Showing posts with label dark past. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dark past. Show all posts

Friday, June 14, 2013

Design reboot: Thief.

This post relies on familiarity with the gameplay / affordances in Thief. You may want to read Dark Past or my write-up on "Assassins." You're also encouraged to read through Mr. Monahan's Design Reboot blog.

I've been watching Thief 4 coverage over the past months and I'm increasingly convinced that I'm going to hate it. So let's pretend, just for fun, that I'm making a Thief-like... What are the best qualities of Thief to preserve, and which parts of the sacred cow would I lop-off? Here's what I'm thinking:

KEEP: Level size. Thief levels vary from medium to extremely large. "Life of the Party" was a single mission where you had to traverse an entire cityscape of rooftops through two dozen buildings and then also infiltrate a huge skyscraper at the end. Sheer architectural scale is important to maintain a sense of...

KEEP: Infiltration and exfiltration. You have to get in, rob the place, and get out. There's always an outside and an inside, and it's great to feel that you're not supposed to be inside. But previous Thief games usually neglected exfiltration as redundant backtracking or worse -- something totally nonexistent because you've already incapacitated the entire guard garrison by the end of a mission. (My favorite Thief 1 mission, Assassins, is one of the few missions to really do something with exfiltration.)

ADD: Organic use of dynamic lighting. With dynamic lighting and shadows, you can do totally unimaginative setpieces where you have to hide in a guard's shadow or hide in the shadow of moving objects on a conveyor belt. But something else is going on here: with dynamic lighting, open doors and windows become light sources -- and if you can close the door or block the window, you've "extinguished" that light -- but if there's a ramp in front of that window, you can't put anything there to block it because it'll just slide down, etc. That possibility sounds much less horrible than a contrived puzzle that you designed to death.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dark Past (part 4): The Useful Post (?) or Randy Smith's "valence theory" of level design.

This is a series of posts that analyzes the immersive sim. It's a play on the excellent RPS feature, Dark Futures.

Many moons ago, I began by (part 1) emphasizing the robustness of systems in immersive sims before (part 2) moving closer to level design, then (part 3) criticized both ideas, and now the point of all this: (part 4) Randy Smith's "valence theory" of level design, as applied to the Thief games. (NOTE: he never called it that, but I am.)

We're done with the theoretical basis. Now this is the "Useful Post" of the Dark Past series, a primer on some level design theory for immersive sims with stealth mechanics. It's also particularly relevant, given the recent announcement of Dishonored.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dark Past (part 3): Letting Go of the Immersive Sim, of flu viruses, ghosting, and why we're all Kate Winslets at heart.

This is a series of posts that analyzes the immersive sim. It's a play on the excellent RPS feature, Dark Futures.

In past posts, I argued that (part 1) immersive sims were so cool we got overprotective of them and suffocated them, but (part 2) we can still extend the same design theory to contemporary single player design.

For part 3, I'd like to explore the limits of "immersive sim theory" and even criticize it in light of recent research. This devil's advocate stuff will help us in part 4.

Both system dynamics (sort of the science of systems) and Looking Glass Studios came out of MIT in the 70's or 80's or some time around there -- and for the convenience of my argument, let's assume it wasn't a coincidence...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dark Past (part 2): On level design, hookers, cybernetic architecture, Tony Hawk and all that converges.

Last time, I mentioned a lot of games that we like for their emergence and "cool stuff that happens" -- but the difference is that games like Thief, or "immersive simulations," actually do something with that emergence.

If, in Grand Theft Auto, you beat up a sex worker to get your money back -- an immersive sim approach would have that hooker tell other hookers about you, and no hookers would ever service you again or help you in missions -- unless maybe you stole a nice car and left it in their parking lot as a gift, or ran over a pimp for them, etc. In this way, all your actions "listen" to each other.

A "hooker map" for GTA4. (Apparently they prefer the MET, Times Square, Long Island City...)
... But GTA doesn't do it because that's not what it's going for. (Too much thoughtfulness in my bowl of destructive mayhem.) And that's okay. But an immersive sim, like the Thief series, does it differently.

What I've always loved about Thief was the level design -- and by level design, I mean mainly the floorplans and complexity of the spaces -- not so much the visuals.

Not that the games are ugly or visually boring, but... Thief II, released in 2000, used essentially the same Dark Engine used in Thief I from 1998. Compare this to more powerful engines as those in Unreal Tournament or Quake 3 Arena, which were released months before in 1999... Thief II was already severely behind from the start. Plus, a lot of the models and animations remained untouched from Thief I, which was smart for production but limited its visual novelty.

Fortunately, "immersive sims" aren't "immersive" through their graphical fidelity or photorealism. (see: immersive fallacy) Rather, they're immersive in how they simulate / simplify the complexity of interlocking systems and the beauty of exploiting these systems or getting caught unaware by them.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dark Past (part 1): On the immersive sim, mechanics, and mod communities.

Thief has always been a hardcore FPS series: uncompromising, often difficult, with large sprawling levels that you inevitably get lost in -- all designed to maximize emergence and spit on the linear scripting of the modern arcade FPS today.

Games of this breed (System Shock, Deus Ex, BioShock, Arx Fatalis), dubbed the "immersive sim," are supposedly dead, they say. They're probably right. In fact, almost every person interviewed in RPS' amazing "Dark Futures" series makes a gesture towards accessibility and user-centered design. The guy I quote extensively, Randy Smith, is tired of the hardcore 3D game market in general. The future of games is mobile and usable -- prophecy never lies.

But!... Eidos is now working on sequels to the two pillars of the immersive sim, Deus Ex 3 and Thief 4. Consider how much BioShock had to drop in order to be successful: they stripped away basically any system or mechanic that didn't relate directly to shooting someone in the face. Is it worth that price, to preserve this bloodline of game design?

That's why I enjoy the team at The Dark Mod. Currently there's a discussion in the forums about keys attached to NPC's belts, how they're too dark and no one can see them. Yet the brighter and more sensible "after" fix is not being merged into the main build! For some crazy reason, they're not standardizing key brightness -- "some players like it that way."

Well then, I'd say that this supposed "silent majority" can download an optional "key darkener" file, but that's not what the team does. Nope! At the Dark Mod, legacy behavior trumps all.  

I love it. It's such poor design, practically intended to alienate as many new players as possible. It's uncompromising... No, seriously, this is a really awful approach to design. ("This is a problem for many players? But I, personally, like it this way! Oh well, too bad for the players. They can download this tweak and edit all these files to get what they want.")

... In this sense, it's artistic in how stubborn it is. Maybe even poetic. It's the idea that a player should conform to a system rather than the other way around.