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Thread: Thief Hands-on Demo @ E3: Jerion's Impressions

Thief Hands-on Demo @ E3: Jerion's Impressions

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    Thief Hands-on Demo @ E3: Jerion's Impressions

    Here's a collection of my thoughts on Thief. Also posted here are some really, really hi-res screenshots, so be sure to click on them and take in your fill.

    We were given a hands-off presentation followed by a full hour of hands-on time with the demo; this is far more than nearly every member of the gaming press and covered more of the game than what has been released online. I’m reiterating this so that you have context for my thoughts. Some of these have been mentioned to some degree in various answers elsewhere in the AMA thread, but hopefully this will expand a bit on those bits.


    (click image to enlarge)

    Garrett, our titular thief, is just as dry, sharp and sardonic as ever. The trailer lines heard so far do not do this justice. Romano's voice works sufficiently well that Garret's comments are not jarring (or frequent) and the sound seems suitable. As for the world he inhabits? It feels heavy. The atmosphere, environment design, sound design, animations, it all just feels heavy in a very good way. More over, it feels like Thief. Or somewhat differently, it feels like Thief ought to feel. Aesthetically and indeed from a gameplay perspective this is not a clone of Dishonored; nobody that has played both games while paying any amount of attention would ever confuse the two.


    (click image to enlarge)

    There is tremendous sense of tactile contact between the player and the environment; this is partially communicated by the onscreen presence of Garrett's hands. The hands themselves provide an element of this “tactility” through bits of contextual animation, such as reaching out to snuff candles or pluck loot, or just gently pushing open a door. No longer is there an incorporeal hand adjusting the world; now it is Garrett changing the environment as directed by the player. This was beautifully demonstrated in the painting moment. I'm looking into getting video footage of this for everyone. The others might try to explain it, but I think it would be better to just show it to you.

    Putting aside the occasional non-sneaky event like the burning bridge, the game is flexible to suit multiple play-styles. Pacing is slow and deliberate; while there is some accommodation for combat-oriented players it is very oriented towards stealth. To some extent it is not a challenge of reflexes, but a challenge of planning and execution. If you’re aiming to be stealthy (as you should be) then the tools are provided for you to plan each movement and execute your plan on a schedule of your own making. The animation of reaching out and opening a door is a good example of this. You can peek through the keyhole, listen for footsteps or conversation, mentally keep track of known guard locations, etc. Once you move to open that door, there is a very brief moment for a guard to spot you where you can’t really do much of anything about it. That sounds bad. Yet from my experience, the pacing of it all is such that if you allow that to happen, you’ve already messed up. The fact that the guard could spot you while opening a door is no different from the idea that you could be spotted while picking a lock: it’s already part of the risk of moving to undertake that particular action, and the speed at which you slide into the action and then resume having complete control is prompt enough that in practical terms it is irrelevant.

    Movement is a particular point that demonstrates this deliberate process: You plan, you execute that plan, if something goes wrong, you try to save it either by fleeing or fighting. The ‘swoop’ movement (demonstrated below by Steven Gallagher) is a tricky part of this. It essentially lets Garrett dash forwards or backwards to quickly cross a small space or withdraw from sight, in the latter case giving a gratifying moment of agency after the tension of suddenly realizing that you’re about to be discovered or about to make a terrible mistake. This is something that still has to be balanced; I heard some talk of a small cool-down being introduced so that it couldn’t be abused.


    (click image to enlarge)

    Getting in a fight with more than one guard - especially if you have opted to disable Focus or are running low on its resource - means you most likely won’t survive very long. Lucy (spyhopping) apparently successfully won a fight with multiple enemies, though I don't know if she used Focus to do it. Melee combat itself was focused on the blackjack for defensive strikes and for blocking. Takedowns are complementary to free-form melee combat; they seemed to be feasible only while the player remains undetected (such as climbing to a high rafter, then landing on a guard and knocking out the poor fellow with a sharp thwack). If the player is detected and opts to fight, a takedown isn’t going to be a feasible (or possible?) option. A bit of clarification on how Focus affects combat: It does not turn combat into a QTE, and indeed the use of Focus is completely player-controlled. Instead, it triggers a sort of slowed bullet time that lets you breath just long enough to choose where and when you want to strike or block. As it is fueled by a non-regenerating resource though, using focus within combat is still a potentially difficult choice. It makes things a bit easier, but it isn’t a win button and without a bit of foresight it won’t be any help at all. The thing to take away from this last bit is that combat is pleasantly supported and the game is flexible to support various play styles, but the emphasis is on stealth.


