Outside Influences: Of Crime And The City

By Adam Smith on March 13th, 2012 at 4:10 pm.

I’ve been visiting various cities recently, which always fill me with confusion and wonder, then Dishonored made me think about how much I miss Looking Glass. Put the two together and this happens. Join me in a meandering word-search for cohesion and theme in the use of the city across Thief, and the selected works of Rockstar and Charles Dickens. Be warned, there are spoilers for all three Thief games.

For the past week I’ve had my brain buried in a book far more often than in a computer game and while that hasn’t led me to tiresomely compare the benefits of one form in comparison to the other, one thing has been niggling at the back of my brain, which is where thoughts tend to fester and rot unless I excavate them and give them form. In the past few weeks, I’ve revisited London several times, sometimes in person sometimes through print, and a great deal of the latter has been due to the Charles Dickens’ bicentenary. Which game, pondered my brain, best encapsulates a place through exaggeration, metaphor and mystery, as Dickens did with grubby old London town and others?

To my mind, Dickens is more often than not ill-served by adaptations of his work. It’s too frequently the case that everything from set design to performance seems based around an agreed-upon interpretation of the works that is costumed in the twee rather than the grimy, uncomfortably amusing and horrific. The trappings of period television don’t well suit the hallucinatory and grotesque vision of progress and the city that is usually the most fascinating part of any Dickens’ novel.

When I think of cities captured in games Grand Theft Auto is close to the front of my mind (which is where thoughts clamour for attention and refuse to be silenced). In fact, it’s not even Grand Theft Auto, it’s Rockstar in general who apply a great deal of effort and skill in attempting to capture the essence of times and places. LA Noire, though developed externally, is both the strongest and strangest example. It’s a game that exists to conjure up the memories of something which all of us have only experienced through film, a construction of artistic and cultural nostalgia that has its roots in a real place with real problems.

However, the recreation is not recreational; it’s a backdrop, much like the superimposed streets and boulevards projected onto a back window during a driving scene in the films noir that were the inspiration for Team Bondi’s adventure throwback. LA Noire is a game about a city that takes place at limited islands of interaction throughout that city rather than truly within it.

As for Grand Theft Auto, the detail of the cities has impressed for a long time, not only in the experience of exploring it on foot or at the wheel, but in the television shows, cabaret and, of course, those radio stations, which are the satirical sound of America echoing back at itself.

There are few games like Grand Theft Auto IV, creations of place so pleasing that I’m content just to walk around and watch the world pretend to go by. I like hearing strangers talk among themselves or to themselves, I like seeing accidents happen and I love the Euphoria engine, which means that brushing against someone at high speed can result in a collapse that is performance art, a slow motion Buster Keaton.

For all the artificial life in them, for all the gags, puns and hours of dialogue, the cities in Grand Theft Auto’s America don’t actually have a language of their own though. They are not statements about time or place, they are mirrors held up to popular culture and, with enough frequency to detract from any meaning of their own, they are quotes, riffs and paraphrased homages. Liberty City, astounding as it can be to exist in for a while, is a compilation tape, or to be as generous as it deserves, it’s a compilation tape spliced with a DJ set of slick remixes, supported by a decent covers band.

Also, if you’ve got enough money to get into the VIP room, it all takes place in a club with a heck of a lightshow.

But what does Grand Theft Auto, any of them, tell me about these cities? That crime takes place in them, that the American dream is not all it’s cracked up to be, that the urban migration is a highway to social decay and depravity, that men like women, drugs and power? Grand Theft Auto has always been a series of narratives with a debt to cinema and television, the very things it so often mocks, and it has little to say about the experiences of its citizens that hasn’t been said elsewhere and, despite the intricate stage on which those players strut their stuff, Rockstar have very little to say about the setting itself. So much of the storytelling is noise rather than meaning.

All of that is an observation rather than a complaint. It may sound like a negative screed but if so, that’s because I realised I was looking for a different approach to City, I wanted a thesis rather than a reconstruction, and that’s how we come back to Dickens.

Read Our Mutual Friend. Actually, if you haven’t already, don’t do it right now because it’s really long. Enormously, intimidatingly long. It’s also brilliant, so do read it, just don’t think you have to stop reading RPS before you’ve finished it. For all I know you don’t even have a copy so you’ll have to go and buy it first. Sit back down, carry on reading this for now.

