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Liquidize105
06-14-2006, 08:40 PM
A Look Back on Thief With Randy Smith: Programmer, Designer, Project Director
Date: 6/14/2006
By: Jonathan S. "Liquidize105"



Randy: Hi

Jonathan: Hey Randy, thanks for joining me today. There's a ton of stuff I'd like to talk about, so let's start from the top.

Jonathan: Please, briefly introduce yourself.


Randy: Hi, I'm Randy Smith, game designer.

I'm a 5' 10" 31 y.o. Gemini, interested in the cheeses of the world. I worked on Thief 1, 2, and then for a change I worked on Thief 3.

I was a freelance consultant on various projects for a couple of years, and more recently I took a full time job working with Doug Church's team on a Steven Spielberg project here at EALA.

Jonathan: How did you get your start in this industry?


Randy: I went to college for computer science with the hope of working on games, assuming being a rock star didn't work out, which, arguably, it didn't.

My first job was at Looking Glass Studios in Cambridge, MA, as a hybrid scripter/level-builder on Thief: The Dark Project.

Jonathan: How would you describe the first Thief game?


Randy: Top level pitch - Thief: DP is an intense action stealth game in which the player takes on the role of master thief Garrett as he sneaks and steals his way through a dark and mysterious story set in a gloomy variation of Medieval Europe.

Jonathan: Action? But it was a passive stealth game.

Randy: It isn't action gameplay in the sense of full-bore running and clearing out rooms full of guys with automatic weapons, but it is action gameplay in the sense of the player must take action to accomplish things, and it isn't turn-based, there is real time pressure. It is less actiony in the sense of the player having lots of control over the pacing of the game, down to a very slow level.

Jonathan: I'd like to get into that a bit more later. But first, what did the team learn from their first outing that was then applied to the sequel?


Randy: Honestly, the stealth gameplay chemistry of Thief 1 didn't truly come together till very close to ship, possibly as close as a few weeks. Although we all had our suspicions, it wasn't until then that it was clear which types of content would be a good match for the game systems - so one major design objective of Thief 2 was to create levels where sneaking was more central to the objectives and the world geometry/lighting.

Jonathan: How do you think you did? I understand that Thief was originally a communist zombie game?

Randy: Are those 2 different questions? :)

Jonathan: The “communist zombie game” comment is to address the bit about "Thief didn't truly come together till the 11th hour."

Randy: Ah. No, the zombie communist idea ("Better Red Than Undead") didn't have a long life, and was dead and buried (no pun intended) before I even started on The Dark Project.

The concept of T: TDP was very clear and solid through most of our development, but the gameplay itself wasn't fun and visceral and well-balanced to the point where people "got it" and believed in it until the 11th hour.

Jonathan: I see. For the sequel, the team made sneaking more central to the experience.

Randy: That was the idea, yes, as opposed to alternate gameplay styles like fighting and puzzle-solving.

Jonathan: So what’s your verdict?

Randy: I think we went a little overboard. T:TDP had a magical chemistry that was easy to believe in, a strong world and mood that was highly immersive. There were parts of T2: TMA where it felt a little frayed around the edges, where too much logic seemed clearly to go into the design, sometimes at the expense of the chemistry and magic and immersion of the world.

That said, the core stealth gameplay was more "on stage" more of the time and allowed for more player expression, so that was a big win.

Jonathan: Thief 2 was rushed towards the end, was it not?

Randy: No, not in particular. We had a medium-sized team working for 18 months starting with all of the Thief 1 tech.

Jonathan: It was feature complete? That's strange, I clearly remember reading reports of intended delays.

Randy: We were certainly crunching at the end, but it wasn't the case that the game was going to suck unless we totally cranked or anything. I think we could have crunched less and still shipped a good game, but we really wanted it to be as good as it could be.


Jonathan: Shortly after Thief 2, Looking Glass Studios shut down.


Randy: A few months later, yeah.

Jonathan: A loss for the industry, without a doubt.

Randy: And a personal loss...

Jonathan: But then you moved on to Ion Storm Austin to work with Warren Specter, who’s credited under special thanks in Thief 1. If anything else happened in the intervening time, please fill in the blanks for me.

Randy: Ok, gotcha.

After Thief 2 shipped, Tim Stellmach, the Lead Designer of Thief 1 and 2, went on to lead up a special internal project. Terri Brosius and I were promoted to co-leads of Thief 3. We were only a couple of months into it when LG closed. Looking Glass's Intellectual Property, including the rights to make Thief, went to auction and was bought by EIDOS who passed the Thief mantle on to ION Austin, Warren's team.

