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What is Thief really about?


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#1 firoso

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 12:53 PM

This is an open invitation for discussion, not me trying to cram my views down peoples throats.

In my opinion, Thief has a few major themes, the most obvioius and overarching being the theme of balance. The keepers sought to maintain it, but it was never truely stable... If it was the keepers would be out of work. It's obvious that the keepers themselves while politically neutral were also morally neutral. They may have served the greater good of the city, but what tax did they take silently from it? Keeper's may not be as rich in finery and frivolity as the nobility, but thier hidden monuments of ages (deadly shadows shows some good keeper architecture) show that they are far from poor, and that money must come from somewhere.

The Hammerites and the Pagan's both see themselves as right and good, doing the work of thier religion and culture, but the rituals and shadowy murders of the Pagans are no more Righteous than the Torturous inquisitions of the Hammerites, this is another aspect of balance, good and evil blend into a moral grey as stone clashes with root and metal clashes with magic.

Other themes in Thief are betrayal, (viktoria's betrayal in thief 1, Karras's deception in TMA, Gamal in TDS), redemption, (Viktoria redeems herself in Garret's eyes, and Garret himself seems to consider himself a keeper at the end of TDS).

What other themes do you see, and what significance do they bear on the world of TDM?
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#2 Springheel

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 01:25 PM

what significance do they bear on the world of TDM?


Almost none.

Now if you wanted to wanted to ask what Thief *the game* was all about, as opposed to the story, that would be another matter.
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#3 Vadrosaul

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 01:30 PM

Maybe the question should be asking what visual themes, what settings, what gameplay styles are TDM all about.
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#4 firoso

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 01:37 PM

I guess I was refering to the storytelling style that can be utilized *shrug*. TDM != Thief, this I am well aware, but as a spiritual successor FM platform... it is important in my opinion to discuss storytelling in order for the community to get into that "Thief mindset" and develop the best possible missions.
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#5 Subjective Effect

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 04:15 PM

The Thief story arc is certainly about balance, and whilst not exactly cliched it is fairly predictable. At it's core it's also very anti-establishment; Garrett works for no-one and whilst not explicit in his expressions of distaste for establishment per se he is critical of each one (of which there are many).

This is a full cycle for him though - he IS the only balanced one because he has no ties and so paradoxically is suitably placed to become a Keeper, and thus part of arguably the most important (by virtue of it's governing role) establishment.

Now I don't expect these themes to exist in the TDM world in any mirrored fashion but the heavy doses of cynicism that Garrett drops all over the place because of them should exist in some tangible fashion because that flavour is suitable and imho integral to being a Thief.
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#6 firoso

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 04:35 PM

The Thief story arc is certainly about balance, and whilst not exactly cliched it is fairly predictable. At it's core it's also very anti-establishment; Garrett works for no-one and whilst not explicit in his expressions of distaste for establishment per se he is critical of each one (of which there are many).

Didn't think of that specifically but it's a good point, and it also helps characterize the thief as an anti-hero of sorts.

This is a full cycle for him though - he IS the only balanced one because he has no ties and so paradoxically is suitably placed to become a Keeper, and thus part of arguably the most important (by virtue of it's governing role) establishment.

Another very good point. Garret also seems to be the least emotionally driven character in the thief story line which I found very interesting, tho at the same time, i found Garret to be the most human and the most believable character, it's his rigid allegience to himself that makes him such a fascinating character.

Now I don't expect these themes to exist in the TDM world in any mirrored fashion but the heavy doses of cynicism that Garrett drops all over the place because of them should exist in some tangible fashion because that flavour is suitable and imho integral to being a Thief.

This is what I'm trying to say, you can have all the artwork in the world, all the thieving tools, all the sounds, all the effects and interface, but without a good grasp on how the thief world tells stories, there's no way to recreate that sense of a thief game dead on. Storytelling is the ONLY thing that deadly shadows got dead on, I loved TDS's story even though the game it's self made me want to cry out of sheer "ya'llareidiotsgodieinafire" rage..
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#7 Vadrosaul

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 05:07 PM

The ego factor. No matter how dangerous, how ridiculous the setup, scoring the loot is too enticing for such a character to think practically about his chances.
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#8 firoso

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 05:10 PM

I just thought that was being male... *shrug* either way that's more about Garret's motivation than his methods, but yeah I definately see where the ego factor plays in, but that's more about the story hook than the actual story, a good example of this is lord baffords manor, tho I'm about 80% sure that level was seriously designed as TTLG's "thieves' den" demo map and later incorporated into the game as it doesn't really play an important role in the story, but for that matter neither does #3 or 4 for the most part.
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#9 Subjective Effect

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 05:52 PM

I don't think you need to worry about story telling though. A significant proportion of TDM FM creators will be from TTLG and the FM creators there do a great job. However, if there were ever an "official" TDM campaign/map set the story and atmosphere would be VERY important because there would be the danger of setting the wrong tone. Within the constraints of TDM I think getting the atmosphere wrong would be very hard though, and if you've played Thief's Den you'll understand why :)
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#10 Springheel

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 05:56 PM

I guess I was refering to the storytelling style that can be utilized *shrug*.


