Well, whether they intended to or not, Saam Taraverdi and Dan Todd have shamed me into making time for the project diary again. They did this by force of their ardent boosterism. Check out their Looking Glass Action RPG fan page Through the Looking Glass and you'll see what I mean. Saam's a longtime supporter who maintained his System Shock page (now The Trioptimum Corporate Network) for years while never giving up hope that we'd finally do System Shock II. Making Saam, right about now, a very happy guy.
On a related note, our publishing friends at Eidos have their own Thief section now up on their website. Check it out.
Two forces kept me away from the web diary lately. One was anticipation of a whole new major revision of the Thief web site by LG's own rockin' audiovisual department (who do better web pages than a lot of guys whose business is web pages, in my opinion). The other was sheer load of work as we try to slam this puppy home into beta. Here's where we are:
We've got about 80% of our training mission done, with the rest waiting on some AI scripting services for the spotters in the sight and hearing stealth lessons. "Lord Bafford's Mansion" is essentially at the spit-and-polish applying stage. "Breakout at Cragscleft Prison" is undergoing some revision based on our alpha test experiences. And we're pushing hard on "Assassins," "The Forgotten City," and "Window Shopping." The redoubtable Doug Church is now taking point of final mission design revisions, bringing a fresh perspective and leaving me free to implement gameplay elements (sort of a refreshing role reversal for us, really).
Rope arrows are now in, and noisemakers are back in under the new content-rich AI/sound system. We've got pressure plates and a variety of other "triggers" based on door and lock state, proximity and such. There's an increasing selection of things to get thrown, swung, dropped, or pressed on the player by traps to go with them for those "Raiders of the Tomb" sort of missions. Land mines and magic trigger glyphs are about halfway there. Holy water arrows are in, and a lot more effective against zombies than poking arrow-sized holes in them. We've got healing potions and air supply potions. Knockout gas arrows are prototyped but don't have an area effect yet.
Falling damage is in and we're discovering all those places where physics was exerting a lot more force on things than we thought (ouch!). We also discovered just how little water was cushioning your fall (ouch again) and have now got it turned up to a more realistic amount to drag. Physics for rope climing is in, and ladders have been considerably tuned.
There's a bunch of important new AI behaviors coming on-line. AI's can know what territory they're guarding and only react with hostility if you violate that boundary (so they don't attack you when you're just walking down the street casing the joint). There's a variety of new conditions under which AI's will flee, so servants (for example) won't attack you at all, but just run away raising a ruckus. AI's can be blind or deaf (security cameras, for example, will be AI's who can see and look around but not hear or move about, so the usual "hide in shadows" tactics will work exactly the same).
Various kinds of new "loot" objects are in, and are set up to show you a running total of how much swag you've snagged, though you can't spend it ... yet.
Basically, we're motoring towards beta at a dizzying pace, so stay tuned. -Tim
Greg's back from England. Apparently the press tour went well. This is good, since it was the first time since the relatively-controlled circumstances of E3 that we've unleashed people other than our own playtesters to play the game. I tell you, they love us in Europe.
Of course, we made a lot of advances on the way to the press tour demo, too. Flash bombs are in, and seem to blind AI's just long enough for you to either jump in and carve them up, or get out of sight. Just don't expect that trick to work on fire elementals. We've finally got the climbing maneuver where the player-character can pull himself up over ledges, and now we can start finding all of the strange, broken places this allows you to go, and fix them. Chris' explosion physics code is in. Just remember, when you shoot a fire arrow into a stack of crates, it's not a clean break unless two of them bounce off the walls. Meanwhile, Kate, Mark, and Laura are getting new creatures' meshes and animations integrated faster than I can set game statistics for them.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, AI's can hear arbitrary sounds now, and we can tag any sound we want with different types of "significance." So, when you have a near-miss with an arrow now, the jig is up. And if you feel compelled to blow stuff up (and everybody's got to blow stuff up once in a while) the jig is extremely up. -Tim
Kate's got in our new weapon art and attack motions for the blackjack attacks. Mahk has been working, among other things, on the drowning mechanics. This has been immesurably aided, I'm sure, by the fact that our swimming movement is broken right now, making it just that much easier to drown. Also on Mahk's list was a new revision of our terrain properties code and environmental sounds code, which is at the core of what sound (and how loud) you make when walking on different types of floor. In order to allow the player to affect those floor types, Doug and I have been getting our terrain-changing "earth arrows" into the game.
Playtest proceeds apace; surprisingly enough, I'm told that there are bugs. -Tim
We're putting the final post-demo touches on some of the missions we took to E3, and it looks like we're going to go into serious alpha test next week. We actually started testing a while ago, but it's been limited and mainly oriented around E3. Now that we've got some missions, we can unleash our ruthless cadre of gaming fiends.
