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Thief 4 Developer Interview

Today’s announcement of Thief 4 has been a long time coming, so we had plenty of time to plan our break in of the Eidos-Montreal castle to see what they were up to. Then we changed our minds and realised it’d be much easier to just ask Stéphane D’Astous, the general manager at Eidos-Montreal, all about the game.Hello, Stéphane.Hello! This weekend I was Googling a bit to see the activity on Thief 4 and you were always on the top.We’ve been paying close attention to all of the teasers, but now it’s finally announced! How do you feel?It’s a relief, let me tell you. We’ve been working on the concept phase for five or six months. The core team has delivered a proof of concept that was delivered to an executive meeting held in Montreal a couple of weeks ago, and since we got a full thumbs-up, we’re able to announce it. We wanted to create some interest, so we had a couple of hints – easter eggs here and there – to say that we were going to be working on classic, classic franchises, and the first two are publicly known.So how far along the development process are you at the moment?In the world of gaming there are mainly three phases – the concept, pre-production, and production – and right now we’ve reached our goals with the conceptual base, the story. Obviously, the tough part is still to come, so the team will be ramping up, which is good news because even with the hard times in the financial world, videogames still have bright skies – at least in Montreal! So we’ll be hiring approximately 40 people in the next six months: artists, programmers, designers, all the works. They’ll be working on the next phase, which will be pre-production, so it’s too early right now to mention any kind of a release window or SKUs that we’ll be working on. The important thing is that we have a great team, a core team of maybe 20 people, and we’re going to the next stage.You can’t confirm at the moment what systems this is going to be launching on?No. With the fast evolving world of hardware, there’s a lot of things that will be happening in the following years so we need to be close to that – but either way, there’s a lot of work to be done. Presently the only asset that we’re able to release is the logo, which we’re pretty proud of as it’s very respectful of the franchise and you can recognise it very rapidly, and once we have other types of assets we’ll make them publicly available.Speaking of the team that you’ve got, do you have any of the old Looking Glass Studios staff on board?Well, no, but we’ve done our homework. We went through this a couple of years ago when we launched the Deus Ex 3 project, so we’re pretty much in constant contact with a couple of people. These people are mainly based in Texas and they have their own lives and their own projects, and for now we’ve built our team with veterans that have worked on numerous triple-A titles. We have people that have worked on the Rainbow Six series, on Prince of Persia, on the Splinter Cell games – the list is very long and we’ll soon release the pedigree of the team, and you’ll notice that these guys have a lot of credentials. In terms of Looking Glass and Ion Storm, we’re trying to be as close as possible to some of the original developers, but nothing’s confirmed.{PAGE TITLE=Thief Interview Continued}You’ve been paying attention, we hear, to a lot of the fan threads about what people would want from a fourth Thief game. Are you trying to make the Thief game that everybody wants or do you have your own ideas?Well, again, we’re glad that we’ve learned so much from when we launched the Deus Ex stuff. The communities of these two projects are so vocal, so protective of what they want, and one thing is for sure – they’re very active! (Laughs) We’re keeping our ear very close to the ground. As you may have noticed, we now have a forum up and running for Thief 4, and I said to my guys “I really want to have a forum at the very early stages,” because I want people to have a medium with which they can express their wishes, their expectations, and what they would like and not like to happen with the next Thief. Obviously we’ve started work, but it’s always very important for the developers to be close to the community. We’re listening to these people because they are very hardcore fans, and we want to bring the Thief 4 franchise to a new level, so the challenges are huge!Are you worried at all about the fan backlash?We’re always expecting that. When you have such hardcore fans, they’re protective, and they’re very vocal. We understand all that, and we expect them to continue in that vein, so our mandate is to bring this game to a new level, and it’s a challenge to reassure the old fans, but we want to introduce this classic franchise to new fans, so that’s going to be our challenge. We won’t be able to please 100% of the fanbase, but we’re going to do our best to have the least compromise possible.You’ve finished working on the initial concept at the moment, so looking back at the last Thief game, as that was awhile ago –Exactly. May 2004, I think.Right. So how easy do you think it’s going to be for new players to get into this fourth game?A classic game remains a classic. As a comparison, a good movie – even if it’s made twenty years ago – remains a good movie. 