    (click image to enlarge)

    There are things that irked me. Jumping and climbing appear restricted to predetermined locations. It is set up fairly comprehensively; if you think you ought to be able to jump or climb somewhere you’ll be able to do so. I hope this will change and jumping will become free-form, unrestrained by pre-determined leaping points. Whether or not this approach to things was meant to simplify the control scheme I can’t say. It could have been a deliberate choice to slow the pace of gameplay. From my perspective, restricting climbing to certain points makes a degree of sense, as it forms vertical paths adding a tiny sense of puzzle-solving challenge to planning out how to traverse a given space. That said I found myself wanting the freedom found in Mirror’s Edge, where the player could clamber on top of reachable things from almost any reasonable point and angle.


    (click image to enlarge)

    The lighting and fog, as presented in the demo, was properly atmospheric though it did result in everything being bathed in a slight twilight. This did impact the notion of being concealed in the darkness. The distinction between light and dark appeared both slightly uncertain and somewhat binary in places, despite the fact that the shadow-based portion of the stealth system is built to support a comprehensive detection scale. Whether this is a fault of the lighting scheme itself, the gamma calibration being too bright,or some combination of the two, I couldn’t really say. I suspect that getting gamma calibration just right will do wonders for that sense of being cloaked in darkness regardless of how environments are lit.

    The big thing that I was concerned about going in was Focus, and how it impacted the feel of the game; I’m happy to say that it is an optional tool that has plenty of uses for less-skilled or less aware players, but one that I will happily turn off as soon as I get my hands on the release version. All things considered, Thief is a game that will probably rate 9/10. It does not appear to be perfect, but while claiming any such thing from time with pre-alpha code is a foolish endeavor it does appear to be very strong overall.

    Right! That's that. If you have a particular comment or question about something I've laid out here, feel free to ask it here, but otherwise keep more general Thief questions to the Ask Us Anything thread. Thanks!
    Make a cup of tea. Enjoy a nice cheddar. Always bring a towel.

  2. #2
    I hope swoop doesn't get a cool-down period. It'd be like stamina. Would it get its own meter bar, too, I wonder.

    Making the shroud so you don't have to look at the light gem, but then adding a Focus meter and possible a Swoop meter. And bundling them up off in the corner. Just interesting...

  3. #3
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    Thanks, Jerion. Sounds good to me except for the restricted jumping and climbing. I thought this restriction was just for where you could sink rope arrows.
    Not really sure how this will feel for me... I prefer a strong sense of choice and freedom. Happy to remain open-minded until I've seen more and/or played the game.

    Thanks for the pics too.
    And I'm reminded again how much I love that banner. Dammit.
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  4. #4
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    Originally Posted by Viktoria
    Thanks, Jerion. Sounds good to me except for the restricted jumping and climbing. I thought this restriction was just for where you could sink rope arrows.
    Not really sure how this will feel for me... I prefer a strong sense of choice and freedom. Happy to remain open-minded until I've seen more and/or played the game.

    Thanks for the pics too.
    And I'm reminded again how much I love that banner. Dammit.
    In the form we saw at E3, it was comprehensively supported. It wasn't free-form, but if you expected to be able to jump from point a to point b, or to be able to climb up to a location, chances were very good that you could do it or a way to get there existed. It didn't get in the way, but was lacking something. As far as jumping goes, "it lacked support for player stupidity" might be a way of looking at it. Annoying but not game-breakingly so; this isn't a platformer. Climbing was the place where I would have liked less in the way of fixed points and more of self-determined climbing. In the bottom-left corner of the first screenshot (the garden), the little metal lattice piece is a doodad that signposted where you could find purchase to climb up. I should point out though that it's not as though you could *only* climb up at places with one of those lattice doodads.

    Originally Posted by DarknessFalls
    I hope swoop doesn't get a cool-down period. It'd be like stamina. Would it get its own meter bar, too, I wonder.
    A short cooldown would indeed make it a bit like stamina. I don't have a better solution to it right now though.
    Make a cup of tea. Enjoy a nice cheddar. Always bring a towel.

  5. #5
    what annoys me is the door opening animations and the fact you just said you can only climb on certain pre determined points in the game world ... that sucks

  6. #6
    If this is 9/10, what's Thief 2? 17/10?

  7. #7
    Now that I have more time (was in a rush earlier), wanted to say thanks for the write-up.

    Originally Posted by Jerion
    A short cooldown would indeed make it a bit like stamina. I don't have a better solution to it right now though.
    Only better solution I can think of at the moment is to not have Swoop in the first place. But I don't think that will go down to well at the studio...