So, we're pushing ahead to our looming Beta milestone, magazine cover-mount demo deadline, and our upcoming whirlwind European press tour. Kate, Mark, and Laura are busy in their Frankensteinian workshop, making new creatures out of nothing but electricity and the parts of other creatures. The new Crayman, Bug-Beast, and Spider skeletal types should be integrated soon. And as soon as that happens, you can be sure of screenshots. The design crew is working on mission areas, of course, which are looking good. Meanwhile, I've been stealing time from the usual post-demo schedule meetings to work on scripting object behaviors, starting with doors you can break down (not stealthy, but effective), and alarm gongs that ring when you shoot them (a great diversion).
We've just got another really good reaction to our E3 presence, this time from Emil Pagliarulo, Editor-in-chief of The Adrenaline Vault. In his E3 roundup he says of E3 in general "I wasn't impressed...all the true-3D, polygonal-based action games are starting to look alike," but despite this picks Thief as one of his best of the show. "I can't even begin to express how much I've been looking forward to this latest Looking Glass project." Thanks, Emil.
In print, we've got a really nice spot in the new issue of PC Gamer, in their "Hot 100" feature on upcoming games. Instead of the usual 1/9th-page blurb, Thief has a big half-page frame. The phrase, "happier than pigs in slop" was used. So, go pick up a copy of this obviously fine magazine.
Today's diary, you may have noticed, was printed with 50% recycled information. We're going green. -Tim
Hey, we're back. As Dorian would say when he writes this thing, Tim was on vacation last week. Soon I'll get around to our backlog of reader feedback mail.
We got our E3 demo done in time to put Doug and Greg on a plane, but without much time to spare. So we all got a good night's sleep, then
Tom, Dorian, Chris and I marched right back into work to polish up everything that Greg and Doug were pointing out from the show floor. Such is the measure of our devotion.
I suppose it worked, too, because we got some really positive reactions at the show. We had several machines running, at least one of which was set up for random walk-ins to play, and people seemed to enjoy the game. Chuck Miller, writing for
The real buzz at E3, however, was generated by our announcement of System Shock 2! Anyone remember on the Frequently Asked Questions page where I said "If we were to do, for example, System Shock 2, it would have to be a deal with (Electronic Arts)?" Well, we made a deal with Electronic Arts. I don't need to say too much about that here, since soon enough (I'm told) System Shock 2 will have its own web presence here where you'll be able to learn much, much more. To answer one question I saw being asked about on the net, though: yes, System Shock 2 will be using an updated version of our own "Dark Engine." Those advances are being worked on right now, and since some of them may be things we can use for Thief, we're especially happy to have another Dark Engine game in production.
In unrelated news, be sure to pick up the July issue of Computer Games Strategy Plus, which features an excellent preview of Thief. We're fond of journalists who highlight the gameplay and engine features we can't really show you with a screenshot, like our realistic physics, acoustics, and AI. Read and enjoy. -Tim
We're in the final push to get our demo ready for E3, which I'm sure some of you will have noticed has resulted in our being less than dilligent about updating the web page. I've got what I can pretend to be a free moment, though, so ...
Tom has integrated a whole new controller level on our AI, basically replacing all of their senses and higher brain functions. This is our biggest current thing to get shaken down for E3, obviously. But we felt it was necessary given everything we've learned about our stealth scenarios, how we want our creatures to act, and the options we need for tuning and varying AI behaviors.
Meanwhile, Sean has got in his brand-spankin'-new particle effects system, which will replace a number of the temporary and relatively unsatisfying special effects we had before (not that we're ever satisfied with such things). And Mahk and Doug have reworked our inventory system to respond to some playtest comments on the interface, and get in our actual creature inventory system. As a direct consequence we have our first version of pickpocketing finally in (but still pending lots of testing).
Other developments are doubtless too numerous to mention, or comprehend for that matter. -Tim
Well, we're back from CGDC. Mahk, Tom, and I went to the conference, while Doug was there as a speaker. Thief was being shown at the 3DFX booth, which got us a preview in the show coverage at OGR.com.
The show was very educational, I'm sure (the people who paid for us to go like to hear things like that). We also got to hang out (and, of course, play Settlers of Catan) with old friends, industry luminaries, and Looking Glass alums such as Warren Spector (our longtime pal from Ultima Underworld days, now at ION Storm), Ned Lerner and Art Min (now of Multitude), and Matt Toschlog (still working on those Descent games of his, and apparently enjoying himself tremendously).
But enough of the misty-eyed reminiscences. Back here at what Mahk likes to call "the bubbling cauldrons of game design," we're entering our final push to prepare for this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Atlanta. Mission production continues. Naturally, since we're not done with all the missions, and I won't let people stop. In related work, we're getting a bunch of new object models in the game, and preparing mission-related texts like briefings, hints, and background fiction. Yesterday we had our first big recording session with our voice actor for Garrett, our protagonist.
Our motion-capture processing for new creatures is underway, but since we were able to get a lot more captures than we expected, we're having to put extra people on actually processing the data. So, we had several people over at our mo-cap studio, Adaptive Optical, earlier this week to train up on the process. Thus does our toil translate into tasty gaming quality for you, the player. Just doing our jobs. -Tim