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Take 5 – Thief Community Q&A #1

Posted by Adam Badke

Welcome to the very first Take 5 community Q&A! We asked Thief fans to submit their questions about the game, and the development team is taking 5 minutes to answer them. This week, I sat down with Thief’s Game Director Nic Cantin and Lead Level Designer Daniel Windfeld Schmidt and asked them 5 fan submitted questions. Here’s what they had to say:

Cavalier: It seems AI will notice lights that are put out...what other stimuli will they notice? Open doors? Missing friends? Ropes? Missing loot? Moss patches?

Nic: Guards will respond to a wide variety of different stimuli. For example, they’ll notice doors that are left open, when special loot is missing - and obviously, if they find a dead body on the floor.

Guards will also notice a wide range of audio stimuli in different ways as well. For example, they’ll react differently to various stimuli created by arrows. A blunt arrow will obviously only create a very small sound, and is useful for subtly attracting 1 or 2 guards to allow you to play cat and mouse against the AI. Larger stimuli – like an explosion – would obviously create a louder sound and naturally attract more guards.

If Garrett moves across certain areas, such as broken glass on the floor, he’ll also attract unwanted attention. Even if he moves silently across them, they’ll still make a sound if you step on them and guards will react to that.

Daniel: We’re trying to create stimuli that guards will react to that makes sense within the world while still keeping it fun within the context of a game. For example, if a door is opened near a guard, he’ll react to it. If a strong light source turns off near him, he’ll react to it. If guards are guarding something special, they’ll of course react if it goes missing, or if a nearby chest is suddenly open or whatnot. If it’s a small light source or he’s not near it, he might not react. It’s not binary.

Noise is a really big factor for guard recognition. If you accidentally bump into a vase, for example, guards will react to the sound of it smashing. There are all sorts of things you’d reasonably expect to find in specific environments – ornamental decorations without any value to steal, for example – that guards will react to if they hear them break.

There are cases where guards will notice if a friend goes missing, wonder what has happened and go searching for him. But it’s not a hard rule, in the real world people will make assumptions – maybe he left to go to the bathroom? – so we take advantage of this to tune our systems between what makes sense and how you expect people to react, and at the same time keeping the game playable and fun.

Platinumoxicity: How is footstep noise volume regulated by the player's movement speed and stance? What about swooping?

Nic: When you’re crouched, your movement is almost completely silent. Swooping is also silent.

It’s still possible to make noise and alert guards if you’re crouched though - for example, if you walk on a "noise patch", like a pile of broken glass on the floor, you’ll still make detectable noise.

Obviously, when you run, you create a lot of noise that guards can hear.

On the inverse, Garrett also has some abilities of his own when it comes to noise as well. Players who choose to play with Focus will be able to see visual impressions of footsteps through walls from NPCs, for example – like he can ‘see’ what he is hearing.

Daniel: You’re almost completely silent when crouching, although you’re not very fast, either. You need to be careful where you’re stepping, some surfaces will make more noise than others even if you’re crouching. There are also surfaces that are a beneficial to you, like carpets or grass that you can run on that will really muffle the sound of your movement.

DarknessFalls: Do AI have a hive mind when alerted, or does word of your presence/carelessness have to travel by word-of-mouth where they have to be within ear shot of each other?

Nic: No, it’s not a hive mind. Guards will shout to each other to draw attention. They can only shout so far, but word can spread from guard to guard much further in major disturbances (i.e. if somebody finds a dead body).

Daniel: When guards "bark", their dialogue is actually being interpreted by the other guards - they’re actually communicating.

kangaxx: Will there be any help for colorblind people?

Nic: That’s a really good question! Thief does not really rely much on color for gameplay – it’s more about contrast. Colorblind people can still clearly read contrast, so it should help. I’d say contrast is one of our primary visual feedback mechanics.

Daniel: You don’t need to see colors to play Thief. Many people have color defects – not necessarily total color blindness – and there are nuances in our visual language that give people the information they will need without color. For example, flames have varying pulses that allow you to identify the intensity without being able to see the specific color.

Pillowman: Can you give specific info on the differences between difficulty levels (Normal, Hard, Expert)? In the first three games, higher difficulty meant more objectives, more restrictions, and occasionally new areas to explore. Can we expect something similar in the new game?

Nic: We’re still playtesting to tune this, but ultimately the core experience will be the same across each difficulty. Our game is about the challenge of how you choose to approach each situation. Instead of simply altering the number of NPCs to change the difficulty, for example, we alter things like how the AI will act, the arrows that might be available, or the tools the player has to achieve their goals at that time.

Regarding expert mode, our goal is that this will be the true "Master Thief" experience for players. Just like it was in the previous games, this will be where the really big challenges can be found by players who want them.

Daniel: There are a lot of different variables that we can tweak, like how punishing the AI is, how easy it is to get caught, how fast you need to be to react and interpret your environment, etc. We’re still tuning the experience at this stage, but our approach to game balancing is making consequences for the player more deliberate, rather than simply giving the guards more hit points, for example.

Cool stuff – hope you learned something new today! A huge thanks to everybody who submitted their questions for today's Take 5 Q&A. Stay tuned to the official Thief forums (now with a brand new URL: www.ThiefGame.com/Forum) for more!

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