Thief Interview – Lifting the Veil of Darkness With Joe Khoury

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Thief. It ain't Thief 4 anymore, and nor is it Thi4f, thankfully. It's just plain old Thief, a re-imagining that aims to reintroduce Garrett to a new audience and to the hardened fans of the original games. He has been away for a long while after all.

Boasting an almost impenetrably dark art style and a narrative that promises to shake things up, Thief is certainly looking in fine shape ahead of its February 2014 launch. Having had an extensive amount of hands-on time with the game, we took a few minutes to talk to Producer Joe Khoury about the new Thief.

What is Garrett like in Thief: the re-imagining? How much of the darkness pervades the game? Just how open is its open-world? And most importantly, what kind of tools will Garrett have at his disposal to help him steal things? For the answer to all these questions and so much more, read on.

At what point was it decided that Thief 4 should become Thief as we know it now; a re-imagining?

I would say probably at the beginning stages of the project when we figured it was an opportunity to bring Thief to a new generation, which involves looking into the technology we can use, the evolution we can use for the kind of characters we want and stories we want to tell. Right from the beginning it was interesting, and a better approach to re-imagine rather than go with a prequel or sequel, because it's been so long. A lot of people would probably like to get reacquainted with Garrett, as opposed to revisiting via a prequel.

Was the success of Deus Ex: Human Revolution as a re-imagining/reboot of sorts, something of a contributing factor too?

I wouldn't say necessarily it was part of it, but it maybe confirmed that it was a good idea once Deus Ex came out, that re-imagining and understanding what it meant to do a Deus Ex today. I think just saying that we're going to do much the same kind of game that came out a long time ago and we're able to innovate today and to push on what the foundations were back in the day. Today we can push on these foundations and bring them up to a higher quality, higher fidelity and also apply more detail today. [That] was confirmed with Deus Ex, but it was very much part of our plans early on.

What do you feel are the kind of expectations that fans have in mind for a Thief game, and what are you doing to fulfil those expectations?

Expectations are very, very, very high. As they should be, and as they were for Deus Ex: Human Revolution. They're games that a lot of people have very fond memories of; I have very fond memories [of Thief]. I remember when I first joined Eidos Montreal, knowing that Thief was in the pipeline to me was... It's one of these games that I'll remember from a very young age having a... and I only recently got a little further ahead... I remember playing the first few hours of the game when I was much younger and being marked by it, so there are lot of games that I completed when I was younger that I won't say have faded away, but Thief I remember for being different. It was something that I remember very well, and I wish there was something today to fit into that mould, and that's what we're trying to do and push for.

Do you think that people's expectations and even your own memories impose certain limits on what you can do with Thief to ensure that it's what a Thief game should be?

I wouldn't look at it as a limitation, but more as solid foundations. We have very, very solid foundations that live throughout the ages and for us, having these foundations is an advantage. Knowing that we can expand a bit more in one area, one feature or in one specific aspect of a game a little bit further today, I think that's an advantage to us. Obviously having some special unique flavour to the game that we've always felt we've had, is an extra on top of that.

Was seeing Dishonored release a moment where you were like “Gah! This is really similar!” Or was it more a case of “oh good There's some cool stuff here. It looks good.”

Yeah, it's probably more along the lines of your second point. We've always kind of had our thoughts and our vision for what we wanted Thief to be, then Dishonored came out, and again, I think when Thief comes out the differences will be a bit more obvious. But seeing some of the elements that we could probably say are similar to ours and have been well-received, to us was confirmation that we're on the right track, because a lot of our convictions come from being fans of the franchise. And then when there's elements of the Thief franchise that find their way into other franchises – not just Dishonored – we were like “ok cool'” because these are the values we want to bring forward and they've done well in these other games. Hopefully they'll have the same reception in our game.

What are the primary elements that still have to be refined on Thief? We noticed that the enemy AI is a little off, for instance.

Absolutely. I would probably say that the two biggest focuses are going to be on the controls; navigation, and the AI. The AI right now is one of the things we have in our hands to be able to evolve in the future. We have to be able to offer the player a realistic and fun approach to stealth, and that's definitely one thing we're trying to figure out. What would the AI do? What is it doing right? What is it doing wrong? That's definitely an area we want to push very hard in, for the remaining time we have in production.

