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Thief Autopsy Part 3: Dirty Secrets

By Shamus
on Thursday Mar 27, 2014
Filed under:
Video Games


Garrett brings the ring back to Basso, who then arranges a meeting between Garrett and Orion, the guy who wanted the ring in the first place. I’m not sure if the game says so explicitly or not, but I’m sure he’s also the one that requested the job to steal the primal stone at the start of the game.

I can’t help wondering if I was the only one who found this a little strange. A client asks to meet the Thief? Wouldn’t that be an automatic “no”? Isn’t it Basso’s job to keep Garrett hidden, anonymous, and secret from clients? Not a big deal, but it did strike me as kind of odd.


Orion is caring for the sick somewhere in the slums. When they meet, Garrett has this strange vision where he hears Erin calling out to him and he passes out. I thought this was the start of Garrett coming down with the plague, or some sort of supernatural problem he was having. I figured this would be an ongoing problem. But he never passes out again and I have no idea what purpose it served here.

When he wakes up, Orion gives him the details of the next job. Orion needs a book, which is hidden “somewhere in the House of Blossoms”. So we need a book that’s hidden in a brothel. When the meeting is over Garrett announces, “The House of Blossoms. I never went there, but I know someone who did. Erin.” Without further explanation, the game sends us to search Erin’s hideout. Garrett doesn’t even have a goal. He just decides to go to her place because one time she went to the place we’re going to.

Once we get to Erin’s place we have the first of many encounters with quasi-spectral Erin. We’re transported to a magical maze and she taunts us while we fumble around and look for the exit.


She tells Garrett, “I watched you. I wanted to be you. We’re so alike. But why did I even try? The world already has a Garret.”

This characterization does not fit with the character as presented so far. She never made any effort to be like Garret. In fact, she held him in contempt and never did anything he said. How can she claim the two of them are “so alike”? They’re opposites! At the start of the game we were shown a woman who disliked Garret, acted nothing like him, and scorned his advice. Now she’s claiming she envied him, wanted to be him, and that they have a lot in common.

Now, you might argue that we’re talking to Spectral Erin and not Jerkface Erin, and maybe her ghost is half-crazy. Or maybe you could argue that her feelings were “secret” and this this reveal exists to explain her previous behavior. But Garrett doesn’t say anything to acknowledge the discrepancy in behavior or attitude. Does he not notice, even for the benefit of the audience, that her claims are completely at odds with her character? This isn’t a character reveal, or character development. This is just some fill-in-the-blank villain patter. (Once again, they’re using villain tropes for a supposedly sympathetic character.)

I do appreciate that they <a href="http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LampshadeHanging">lampshaded</a> the fact that there was no reason for Erin to own this thing.
I do appreciate that they lampshaded the fact that there was no reason for Erin to own this thing.

Garrett didn’t have a goal, but he manages to find it anyway. In Erin’s room she’s got a charcoal drawing of Garret, and his eye in the picture is actually a switch to a secret compartment. Inside, he finds a special medallion that he’ll need to solve a mechanical puzzle in the next section of the game. He has no way of knowing this, so I guess it’s lucky he randomly came here to get it?

This place is actually pretty well-supplied in terms of books, for a brothel. Not that Garret bothers to look them over to see if they’re what he’s looking for.

The brothel level is a complete mess, both thematically and in terms of gameplay. It’s probably one of the weakest areas of the game. Nearly everyone is static. Patrons and the girls are planted in place, and they never wander around. Many of them don’t even react to your presence, even when they really shouldIn one private room, you can walk right up to a couple snuggling on the bed and they don’t react to your presence at all.. The layout is complete nonsense, with lots of peep holes that afford you a view of private areas that can’t be reached and don’t seem to fit into the floor plan in any logical way.

If you sneak off to the kitchen and disable a machine and then pull a lever, you can overload the opium dispenser, which will instantly blanket the entire downstairs in opium smoke. This will instantly and silently knock everyone out without impacting Garrett in any way. To me it kind of looked like the smoke was pouring out of the hookahs scattered around the downstairs. Is the game suggesting that the place has some sort of opium-based plumbing? I have no idea.

