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Old 06-18-2006, 11:07 AM   #1
Liquidize105
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[Live Interview] Randy Smith - Thief series - Part 2

A Look Into the Future of Stealth With Randy Smith
6/18/2006
Jonathan S. "Liquidize105"


Randy: Hi Jonathan, what's up?

Jonathan: What’s happening, how's work?

Randy: Good, good.

Jonathan: Doug Church, Steven Spielberg, you; what are you fellows making?

Randy: Heh. As if.

Can't talk about my current project AT ALL, sorry.
Jonathan: That's okay. Let's talk about this year's E3 and the evolution of stealth games.

Jonathan: Did you see the new Splinter Cell (Double Agent) or Assassin's Creed?

Randy: I saw Assassin's Creed, didn't see Splinter Cell. I worked for a couple months in the office where both of those games are made.

Jonathan: What did you do there?

Randy: I was a design consultant on another project, Open Season, which will be released this fall. It was at E3 as well.

Jonathan: Hmm, doesn't ring a bell, what is it?

Randy: It's a children's game based on an animated feature film by Sony Pictures. You play a bear named Boog who has a sidekick deer named Elliott. You sneak up on hunters and scare them.

Jonathan: Cute

So what do you think? Stealth is abandoning the shadows and coming into the light.

Randy: Stealth gameplay is certainly being interpreted in lots of new ways, which is cool. A lot of them involve more immediate, action-y gameplay, such as Assassin's Creed's emphasis on disguise and movement; seems like good evolution to me.

Obviously, I would hate to lose the slow-paced strategic avoidance like in the Thief series, but I think it's great that stealth can mean many different things.

Jonathan: Social stealth they call it, very exciting prospect.

Randy: Yup

Jonathan: You know, originally I figured it would hit a higher plateau first before unraveling into other forms.

Randy: Maybe this is part of the route towards hitting a higher plateau.

Jonathan: I’m referring to the evolutionary next step to standing in a patch of darkness, a truly 3-dimensional type of shadow-hugging.

Randy: Well, there are plenty of things we could have done to make the stealth in thief higher fidelity.

For example, it probably wouldn't have been impossible for A.I. to detect silhouettes - when the player is in darkness but framed by a bright light, for example.

Jonathan: Exactly, or when the player is framed by a back wall that reflects light.

Randy: However, the greater challenge we kept bumping up against was how to get the player to understand why they were caught or detecting in the first place.

Even lower fidelity stealth seemed to confound players, which makes sense - a guard from across the room can see you when you are looking the other way, and it feels like the game cheated.

So adding more ways to get caught didn't seem like a smart direction to go in unless we could do a better job solving more ways to feed that back to the player and give the player even more tools for hiding.

Jonathan: That’s a good point.

Which came first, the setting or the mechanics?

Randy: Both were in place by the time I started thief 1, so I'm not entirely sure. I'm sure they evolved about the same time in relation to each other. I would guess the basic mechanics came first and suggested a type of setting that would best leverage them.

Jonathan: That'd be my guess too.

On top of that, there really aren't a lot of places to go with shadowy-type games without stretching reality a bit (a la Splinter Cell).

I mean, since the invention of the electric light, the modern era's been kind of off-limits.

There's also the matter of technology: Social stealth wouldn't be a viable option a few years ago, so in that sense, the Graphic Next-Generation is really nothing to sneeze at.

Randy: Yeah, it's definitely the case that as technology evolves and allows us to render and simulate more and better characters and environments, it opens up new possibilities for gameplay across the board. It will be interesting to see how developers take advantage of this next gen.
Jonathan: A while back, Roger Ebert declared that videogames are "inherently inferior" to the cinemas.

Jonathan: I'd have to agree for the time being. It's the whole story-gameplay thing where they don't seem to coalesce as well as they should.

What aspects of the interactive entertainment do you think are potentially superior to films, in the years to come?

Randy: I don't know about superior, exactly, but the two media are very distinct. I tend to think that all art, media, and expressions serve the larger goal of communicating shared experience, of answering the most important questions of individual existence, such as: How should I live my life?

I'm paraphrasing Robert McKee a little bit, here.