Is it difficult developing a game for both current and next-gen formats? How does it affect your approach during development?

It is challenging, because right off the bat, setting the expectations for all of the team that the experience has to be of the highest quality on all platforms [is vital]. It's not a sacrifice that we're making on the final thoughts you will have on playing the game. It's more the visual fidelity, the loading times; the more technical aspects of the game that we're going to be able to optimise more for next-gen. But the basic feeling that you'll get from playing Thief will be the same on all consoles.

Garrett is able to purchase upgrades from shopkeepers with his ill-gotten gains, but will we see him develop in other ways as a character, or will it be strictly limited to tools and items?

No, there's a development that happens in the narrative. He does lose his protege very early into the game, and that does have an effect on him. Garrett is definitely not an easy person to get close to, so the fact that he's lost one of the people that he got closest to is very tough on him. In the gameplay sense, you evolve with the tools that you purchase. He's a master thief, so right off the bat he's got skills that a lot of more rookie thieves wouldn't have. But at the same time, the acquisition of certain tools that he's able to purchase throughout the game, allow him to access certain areas.

Being able to purchase those items and being able to upgrade the inventory and buy the type of arrows that facilitate your job, make things like balancing light and dark with your fire and water arrows, causing more diversions and confusion among the guards in certain areas possible. It's not like he doesn't know how [to do those things], it's just having the right item to facilitate.

It's basically the tools that you have available to manipulate the environment, the AI, and influence it into doing what you want it to do. If you want to distract guards and evade quicker, you have the tools to do that, but you'll get even better tools to do that later in the game. If you want to work with light and dark, that's already part of Garrett's expertise. Tools will make Garrett's life a lot easier, but also his personal attachment to some of the characters evolves throughout the game.

As far as Garrett's tools are concerned – like the ratchet for opening vents and the wire cutters for opening certain doors – will it be a 'Metroid-vania' type framework where certain areas will only be accessible later in the game once the requisite tools are available?

No, no. The tools are basically just a matter of budget. You acquire the right amount of funds, and you can go buy whatever tools are available. There are few tools that allow you to access certain areas, but they're not limiting in terms of the narrative and story. They're only limited by the amount of funds that you have. If you go around and loot enough to build enough money to buy all of the high-end tools from the beginning, you can do that. The narrative will reveal certain districts for you, so there'll be new places opened to you as it evolves, but it's not how you access these areas, it's whether or not they're relevant to the story.

Was it a conscious decision to make Garrett not all that accomplished a fighter? He has his blackjack to defend himself, but we noticed he gets taken down pretty quickly if you're not careful.

Yes, absolutely. Garrett is a shadow. He's a ghost. He doesn't like the unwanted attention, and he knows that by doing things that attract attention he'll be even more wanted and the attention will be focused on him. The feeling is that he wants to limit as much damage as he can. He wants to get in and out of a situation quickly. If he needs to be, he has the tools and abilities to get out of a situation fast, but again, if you think about Garrett's ability and the kind of personality that he has, he sees three guards, he's not gonna say “I'm gonna engage all of them and eliminate them.” You can, but he will first think, “how can I create a situation that's favourable to me?” He can isolate one guard, maybe isolate the next guard and then work with the abilities he has. He evades quickly, he can play with the environment and use it to his advantage, but he's not this kind of Conan warrior coming in and killing fifty guys. That's really not his personality, because he knows that the consequences of that kind of act will mean even more pressure and more attention.

What if a player wanted to take a more aggressive approach? Will there still be a few options for that type of player?

There is. Using Focus, you can probably manage to take out two guards a little bit easier, and if you manage a certain environment properly, you can be more aggressive. But again, Garrett is not a fully-fledged soldier with high-end weaponry and training. He's a master with a bow, he's a master with everything that allows him to unlock certain places and get into spaces, and stay hidden if needs be. If a player wants to be aggressive, he can. He just needs to approach it the right way. The way Garrett, the master thief would approach it.