Dickens’ last completed novel is full of oddities, less social realism and more experimental surrealism, it’s a book in which the Thames seems a living thing, perhaps even a dying thing. It’s a book in which killers are given away by the names they are stuck with, and are so filled with lust and hatred that it becomes manifest and exudes as gouts of blood. In this London, corpses are just more dust and detritus in a world that collects garbage. It’s also very funny, sometimes even while it’s delving through the unnerving dead-ends that bloom up cancerous in every urban sprawl.

Why can’t games allude to this sort of thing rather than Ensemble Crime Film and Latest War Shoot? Oh, but they can and they do it so very well.

Two examples spring to mind, the first of which I don’t need to put any effort into writing about because a wise man already has. Quinns’ dissection of Pathologic sees him pull out all the innards, take a good look at them and scribble down autopsical ravings. While he’s talking about far more than the setting, a town rather than a city here, it’s central to everything: the diseased place, a prison of quarantine, a cluster of cells that must be cut off from the rest.

The other game that I reckon deals with urban themes better than any other is Thief. It takes place in The City, for crying out loud, a place that is so much the ideal of its type it needs no other name. It may well be The City because it is all cities, the good and the bad rolled into one, every extreme from bear-baiting in a beer-stained tavern, dingy and dark, to decadence and luxury, from hard-headed fundamentalism to progressive, philosophical thinking. Magic and metal, steam and sorcery.

There have always been cities like this in our world, the kind that inspire men like Samuel Johnson to proclaim: “…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” I’d modify that to say that “when a man’s bank account becomes tired, London quickly tires of him; for there is in London far more than some lives can afford.” That’s one reason why crime is an inevitability in these warrens, whether real or fictional, because the availability of so much that is conducive to living a good life (any and every sort of good) causes people to feel the lack of what they do not have more sharply than ever.

But it’s not just the inevitability of Garrett’s initial role that makes him compelling, it’s what it allows us to see through his eyes. Here, crime is not an excuse for action, it is a reason to avoid it, but it is a vehicle by which we see the City as it sleeps, pulling back the curtain, peering through the window, learning how people live behind closed doors.

It’s a game for anyone who has ever wondered what happens in the grandest house in town once the lights go out at night. It’s for anyone who has ever seen two men slumped at a hotel bar and wondered what other secrets are contained in such temporary lives. Thief is a game for anyone who has ever walked through a city at night and thought, which parts are still breathing and what does each seclusion contain.

Every alleyway, doorway and chamber has a story to tell and – as with Charles again with Looking Glass – those stories are comedy, tragedy and horror. How rare it is to find a series of games that contains some of the most terrifying moments in the medium alongside some of the funniest dialogue. There are social concerns that find expression in nightmarish exaggeration as well, most notably Karras’ servants, the workshop fodder of The City at first dehumanised, and then used as a weapon against the prosperous and the penniless alike.

The law and religion are powerful forces but they are replaceable, if only by reiterations, and it is the idea of progress itself that is at the heart of things. The final lines of The Dark Project are the finest in any game ever and you’re wrong if you think I’m wrong. Not only do they tell us there will be a sequel, much desired, they also tell us that sequel’s name: The Metal Age. They tell us that getting involved in the bigger picture was, just as Garrett always knew it would be, a colossal mistake. Unavoidable perhaps but all the meddling has only made things worse. Nature defeated, the dawn of the industrial era is truly beginning.

Garrett needs The City, if he didn’t have it he’d be a bandit instead of a thief, a merryman in some Godawful band. The City allows him to lurk in shadows and to survive alone, or at least mostly alone, making it the greatest part of his character. Garrett simply couldn’t be anywhere else.

But by striking a blow against the (super)natural in favour of artifice, he isn’t guaranteeing a future because this is a world, like Dickens’, that fears all progress may be toward ruin. The Metal Age will contain automatons that hunt the shadows, lights without fire and even cameras obscure and threatening. The secret places shrink and a balance is lost with the realisation that cities move forwards, always, but only up until the moment that they break and perhaps the truth is that they break at different times for different people.

Johnson may have believed London could never break for the man of culture, being so full of opportunity, but it was certainly a broken place for Blake’s chimney sweep no matter how sharp the infant intellect. The Metal Age shows the point at which Garrett’s City is on the verge of rejecting him, even though his own body has undergone an Industrial Revolution, his mechanical eye swivelling in the socket, a constant reminder that he is a part of this terrible future.