    Or make it unlimited since in real life, nobody would get tired by doing Swoop moves. If the feature is going to be in, might as well let the people who want to zip through the game do so as much as they want.

  8. #8
    Originally Posted by Viktoria
    Thanks, Jerion. Sounds good to me except for the restricted jumping and climbing. I thought this restriction was just for where you could sink rope arrows.
    Not really sure how this will feel for me... I prefer a strong sense of choice and freedom. Happy to remain open-minded until I've seen more and/or played the game.

    Thanks for the pics too.
    And I'm reminded again how much I love that banner. Dammit.
    Haha! A little honest criticism stemming from a heart-felt worry that the game will not have enough freedom...

    Couldn't agree more! Welcome!

    The community really MUST attempt to apply maximum pressure possible over the ' pre-determined' vs ' free movement ' problem. Not that we really seem to have a great deal of influence...but we must try. Surely.
    "Why isn’t the game designed as a Thief game first, but with a casual mode option if you think its too difficult?"

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    Originally Posted by DrunkenGuard
    Welcome!



    Hehe, I believe this greeting is late... I have questioned other things already.
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  10. #10
    Thank you for some interesting impressions, Jerion! I am glad that you liked Thief so much. Unfortunately, there are also some worrying remarks in your post.

    There are things that irked me. Jumping and climbing appear restricted to predetermined locations. It is set up fairly comprehensively; if you think you ought to be able to jump or climb somewhere you’ll be able to do so. I hope this will change and jumping will become free-form, unrestrained by pre-determined leaping points.
    So.... if I remember correctly (correct me if I am wrong):

    • Jumping, climbing (with the use of the claw and rope arrows): restricted to some predesigned spots (eg. marked in the demo with the metal grates).
    • Leaning: restricted, only "contextual" (in predesigned spots).
    • Movement on some high surfaces (above the ground): restricted (Garrett is "glued" to the surface).
    • Ability to jump down or fall: restricted (Garrett needs to "unglue" himself with the use of "contextual" button or perform some "contextual" action, eg. 3rd person takedown).


    I am sure that you are worried about this freedom of movement restrictions. Did you find (or will find) some opportunity to tell developers about this? Do they know that we would rather have the ability of full control over Garrett?
    Try my Thief 2 fan mission Old Comrades, Old Debts.
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  11. #11
    Thief ''Hands-on'' Demo

    ah ah... bad humor my friend.. -_-
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    look around and see what you can see...

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    My first chuckle of the day.
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  13. #13
    Originally Posted by DrunkenGuard
    The community really MUST attempt to apply maximum pressure possible over the ' pre-determined' vs ' free movement ' problem. Not that we really seem to have a great deal of influence...but we must try. Surely.
    This is serious issue! They limit player agency more and more. It means we will lost tons of cool unusual situations and the game will be more linear and boring.

    For example, Dishonored and DXHR didn't do this. I jumped over opened doors in both games to avoid a guard that walks near me. In fact, Dishonored did it better, cause you could stay on top of the door. While DXHR engine slightly moves you out there.

    Thief desperately needs the same freedom of movement and traversing!

    Originally Posted by Bukary
    I am sure that you are worried about this freedom of movement restrictions. Did you find (or will find) some opportunity to tell developers about this? Do they know that we would rather have the ability of full control over Garrett?
    I have the same question!

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    Originally Posted by Jerion
    In the form we saw at E3, it was comprehensively supported. It wasn't free-form, but if you expected to be able to jump from point a to point b, or to be able to climb up to a location, chances were very good that you could do it or a way to get there existed. It didn't get in the way, but was lacking something. As far as jumping goes, "it lacked support for player stupidity" might be a way of looking at it. Annoying but not game-breakingly so; this isn't a platformer. Climbing was the place where I would have liked less in the way of fixed points and more of self-determined climbing. In the bottom-left corner of the first screenshot (the garden), the little metal lattice piece is a doodad that signposted where you could find purchase to climb up. I should point out though that it's not as though you could *only* climb up at places with one of those lattice doodads.
    Thanks, Jerion. But can you explain a little more. When you say something was lacking... what do you mean by that?
    As for the 'lacked support for player stupidity'... do you mean you can't fall of a high ledge and die, for example?
    Please provide as much information as you can on this subject. Appreciated.
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  15. #15
    Interesting read Jerion you are very honest in what you feel about the game.

