Electron Dance

Discussion: Patience of a Thief

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I didn’t finish the demo, unwilling to risk the wrath of whatever stalked the dank and uninspiring Gloomsewers. I felt I had been toiling within its systems rather than dancing with them - and the demo was graveyarded.

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  1. “For me, being seen in Thief almost always meant an instant reload. That’s always how I’ve rolled.”
    Dillon Rogers omitted a save-anywhere option* in Gloomwood specifically to forestall this play style. I argued vociferously with him about that decision, because I think it’s thoroughly misguided. On easy difficulty you have a music box in your inventory that allows you to save anywhere, but ironically it’s much less useful then because the enemies are also easier! Oh well.

    My play style in Thief changed over the decades, but in recent years has been quicksaving often but reloading pretty much only on death: so that I have to deal with getting seen, but I don’t have to retread much. I wanted to play Gloomwood in this style too. I wanted to play on a harder difficulty, to have the extra challenge of dealing with more and more threatening enemies! But the extra stress of knowing I’d have to retread parts I’d already successfully got past—due to the fixed save points—is not something I enjoy. So, easy mode it was.

    The lack of vertical exploration quite annoyed me. Everywhere I tried to climb I found invisible walls. A later note suggests that there’ll be rooftops in later levels, but I’m reticent to assume that’ll mean a more open and freeform level design or just a change of scenery. Given the structure of this first level, I expect the latter more than the former. Oh well.

    I didn’t mind the sewers at all; I always tend to enjoy “forbidden” spaces: sewers, catwalks, steam tunnels… (I really should play Infra, shouldn’t I?). Of course sewers can be spatially uninteresting, just as streets can; for me the Deus Ex catacombs fail because they’re a boring space, not because they’re catacombs. The sewers in Gloomwood seemed to be going for a spooky vibe that does little for me, but otherwise I though them okay.

    Overall I enjoyed my time with the Gloomwood demo, but I agree with your final sentiment: it doesn’t quite seem to have a character of its own just yet.

  2. The coincidence of digging out my I old Thief FM sketches, maps, notes and ideas, and playing the Gloomwood demo gave me a massive Thief rush over the last month or so. I never realised just how much that Dark Engine aesthetic resonates with me.

    My recent gaming history has gone something like this: I played the Gloomwood demo, bought Thief: The Dark Project and The Metal Age on GOG (also coincidental sale), messed around with a bunch of mods and ‘improvements’ but eventually settled on something close to pure vanilla (TFix Lite), then I played quite a bit of The Dark Mod which is just a remarkable achievement that I’m itching to get back to. Through all this I was acutely aware that I hadn’t played through the Dishonored DLC or the sequel(s) yet, despite owning them. At some point I saw shackleton on Twitter mention he was playing through Dishonored again and, well, that felt like a sign, so I decided to do the same (Mat C joined me as well).

    I read your article on ‘lethal’ Dishonored again Joel and I just couldn’t reconcile ‘Lord Protector’ with Dunwall mass murderer so ended up playing (mostly) non-lethal again, and righting some old mistakes this time. I’m just on the brink of finishing the Brigmore Witches (the last DLC for the original game). While my days with Twitter are numbered, I hope to do a Dishonored thread at some point touching on some of my thoughts while playing it again.

    But, uh, thanks Gloomwood for the massive diversion! :-)

    ANYWAY. Gloomwood. Having just quicksaved the crap out of Dishonored I… I’ve got to say, I love the gramophone save points system for a ‘Thief-like’, because it basically encourages you to be more careful and cautious, and own minor slip ups, but it also adds some bite to outright failure. While I totally get the frustration of not wanting to replay sections you’ve already done, or simply not having time to, I don’t think you can uncouple that without losing some tension and ‘failure ownership’.

    I do wonder how I’d play Thief now, and that includes The Dark Mod. Years ago Thief scared the crap out of me and it was super tense, but at the time I don’t think I was quicksaving every step like I believe I would now. I tried avoiding quicksaving like this in Dishonored but my chief concern was disrupting (or even missing/misunderstanding bits of) ‘eavesdrop conversations’ which can add such flavour to the world. ‘Going loud’ (or lethal), or messing things up and triggering all nearby guards potentially crushes those bits of worldbuilding so that’s why I ended up quicksaving a lot. Virtual FOMO I suppose!