The railway heralded Dickens’ own Metal Age. He understood that it could be a tool for good, helping the economy and allowing people to travel for friendship, family and a fair wage, but he also feared it. Even before surviving a rail crash, in Dombey and Son he describes a train as devilish:

Away, with a shriek, and a roar, and a rattle, from the town, burrowing among the dwellings of men and making the streets hum…through the fields, through the woods, through the corn, through the hay, through the chalk, through the mould, through the clay, through the rock, among objects close at hand and almost in the grasp, ever flying from the traveller, and a deceitful distance ever moving slowly within him: like as in the track of the remorseless monster, Death!

These metal maggots writhing through England are even more unnatural than the buildings and bridges. There are similarities with the Mechanists, who represent both schism and progress, but also seem impossible at first. Their buildings and machines, like the railway stations, are interruptions to what has become a familiar landscape, great upheavals that seem as out of place as the first villages that scarred the countryside. What starts with a clearing becomes a metropolis and ends with a crater, with certain steps forward so preposterous and destructive that it seems impossible they will ever be accepted.

For me, Deadly Shadows isn’t a wholly fitting part of the Thief series but that’s not because I don’t enjoy playing it, it’s because it doesn’t move forward the idea of The City in the same way that The Metal Age did. That was the character I wanted to see more of and although there are moments of brilliance, there was no real progression. The cyclical story works for Garrett, perhaps, but not for The City. It must grind onwards until it is dust. Let’s see what developments number four holds.

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44 Comments »

  1. webwielder says:

    Thief 3 has the greatest shopkeeps in gaming history. I’d go into shops and just sit there listening to their one-liners.

  2. wodin says:

    Mafia 2 had a beautiful city. Game was OK (nowhere near as good as the first). However they really captured a feeling of the era.

  3. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    I know it’s been discussed to death by this point, but Skyrim did a good job at making each city feel distinct, despite the fact that none of them are large enough to truly be called a city. I’d be curious to know what specific details are most necessary to creating a believable urban environment in a videogame, because clearly size isn’t one of them.

    • Svant says:

      I’d say size is actually important because the cities of oblivion and skyrim don’t feel like cities at all. They hardly even feel like villages especially with the lack of people. AssCreed makes a much better city simulation simply because the cities are huge and have tons of people in them, yes they do not have individual AI and whatnot but would they need that? A city with a few thousand people will contain lots of unimportant uninteresting muppets that are just there to create the feeling of actually being in a real city. Sure AssCreed doesn’t let you enter all the buildings for thievery and shenanigans but IMHO the size and scope of the city is way more important, especially since most of those houses would be completely and utterly uninteresting for a thief anyway.

      • Hidden_7 says:

        This has been something of a dream game for me for awhile. Take a Bethesda style game/approach, but rather than simulating a whole province, just make it one city. Same size of game world, but it is one city, and MAYBE a bit of surrounding environs. You could do a replication of one of the cities from Assassin’s Creed and have almost every building enterable, and it wouldn’t be anymore actual content than those (admittedly large) games.

        I don’t know why someone hasn’t done this yet. The GTA games make interesting cities, but then what you’re doing in them doesn’t have enough fidelity to really hold my interest. I don’t want to whip through the streets at 100k/ph (well sometimes I do) I want to wander the streets of a local neighbourhood, enter a bar, pick up a quest from one of the regulars there, which rather than taking me to a cave on the other side of the province, takes me to a warehouse or an office building or a museum or arena or any number of buildings across town. Game like that I would pay $100 for if they got it right.

        • Ruffian says:

          This would be sooooo badass, but in reality man…idk. I mean just think for a second about how many interior spaces there would be in a real sized city, if you tried to create like literally every one, or even close to it. It would have to be an insane amount of data, surely. It would be the coolest thing ever for sure, i just think we’re still a long way off from seeing anyone attempt anything that big in a game.

          • Hidden_7 says:

            There are five hundred interiors in Skyrim. I’m not talking about replicating a real city. I’m not even talking about taking something the size of Liberty City from GTA4 and making it all enterable. I’m talking about taking the amount of content in a game Skyrim sized, and putting all of it toward one city, rendering it with the same fidelity as those sorts of games.