Once we slip past the brothel patrons, we find an upstairs room with a secret door. Like a lot of secret doors in this game, it’s completely one-way. Once you use it, you’re stuck in the catacombs and can’t return to the brothel proper. One-way doors like this have no place in a supposedly free-range game based on exploration and loot collection. There’s no warning. You’re just sucked into the next area whether you were done in the previous one or not.

In the back area we have to peek through some holes into various rooms to see symbols etched onto the walls inside. These rooms are not someplace you can reach, and it’s not clear how anyone can reach them. Nevertheless, people are inside the rooms getting it on, so… yeah. There’s that.

I should note that the audio in Thief is a mess. The action in these rooms is supposedly taking place behind a brick wall. When you first enter a passage everything is basically silent. But once you peer through a hole, your ears are effectively in the room with the occupants, and you’ll continue to hear them perfectly no matter how far away you move.


In one room we see some sort of flashback vision of a patron and Erin. She’s saying she wants to be left alone, then the guy refuses to take no for an answer. Then we cut to the guy sitting in a pool of blood and Erin walking away. Then the vision passes and the room is empty.

What is the game saying here? Was Erin a prostitute before she became a thief? Or did she infiltrate the brothel for the purpose of stealing this medallion thing? Or did someone try to force her into prostitution, and she murdered her way out? Is the game saying she was a victim who finally overcame her oppressors, or is it saying she’s too strong to be a victim? Was this supposed to be the moment she lost her innocence by taking a life, or is the game saying she sometimes had to shank a dude to get her hands on something she wanted?

I can’t tell, and the game never brings this up again.


Here we come to a pretty infamous part of the game. In one of the rooms is a guy who gets off on being slapped around. And for some reason we can hear him talking clearly, even though we’re ten meters from the tiny hole in the wall that the sound is supposedly coming through. Also: We can hear his voice, but not the slapping. Which is odd.

We’ve got to use the medallion to solve a matching-symbols puzzle, and the whole time we’re wandering around looking for clues we can hear this guy looping through the same four or five “ohh yeah hit me harder” type messages.

Puzzle solved, a door opens and we can proceed down into the catacombs. Of course, Orion just said the book was “in the House of Blossoms”. He never said anything about catacombs. But instead of looking for books here, we’re going down. Garrett has apparently read the script and he knows Orion was wrong.

So to be clear: Garrett visited Erin’s hideout and obtained a key he didn’t know he would need, which granted him access to a secret area he didn’t know existed, and which he chose to enter even though he’d been explicitly told his goal was elsewhere. And he never comments on any of this.


[1] In one private room, you can walk right up to a couple snuggling on the bed and they don’t react to your presence at all.

Comments (71)

  1. imtoolazy says:

    I fail to see anything wrong here.

    Man, sometimes I think you try too hard finding stuff to nitpick.

    On a different note, how many analyses has Shamus done about theft-related things? There’s this game, there’s the Thieves Guild in Skyrim, anything else? Do the Fable 2 posts count, though I think it was the bad guy stealing (/kidnapping) the people he needed for his evil plan?

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “I watched you. I wanted to be you. We're so alike. But why did I even try? The world already has a Garret.”

    I understood the phrase as the riter musing about the original thief they are attempting to emulate.

    • LazerBlade says:

      Could be, but does that excuse the writing from needing to fit in the story? A skilled writer would have been able share this without breaking a character.

    • Thanatos Crows says:

      To me, based on what it says here, it seems like her behavior was really based on how Garret had treated her in the past while training her or something. It seems like she almost found him cool and thought being smug was part of being a master thief. Almost like a hack developer. But unfortunately that’s how most kids seem to interpret things and maybe she just never reflected on herself while growing up or just plain didn’t care, perhaps even enjoying the attitude. I went to that place as a part of growing up. However as I’ve not seen the full scenes I’, not too sure. This is the general feeling I got from the excerpts Shamus picked.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Funny thing about the brothel:If you beeline for the opium machine,you will then hear random screams as the NPCs get spawned and instantly knocked out once you approach them.

    Also,no mention of the madame or her conversation with the cardboard cutout general?

    • Naota says:

      Other funny thing about the brothel: if you’re playing on Hard (or maybe just playing when you’re me), hitting this lever instantly fails the mission. I’m not sure why. Maybe you aren’t allowed any civilian knockouts and the opium pumps count towards that? Either way it’s abrupt, unintuitive, and profoundly dumb.