2001, let’s say, or Blade Runner. These films were made decades ago, but they’re still very well-made and of a very high quality. Our main goal is that the essence and the spirit of these two franchises are as good now as ever before. Now we need to bring them to the highest level of technology, the highest level of design – the characters are very important, the story is important; we recognise all that, and a good game remains a good game if it’s made accordingly.Gameplay, of course, is also important to making a good game. How’s that shaping up?Unfortunately we won’t be able to reveal too much of that for now. This will be maybe available in the next wave of communication.You can’t even hint at just a little bit?Unfortunately! (Laughs)How about the plot, then? The same city?The setting, the character, the story, the features – anything related to the actual content of the game, we cannot discuss for now. What I can say is that people are going to be very happily surprised and impressed. I think that we’ve put our finger on a number of things. Innovation and originality will be important, and I think it’s going to serve this great franchise very well. Even though it’s a franchise that we last saw five years ago, we’re going to bring a fresh look and a fresh approach. We’re always respecting the history and the spirit of the game, but innovation will definitely be quite interesting.Is it fair to say that Thief 4 is going to pay attention to the spirit of the previous Thief games, but perhaps not the mechanics so much, then?(Pause) We’ll see about that! (Laughs) Sorry, Tim. I wouldn’t say it in those words, but the moment that we have more information, we’ll relay it over.{PAGE TITLE=Thief Interview Continued}So what sort of games have you taken inspiration from?When I had time recently, I played Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell, and that sort of thing, to really understand what makes those franchises as good as they are.What do you think it is that makes them as good as they are, then?I think it’s mainly related to the fact that it’s original, and original content always hits the spot. Obviously, we’re going to be giving a lot of attention to the main pillars of these games. People remember these franchises because of their storytelling, their characters, their settings, and so on. It’s because of their quality content.Is there anything you want to say to the fanbase that they might not know?Well, maybe one thing – we’re trying our best to be very close to these people, so we’ve put a lot of social networking tools in place. We’ll have a virtual boutique where you can buy merchandise from these two projects and this is something that we’re really proud of. This should be up and running today or tomorrow – certainly this week – so if people want to communicate to us they have several ways to do it, and we welcome all comments, suggestions, and remarks.What sort of merchandise are you thinking of?It’s the traditional t-shirt, baseball caps, bags, scarves… the branding of these two projects are incredible, so we’ve put effort into creating good merchandise for people to be proud to demonstrate their support, or their fan-following, and their actions for these types of games, and we have – and all this is done within this studio. This studio here has a different approach, we’re trained to be more responsible, let’s say, of the product than of the development. We try our best to be open. We do some fan tours here – sometimes there are people who write to us and say “I’ll be in Montreal, I hope I’ll be able to come and visit you,” and on occasion we’ve allowed some fans to visit our studio! We’re trying to be close to the fanbase, and we’re really proud about the product and we want to show it.So with all of this merchandising, are you expecting that this is going to kick off a new Thief franchise?I guess so, yes. People should know that Thief is the grandfather of the stealth genre, which was a new type of gameplay back in 1998, and it’s important for people to know that this game really created that. It shook the ground a decade ago, and we’re trying our best to bring it to market and break new ground. I think people are proud and they want to associate themselves with the product, and this type of merchandising can certainly help.Onto the most important question of the day, then. Is Garrett going to make an appearance?(Laughs) Good try, Tim! Again, story, setting, characters, features – I have to be as cold as possible to all of those nice, juicy questions, and I can’t answer them.Alright, then. Are you thinking of getting all the original voice actors back?Something that is extremely clear in the forums and in the comments from the fans is to re-use the voice of Garrett, and this is obviously something that we’ll consider very seriously.When can we expect to hear more?That’s another one that’s quite difficult to answer! I’ll stay very safe, and say that within the remainder of this year we should have another wave of information.Thank you very much, Stéphane!Thank you.


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