            Take a city the size of say, Venice from AC2, and that’s your game, and just fill that in with as much detail as you can. Maybe only every second building can be entered. Maybe only every third. Maybe every fifth. However much content would be in the standard game that size.

            Fallout 3 is almost that, in that it’s just DC. Except that a lot of the world space is dedicated to the outer more suburban bits, and it’s all so ruined it doesn’t feel as much like a city, more like the typical wilderness/small villages of most of Bethesda’s games.

            Basically, make Fallout 3, but a living city. Use whatever tricks Assassin’s Creed does to fill its cities with crowds of nobodies. I’m pretty sure the ability to make a game like this exists now, it’s just a matter of directing resources. I know people have, or a pretty close to, making software to help procedurally create cityscapes. Games with this level of content exist. Games that accurately render cityscapes and crowds exist, and run on sensible hardware. The pieces are all there, it’s just a matter of putting them together.

        • Roxton says:

          A game almost exactly like this has been sitting in my “To Develop” box for years – I was planning on doing a pseudo-realistic version of a small part of London. It would just be a monumental effort – something I couldn’t do without a huge team and a lot of time and money.

  4. webwielder says:

    My hopes for Thief 4 were diminished last night as I played the endgame of Deus Ex 3. Eidos did a great job of capturing the gameplay and atmosphere of Deus Ex, but the writing, while certainly not “bad” (well, some of it was), had none of the weird, interesting complexity of the first two games. Garrett’s cynical monologues and overall character are a big part of the appeal of Thief to me, and if they don’t nail that, it will be a lesser game. I’m sure it’ll stick kick ass, though.

    Side note, was anyone else put off by the “real world” footage in the DX3 endings? I hate it when games do that (Enslaved comes to mind). It’s just totally incongruous with the world that exists inside the game.

    • Dodger says:

      Why yes, I was as well.

      http://www.aflatham.com/

      • webwielder says:

        Dodger, link doesn’t work.

      • Ruffian says:

        Yeah that was dumb. I was honestly more put off by the buttons though, it was just like ok, so I’ve been playing this game making mostly these certain kinds of decisions for what now? They should’ve just attached different endings to how you played the game, for real. And if they really wanted to take it over the top like badasses (like they should have) they should’ve made those damned buttons into three separate missions.

    • Skeletor68 says:

      I just finished it not two days ago and have to agree. After building up the importance of your decisions to dizzying heights, listening to the ideologies of each person it was underwhelming to finish with a monologue that didn’t really give a sense of how it ends and directly impacts the world. It reminded me of the Secret Project movies in Alpha Centauri, which I felt worked really well but here they definitely broke the immersion for me. As an aside, I felt that the game was fun and Denton was a great character but the final third loses cohesion. That final boss fight was a mess.

      With regards to cities in Deus Ex I thought Heng Sha worked quite well. The increased verticality, narrow streets and grimy feeling made it seem more realistic.

      I also like the urban hubs in Vampire: Masquerade. The wandering NPCs can be a little jarring but it does seem like a random city at 1 in the morning. Music really helped.

  5. Blackcompany says:

    Someone’s been reading China Mieville again. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
    .
    Some of the greatest stories of our time tell the story not only of a person or group of people, but of a place. A place so profound, so important, so unique, that long after we begin to forget the names of characters, we will remember the places in which they lived and struggled and died.
    .
    China Mieville’s New Crobuzon is one such “place.” In Neverwhere, Gaiman really brought to life a dark parallel to our own world which made place as important as the characters in it. Often more so. That world itself was alive, in a way. Stephen King’s Mid World; and in games, Bastion’s crumbling remnant of a dying world. These places, in and of themselves, evoke strong emotions, invite the curious to speculate in regards to their mysteries and draw us in to investigate their every nook and cranny.
    .
    Such places as these take on a life of their own. They matter in a way that is usually only reserved for characters in a story. Because they are of themselves characters, with their own stories to tell, and their own impact on the Story we are involved in. Would the Perpetual Railroad matter without the insatiable appetites of New Crubozon? Would Richard even be interesting without Stumbling into the Darkness beneath London (no, as Gaiman took such pains to belabor early in the tale.)
    .
    Its a pity game devs cannot take a lesson from this. Learn that location should matter, as opposed to simply serving as a backdrop.
    .
    Take Skyrim: With Darker nights and dungeons, hypothermia, some tougher, smarter enemies, better snowstorms and dynamic time, the world comes alive. Careful about traveling too far at one go. Don’t want to get caught in the rain without a fire, or stuck for long periods in a snow storm. And darkness? yeah…best have a light, because you really don’t want to venture out alone after dark without one. Lest you wander off a cliff. And besides, its colder at night, easier to get hypothermia that way, too.
    .
    With but a few mods, Skyrim the place matters as much as, if not more than, the characters in it. The quest becomes as much one of survival against harsh odds as it does conquering every threat on one’s way to (the now inevitable) storybook riches inherent in modern “role playing” games. Pity devs don’t put more emphasis on location, because with just a little work, it can bring a world alive for the player.

