Chris Capel chats with producer Stephane Roy regarding zombies, Christopher Nolan, curses and taffers.
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After checking out the gameplay demo of Thief, which you can read my thoughts on elsewhere on Strategy Informer, I was mightily impressed but had plenty of lingering questions. Fortunately afterwards I had a chance to talk with the game’s producer Stephane Roy of Eidos Montreal and put those questions to him. If he didn’t know I was a hardcore fan of the series beforehand he certainly did by the time we were finished, and probably regretted that fact somewhat...
Strategy Informer: Can I first confirm something – is Thief being made by a completely separate team from the Deus Ex: Human Revolution guys?
Stephane Roy: It’s a different team. We’re all the same studio, we share the same philosophy regarding making games, and there are a few crossovers as it’s a big project, but we’re a separate crew from them.
Strategy Informer: Generally speaking how open are the levels, in particular how free-roaming is the City Hub?
Stephane Roy: Thief is a story-driven game, so if you just want to know more about the story you will probably play the missions directly. That said after missions you start out back in your hideout which is based in a district hub, and there will be three playable districts in the City. The hub is much more than just buying things, going up ladders, or finding your mission, it’s a really open part of the City. You can go in certain buildings, find and play side quests or other jobs, and discover many things. In Madame Xiao Xiao’s office in the demo Garrett can find a special loot, and there are a number of these hidden around both the missions and the hub. For this part of the game you can see Garrett as sort of a collector, he’ll bring objects back to his hideout including these loots and other special objects. If there’s an empty slot then something is missing, so it’s up to the player if they want to find these special items which we’ve added for extra exploration value in the game.
Strategy Informer: Are there any special rewards for finding these special loots?
Stephane Roy: That’s a good question, and I wish I could give you a good answer at this time! It could give you something special... but they also help you to understand how deep the world is. You think that the game’s over, but you still have to find all these objects. They can help you to keep track of your progress.
Strategy Informer: It’s been said that Thief will have less magical or fantastical elements than the previous games, but can we expect some to creep in? Garrett’s eye is pretty mystical, but can we expect ghosts or steampunk robots?
Stephane Roy: So you want to see zombies and burricks then?
Strategy Informer: Yes!
Stephane Roy: [laughs] For this one we decided not to be too magical, instead we talked more about mystical. On our side it’s really important to see players connect with the games and the realistic believable aspect is important for this, but that said we are going to have some stuff that looks weird and is mystical. But we will not have zombies in this one.
Strategy Informer: There is a tradition in Thief to have at least one utterly terrifying level, such as ‘The Cradle’ in Deadly Shadows or ‘Return To The Cathedral’ in The Dark Project. Will there be a pure horror level like these?
Stephane Roy: [slight pause, presumably as Stephane considered how much to tell me] Like you said, it’s a tradition, and when we started to work on this project I guarantee that we did our homework to understand why people were in love with this franchise. I think we understand very well what makes a good Thief game. That’s the maximum I can tell you without Adam [Square’s PR man sitting in on the conversation] cutting me off, but I think if you read between the lines you can get your answer there... [Adam: “Alright, that’s enough!”, we laugh – I’m guessing that’s a big yes]
Strategy Informer: Can we expect any groups or characters from the original games to turn up, like the Hammers? I know it’s not a prequel or sequel, but I think I saw the sigil for the Keepers in the level...
Stephane Roy: That’s going to be a very good question for a little bit closer to release. As you said, it’s not a prequel or sequel, it’s really our interpretation of what makes a good Thief game. We want to give some homage to previous games, but if you compare this to what Christopher Nolan did with the Batman franchise – it’s still the same main character, still the same Bruce Wayne, but on the other hand it looks completely different to what’s gone before, different costume, and no Adam West! That’s the type of thing we’re aiming to go for.
Strategy Informer: Why did you decide not to go with Stephen Russell as Garrett again? I know fans will definitely ask this question.
Stephane Roy: Yeah, I’m afraid Mr Russell will not be playing Garrett this time. On one hand it’s exactly like I said about Christopher Nolan’s Batman and recasting, so it’s our interpretation of the Thief universe. We are really respectful of the games and we understand why Stephen made such a good Garrett, but we’ve had to make hard decisions and we felt that a new actor was needed to restart the franchise properly.
Strategy Informer: It’s interesting that in stealth games this year there seems to be a habit of replacing their main regular voice actor: Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid, now Thief!
Stephane Roy: You’re right, it’s a coincidence I guess! Can’t comment on why those others decided to do that, but on our side we felt it was a necessary decision. [There’s since been a blog post over on the Eidos Montreal Community page detailing why they decided to replace Stephen Russell, as well as introducing the new Garrett Romano Orzari].
Strategy Informer: I do admit that in the gameplay video I did quite like the new voice, he’s a bit snake-like, not quite honest!
Stephane Roy: Awesome!
Strategy Informer: Has it been hard moving development to the next generation of consoles?
Stephane Roy: We had to understand the next generation platforms, but it’s not so complicated. Generally on my side as producer I have to control the team, sometimes because we have more freedom we’re tempted to just make things bigger and bigger, I have to make sure that the team understand that what is really important is to keep the fun factor, the gameplay, the gaming experience. If you have more money you can buy more food but there’s a maximum amount your stomach can take, we don’t want to produce something big just because we can, if it doesn’t support the experience then there’s no point.