Film / the moving picture does this well when it presents a fixed narrative in which relatable characters struggle in situations of value crisis... What should they do? You relate to them across the screen boundary and agonize with them as they exhibit repeated failures until they finally get it right, and you're relieved with them.

That doesn't work in games, because of the interactive nature of the experience. It is an approach that is tried and true for film, but not for interactive art.

Jonathan: I’m right there with you.

Randy: Pursuing those well-trod paths is one of the pitfalls our medium seems to be experiencing, in my opinion.

But interactivity is the distinctive feature of games, and it fundamentally changes how players relate.

Suddenly you are not empathizing with a character you have no control over, you are connecting with a character that you DO control. Every success and failure, every correct and flawed value judgment is your OWN, not something to agonize about remotely.

Audiences LIKE to watch characters on screen struggle and fail, but when they are at the controls they are strictly driven to SUCCEED.

So far, anyway; there hasn't been a lot of success in making games where the player is supposed to role play to the point of playing along with deliberate failures.

So the tactic we should be taking, I believe, is not to force the player through agonizing decisions and failures and value judgments, but rather to allow to player to explore a range of possibility along various axes of values and express themselves in that space - to express CONCLUSIONS about how to live one's life, rather than watch someone else struggle with the issues.

Game designers fundamentally are there to create possibility spaces, and that's where our "message" comes through - not in a static story, but in how we set up the possibility space - what are the rules of this world?

So for example, I can make a game where if you love and trust, you get kicked to the curb, and the player could express themselves within the limits of that space, and that would be an educational experience for the player at the same time as being some dark and gloomy statement by me, the designer. It’d be just like a dark and gloomy film could depict the same type of thing.

Of course, there isn't a lot of work along these lines going on in games today, mostly games are still about driving and shooting and so on. But I think that's likely to change eventually.
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Old 06-18-2006, 11:07 AM   #2
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Jonathan: What about convincing feedback? In creating authentic interactivity between the user and the game space itself, how would you instill the player with whatever situations that you've concocted as a designer without that aspect of genuine feedback?

Jonathan: An expression is only an expression if there's a corresponding reaction.

Randy: Clearly, a big challenge in achieving more personal goals in games is being able to simulate things that are more important to people's real lives: characters, emotions, that sort of thing. Rather than cars and guns and health points and monsters, those are things for which we do feedback quite well.

I’m not sure if we can't do the other stuff because it's so much harder or whether it's because there is a perceived lack of marketability or what.

Randy: Still games which have even touched on these concepts marginally have really resonated with people: The Sims, ICO, and Half-Life 2. There is clearly progress to be made.

Jonathan: Too many games are about terminating the means of communicating with the bigger issues - through killing everybody.

Have you ever tried to shoot everyone on sight in a game like Deus Ex? It felt completely wrong.

Randy: That's a good observation. Something must be going on in Deus Ex which discourages that kind of violence. Hopefully that something relates to an emotional reaction on the part of the player.
Jonathan: Going back to an earlier point about how players are driven to succeed, that pertains to the framework of gameplay and narrative.

Jonathan: Does the player absolutely must to be the main character?

Randy: No, definitely not. But the player has to be the interactive character, assuming the idea of "character" even exists in the game.

Jonathan: What if you impose the importance of succeeding at tasks assigned by the story on an non-player character?

I mean, it doesn't have to be a hierarchical progression, like how would you lend credence to player action without putting too much emphasis on the end result, intermittent feedback perhaps?

Look at Thief, the risk and reward model is fundamentally different from any other games of its genre. In reference to the fact that every move he makes is considered to be part of the gameplay, the Thief doesn’t get stronger apart from the player getting wiser.

Randy: Sure, so what you're saying is that if the player doesn't control the main character, how do you keep them from upstaging whoever the main character is? I guess it depends on how you define main character.

The players are always going to be more invested in their own actions, but maybe they don't have a traditional character arc during the game the same way a main character would, for example.

Jonathan: I was referring to the non-gameplay mixed in with the gameplay. It's a gameplay potency question.

On the subject of player-involvement: We aren’t invested in our own actions insofar as the repetition of the act of shooting and hacking is concerned. Those are meaningless acts in a narrative context.

Randy: Well, I would say that nothing is entirely meaningless. However, again it comes back to the idea of putting more emotional content into game systems, rather than hacking and shooting.