  6. deejayem says:

    Fantastic piece, Adam!

    I think Dickens has a wonderful ability to cut to the paradox of city life, which is the alienation you can feel in the midst of densely populated areas. Often Dickens’ characters are lost in familiar surroundings, or plunged into alien worlds that are only yards away from their homes. Duck down an alley in an affluent neighbourhood and suddenly find yourself in a slum. The City in Thief really gets that – part of what makes Garrett so interesting is that he moves through high and low society without really being part of either. The cities in Deus Ex get it too, I think. That transition from New York to Hong Kong blows me away every time I play.

  7. webwielder says:

    Regarding LA Noire’s Los Angeles, I shall quote the esteemed R. Cobbett:

    Even the game’s most important character, the city of Los Angeles itself, doesn’t pull its weight. This place simply has no atmosphere. It has period buildings and fedoras, but the actual place feels like it rolled straight off a production line. It doesn’t feel dangerous. It doesn’t feel broody. It feels like walking around a Universal Studios backlot. These are meant to be the mean streets down which a man must walk? Please. I’ve been more intimidated going Christmas shopping in Norwich.

  8. McCool says:

    Firstly: this is exactly the sort of article I fell in love with RPS for. Please, more like this.

    Secondly: Adam Smith, you continue to impress. You are my favourite Adam Smith.

    Thirdly: I think this article comes really close to the heart of the problem, but shys away at the end. The difference between GTA and Thief – and it is a Dickensian one, is precisely the level of scope. Though Dickens did paint London in his novels, he did it in dioramas, small, enclosed worlds, with their own internal logic, characters and contradictions. To show a city like Victorian London as a place in which a character can pass through from Westminster to Whitechapel seamlessly is to do it a dishonour. The fact that this was possible is irrelevant.

    The key insight is that people’s worlds, even in great cities, are built of a number of streets – the hub of their local market, the linear route from work to home. Hong Kong in Won Kar Wai’s Chung King Express is possibly the best example of this. Only a tourist would move from the richest quarter of the city to the poorest – if we are telling the story of a certain district, or a certain character, it should not even be an option. Here we can see Assassin’s Creed for who it makes us; an alien, outsider to the city, using its architecture and shape against its very institution. The figure of the assassin in those games is no different from the figure of the player. Neither is at all connected to the city – we swim over it, we use it as a playpark.

    To really get to grips with a City, you need a little of the macro and the micro. The micro served as it is in Thief, the macro via the sublime pageant of strangers, faces you will never see again, by smog, by rooftops that go on for miles. To be in a city is to be lost, and found at precisely the same time – in people.

    That transition, from poor to rich, from incompatible universes that nevertheless make up the exact dialectic that is the city – they have to be powerful. Vaulting walls, sneaking past well-armed guards, jumping inside a high, opened window. The aesthetics in the mundane sense isn’t important, what is vital is the gaming aesthetic. GTA IV did capture this, with the first great drive over that bridge. The disconnect, or more the connection itself, should be a little terrifying.

    • Johnny Lizard says:

      I’d like to echo everyone else saying what a great piece this is.

      It’s noticeable that Deadly Shadows is the only Thief game that pretends to any kind of open world, and it’s arguably the least satisfying rendition of the City, although I’d argue that this is because the accessible city area in Deadly Shadows is so small, a problem not helped by the Unreal engine, which forces mid-level loading choke-points in a manner that’s wholly unsuited to the game. (Bioshock had a similar problem.)

      By contrast, in the earlier titles the space of the city owes more to imaginative effort on the part of the player, which is closer to the way we relate to the cities we live in.

    • Oozo says:

      Just wanted to add to the chorus: Great piece, Adam.

