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Thief and Emergent Gaming

Date: Wednesday 26th March 2014
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About three weeks ago, I was watching Total Biscuit's Thief video where he was showing his first impressions, and to be frank, it looked like there had been lots of care and attention added to it. Which is surprising, mainly because most publishers nowadays really don't seem to give a shit to either the legacy of the franchises that they are continuing to resurrect/carry on or the PC platform that it gets put upon. In these instances you can generally look forward (ahem) to direct console ports whereby the UI or gameplay has been toned down to accommodate for the console audience, as with TES: Oblivion, or the game itself really doesn't have any elements from the previous games to justify calling it part of the franchise, like the first revealing of XCom back in 2010 before the revisions.

Here's a word from our sponsor about Thief 4!

During his analysis, he mentioned that the attack button that you used to blackjack people with had been moved from the left mouse button, to being the "R" key presumably to stop people from treating it like a normal FPS instead of a stealth title. This was something that I found strange as with the previous 3 Thief titles, they all used the left mouse button as the standard attack no matter which weapon you were currently using. Now at this point it could be argued that doing that was a perfectly legitimate choice since it does stop you from playing the game "wrongly", however, the previous Thief games were well known for being emergent games, whereby you could do a mission in a number of ways. For example, in the case of dealing with your enemies, if you knew how to easily take out the guards (which was a hard thing to do, unless you exploited the overpowered overhead attack), then that was entirely your choice. The only thing that stopped you was either your inability to take out the guards in that fashion or your difficulty level which prohibited you from killing a certain number of guards.

I don't remember this rule about hide and seek.....

That was one thing you did learn, and you learned it pretty quickly, that blackjacking the guards was the best way to go because there were many situations where taking on one meant that you might easily alert more to your presence and taking on 2 or more just put you in that unwinnable position. With this in mind, you can start to appreciate that it's not the keymapping that brings out the emergent gameplay, it's the environment and AI. Placing guards in key locations where they regularly bump into each other, having correct lighting among those routes to make it more difficult for the player to get the jump on the unsuspecting victim and having correct AI responses to anything that the player does to alert the AI victims all plays a part in emergent gameplay. If you have to forcibly change the key settings from an established setup that's been used for over 16 years then, as far as I'm concerned, there's something wrong with your game and that's coming from someone who programs video games. True, I haven't released many titles, but since I do code them, I have to think of them in that fashion the design aspect.

How appropriate, you fight like a cow!

I'm hoping that this is just a 'one off' which isn't going to be repeated again in the future as gaming has enough design problems to deal with, like overly long cut-scenes, the use of quicktime events (which should have died in the 90's when it was used in FMV games from the Mega-CD era and didn't work back then), the use of DRM and their poor implementations into the game design process (SimCity 2013, I'm looking at you) and the use of Hollywood scripting for AI a topic that I really need to get up a post about.

As for Thief 4, I'm looking forward to getting my hands on it, after I get around to finishing the previous entry - Deadly Shadows. So expect a review of that, including my retrospective of the other entries of the series, in the coming months.

With thanks to Lazy Game Reviews for the use of the screenshots from his videos, you can find his Youtube channel here: Lazy Game Reviews

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