I'm not even sure what you mean by "storytelling style". The "style" of a map ultimately comes down to the mapper. What factions it has are irrelevant. Since TDM is a toolkit, any storytelling style can be utilized. We certainly are aiming for a certain "look and feel" to our assets, however--TDM is generally dark, gritty, and mature in style--but that wouldn't stop someone from making a goofball circus story if they wanted.

This is what I'm trying to say, you can have all the artwork in the world, all the thieving tools, all the sounds, all the effects and interface, but without a good grasp on how the thief world tells stories, there's no way to recreate that sense of a thief game dead on.


I think there are lots of Thief players who consider "story" to be a secondary concern--a nice embellishment but not at all necessary for a good mission. In fact, T2 is often touted as being superior to T1 because the missions were more enjoyable in gameplay terms--and the story was a tacked on afterthought in T2, unlike T1.

Storytelling is the ONLY thing that deadly shadows got dead on,


Which would support the idea that gameplay trumps story for most players, as the vast majority of complaints about the game are gameplay issues rather than story ones.
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#11 firoso

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 10:40 PM

I'm not saying it's the be all and end all, I'm saying it's a very important aspect of immersion, story telling is not reading a journal, or hearing a dialog, although that's important parts, storytelling in a game at least is giving the player reason to believe that if they were to scrutinize a char or a group, they'd all have a story to tell no matter if it's presented directly or not.
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#12 demagogue

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 12:49 AM

I've always thought the key to a good game is a good union of gameplay and motivation (the functional end of story), basically a compelling modus operandi and an environment to let the player run with it.

That's what really kills mindless shooters for me, not so much that the gameplay is void per se, but that the MO is weak ... why exactly am I running through room after room shooting at the same things in the same way? Is my motivation for killing the final monster really the exact same as the first one? And 10 hours of it??

MOs like "survival", a huge "war" of which you're just one ineffectual cog, or empty gameplay that "saves the universe" for some inexplicable reason, are examples of weak MOs. And story is one (if not the major) mechanism that strengthens the in-game MO, at least when it does it well (stories that don't contribute to the MO are not much better than background art).
Anyway, that's my understanding of its importance.
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#13 oDDity

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 04:25 AM

The story is irrelevant. I have never found myself immersed in a game story, and as I've contended before, it's impossible. Games are simply not a good medium for intricate storytelling.
What is important to some degree is the setting and how successfully it's portrayed. That's where Thief scores highly. The plots themselves were the same generic, predictable, unrealistic nonsense of the sort that all games and action movies are made of, but the gritty, atmospheric setting was very successfully portrayed from every aspect, and the gameplay was unique and innovative enough to make the whole thing feel new.
That's why TDS failed. The gameworld felt like a cartoon joke, the gameplay was by then no longer new, and the plot was the same old nonsense.
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#14 sparhawk

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 06:14 AM

The story is irrelevant. I have never found myself immersed in a game story, and as I've contended before, it's impossible. Games are simply not a good medium for intricate storytelling.


That depends, but in general I agree. With adventures the story is important, but even more so (for any game) is the atmosphere. Which doesn't depend on good graphics but on the overall package. Graphics, sound and story. If everything together delivers a tight atmosphere, then it doesn't matter if some of them are not high-end.
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#15 oDDity

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 06:30 AM

Creating a great world and atmosphere certainly does not depend on good graphics. Thief is the perfect example of that. A technically poor graphics engine even for that time, but what they did with that technology was great.
TDS graphics were technically far superior, but the result was pathetic.
I insist the story does not matter at all. You could have written any arbitrary story into the Thief 1 and 2 packages and it would have worked just as well. It's the initial setup of the gameworld that makes the difference, the backstory or backdrop if you like, not the immediate plot.
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#16 sparhawk

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 06:35 AM

I insist the story does not matter at all. You could have written any arbitrary story into the Thief 1 and 2 packages and it would have worked just as well. It's the initial setup of the gameworld that makes the difference, the backstory or backdrop if you like, not the immediate plot.


Yeah, you are right. I was thinking more about adventures, but even there most of the time the setup is what really gets me immersed. Playing the game, I usually also don't care about the story anymore, because I expect the game to draw me along anyway.
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#17 oDDity

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 07:16 AM

Yeah, if I look at my favourite games, such as Baldur's Gate, Gothic and Thief, they all have one thing in common, which is a well constructed evocative gameworld which seems alive and real. It's a place I wanted to be. The plots in all of those games were average unrealistic nonsense, but that's fine, because the immediate plot in any game is just a mechanism for instigating gameplay.
Examples of badly constructed, dead, unimmersive gameworlds are Morrowind/Oblivion, and any shooter ever made.
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#18 Mr Retarded

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 07:54 AM

I've just started playing Fallout 2 and it has had the same effect on me as Thief did the first time I played it oh so many years ago. I love the atmosphere and the environment is unique and interesting.