      But also a very insightful comment by McCool. How to get places – not only cities, but also towns and villages – right in games is something I have been thinking about a lot lately, and that mix of the macro and the micro was also what I found to be sorely missing in most games.

      But the thought that by taking off all boundaries, you’re making the player and PC into a tourist, is a very fine thought. You certainly are onto something there.

  9. equatorian says:

    This is one of the best pieces of writing RPS has came up with yet. Slow applause, sir. As a lover of settings and strange, byzantine urban locales vaguely reminiscent of London in particular (I tend to choose books/games/whatever from settings more often than not), I found a lot to love and agree with in this article. So I’m biased, yes.

    Like others said above, I’d say Skyrim does a good job of conveying its sense of place, too, although its cities tend to be relatively small. To that, I’d also add Morrowind and to a lesser extent Sigil in Planescape. Oblivion aside, Bethesda is generally terrific at letting the environment tells its own story, and Planescape is Planescape, although neither are quite like Dickens. And does not Bioshock provide a rather wonderful city, despite being a ruined one, for manshoots? I thought that Rapture kind of evoked a Dickensian thing itself. And there’s Metro 2033, kind of, when you just walk around the environment and look at things.

    I really am hoping that Dishonored ends up evoking something of this. It’s something that I dearly love, and would like to see more of in gaming.

    On the other hand, you’ve convinced me to dig up Thief, grab the sequels and finally play through the series. I left off halfway through the first one years ago, which….er, may be a sacrilegious decision? which will be remedied.

    • field_studies says:

      I agree — this is the sort of piece that I come to RPS for.
      It also inspired an odd thought: looking back, something about the pacing / vignette-structure of A Tale of Two Cities suddenly feels very video-game-like to me. (Perhaps a little like Assassin’s Creed but with more guillotines and less wrist-blades.) …something about the way the book transports you to each location and ensemble cast just long enough to accomplish the next quest / plot point seems to presage a particular kind of game-play sensation.

      I’m also newly intrigued by Thief, never having played a minute of it. So maybe-dumb-question: is only the first one available on Steam? I have some vague notion that they used numerical spelling in that series, but ‘thi3f’ doesn’t turn up anything… nor “2hief”… “thrief”?

      • Johnny Lizard says:

        The first two are on GOG, the third is on Steam. They’re definitely best played in the right order. And the numerical spelling threatens to start with Thie4, or possibly Thi4f.

        (Edited to add: Deadly Shadows is the third one, which the Steam page doesn’t make clear. The Dark Project is the first one.)

  10. Piip says:

    A really good piece! I have been making some of the same observations myself about the importance of the world as a character. I actually think many game developers have made the same observations that you have (I feel I can say that being an ex-developer myself – I did world building). The question is, how exactly do you go about it to make something as complex as this come alive? I think this is where we can start pulling in the world “art” to describe the instances when it’s as masterfully done as it is in Thief.

    Another element to consider: I think it also matters much how much time you spend in these worlds. Looking at Tolkien, Dickens, the Elder Scroll titles, Planescape etc. – they all have in common that you invest large portions of your life in their worlds – and that investment itself makes them more real. This is of course also part of the magic of MMOs, from UO to WoW. Blizzard seemed to be very much aware of the importance of “time spent in place” when they changed the old world with Cataclysm.

    I could ramble on about how place and spatial experiences shape the way we think, about the functions of churches Etc., but that would get far too long. I’d just like to end it by recommending anyone who enjoys a well created world to check of the works of Moebius (Jean Giraud) – if you haven’t already.

  11. Casimir's Blake says:

    Very pleased to see coverage of Thief here at RPS. Looking Glass are sorely missed. Arkane are the only major developer (GSC with Stalker might also count) bothering to make immersive, simulatory first person “not-pure-shooter” type games any more. So reflecting upon some of the greatest, most gifted and creative developers – Looking Glass – is certainly a worthwhile way to pass time.

    I will say that Deus Ex Human Revolution gave me some small hope that Thief 4 wouldn’t be entirely rubbish. Same with From Software possibly considering a return to the King’s Field series along with a PC version of Dark Souls. God, I’m sick of empty, linear and pointless sandbox third-person games…

  12. chesh says:

    Bravo, Mr Smith, bravo.
    RPS needs more of this and less single-paragraph-and-a-trailer, though I suppose it’s the ad revenue on the latter that pays for the former.
    I am dearly hoping that Dishonored is a worthy follow-up to this sort of thing.