  4. The difference between this and the short-but-sweet Brothel level in Dishonored seems huge. Dishonored features some implied moral choices, allowed you to pick several ways of accessing the site, and both the layout and mission made perfect sense.

    This just… trashy. Not mechanically – I mean that it presents an image of gross exploitation wrapped up in really nasty package. There’s a difference between acknowledging that brothels exist, and having the design team’s fetishes immaturely forced upon the player.

    • Dork Angel says:

      Reading this review just makes me want to play Dishonoured again and not go anywhere near Thief. It’s a pity as wasn’t fussed on some of the more supernatural powers you could gain in Dishonoured and deliberately choose ones that would be more believable. For example, Teleport (it’s like a grappling hook) and Summon rats (they’re everywhere anyway so maybe you just need some strong cheese to attract them) but guards disintegrating when you killed them? Just made no sense… Was still an awesome game with a superb story though and the extra content with Daud was a short but great add-on that ran along-side the original story too.

  5. spades says:

    Erin was a part of the House of Blossoms when she was younger but escaped when she had to “service” a client. She ended up killing him and running away.

    ala Thief Wikia

  6. MrGuy says:

    By the way, is it explained how Garrett knew where Erin’s hideout was? If I were, y’know, a thief, I’d kind of want other thieves not knowing where I lived.

    • ET says:

      I assumed it was because she was a crappy thief, or because she was Garrett’s protege.

    • Decius says:

      Garrett knows where all of the thieves’ hideouts are. He even checks them out from time to time, but normally doesn’t take anything out of professional courtesy. He even knew that Erin had stolen something from the brothel, and that it was related to the Keeper library, because he has connections who know when unique things change hands.

  7. Mistwraithe says:

    I’m just grateful that we have Shamus to play bad games so we don’t have to!

    The story so far seems like no one even tried to do a sanity check on it.

    • ET says:

      Yeah, I’m totally glad that I didn’t need to shell out fifty bucks to explore this mess.
      Shamus and Chris to the rescue! :)

      • Tizzy says:

        I still want to play it, warts and bad story and all. (But I AM holding out for fewer bugs.)

        But I really wish I could play the game without having to jam my fingers in my ears every time there is story being flung at me. With all the complicated moving parts that are in a game, story remains the most low-tech, the one that needs the fewest numbe of people and set of skills. And you know what? You don’t even need to put one in there, I’ll play your game either way if it’s interesting enough.

        So please? Can we have stories that do not outright insult our intelligence, like this one?

  8. Dev Null says:

    “And he never comments on any of this.”

    Which is the worst bit. It would be so easy to tie all of these things together with a couple of bits of voiceover. Lazy, and we’d hope for better, but if you’re going to have him just go random places for random reasons, he could easily explain it by musing out loud about “getting that amulet that Erin told me about once.” It’d still be lame (She stole the key to their secret door a year ago, and they _still_ haven’t changed the locks? Why is a brothel built on top of a catacomb anyways?) but at least we’d know why _Garret_ thought it made sense. And all for the price of like 30-seconds worth of voiceacting, and patching one audio file in. It really sounds like they just couldn’t be bothered to try to make this make sense.

    • ET says:

      Another possibility is that they were stretched so thin after all the rewriting of this game, that they didn’t have time to make it make sense.
      It’d be great if this game/studio got to do a post-mortem, so the community could benefit from it.

    • Chris says:

      Looking for reasons for things in this game is a little like archeology.

      My guess for the catacombs: The show that the city is built up layer on top of layer (sort of like it was rebuilt again and again in the old Thief games, but here it’s a literal stack of city layers). The brothel is pretty deep underground in an old ruin from an old version of the city that has been transformed into a makeshift house of ill repute. The catacombs themselves are yet another layer down, below that layer of the city. So I guess it’s implied that the catacombs are an ancient level of the city’s past self (hence all the nods to the Keepers in there, what with the key hole shaped iconography and the glyphs used there and only there). You literally walk down layers of the city back to where the old Thief games took place long (Decades? Centuries? Millennia?) ago.

      It still makes no sense, of course – Erin stole the key when she left when she was young? She stole the key recently as revenge for her time there? She kept it because she knew eventually some jerkface bad guy would put a powerful spell book there? NONE OF THIS IS LOGICAL.