There's also the exploratory nature of the game. In Thief, you have to explore the maps to get the full feel of the game and quite often to finish the level. There are hidden nooks and crannies on the levels that you need to hunt out, and that stop you from breezing through the game without paying any attention. Well, that stands for Thief 1 and 2 anyway.

#19 Subjective Effect

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 11:36 AM

Whilst gameplay is king, and atmosphere queen, you need a story that isn't crap to pull the whole thing off. Dark Messiah is, to me, the perfect example of failure on the storyline leading to the game being much less than it could have been. It has some gameplay issues but if you want to play a visceral hack'n'slash in some evocative locations you cannot go wrong with playing as a pure warrior character. I mixed it up a bit - 60% warrior, 20% mage, 20% stealth - and the gameplay was great. It's another sad tale of lack of editor stopping the creation of something wonderful.

But the story! Oh veh! It was SO bad and SO predictable and SO adolescent. It was an embarrassment. I really did feel embarrassed for the makers. See, HL2 has a mature plot and so did Thief and Deus Ex. Sure they are sci-fi/fantasy blah blah but in that context they are solid.

Plot isn't everything but if everything else is right it really can be a supreme icing. The 7th Crystal is a great FM, and that is in part due to the great plot.
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#20 Springheel

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 03:43 PM

HL2 has a mature plot


I'm not sure we're all using the same terminology here, since I thought HL2 had only the most rudimentary plot imaginable--Find person A, then find person B then find person C then kill the big bad guy to save the day.

Terms like "story" "atmosphere" and even "plot" are pretty abstract when describing video games, so it might help if we had a common set of definitions.
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#21 Subjective Effect

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 04:08 PM

The background to the events with the 7 hour war and invasion of Earth, the resistance and the people you meet is the plot. And you don't really set out to "kill the bad guy" do you? You're just trying to meet up with the resistance for the most part and encounter all sorts along the way. Tied up in that is an over arcing story but instead of being handheld through the telling you experience it because it's happening around you.

Dark Messiah has a similar A to B to C structure but if you play it you'll know what I mean.

Thief, on the other hand, is just comes in discrete episodes as missions. It's the same A to B to C though.
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#22 Springheel

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 04:15 PM

It's the same A to B to C though.


I know. It's hard to get away from that kind of plot when you're playing an episodic FPS.

Interesting characters, and a sense that the world is a real place that happens around you, are very important parts of immersion, but I wouldn't call them plot.

I basically agree with what Oddity said earlier. Atmosphere and immersion are very important, as is the sense that your character has motivations you can identify with (something Thief often lacked). But 'story' is relatively unimportant.
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#23 Subjective Effect

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 04:33 PM

Relative to what though? In my mind the order of importance is gameplay, atmosphere, story. Graphics and related technologies only need be as good as is required for good gameplay (failure in TDS with the technology) and for a suitable atmosphere. Even basic graphics can be suitable if the designers have enough skill to squeeze good atmosphere out of them and Thief 1 and 2 are prime examples.

The story seems to be lost in all of that, I agree. But it is still very important even if it is the least important thing. Eyes are not important for life to go on but damn are they important for living.
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#24 Springheel

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 04:39 PM

I can agree that a terrible story can hurt a game, but that's about it. I don't think a complete lack of story hurts an otherwise good game much at all, nor does a great story help an otherwise bad game. I'm not trying to convince you--it's just my personal view on the matter.

I can't think of any FPS games that have anything beyond a straightforward and obvious plot, frankly.
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#25 firoso

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 05:44 PM

I don't think anyone will disagree there springheel, or at the very least, the makers of Bejeweled and pretty much anything on pop cap won't disagree, it really is gameplay first, but thief is a narrative game, it's background and it's setting is what causes the player to suspend belief, but why do we suspend belief to the level that thief does? it's to tell stories. That isn't to say that "I'm broke and need money, time to rob Auldale's nobles" isn't story, it's mostly just a hook and motivation, but it's usually used as a way to progress through more story elements, that's all.

Guess what I'm trying to say is gameplay for the sake of gameplay is a fine thing, graphics for the sake of graphics is a silly thing, and story for the sake of story is metalgearsolidwantstobeastealthgamelol. Thief has this backdrop for a reason and it lends it's self to a particular model of story telling very well, that's what I made this thread to discuss, what is the model and method of story telling, how wide and varied is it, what are it's themes? You can tell a story of a poor family that gets ripped off by the city watch until one day the oldest son kills a watchman and the family recruits you to break the son out and it fits into the thief backdrop, along those same lines you can tell a story of a ruthless Noble known for cutting the ears off thieves that break into his property so you break in just to prove that his elite guard and ruthless manner is not as effective as he would believe and it's still thiefy, but telling a lovestory basso's brother and the flower girl from the sector 7 slums as they go to slay a magic wielding eviloverlord™ destined to destroy offmiddleearth doesn't exactly belong in a thief mission, it lacks the dark mood that the motivation should carry, no matter how dark and moody the levels for that storyline may be, the story just wouldn't fit, square peg; round hole.

As for an FPS with a good story? Bioshocks could have been better but it wasn't bad, Deus Ex was good. and both were better than OBLEHvion was, and it was an RPG...
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