I took a few months off that summer, very nice... Then I started work with ION Storm in the Lead Designer / Project Director position on Thief 3. Later on, Jordan Thomas took over the Lead Designer job, and I was just project director after that.

Jonathan: Jordan Thomas who mapped the renowned Shalebridge Cradle

Randy: Yes, Jordan and I worked together very closely on the cradle. We are both into horror and fear, so we brought different angles to it. Good stuff, and Jordan lovingly crafted every corner...

Jonathan: What was is like working on Thief 3 at ION Storm Austin knowing that Thief was headed for the console, and that in order to streamline the franchise, the gameplay had to be made more actiony, or in other words passive stealth gameplay had to be benched in order to make way for the more aggressive stealth?


Randy: Well, those were all goals that I agreed with and helped drive. I’m really into games that strike a great balance between planning and improvisation, games such as Super Smash Brothers to name just one example in a totally different genre. The hope was that Thief, which tended heavily towards planning and slow-pace, could support a wider range of play by expanding the "thinking on your feet" / action-y side of the range.

As for console, I’ve always believed that the Thief concepts translate very naturally to the console.

In general, there is no reason why games on consoles can't support sophisticated interaction, planning, thinking, and slow pace, in addition to supporting more traditional action-y stuff.

Jonathan: @ part 1 - Right, because some people don't get stealth at all.

Randy: Well... Ideally it would still very much be stealth gameplay, but there would be fewer moments of hiding in a cubby for 2 minutes for a guard hopelessly searching for you to go back to his post, or scouting patrols from the rafters for 12 minutes before you felt safe enough to make your move, and instead supporting more moments where you are flushed into a space by an approaching enemy and have to think on your feet and find a good place to hide, or make a daring escape over the balcony, or similar.

The design challenge there is gearing people's flight or fight instincts towards "hide" rather than the first two, which can be a challenge especially in games where the typical MO is to kill everything, and which Thief strictly speaking does support, but at a much lower level of quality due to the focus on stealth.

Liquidize105
06-14-2006, 08:44 PM
Jonathan: What went on during the development of Thief 3?


Randy: With respect to what, exactly? The goal to make the game more action-y?

Jonathan: In general; I read one of your older interviews. You stated that the intended goal was "this, this, and this," but what the audience got was something else entirely.

And then there’s the matter of your inclement early departure from the project.

To put it bluntly, what the hell happened?

Randy: Well, you've got 3 major topics in that question: 1) The difference between what we hoped T3 would be and what you perceived it to be instead, 2) the troubled T3 development environment at ION Storm, and 3) my "early departure" from ION. They are related in as much as the troubled development environment, 2), led both to a decrease in quality in the game and my departure from the studio. You’ll have to give me more direction as to what you want more info about.

Jonathan: Let’s start with 1, then 2 and 3 :)

Randy: Heh. Okay, well first you'll have to tell me what complaints about T3 you'd like addressed - that is to say - your perception of it.

Jonathan: No problem.

Thief 3, being the first Thief game for me, was immensely enjoyable. With that as my frame of reference, I went back to experience the earlier games - Thief 1 first, and then 2. Upon starting Thief 2, I immediately recognized the esoteric nature of having a free roaming game, with a passive stealth base, that offered very little guidance – all in total darkness.

I view Thief 3's more action-inclined gameplay as being more than necessary for a mass-market acceptance.

The problems with Thief 3 were the same as the problems that plagued Deus Ex: Invisible War - it was the tech. The team scaled back the freeform design, incorporated loading zones, not to mention the unstable frame rate and other misc. issues derived from the technology.

The gameplay was relative solid by comparison.

Randy: Yes, there is no question that we had lots of challenges in the technical department. in particular what you are saying about levels is true - the underlying technology didn't settle down enough for us to come to a firm understanding of the limits we were working with. Hence we had to take some guesses about what would make a good level, and then later realized that they wouldn't fit in memory, at which point we had to modify the design, to no one's happiness.

Jonathan: 2) Troubled development environment at ISA


Jonathan: Interpersonal issues?

Randy: No, I think for the most part everyone at ISA was talented and well-intentioned. The problems were more classic development problems: we didn't follow a strict development cycle, we didn't coordinate development well between 2 very similar projects, we didn't have a good budget and schedule, we didn't have great alignment with the publisher, the tech development wasn't well planned and took a bunch of wrong turns, the design was too ambitious, the direction was unfocused.

Jonathan: That’s quite a mouth full.

Randy: It was kind of some of everything, and it was hard to pull anything good out of the situation. Towards the end when all of this was really hitting hard with a deadline looming, interpersonal issues were more prominent, but I attribute them mostly to the stress of the situation.

Jonathan: I can guess who fired you.