      • Odoylerules360 says:

        She stole it because it was important to the guy who ran the brothel, whom she did not like. Garrett knew she worked there, and likely knew she took something. Besides that, he knew her well and she died, he should probably see if she left anything behind.
        As for why we’re sent indirectly to the secret passage: Orion knows many things he’s not telling you, and Garrett has a reputation for being thorough. In the level, we find out that the Papasan thinks there’s something in the secret passage. I (from Garrett’s perspective) don’t know if that’s what I’m looking for or not, but as a cat burglar, I want to find out what it is.

        I don’t need my hand held throughout the story. If there’s many possible reasons why something happened, all of which have the same effect on the story, I don’t need to know exactly which one it was.

        I really liked the ending; It’s an unhappy ending, but it ties together the story and characters with the gameplay.

        I’ll add to this if anyone cares.

        • Sleepyfoo says:

          I am interested in hearing your headcanon + details shamus missed or left out as the series progresses. That probably miss-able comment could explain a lot.

          That said, it seems like a bit of a stretch that orion didn’t tell garrett that there was a secret passage, as it’s incredibly unlikely he would overhear something about it. It’s also likely that garrett might assume in the brothel means somewhere in the brothel proper or the secret passage and not go dicking around on an archeological dig without real prompting.

          That’s on top of the non-sense of a secret passage to the underground catacombs from the upper floor of a building.

          Also, if garrett is going to erin’s to take care of her affairs/loot her things, why didn’t he go before going to get a new job?

          • Tizzy says:

            I would suggest to introduce a new rule, let’s call it _Occam’s razor for videogame stories_. It would say smething like: “If a plot point is easily explainable, but might make the player scratch their head if they miss the explanation, then make sure that the explanation CANNOT be missed in any playthrough.”

            Seems reasonable to me.

            Also, the thief who simply cannot pass up a secret passage sounds obsessive-compulsive rather than thorough.

            • Trevel says:

              This comment made me think of Planescape: Torment, which if played with a low Int, Wis and Cha will let you beat the entire game without you or your character having a single clue what was going on.

              But there’s a vast difference between a player AND character stumbling through a world with only the barest hint of an idea what was going on, and a character deciding to do things without telling the player controlling him why.

              If something becomes a quest objective, there should be a reason.

        • Chauzuvoy says:

          The trouble is that at that point you’re not really judging the story the game presents. You’re assuming that the characters’ actions are justified and reasonable because people’s actions usually are. There’s nothing really wrong with that assumption, but it doesn’t absolve the story from not making any sense or having people randomly acquire information or break character for the purpose of continuing the plot.

          It’s like the people who argue that their favorite Tabletop RPG system isn’t broken because they’ve made a bunch of house rules that fix or ignore the broken bits. That doesn’t mean the game isn’t broken, it just means you’ve managed to work around the brokenness. And again, there’s nothing wrong with routing around the broken parts of a system or narrative or retconning them in your head so that things make sense. But that doesn’t mean the story as presented in the game holds together.

      • Odoylerules360 says:

        People seemed to care, so I'll unpick some nits.

        But First:
        A story that answers my questions before I have them gets really boring really fast. I tried not to be too flippant. You're probably smarter than me; you just came into this with different experiences and expectations. Sometimes I use “˜you' and “˜Garrett' interchangeably, so from here on, I probably mean “˜you' the character, not “˜you' the person.


        Relationship in Prologue: What I get from it is that they worked together, he trained her, then they separated over her use of violence. He's not a father-figure. She pushes more than she pulls, but occasionally she forgets to be bitchy. She forgets because the bitchy is an act. She wants him to see her as an equal, even a rival, but if she just does what he does, she'll only be “˜like Garret, but not as good'. She want's his respect, but not as an underling. And yes, the last cutscene needs a few frames of black before the loading screen.

        Basso and Orion: Yeah, Basso is supposed to stay between clients and Garrett, but Orion isn't just a client, he's a VIP doing loads of work for the poor and heading a revolution. If Orion's plans (as far as the characters know) work out, getting on his good side now could lead to having friends in very high places, and in any case, Basso believes in him.