Jonathan: Thief did a good job of bringing story and gameplay closer to each other on a gameplay level (and Deus Ex on a narrative level), and that sort of gave a sense of validity to what is otherwise pretty boring act of legging from point A to B to C.

Randy: What Thief did well was make the player's gameplay actions feel very appropriate within the context of the story - all the slinking around in shadows, and lock-picking, and knocking guys out seemed to feel just like you'd expect a day in Garrett's life to go, given the background story.

Jonathan: The risk/reward model compels the player to explore the environment. Underneath that, the gameplay supplements the exploration. The story dynamically unfolds within the context of the gameplay. The objective is its own reward (phat loot!), which sets itself apart from the basic gameplay and creates a variety of approaches. It's like a ball of cabbage - one layer wraps around another, and another...

This is interesting stuff. Did any of this happen by chance?

Randy: No, we made pretty deliberate decisions about player involvement and how the gameplay and fiction relate to each other.

Deus Ex was a more dramatic story with less player involvement. Thief had a lot of player involvement but the story was less dramatic, as it was an emergent narrative.
Jonathan: What is Steven Spielberg trying to accomplish with this game EA Los Angeles is working on?

Randy: Like I said, I'm not talking about my current project.

Jonathan: I have nothing specific in mind, actually. What’s the ideology behind the project?

Randy: Sorry, no comment.

Jonathan: Why EA?

Randy: What do you mean?

Jonathan: Of all the publishers, why choose Electronic Arts?

Randy: No comment.

Jonathan: Is there anything that you'd like to say?

Randy: Just thanks for your time and interest! I hope this article comes out well.

Jonathan: Thanks, Randy.

Randy: You're welcome, have a good night!


Resources:









Come back next week for an interview on the other controversial sequel from ION Storm Austin
You know the one I'm talking about
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Old 06-18-2006, 11:41 AM   #3
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Jonathan: Of all the publishers, why Electronic Arts?

Randy: No comment.
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Old 06-18-2006, 12:20 PM   #4
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Great interview.

And nice one, Draft.

An EA game with Spielberg is almost certainly going to be WWII based, but with Randy Smith it will also almost certainly be stealth. As sick as I am of WWII games, I think a game about a spy deeply inserted within enemy organisations would have a lot of potential.
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Old 06-18-2006, 12:35 PM   #5
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Why WWII? Cus of the saving private ryan and metal of honor connection? I do hope it's something refreshing!

Incidentally, the next Brother in Arms has squad-sneaking tossed in with WW2. And a spy infiltrating enemy organization would be Splinter Cell Double Agent.
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Old 06-18-2006, 02:04 PM   #6
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Is the next interview you suggest with Randy as well ?

Hope it won't be delayed like this one !
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Old 06-18-2006, 05:04 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sTubbs
Great interview.

And nice one, Draft.

An EA game with Spielberg is almost certainly going to be WWII based, but with Randy Smith it will also almost certainly be stealth. As sick as I am of WWII games, I think a game about a spy deeply inserted within enemy organisations would have a lot of potential.
This may possibly be far too touchy an issue, but what if it were about the Holocaust? Imagine a game about being Jewish in Germany during WWII and having to keep your family alive, or escape. Or to be a German harboring a group of Jews.

It's possibly too serious a subject to be touched on by games, but you can't deny that it could an amazing topic that would touch people in ways a game never has before.
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Old 06-18-2006, 09:25 PM   #8
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That was a great interview...

It is interesting where the stealth genre is heading...but it doesn't look like it's being implemented as well as it could. For example, and EA game. Yeah sounds bad, but I think you know what I mean.
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Old 06-19-2006, 06:36 AM   #9
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Currently Speilberg is filming Indiana Jones 4, so it would be much more likly to be a Indy game than WWII, but with Stealth involved I can only hope it is the Crown Jewel of Games, System Shock 3.
Since Speilberg is more fully in control of his productions than almost any other director/producer, it could actually turn out very good.

