's not about morals. When he says "stealing a life" is huge, it's not because there's going to be children crying afterward, it's because your life is the single most precious thing you have. You'd notice in his clock tower hideout, how he collects certain items and keeps them for himself. Garrett likes things with story, and not everything is worth gold coins.

 

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I noticed in some incidental dialogue while playing, there was a wife crying to her sister about how her husband is selling off their valuables so he has money to drink with. She mentioned a hiding place where she'd put her wedding ring for safe keeping, and sure enough, I went up and around and found the ring. If I don't take that wedding ring, is it going to change the story, or will I hear different incidental dialogue? Will my minor actions change the way things go in the game?

 

SG: It's more the game's way of speaking to you on a subtextual level, instead of saying "look here for this item." I mean, if you don't give a shit about that stuff, you care more about doing neckshots and riding the roller-coaster, it's not going to matter, it's just another ring for you. But if you take it, will you feel a pang of remorse every time you look at it, because you just heard this woman sobbing? No, it doesn't actually affect the story, but it certainly affects your perception of the story.

 

The last game, Thief: Deadly Shadows, came out in 2004. While the new Thief is a reboot, will longtime fans of the series find Easter eggs or nods to elements from the original trilogy?

 

SG: So, in general, longtime fans will find it...

 

STEPHANE ROY (Senior Producer): It will have the Thief "smell."


SG: (laughing) I think we're gonna have to come up with a better way of saying that, that was yours.


SR: But you have a picture in your mind now, right?

 

SG: Starting out, we booted up the old games, and there's a clear mandate. Those old games still exist, and they're still a lot of fun. We want to bring that flavor, that smell, that feeling. We want to bring the guy in the mask, Garrett and all his sarcasm and his independent spirit. So, longtime players are going to feel like they're in a familiar universe, but this is a new story, a new Garrett, and what I feel is a brand-new opportunity to fall in love with Garrett and his world all over again.

 

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2004's Thief: Deadly Shadows finished the original Garrett's trilogy on PC and Xbox

 

In Deadly Shadows, you could switch between first- and third-person perspectives. What influenced the decision to go completely first-person with the reboot?

 

SR: When we started the project, we thought about the differences between first-person and third-person gameplay. We feel that to make sure the immersion is just perfect--with headphones, with next-gen, the graphics, the sound--after playing for a few minutes, we wanted to make sure that you are Garrett. When you see your hands picking up objects, or you pickpocket someone, when you're that close to the guards, we want you to feel that tension. The first-person perspective feels natural when you are this character, this is your body. It's also very affecting from a narrative perspective.

 

SG: A third-person game can be awesome, and presents you with amazing worlds, but first-person perspective gives you an intimacy that I don't think is possible the other way. I think the key word is intimacy--you're the only person who sits inside Garrett's head, you're the only one who hears his thoughts. You're taking the objects and you see them up close, and you hear Garrett talk about them. Interestingly, we did try a third-person perspective, but came to the conclusion that being a thief comes with a certain feeling, which a third-person perspective can sometimes remove.

 

I mean, it's an incredibly powerful feeling, stealing things! That brings up the other buzzword for the Thief universe, which is anticipation. "Am I going to get caught? What's up there? What's in that box?" The anticipation of finding new treasure, the anticipation of what's around the next corner.

 

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SR: There's a working third-person prototype of Thief. It's a good game, it looks great, but it's a very different game from what you played today. The Swoop mechanic, it gives you the feeling of actually being a master, a ghost. The Swoop isn't just forward movement--you can move backwards, or change direction and control your movement. If you round a corner and suddenly see a guard, you can pop back into cover. it's like how you'd move in real life--you wouldn't turn all the way around or slowly back up, it's much more natural.

 

A lot of games nowadays are going more combat-friendly, but Thief was always pretty ruthless. If you got caught, you were screwed! Does this new game offer a more flexible, casual-friendly approach, or is it more hardcore, and you actually have to be a master thief?

 

SR: We really want to support different approaches. So yes, there are different difficulty levels like Easy-Medium-Hard--Steven will probably give them a much better name--but also it depends on how you approach the game. If you want to really be a master thief, a ghost, and leave no evidence and kill no one, it's going to be difficult even on Easy difficulty. When you come into an area, we won't have a single guard that you must kill to get to another area--there are many different ways to get around that one guard and continue in the game.

 

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SG: There are difficulty levels, but it's a fairly standard thing--less hit points, but you can challenge yourself within the game's space anyways, create your own difficulties.

 

SR: At the end of each mission, we're going to give you a couple of clues about the type of player you are. If you finish a mission, and the summary says you're much more aggressive or combative, and you don't want that kind of rating, you can go back and try a different approach, and see if you can get the results you want. We still aren't going to say "hey hey, you're being aggressive, that's not good, you're playing the game wrong," it's just information for you. So if you want, you can kill everybody with explosive arrows, and if that's the end result you wanted, great! But now you have no idea about the love affair with the butler and the maid, because you murdered everybody with explosive arrows!