The best way to think about it is he's like a predator in the shadows. He doesn't want to fight directly, but he can pick guards off one by one, striking from the darkness.

That makes more sense for Garrett, as opposed to him going “hey guys, I'm here! Come fight me! I'll take all of you on!” It's the kind of attention Garrett doesn't want. He's out of his element.

In terms of its art style, Thief has a very distinctive, very dark and oppressive palette. Are there any other locations where we'll see more light and colour, or is The City primarily a gloomy place?

It does evolve a little bit, but the theme of Thief is it's night, it's oppressive, it's dark and there's an feeling of unfairness that's spreading throughout The City between the rich and the poor. And that message comes across in the lighting and the environments as well, and there's a sickness roaming around. So all of that is felt on the walls. We want Garrett to feel like he's really part of a space that feels like there's something unsettling and wrong going on in it. There is a shift of balance throughout the game, but you don't show up and all of a sudden there's flowers everywhere and Garrett's dancing.

Although if you've seen the House of Blossoms, you'll know about the contrast between light and dark there, as well as warmth and cold. The poor areas where there's plague are very blue and very dark, but when you break into a rich area like the House of Blossoms, it's very warm and red, so when you actually step into that it's like everything has changed. Most of The City is pretty messed up, the hub area especially. It's very cold and dark, but the richer areas are much more vibrant.

And again to emphasise how unfairly wonderful it is for the rich people to have all the money in the world, and some people deserve a better chance at things.

It's actually a major contrast then.

Yeah. Like we said when you walk into the House of Blossoms, everybody seems to be happy, dancing, and here you are, a beggar that barely has enough food to live, so it's a big contrast.

Orion is a charismatic revolutionary, and Garrett has his own sort of influence upon The City. Are you going to see how their actions impact The City, visually and in how NPCs behave?

You'll probably see it through Orion's impact upon The City, and in that sense his impact is probably a lit greater ]than Garrett's]. He's the motivational speaker, the leader, the confident person, and Garrett, again if you think about the positive effects he has, he doesn't really want to be there. He's not really sure he wants to be that leader; he'd rather be doing his own thing silently for a good cause. At the end of the day, he lives for the loot, he lives for the heist, and becoming a person who all of a sudden becomes renowned for being the hero, is not necessarily within his comfort zone. Garrett does what is right, but through the mouthpiece of Orion.

In the E3 demo we saw, there was a rather big action-packed set-piece centred around Auldale Bridge burning down. Are these fairly commonplace in Thief?

There are a few of them throughout the story, especially when the balance of power starts to shift and there's a lot of angry people that get around to taking action. The City is designed as more of an exploration area, so these set-pieces are more narratively driven, whereas The City does go through some changes. It does evolve, but probably not in that same explosive fashion, because it's alive and constantly evolving.

A lot of people reacted negatively to that because it was a linear path, but there aren't actually that many of those in the game at all. We showed it at E3 because it's a big, show-stopping thing, but the rest of the game isn't linear like that.

The story really comes through in the missions; we have an opportunity to tell you how Garrett evolves as a character and how his relationship with certain characters develop. And then we have the opportunity for players to discover certain other details in the story, whether it's listening into conversations or finding out what other people in The City have done, and you have all of these other options that you can go and figure out for yourself. It's in these areas that The City probably shines the most.

In terms of replay value, can we expect to see a New Game+ option in Thief?

I don't know if we're going to have New Game+ in Thief. We haven't really discussed that yet, but in terms of replayability, you can go back and revisit any missions you've completed. It doesn't effect the story but you can go back and grind story missions, jobs or side missions for more loot or whatever.

If you could have Garrett steal anything for you, what would it be? Within reason, of course.

Let's just say, I'd like him to steal the solution to making a fantastically high selling game. How's that? Maybe he already did it and we don't know about it yet!

Thief is scheduled for launch in February 2014 for current and next-gen consoles. You can check out our hands-on preview here.


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Game Info
Eidos Montreal
Square Enix


US February 25, 2014
Europe February 28, 2014

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