From a technical point of view though it’s more freedom for the artist to create or a programmer to build the AI for example, so for these it’s just great because of the sheer amount we can give the player, and create the game we have in mind rather than a compromised one. We do have to have some compromises of course, but the game you are going to receive should match the vision we had at the beginning. Probably not 100% since all ideas evolve during development, but we don’t have to worry about the technical limitations so much anymore.
Strategy Informer: Are you doing anything to make the PC version unique?
Stephane Roy: No doubt on our side the PC version is extremely important. Just playing Thief with a keyboard and mouse it’s different so we must make sure we support that well. For making the PC version we think like a PC gamer, for consoles it’s a different type of beast. It’s one of our goals to make sure that the PC version isn’t just a copy of the console version.
Strategy Informer: The game’s been in development for a while of course, are there any ideas that got considered and then dropped?
Stephane Roy: Working on Thief is a very cool challenge but it’s still a challenge, just because there is a lot of passion for this franchise and a lot of gamers have strong opinions on what they want from it. We had to be careful at the beginning, we had to understand what Thief is and what are its pillars of gameplay, stuff like that. That takes time. One of these pillars is the first-person point of view, but if you’re asking me if there were things we decided to drop I could show you a demo of a full third-person version of Thief. We gave it a try as there are a lot of games that work better and are more fun in third-person, so we wanted to see if it was possible to have Thief in full third-person. So we gave it a try but finally we decided that part of the series’ DNA is the first-person perspective, for the immersion and to convince the player that you are a Master Thief about to pickpocket someone.
For that the first-person is really important. But yeah, we did consider it. We decided at the beginning to make sure that it was okay to make some mistakes as it is just impossible to make everything right straight away, but instead just make sure those mistakes aren’t in the final game! But that’s all a big part of why the game has taken so long, because we wanted to try and test things before we revealed Thief to you.
Strategy Informer: The Thief series has a bit of a curse on it, as it’s managed to kill two respected developers over three games. Are you worried at all?
Stephane Roy: [laughs] Should I be? I hope not! If that happens I hope you can give me a job afterwards! I can’t really explain why this happened, but for sure this type of game is complex. There are not a lot of games on the market like Thief, honestly it’s very unique. You have to avoid conflict, you are a Master Thief, and the goal of the game is not to kill people just to steal. For a studio it’s a complex beast, it’s not an easy task to ship that type of game. So you need a studio that’s willing to invest and to be both passionate and patient. If you just want to have a quick success in one year it cannot work. There is a lot of balancing, you have to be careful and you have to take some risks. I think Square Enix is really a solid group, so that’s why I feel you should not have to wait another ten years before getting another Thief. I cross my fingers that this one will be a success, that players are going to enjoy it, and we can give you more games like it. This type of game is complex, I don’t want to suggest that other games are easy to make but I’ve done a lot of games in my life and this one is especially complex.
Strategy Informer: You mentioned avoiding conflict there, will “ghosting” through the levels and not letting anyone see you change the game at all compared to just running in or killing every guard?
Stephane Roy: It’s a really important point for us. It’s your game, you bought it, you should be able to play it like you want. If you are the type of player that wants to play like a ghost, please do so. It’s going to be harder of course, you will have to take every situation more slowly but if you have fun that way you can do it. That said we know that some players play games like more of a predator, they like to go in a room and hunt and kill everything before progressing, and of course you will be able to do that too. We want to support several different types of gameplay and these will be really systemic, they’re not scripted. If you play one way the game will challenge you more this way. This is really another part of the explanation to why the game is taking so long. We feel that if we don’t do it this way it won’t be a Thief game, it will just be a generic title with just the Thief name on the box. We have to support that type of gameplay.
Strategy Informer: So will the game “adapt” at all if you kill everyone or just knock them out?
Stephane Roy: There is no branching in the story whether you kill or don’t kill, but the game will support how you play. Basically it’s a game where you manage your resources. You’ll have a few arrows, a couple of tools, stuff like that. If you are more of a predator and you want to progress in this way we want to give you the tools to do that, and you will get access for example to different arrows that support that type of game. If you are more of a ghost we will support that too, you will get access to new tools to help you in this way. The game will follow how you want to play, and the AI will too. If you are really aggressive I guarantee the AI will be f***ing hard to deal with! If you are like a ghost, sticking to shadows and checking the AI’s patterns, when you see a guard wander into a dark corner if you take him down there no one will see him and you will be able to drag his body off. You can clear rooms without anybody seeing you but it takes time, you have to be really careful. It’s a balancing part of Thief but in the end of the day you are going to have fun. You will be able to play the game many times and not have the same experience twice.
Strategy Informer: Okay, most important question last: can we expect to hear the word “taffer” in the game?
Stephane Roy: Again that’s another one for the narrative director [Steven Gallagher]. I think he wants to bring it back but hasn’t worked out yet exactly how. I know that it’s part of the DNA of the franchise, and that you’re not the first one to ask this question! People are just in love with that word, and I’m surprised to see after all these years that it’s still in people’s minds! So no doubt we’re going to have it, but how exactly honestly keep your question in mind for a later date.
Strategy Informer: Thank you very much!
Stephane Roy: Thank you!
Thanks to Stephane for talking with us and to Square Enix for arranging this little get together. Our preview of Thief is now up, head over there for anything we haven’t covered here. We’ll be watching Thief very closely... you know, to make sure it doesn’t nick anything.