    I enjoyed my time with the Gloomwood demo. Felt like Thief meets Sir, You Are Being Hunted. I wish I’d played it on a harder difficulty because when your only verb is kill and you have so much ammo you can blast your way through the world, it saps the pace and tension and also renders those alternative approaches/routes a bit pointless. I still sneaked around, but mostly out of habit and to save ammo ‘just in case’. I quite liked the sewers, but thankfully it was a relatively small area. Was pretty creepy though. The weapons felt surprisingly satisfying, particularly the reload animations. I also liked the rucksack inventory detail, even if it was a bit clunky to navigate.

    You’re definitely right about the lack of people walking around. That was one of the best things about Bafford’s Manor (also the demo, if I remember rightly): the guards just chatting and not immediately running you down. The servant walking through the streets to the manor, the drunk guard and his ‘How’s it going?’ mate on patrol. Even the ambient noise of folk indoors merrymaking made the world so much more alive than it really was.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out though! In the meantime, I’ve got all this other Thief-y goodness to play…

    I hope you’ve been feeling better lately Joel!

  3. Gulp, something new from Liz Ryerson. I always spend her pieces internally screaming about all the ways her arguments are selective or unfair or performatively iconoclastic, only to inevitably to find myself convinced that she’s right about everything by the time I reach the conclusion.

    Glad to hear you’re through the big project Joel.

  4. Andy

    You know, I think I’m a lot more like that too – trying to roll with the blows instead of quickloading at every mishap. It’s such a boost for shooters because the journey feels like an actual journey rather than a sequence of “edited highlights”. The only problem with stealth failure is that, to me, the whole point is not killing and failure rarely leaves you with good options: hence, the quickload.

    I found the lack of freedom chafing as well but I gave Gloomwood the benefit of the doubt here, assuming there’d be more freedom in the final game. But you might well be right. I’ll keep the candle of hope burning here.

    I’m also attracted to forbidden spaces but sewers, by and large, really don’t do it for me, I just find them dull. I think I recall an entertaining sewer section back in Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (the bit where you face off with the shoggoth). Oh, some of INFRA’s underground explorations are good and some of them are diabolical.


    I’m much better now, Gregg. After three days of feeling weak as a puppy, my energy started to come back on Wednesday night and all the muscle aches vanished by the end of Friday. Of course, I’ve had a congestion headache for the last two hours which has been ruinous to my afternoon :( Hay fever has been out of control this year!

    I don’t think I would quicksave quite as much as I used to, either, because sometimes you’re just rubbish at a skill and quicksaving through it won’t hone your skills. I selected the second skill level in Gloomwood, unsure how of “hard” it would be. I would like to have chosen my checkpoints a bit more appropriately. I got into the sewers and thought, you know, I’m not trudging all the way back to the gramaphone to save. This is ridiculous.

    But as I said a long time ago, a developer needs to be really confident when removing or degrading saves because they’re effectively a way for players to circumvent errors in the design – areas which are too hard or did not anticipate players approaching difficulties out of sequence.

    Just like Thief, though, I kept finding alternative routes (the hidden vents) only after I’d got through an area :)

    I am also wondering whether it’s time to send one of my children into Thief, Gregg. Too much Fortnite is not good for the palate, you know.


    Over the years I’d got the feeling that Ryerson was very much the outsider of “the outsiders” and this piece confirmed it. I wouldn’t say I agree with everything that Ryerson puts out – the piece where she takes a chunk out of Jonathan Blow never sat right with me – but there were too many stars aligning with this essay for me to ignore this in the links.

    The “trauma porn” parts recalled the most inflammatory piece I’ve probably ever written, The Ethics of Selling Children. My sentiments haven’t changed a jot but I doubt I could write this today as my social media spine is just too weak these days.