    I'm a diehard old school Thief fan, picked up TDP on launch and it has been my favourite game ever since, even if TMA did "Thief" better. I loved the freedom one had in movement back in the day,if it was a wooden surface it could be rope arrowed and you could mantle pretty much anything with the hint of a ledge. hearing about restriction on rope arrow use is one thing, it's kind of to be expected, but the limited jumping seems a lot more restrictive and "counter-Thief" if you will. I guess this is something you elude to when you mention that it "lacked support for player stupidity" - If I understood that right is it actually impossible/difficult to fall off of ledges/balconies? ie invisible wall to stop "stupid" deaths? Does there require some sort of "climb point" to descend from such places - ie can I only go up or down on a lattice/grill/vine covered wall? Or can I just drop off where ever? I can understand that perhaps for climbing it would be nice to have something to actually grab onto, but falling usually takes care of itself in my experience regardless of where you came up from :P

    Also in terms of movement does swoop come across as an emergency "oh poop!" movement used when you absolutely have to keep movement tight or make a recovery or does it play like "just a faster way to travel"? The way it is described it seems "spamable" but in your impression is that what it should be for? I probably bring this up because close calls are also a strong part of the Thief experience. Those little mistakes/errors and just plain dumb luck that can turn things around on you very quick. Can you evade or is fight or flee a fight the only options? Is what I am asking, if that makes any more sense.

    The floaty hands are somewhat annoying but it seems that the whole aspect to them wasn't showcased in publicly displayed demonstrations, especially how you mention it gives a "tactile" aspect to things. Given a Thief is very deft with their hands (or at least should be) I think perhaps it could really bring something to the series if it is done well. You guys seem excited about it or if not excited far more impressed than what I figure hands in a game would usually impart.

    Thanks for your time, appreciate your write ups and information thus far.

  16. #16
    The treatment of jumping (and climbing) is surprising given TDP's predilection for thrilling platforming sequences.

    It's encouraging though, to see our moderators sharing the community's concern on this point.

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    Originally Posted by Bukary
    Thank you for some interesting impressions, Jerion! I am glad that you liked Thief so much. Unfortunately, there are also some worrying remarks in your post.



    So.... if I remember correctly (correct me if I am wrong):

    • Jumping, climbing (with the use of the claw and rope arrows): restricted to some predesigned spots (eg. marked in the demo with the metal grates).
    • Leaning: restricted, only "contextual" (in predesigned spots).
    • Movement on some high surfaces (above the ground): restricted (Garrett is "glued" to the surface).
    • Ability to jump down or fall: restricted (Garrett needs to "unglue" himself with the use of "contextual" button or perform some "contextual" action, eg. 3rd person takedown).


    I am sure that you are worried about this freedom of movement restrictions. Did you find (or will find) some opportunity to tell developers about this? Do they know that we would rather have the ability of full control over Garrett?
    A couple things:

    Leaning is limited to specified spots, but this is one case where they've also added quite a bit of functionality (they're calling it "Peeking"); this has been covered in the AMA thread. In this case I would take the tradeoff.

    Falling by accident from a high surface was impossible, but dropping to the ground (or next level down) can be done at just about any edge if memory serves (go to the edge, hit a button, drop down). Accidentally leaping to one's doom is not supported at this time.

    Come Monday, they'll know. They've been lurking all over this forum.
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    Originally Posted by Bukary
    • Jumping, climbing (with the use of the claw and rope arrows): restricted to some predesigned spots (eg. marked in the demo with the metal grates).
    • Leaning: restricted, only "contextual" (in predesigned spots).
    • Movement on some high surfaces (above the ground): restricted (Garrett is "glued" to the surface).
    • Ability to jump down or fall: restricted (Garrett needs to "unglue" himself with the use of "contextual" button or perform some "contextual" action, eg. 3rd person takedown).


    I am sure that you are worried about this freedom of movement restrictions. Did you find (or will find) some opportunity to tell developers about this? Do they know that we would rather have the ability of full control over Garrett?
    This is very concerning, because for a game that has obviously widened its audience to reach the ridiculous profit margins mandated by insane visual production prioritization, these non-dynamic animation-driven actions that the game is riddled with as opposed to the total freedom of movement in the rest of the series, are simply screaming "obsolete". What is completely obvious is that the only reason why these static actions exist is to accommondate the body awareness animations. If there would be no need to show Garrett's hands when he's opening doors or picking up objects, there would be no reason to make those actions static to make the animations fit.

    Theif should be one of the shiny examples of what the next generation can do, but the fact that the developer doesn't seem to be capable of even reconciling very basic animations with immersive freedom of movement, is making this game look like it predates the previous generation. This is the history:

    1. First there were invisible hands and free movement, everything was fine but kinda weird.
    2. Then came hand animations to make things look cool, it was a bit annoying because it played weird.
    3. The current state of evolution is that the freedom of invisible hands has been combined with the realism of visible hands, by the application of dynamic animations.

