Showing posts with label thief 3. Show all posts
Showing posts with label thief 3. Show all posts

Thursday, July 16, 2015

When failure sneaks into stealth games

The last moment of my last Invisible Inc run on "Expert Plus"; don't read the game text if you don't want spoilers
I'm facing my last obstacle on the last mission on the hardest difficulty of Invisible Inc. The past 5-7 hours of this campaign, and last 30-or-so hours of play over the last few weeks, have all led to this moment. There's a dozen alerted guards between me and victory... can I make it, or will I fuck it all up?

The last time I was this engaged by a stealth game, it was the first time I played Thief 1 (1998) in 2002... a pirated version I downloaded off Kazaa, with all the cutscenes, music, and voice-over removed to save on file size. What was left was the most avant-garde game I had ever played, a world of footsteps and silence. Between then and now -- Splinter Cells were okay but not my bag, Thief 3 was a sea of mediocrity with a single shining jewel, Dishonored was okay I guess, those bits in The Last of Us quickly wear out their welcome, and Thief 4 was rather unfortunate -- "stealth" has felt a little dead for the last 13 years.

If we look back at the systems design theory behind Thief 1, we can figure out who murdered stealth.

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.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dishonored's narrative design: how The Heart lies to you.

(UPDATE: this interview at RPS with Arkane devs confirms that not only was I right, but that it was also a very conscious decision on their part to make it do that, wow.)

Dishonored does a lot of things with game narrative (abstract dream levels, scripted body awareness, lots of readables, overheard conversations, scripted sequences, branching missions changing based on player decisions) which fit neatly into the existing immersive sim / first person toolbox that we're used to. It's well-done, but it's not particularly new or anything.

The Heart is something slightly different, though, and I found it surprisingly subtle and ironic.

Level design / character SPOILERS (but no plot SPOILERS) below:

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Levels to Look Out For, September 2012

Hey, I just remembered to do these again, so here's some recent work-in-progress environment art / level design deserving of your notice:

Victorian City by Marc Thompson
I always thought art deco was a strange choice for Thief 2 to pull from. Architecturally, they started from medieval and skipped right past baroque, art nouveau, neogothic, and victorian styles, which always seemed ripe for use in a steampunk urban setting. Thief 3 channeled some straight-up gothic as well, which was disappointingly generic. Wouldn't these other, more sculptural styles, show-off your fancy newfangled normal mapping tech better than some boring brick insets? Oh well, here's hoping Thief 4 fares better -- Thompson offers a convincing glimpse of what a next-gen shiny victorian style might look like in a contemporary engine, with some really great use of fog.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Thief 1's "Assassins" and environmental storytelling.

Thief 1 and 2 didn't have an "open world" structure. They got around this constraint (and arguably, surpassed the "open world" as an organizing principle) by inventing their own level design conventions and expectations.

From the very first mission of Thief ("Lord Bafford's Manor"), there's always a safe "outside" area and then the actual "interior" you must infiltrate and mercilessly loot. The outside is usually an open space with a skybox, the public space where you can roam outside mansion walls or in city streets with little danger or penalty -- your first task is to figure out what to infiltrate and how to do it.

By the fourth mission of Thief 1 (and, what I argue, the best mission of the game) you are pretty well accustomed to this design pattern. And that's when Looking Glass flips the script a bit.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

What makes "good" writing on level design?

Liz Ryerson recently did a great write-up of level 5-5 from Wolfenstein 3D (and makes a good case for the surrealism of 4-3) and it occurred to me that there's a pattern to this type of writing -- it's usually very specific, talks only about a single level (but contextualizes it within the whole game), and makes ample use of screenshots to help the reader understand the layout.

Writing about level design is incredibly important because we often run through levels so fast and understand "the language of games" so intuitively that it can be difficult to verbalize and explain. In playing levels, they exist more as tools to express our intentionality, not as objects to be studied and examined. The reality of it is that it would take a long time, or sometimes it's very difficult, to gain the type of fluency in platformers or Wolf3D that the best levels require.

But this is how we do research -- we make games and play the ones we can. Articles and essays are the best way to learn about levels that you haven't played / can't play.

Here are two authors of "level criticism canon" that, in my mind, show us how to do it...