  13. AndrewC says:

    Marvellous stuff!

  14. Fumarole says:

    That video of Niko amused me far more than it should have. A fine example of the world’s worst parkour.

  15. LennyLeonardo says:

    Not sure if it’s entirely relevant, but I did feel that Adam was tiptoeing around (for obvious reasons) Red Dead Redemption.

    To my mind that game conjoured a sense of place (and time) better than any other I’ve played, to the extent where I could lose hours just walking around, as opposed to GTA, where the impulse to test the simulation was irresistable after only a few minutes of strolling.

    RDR also told the story of a place in decline, the Frontier being literally and symbolically a way of life, now under threat from progress. Telegraph wires, railroads, and automobiles, and the control these afforded the government over the dying Old West, were the “Metal Age” there, and the story of John Marston is one of the horror of a new age, in spite of, or because of, its amenities.

    Uh, yeah. Yeah, that’s right.

    • webwielder says:

      Agree about RDR being the best ‘environment’ I’ve ever played in. Those campfires encircled by weary travelers were such a treat after a long night of riding.

  16. DocSeuss says:

    A) Enjoyed the article a great deal.

    B) Somehow took away from it the idea that first person games always make the best worlds, presumably because they are the only actually immersive game out there (by virtue of you actually being your player character), which means that a great deal of attention in the game must be played to the space itself (STALKER, Pathologic, Thief, etc). First-person games really are fantastic. They deserve much more love than they get.

    C) Playing Thief for the first time right now. Just got into the Bonehoard. How is something this old so good looking? I had just started up a playthrough of Unreal as well and had the same feeling upon leaving the Vortex Rikers.

    D) “The final lines of The Dark Project are the finest in any game ever and you’re wrong if you think I’m wrong.”

    I’m wrong, then, and I don’t want to be right.

    There is a great deal of beauty in Marathon: Infinity’s final words. It is there that Durandal, the mad AI who sought to be a god, finally understood his place in the universe. Tormented by rampancy for so long, he finally found peace.http://marathon.bungie.org/story/mifinalscreen.html

    Plus, it’s metatextual brilliance. The universe he sought to escape was the game itself, and you, by bringing the game to a close, was its destiny. Awesome stuff.

    Marathon Infinity is, in my estimation, the best-written video game of all time. The only things that have come CLOSE are, so far, System Shock 2 and Thief. You all should play it. It’s open source.

  17. Ruffian says:

    Thumbs up x a big number.

  18. blind_boy_grunt says:

    great, great article. And as others have said this is what drew me to rps in the first place. People who think about games too much and are not only able to write down what they are thinking in a coherent but compelling way. This said, about the only thing i took away from this article is the urge to play a game set in a city that is trying to kill you (the city not the people in it).

  19. Buttless Boy says:

    I haven’t played the Thief games (scared of the dark as a kid and now they won’t run on my computer), but what about Bioshock? I just started re-playing the first one, and was surprised by how much I loved the city of Rapture as a setting. The rest of the game isn’t that great, but Rapture is phenomenal.

    • Contrafibularity says:

      Both of the first Thief games run perfectly on modern computers, very simple patches for that at TTLG.com’s legacy gaming forum.

  20. Pemptus says:

    On an unrelated note: a highly anticipated fan campaign for Thief 2 came out today – The Black Frog. Check you local TTLG forum for downloads, thank you.

  21. Roxton says:

    Like pretty much everyone else here, I just want to thank and congratulate the author for a really excellent article. He has managed to take everything I thought about Thief and The City and express it better than I ever could.

    How to convey a sense of place in a game is something that’s been occupying me for quite a while (I’m currently developing a game), and this has gone a good way towards solidifying my thought processes.

  22. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    “Garrett needs The City”
    So true. It’s interesting that everytime I journeyed somewhere else behind Garrett’s eyes, delving into the Bonehoard or deeper, the further I went the more unsettled I felt in sympathy. Any amount of peril in a manor or mechanist facility didnt have the same effect – I was still in Garrett’s City.

  23. yossarian says:

    If anyone was looking for ip to base more Thief games on (or make something wonderful in its own right) I’d humbly advance Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. A Garrett-like thief plays a major role, but a fictionalized version of New York throughout time is really the main character.

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