    Thief 4, supposedly a next-generation game with a huge priority in visual quality, is stuck on step #2. This fact alone makes Thief 4 incapable of reaching the quality rating of Thief 1 from 1998, both gameplay-wise and graphically, because it is an issue that is related to both. The realism and immersion produced by a visible body is entirely lost if seeing that body requires the sacrifice of controlling that body. In fact the lack of control makes a first person game less immersive than what the invisibility of the character's body could ever accomplish. You are not living the life of a character, you are executing specific commands on prompt within a set of strict rules.

  19. #19
    Originally Posted by Jerion
    Leaning is limited to specified spots, but this is one case where they've also added quite a bit of functionality (they're calling it "Peeking"); this has been covered in the AMA thread. In this case I would take the tradeoff.
    Can you un-"peek" back to cover so fast so the guard which have seen a glimpse of you wouldn't understand what actually happened? Because it's what really differs leaning of any sort from simply side-walking. And what TDS failed to accomplish.

    Limited jumping is a game-breaker for me because I get stuck in the terrain a lot in any Unreal-based game since TDS (or since first Deus Ex, but I played DX after TDS). TDS was one of the worst in this regard because it doesn't allow jumping forward unless you gain some forward momentum and you can't gain the momentum because you're stuck. But still with some luck I managed to get out even from those chests. With no jumping allowed I'll have no chance.

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    Originally Posted by DJ Riff
    Can you un-"peek" back to cover so fast so the guard which have seen a glimpse of you wouldn't understand what actually happened? Because it's what really differs leaning of any sort from simply side-walking. And what TDS failed to accomplish.
    Yes. It's essentially Lean+. You hold down a button to start peeking, then as long you hold down that button you can shimmy up and down the side of the surface (or potentially around the top and to the other side if applicable, IIRC), pull in, lean further out, etc. Release the button and you slip instantly back to concealment.

    I haven't encountered any collision issues in Unreal Engine 3-based games for a very, very long time. I don't think that's an issue here.
    Make a cup of tea. Enjoy a nice cheddar. Always bring a towel.

  21. #21
    Seems like Jump-, Climb-, and Lean- to me

    Granted, the Peeking lets you feel all around, but without the freedom to lean wherever you want, I'm skeptical that it's as good as or better than the days of old I use leaning all the time, and not always next to objects or walls. I've always enjoyed Thief's control freedoms, including the freedom to lean wherever, which has been mysteriously absent from virtually every game since. And not being able to jump wherever you want would be puzzling. I've played games like that and it doesn't feel good at all.

    Next gen has let them put into the game anything and everything they want, they say/imply; are movement restrictions really desirable for a next gen title?

  22. #22
    Originally Posted by Jerion
    I haven't encountered any collision issues in Unreal Engine 3-based games for a very, very long time.
    Bioshock Infinite was a real pain especially with its checkpoint saving system. Dishonored had some sticky places too, but the Blink made it a non-issue.

  23. #23
    Originally Posted by Jerion
    Leaning is limited to specified spots, but this is one case where they've also added quite a bit of functionality (they're calling it "Peeking"); this has been covered in the AMA thread. In this case I would take the tradeoff.
    I really hope 'Peeking' won't be similar to Dishonored, where enemies can't see your head.

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    Thanks a lot for the summary, Jerion.

    After the "ask us anything" thread I got quite optimistic about the game, but now reading of limited movement plus the restricted rope arrow and the insanely stupid swoop move makes me fear that the game is going to be *e after all.

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    Nice Post, Jerion. I think all the "mods" should do as you did and write up their thoughts on the game.

    We've all played games in the past where there is this sprawling landscape but our path is predetermined. No matter how hard you try, you can only run down this path and not explore the rest of the area. Same with jumping. There are only certain areas where you can jump from or shoot grappling hooks from....certain ledges that are "active" or "hot".

    Why? It boils down to this: It's more work for the developers to make a totally interactive world ala GTA or Skyrim. I'm not singling out EM here, but it's lazy programming. Most all studios do it. It's the quick and easy path...it's the path to the darkside, and once you start down the path, forever will it dominate your destiny.

    If you're old like me, you'll remember when cartoons actually moved. You'll remember when each frame was hand drawn and differed slightly from it predecessor. Nowadays, cartoons are basically slide shows with camera movement to indicate motion and maybe 2 or 3 frames per second as opposed to the 12 to 24 fps for old school cartoons. This is the exact same route video games have taken.

    "Hotspots" and "predetermined routes" are now the norm.

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