Randy: Uh-huh.

Jonathan: There was speculation that your ejection from ISA was due to your persistence on retaining classical Thief elements. What do you think?

Randy: No, I’ve heard the "Randy was the martyr for our cause" theory before, but it isn't true. Warren is equally an advocate for maintaining the soul of the thief series in T3.

Jonathan: So what happened?

Randy: Are we on 3) now?

Jonathan: Damn it, yes :D

Randy: Well, I don't really know. Everything was really stressful (see 2), above), and I was pretty pissed off. I wasn't contributing any more positively than anyone else by then, I was being pushed out of a position of authority so that things could get done, and at some point I just sort of gave up. I suppose I pissed off the wrong people with my strong opinions. I regret being so angry at people and the situation, but it was really the most hopeless development situation I have ever seen, so I can forgive myself for feeling that way.

By that time I was clearly only still involved out of loyalty to the team and the project because I thought that leaving the project before the end would look really bad. so I didn't mind being fired, exactly.

Jonathan: I understand. Ahem, any relations to Harvey Smith?


Randy: Yeah, we're brothers.

Jonathan: Of blood?

Randy: Sure, sure.

Jonathan: Heh. I think that by 2003 gamers were ready for a 1st person action game of that caliber, whereas before people simply mistook first-person action RPG for any cookiecutter FPS; but the team under-delivered, starting with the demo.

Invisible War is a far cry from the 1st Deus Ex. It's a decent game, but given that it’s a follow-up to what is literally a chefd'oeuvre…

Randy: Well, remember that team had to ship a good 6 (?) months or so earlier than T3, so they took the technology and process issues even more on the chin than our team did.

I actually have a lot of respect for the product they made. I played an early version and really enjoyed it - more than DX1, I’d say. But maybe DX:IW was more of a developer's game? It's always hard to know if that bias screws with your perception.

Jonathan: Think there was maybe a fallout effect on T3?

Randy: It didn't help studio morale any, that's for sure.

Jonathan: I can sympathize.


Resources:
A Look Into the Future of Stealth With Randy Smith [Part 2] (http://www.evilavatar.com/forums/showthread.php?t=14027)
Thief: The Dark Project, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thief:_The_Dark_Project) Thief II: The Metal Age, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thief_II:_The_Metal_Age) Thief: Deadly Shadows (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thief_3)
Reasons for the Fall: A Post-Mortem On Looking Glass Studios (http://ttlg.com/articles/lgsclosing.asp)
Final Days - a photographic tribute to Looking Glass Studios (http://www.digital-eel.com/mc/may252000.htm)
Through the years with Looking Glass (http://www.the-nextlevel.com/features/developers/looking-glass-studios/history.shtml)








http://img151.imageshack.us/img151/888/tg4lk.jpg


Come back tomorrow for Part 2 - A Look Into the Future of Stealth

Draft
06-14-2006, 08:48 PM
Good interview. I like how you pressed him on the "consolization" of thief- most interviewers tip toe around subjects like that.

mightbe
06-14-2006, 09:03 PM
Agreed, draft. It was well conducted thus far. It's nice to see someone from Looking Glass getting some press.

Busted_Astromech
06-14-2006, 09:22 PM
Excellent work, Liquidize. By the way, who were you referring to when you guessed who fired him?

Spigot
06-14-2006, 09:25 PM
I am too tired to read this at the moment but what I skimmed looked interesting. Good job, Liquidize. I love Thief and it'll be interesting to see what he has to say when I'm awake enough to read :)

TrackZero
06-14-2006, 10:47 PM
Jonathan: I can guess who fired you.

Randy: Uh-huh.

Who might that be, for those of us not up to speed on the persons at ION?

Liquidize105
06-14-2006, 10:50 PM
Thanks fellas.

To the project director, the only person higher up the chain of command is the studios director - Warren Spector.

megaman
06-15-2006, 12:45 AM
From the interview, it seems he really hates Harvey Smith and isn't closed to talk about that

Parias
06-15-2006, 01:04 AM
Going to chime in with my compliments on the interview as well - definitely an interesting read.

AversionFX
06-15-2006, 01:06 AM
Dark Shadows was my first Thief game, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. However, I will never forgive them for DX-Invisible War.

That game was such a farcry from the original that it made me livid. ALEX D! WHO MIGHT YOU POSSIBLY BE RELATED TO WHO SHARED A SURNAME THAT ALSO STARTS WITH D! DENTON? GETTHEFUCKOUT!

Borys
06-15-2006, 02:32 AM
Randy: Yes, there is no question that we had lots of challenges in the technical department. in particular what you are saying about levels is true - the underlying technology didn't settle down enough for us to come to a firm understanding of the limits we were working with. Hence we had to take some guesses about what would make a good level, and then later realized that they wouldn't fit in memory, at which point we had to modify the design, to no one's happiness.