Saying that an EA game could be good is of course a oxymoron at this point, though Speilberg could give them creditability if he can keep their grubby asinine hands off.
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Old 06-19-2006, 02:38 PM   #10
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Spielberg is also working on a Abraham Lincoln movie w/ Liam Neeson. So if we're gonna touch the taboo with a Holocaust sneaker, why not a John Wilkes Booth sneaker? Early secret service? (though it wasn't formally established until a few months after Lincoln's assassination). That could be interesting.
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Old 06-19-2006, 04:09 PM   #11
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I agree this was a very good article, thanks to Jonathan and Randy.

I pressed Post too soon and my edit button was not showing up on my orginal post to thank you for the article orginally, doh!
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Old 06-19-2006, 05:38 PM   #12
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Sorry, but I feel the urge to give some constructive criticism.

First, the good stuff: Nice work about getting this interview. Never visited the site before now, but it certainly caught my interest, and was mostly nicely put. Especially liked the clarifications in part 1 about what happened during the final hours of Thief 3.

However, I feel that it would have been better if you made clearer what parts were Randy speaking and what parts were yourself. Some parts in this latter part of the interview are coloured blue when you (Jonathan) speak, while others are white. Am I misinterpreting something, or are these simply inconsistent?

Furthermore, I think it's a rule of thumb not to let the interviewer get in the way of the person being interviewed. Your overly long and complicated explanations in front of the actual questions weren't only a bit hard to get, they were also often irrelevant for this interview. I'm sorry, and no hard feelings, but I didn't turn up to read your thoughts on the Thief series, I was mostly interested in his comments.

It's not that an article about the series from your hand couldn't be worthwhile, it's more that I feel in an interview, it's best to keep the questions short and to-the-point, and place main emphasis on the answers only. See just about every Edge interview ever written for example.
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Old 06-19-2006, 10:20 PM   #13
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What you want is a stock Q&A, and that's not something that I do.

The gray highlight and the indent are to indicate a relevent arc of back-n-forth dialogue, and every comment is marked by the name of the speaker. In order to give it breath, I didn't lump all the sentences together. This could be confusing for some, I guess.
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Old 06-20-2006, 02:35 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Liquidize105
What you want is a stock Q&A, and that's not something that I do.
You could call it that if you wish. I wouldn't though: I'd say what I want is readability. With long comments of your own often placed between Randy's, it's harder to tell them apart, and as I said, in this case I think Randy's thoughts are more relevant to the article. It's an interview after all.

By all means, do write intelligent and interesting questions. A so-called "stock Q&A" sounds like a bad interview in my ears. However, it shouldn't be necessary to use three paragraphs to get to the point, like this:

Quote:
Jonathan: What if you impose the importance of succeeding at tasks assigned by the story on an non-player character?

I mean, it doesn't have to be a hierarchical progression, like how would you lend credence to player action without putting too much emphasis on the end result, intermittent feedback perhaps?

Look at Thief, the risk and reward model is fundamentally different from any other games of its genre. In reference to the fact that every move he makes is considered to be part of the gameplay, the Thief doesn’t get stronger apart from the player getting wiser.
You're also exposing yourself with parts like this:

Quote:
Jonathan: I was referring to the non-gameplay mixed in with the gameplay. It's a gameplay potency question.

On the subject of player-involvement: We aren’t invested in our own actions insofar as the repetition of the act of shooting and hacking is concerned. Those are meaningless acts in a narrative context.
I don't know, maybe I'm being overly critical here, but it seems to me you try to be too clever about it. How did you come to the conclusion that shooting and hacking are meaningless in a narrative context? To me, it reads a bit like you're trying to teach Randy some gameplay "truths", which just comes across as a bit arrogant, considering this guy seems to know his concepts extremely well.

That said, most of the interview is nice and well written, and I did like the open and dialogue-like style. I just feel it could be an easier and more focused read at times.
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Old 06-20-2006, 04:21 PM   #15
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Because shooting and hacking are meaningless in a narrative context. A game where NPCs react to the player for killing X number of enemies differently, and have visible consequences on a narrative level - Deus Ex is the only one. Every other game where you behave like a mass murderer, it's condoned. In fact, that's all the gameplay amounts to, is to kill. I've been killing for years now, I'm tired of killing just for the sake of defeating "enemies."

Randy's a chum. EALA is in a real position to create something unique, and I expect great things from them in the future.

As for the rest, feel free to interpret.
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Old 06-20-2006, 11:21 PM   #16
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"have visible consequences on a narrative level - Deus Ex is the only one."