 

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Thief has always had a great undercurrent of the supernatural. While we know Garrett's going to be liberating lords and ladies (and some unlucky guards) of their baubles, will we get to see the cults from the older games, or the City's more fantastic side?

 

SG: Again, I'll bring up that it's a new story, a new universe, new Thief. It feels the same, it plays almost the same, but it's got its own vibe. Relieving lords and ladies of their baubles is obviously something that, well... Garrett can't help himself! There are very strong forces at work pushing the narrative, and as you look at all the different documents and all the different stories, you'll start to uncover more about Thief's world. Something personal is dragging Garrett along from the very beginning. So stealing--yes. Politics--yes. Get him on the curiosity hook, tell him he can't do something--that's why you always find Garrett with his hand in the cookie jar. I can't give you any spoilers, but I can say that as you get farther into this world, you're going to find plenty of things that you can't easily understand or explain.

 

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Can you give any word about the length of the game? I mean, I know there's a lot of content in-game, but is there anything you can say about how much game people will be getting?

 

Stephane Roy shows me a full map of the game's world, the City, on the big-screen TV next to me.

 

SR: The demo you played was part of the Stonemarket district. And that demo is just a section of Stonemarket, just a small part of what that district offers. You played maybe what, ninety minutes? Two hours? And that was just part of a part, there's much mroe in each individual part of the city. Some people may finish a section in thirty minutes if they just blaze from beginning to end, but for other people, it could be an hour, or two, or more, because there are so many corners of the map to explore. So we can't really pin it down at, you know... 22.5 to 40 hours of gameplay. The demo you played had four actual Jobs, a handful of Opportunities, and a side quest, and that's just in one small area. The goal is really to give you a huge world full of discovery and exploration.

 

On that note, since there's this focus on a really great single-player campaign, are there any future plans for DLC, or multiplayer--specifically co-op thieving? Steven was talking about Garrett working together with his protege, so possibly a prequel story?

 

SR: So for this Thief, just having the challenge to bring the world back has been our priority, and we're focused on just a single-player game for now. That being said, we are going to have online connectivity, but not in the way you might expect, it's not "use your bow and shoot your friends!" But we plan to have challenge maps, where you can test your skills against other players.

 

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I think it's pretty awesome that Thief is launching for a bunch of platforms (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One). Will PC gamers or next-gen console owners have something extra to look forward to, compared to the PS3/360 versions?

 

SR: Naturally, new consoles will have new visuals--the object and world detail will be much richer. There will also be specific actions for next-gen controllers, like the PlayStation 4's. This isn't all about graphics though, it's not about putting twenty guards in a room. There will be better audio, better immersion and variation that will really make the City feel alive.

 

What are your favorite stealth games?

 

SR: Wow, that's, um... Thief!

 

SG: The original Thief is one of the grandfathers of stealth gaming, people had no idea what they were getting into when it first came out.

 

SR: There was a game that recently came out, and it tried to use a lot of stealth elements: The Last of Us. But personally, for me, it was much easier to play aggressively. Dishonored, too--you had lots of tools and weapons and powers, and while you were encouraged to play stealthy, it felt much more satisfying to just fight with everyone and use your powers. Also, because I worked on it a long time ago, far far away in another galaxy, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.

 

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I can fill an entire column with embarassing and hilarious stories about Chaos Theory multiplayer

 

SG: It's very interesting, and you're actually the first person to ask us this question on this particular trip. What I notice is that I'm a very naturally stealthy person--in video games, I'm not creeping through the supermarket or anything--but that said, I played Skyrim for like 250 hours, an obscene amount of time, and all of it was stealthy. I was the guy with the bow, and people are like "I used to be an adventurer until GGHHHK," so yeah, Skyrim was an accidental stealth favorite.

 

Thief is coming out pretty soon (in February), so you guys must be pretty focused on that. But once Thief is done, what's next? What projects would you like to work on? Bringing Eidos classics back into the limelight (maybe Legacy of Kain), or maybe a new IP?

 

RYAN (Square Enix PR): I need to plug something real quick--Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director's Cut is coming out October 22nd.

 

Yeah, I'm getting that for my Wii U.

 

SG: I don't know if we have an answer to that. I mean...

 

SR: We cannot, because this guy (gestures to Ryan) will throw us out the window!

 

R: As you might already know, we're working on a next-gen Deus Ex title, Deus Ex Universe, but stay tuned!

 

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Thief hits PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC on February 25th, 2014. Will you be joining this new Garrett in a brand-new Thief adventure? Sound off in the comments with your thoughts on this upcoming game!

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