    And when Ryerson put forward that point about statue-felling, I was RIGHT THERE. I had deleted a cynical note from my last newsletter about how clever the protestors had been in undermining their own cause by refocusing the BLM media conversation away from injustice to… bloody statues.

    Could her essay be shorter? POSSIBLY

  5. For some reason I hadn’t read your Mount & Blade article, but I had heard about your experience with it! My impression with that game or series was that it was an open world, sandbox type affair where failure was kind of baked in. Like Kenshi, Dwarf Fortress or perhaps Rimworld (but I know Rimworld has an end). They seem to be more about generating stories to tell than insulating you from brutal dead ends!

    Yeah, that happened to me at the sewers. ‘Okay this seems like a good place to stop–oh, I’ve got to go back or go a bit deeper.’ That’s when you need your Save and Exit!

    I’d be very curious to see how either of your kids react to Thief! :-D

    I’m glad you’re feeling better and I feel your pain regarding hay fever! I’ve not been too bad these last few years but when it bites it really gets me and can ruin days! I’ve found Beconase to be an amazing treatment in preventing it when the symptoms start to creep in. Is it a new thing or something you’ve always suffered from?

  6. Oh, I had read your article–I commented under it! I even played Once Chance, which I don’t remember. It’s been a long 9 years eh?

  7. Hello Gregg. Not that I wish to fight an old battle (Gwaul’s tragic story is well behind us now), but I had played with Gwaul a long time. And there was no “game over”; you just fell into an endless loop of the game interrupting your story every ten seconds with You Have Encountered Someone Who Hates You. There was no way to make happy with all the people who were out for your blood.

    I don’t know how long I’ve been suffering from hay fever. I’ve thought I’ve been suffering from many random colds and it was only recently I started to realise maybe these weren’t colds… Being at home every day really seems to made it worse though, can’t get through a week without one day sacrificed on the altar of Congestion Headaches And The Unexpectedly Sore Throat (the god Chatust).

  8. Yes, and it was only after I’d read the comments that I realised that was one of your original points back then (and even my old comment hadn’t really picked up on that–d’oh)! I own Warband and did dabble with it for a bit but got distracted and never returned. I still hear it sometimes, beckoning, buried and muffled under the backlog.

    That was the case with me for many years, thinking it was a random cold. It’s not a very nice thing to realise it’s an allergy! Do you think it could be a dust allergy? Is it year round or just over a few months? The Met office pollen calendar is handy for helping you whittle down the culprit(s).


    Another reason to move to Scotland/Ireland :-)

  9. “you just fell into an endless loop of the game interrupting your story every ten seconds with You Have Encountered Someone Who Hates You”

    Right, that’s my distinct (by which I mean hazy, where did the last decade go?) memory of why I drifted away from Mount & Blade also.

  10. I’ve agreed with everything I’ve seen Liz Ryerson say about Jon Blow but I’m not sure about the statues thing. It seems like in the US only far-right TV pundits and Chapo Trap House are talking about statues right now, and the recent conversation I saw was mostly about Federal forces snatching people into unmarked vans (up till the Federals left Portland), and surveys seem to be showing that the protests are making people more aware of police brutality and generally radicalizing suburban wine moms.

    OK, I deleted a bit of a rant about how full of crap Blow is when he talks about philosophy, but I think what I want to say–I understand the need to use middlebrow pop-philosophy kind of stuff rather than the full-on stuff in the game even from someone who understands philosophy, because if you talk about actual Logical Positivism or whatever it’ll be inaccessible to all but a few people, but why not use better middlebrow pop-philosophy? Hofstadter and James Burke are great, but why not use Godel, Escher, Bach instead of I Am A Strange Loop, and one of the cool Connections episodes where he shows connections between things instead of whatever that was?

  11. Speaking of your recent tweets, do you want me to tell you about the mushrooms? If you don’t say anything I will assume that you want to remain completely unspoiled about the mushrooms. But in relation to another of those tweets, I have seen it said that “Cinco Paus” means “five wands” which I do not think is correct, and also “five sticks” which seems more correct, but.

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