**** that :(

They would fit in PC memory, just not Xbox' one. Why did we, PC gamers, had to go for such compromise? My PC had 1 GB of RAM ATM and just because Xbox had 64MB I had to suffer from loading zones.

That's not fair, that's totally not fair for all the people that bought T:DS on the PC. That's why we hate consolized (not "console") games and we will always hate them.

Good interview, Liquid.

mightbe
06-15-2006, 02:40 AM
This is why we love you borys, you tell it like it is.

Shame about poland losing today. Sorry, brotha.

LogainAblar
06-15-2006, 03:58 AM
**** that :(

They would fit in PC memory, just not Xbox' one. Why did we, PC gamers, had to go for such compromise? My PC had 1 GB of RAM ATM and just because Xbox had 64MB I had to suffer from loading zones.

That's not fair, that's totally not fair for all the people that bought T:DS on the PC. That's why we hate consolized (not "console") games and we will always hate them.

Good interview, Liquid.

And then his sig:

Behold, The Bitterest of Fanbois:

I'm an old-school Sega fan, so I want sony dead. D-E-A-D. It's no more than they deserve. - Reanimated

Clearly your post doesn't demonstrate the sheer hatred that Reanimated feels (your rant comes off more whiney) but it's still pretty funny when you follow it with your sig.

bapenguin
06-15-2006, 04:37 AM
Good job Liq. I REALLY like the formatting on this interview. It makes a pleasure to read.

[Jez]
06-15-2006, 04:45 AM
Thanks for that, it was an intresting read.... its a DAMN shame nothing in the style of the thief games are planned

Draft
06-15-2006, 05:13 AM
And then his sig:



Clearly your post doesn't demonstrate the sheer hatred that Reanimated feels (your rant comes off more whiney) but it's still pretty funny when you follow it with your sig.Just ignore Borys when he gets like this. He's worse than any console fanboy.

EvilBob46
06-15-2006, 05:56 AM
From the interview, it seems he really hates Harvey Smith and isn't closed to talk about that

How did you figure that out? I think it sounded more sincere than sarcastic, but I don't know the ION Storm situation.

Evil_SPanKY
06-15-2006, 08:04 AM
Excellent read. While I did enjow T3, and somewhat DX:IW (after massive amounts of tweaks), they both were far cries of what they could have been without the "consoling" of them.

KNOTE
06-15-2006, 01:20 PM
From the interview, it seems he really hates Harvey Smith and isn't closed to talk about that

Most unlikely, considering that Harvey Smith is also on the EA Spielberg team.

Good interview, keep em coming! I love these candid talks with developers. Also, Borys, I agree with you. The last 2 Ion Storm games should have been two different skus... just a terrible decision that ended up destroying the studio. So sad because Thief and Deus Ex were two of the more promising and original worlds/concepts out there. Their failure no doubt led to Eidos collapsing and being acquired by SCI.

kathode
06-15-2006, 02:48 PM
Harvey Smith works at Midway, not EA.

LogainAblar
06-15-2006, 02:54 PM
Just ignore Borys when he gets like this. He's worse than any console fanboy.

Noted for future reference.

Sadly, he does have a point, though life certainly does go on.

Liquidize105
06-15-2006, 04:42 PM
I'm beat, dead tired.

I'll post the 2nd part during peak hours tomorrow, folks.

And I got a special update up my sleeves for next week. It's related.

Liquidize105
06-16-2006, 07:29 PM
I'm delaying it again, sorry guys.

This next part of the interview is just so good that I just have to get some clarification on certain things.

Draft
06-16-2006, 07:33 PM
Cocktease bump. Lame total.

Liquidize105
06-16-2006, 07:44 PM
Cynical as ever, Draft.

Draft
06-16-2006, 07:50 PM
dont post again w/o 2nd half plzthx.

mightbe
06-16-2006, 09:03 PM
Bwargh! Mightbe need 2nd half!

KNOTE
06-17-2006, 12:40 AM
Harvey Smith works at Midway, not EA.

Ah yes, thanks for the correction. Doug Church is the guy I was thinking of.

Nikells
06-17-2006, 01:07 AM
']Thanks for that, it was an intresting read.... its a DAMN shame nothing in the style of the thief games are planned
Assassins creed?

Spigot
06-17-2006, 06:10 AM
Assassins creed?
I thought Assassin's Creed was more of an action/Hitman type game than a Thief style sneaker.

bean19
06-17-2006, 08:22 AM
Very nice interview. :)