Well I am not sure what criteria you are using for this, but I will say that from what I can tell about what you are saying, then you have left out Bloodlines.
You are most definalty treated differently by words and actions from not only the NPCs but also the game mechaincs as well.
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Old 06-21-2006, 10:11 AM   #17
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I got as far as the Santa Monica pier in Bloodlines, the performance was atrocious on my setup. Tell me about it in details, how did Troika handle "player impact on story via gameplay" in Bloodlines? I'd imagine it to be somewhat different.

Anyway, the interview is a little different this time. Whereas before I'd interview developers on as of yet released games, this time I'm revisiting a released game (of 2 years no less). Particularly the 2nd part requires that you've played the game itself and have a rudimentary grasp of the underlying clockwork for the whole ball of wax, the works.

I'd explain the Thief formula in details later and why it's genius, if anyone wants to learn more about it.
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Old 06-22-2006, 02:54 AM   #18
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"Tell me about it in details, how did Troika handle "player impact on story"

Well you lose Humanity (for killing innocents) and are punished with Masquerade violations when breaking the Masquerade.
Now this behavior is tracked so say, if you slaughter a group of innocents on a mission and assuming you violate the Masquerade as well, you are verbally threatened with death by Elders, you lose valuable xp, you lose rewards, which can range from incredibly immaculate Havens (certainly for a Fledging anyway) of course cash and you are stalked by Hunters, also, if you are cruel to NPCs you will lose missions, equipment and dialogues.
The more you violate the worst it gets until you lose control of the game as a frenzied Beast or overwhelmed by Hunters

It is still one of the best RPGs currently out, certainly flawed but understandably so after the Valve fiasco and subsequent behavior of Activision, between KotOR2 and Bloodlines a couple of years ago not many if any real RPGs have surfaced, afaik.
I realize some consider Oblivion a RPG but I just don't see how, a very good action game yes, but RPG, err not.

I have been testing the Unofficial Patches since the beginning and am testing files for the 2.5 release currently for Wesp.
I would prefer you get some feedback from some people you can count on as reliable and try it again for yourself, if you are a RPG fan and/or a fan of Vampires.
You certainly would need to use the Official patch 1.2 first then the Unofficial Patch (currently) 2.4, if I give much more detailed info it would be considered spoilers.

I remember when Deus Ex was released it was full of bugs and problems but true fans (sounds like your one) we bitched and moaned but even in it's flawed state we were rewarded with an amazing game, it is also easy for me to see this in Bloodlines.
Like KotOR 2, Bloodlines ending was very rushed and the weakest part of the game, but it is tolerable as are the cutscenes since the Official patch.

I do see what oerhört is saying to a certian degree, I think Randy (seems like a layed back and accessable guy) was overwhemed by to much at one time, though not as if he was dodging since he was answering your tougher questions about the breakup at least in more detail than previous interviews.
Anyway like I said I did like the interview, also.

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Old 06-22-2006, 07:41 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by Acleacius
Well you lose Humanity (for killing innocents) and are punished with Masquerade violations when breaking the Masquerade.
Now this behavior is tracked so say, if you slaughter a group of innocents on a mission and assuming you violate the Masquerade as well, you are verbally threatened with death by Elders, you lose valuable xp, you lose rewards, which can range from incredibly immaculate Havens (certainly for a Fledging anyway) of course cash and you are stalked by Hunters, also, if you are cruel to NPCs you will lose missions, equipment and dialogues.
The more you violate the worst it gets until you lose control of the game as a frenzied Beast or overwhelmed by Hunters
Hmm, that sounds like good-o masquerade, not exactly "player impact on story via gameplay."

I'm a fan of all things vampiric, actually. It's nice that community patches still come out, really speaks to the quality of the fiction and the ... missed potentials of the game.

I'll look into it, thanks for the advice.
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Old 06-22-2006, 07:57 PM   #20
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"Hmm, that sounds like good-o masquerade, not exactly "player impact on story via gameplay.""

Well if you give me an example of what you mean as story related in Deus Ex then if I can give an example without spoilers I will, if you are refering to the 3 different endings, then example Bloodlines has 4, possibly 5 depending on your actions.
So until I am clear on what you mean I would perfer not to guess and give spoilers.
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