        Passing Out Before Orion: Isn't this one of his first Erin Hallucinations? It makes sense that as Erin continues communicating with Garrett, she would learn how to do it without knocking him out. Or he would get used to it and not be as adversely affected, or something could have caused it on her end, or any number of reasons. Also, the Primal energy knocks him out at the end of the prologue, and in the ending.

        The Hallucination in Erin's Lair: This is where the bits of her character that were present in the prologue really get spelled out. She didn't like where she was. Then she met Garrett. He had freedom, capability, and respect. He had what she wanted, so she had him teach her. But no matter how proficient she got, she was always less than him. “The world already has a Garrett”, and she was stuck in his shadow. That's why she acted out. That “dead guards won't come looking for me later” from the prologue is exactly the bullcrap rationalization it sounded like. The reason she started killing guards is because Garrett doesn't. She didn't want to just be a copy of Garrett, She wanted to be her own person. She didn't want him to be a surrogate father figure, she wanted him to respect her as an equal.

        Brothel Patrons: It's not that they don't see you, it's that they're both very distracted and trying very hard to not pay attention to you. They're probably paying more money per hour than Garrett has to keep those boobs in their faces. Also they have boobs in their faces. To them, Garrett is somebody else's problem. If I were in their position, even if Garrett made faces while riverdancing, the most I would do is get up and walk somewhere else.

        Opium Plumbing: It says somewhere, or you overhear it or whatever, that they keep low levels of opium smoke in all the rooms where the patrons are. Also, since this place is underground, there have to be air vents, and yes, you do get to climb around on them in several spots.

        Secret Passage in the Master bedroom: Xiao Xiao's bedroom is in the master bedroom/main office of the small complex. If there's going to be a secret passage or escape route, that's where it's going to start.

        Unreachable Rooms: In the main brothel there is at least one door you can't open that I remember, but there are probably others. In the far sides of the four rooms, there are doors. The unreachable space between those rooms is large enough for a hallway. I suspect those places are connected.

        The Erin Flashback in the Secret Passage: All the information you see suggests that Erin worked there, hated it, and killed a guy when he tried to do something to her that she didn't want. None of it suggests that she was an undercover thief. Occam's Razor.

        The Audio is a Mess: Yes, the audio is a mess. It needs to get patched.

        Should have been cleaned up or AO: The view through the first peephole is porn. The third peephole gets repeated needlessly. The thing that got me though, was in a large section of South Quarter, two guys tell an anecdote about a thug boss cutting off a woman's finger to get her wedding ring to pay for someone's debt. And then they laugh about it. My file system has a directory labeled “˜Gore Gifs', but this is where I had to mute the game. This is a sequel to a game where someone called me a “˜taffer'. If you want to hammer on something, hammer on this, because it really needs it. This should not have the same rating as Halo and Thief: Deadly Shadows.

        Book Location and Orion: Orion says the book is in the Brothel. The book is actually in a massive Keeper shrine below the brothel. Orion is already lying to us about various other things. He could be lying now. He could just be wrong. Or he could mean: “It's actually in a Keeper shrine below the Brothel, but I don't want you to know that I know about Keepers and what's underground, and you can get there from the Brothel anyway, So I'll send you there and trust you to find it because you have a history of accomplishing this sort of thing.”

        In Summary: Garrett visited Erin's hideout and obtained a key he didn't know he would need, which granted him access to a secret area he didn't know existed, and which he chose to enter even though he'd been explicitly told his goal was elsewhere, and it all made sense at the time.

        The Ending and Why It's Great:
        Spoilers. By the end, I was invested in Erin, and wanted her to live. I wanted to see how she turned out in the next game. When she died, I was angry. It was Garrett's fault, again. Then I reflected. This Garrett is a character who stopped fleeing a burning building in order to unlock a box and see what's inside. Erin's been held hostage on the ship after narrowly escaping death, and most of the time I took to get here was spent creeping around and nicking stuff. I have been role-playing even though I didn't know it. Erin died because instead of listening to her and helping her, I was too busy with my own personal bullcrap, and doing my own thing. And I had been doing that the entire game. The Garrett I played had treated Erin as only ever a secondary priority. I hadn't been making a hero who would rush to save his damsel in distress. I had been making a lonely fuckup who would get distracted, lose people, and regret it later. Actually succeeding in saving her would have been out of character.

        The real story was what I'd been doing all along. Cutscene Garrett had come to the ship to save Erin, and would have given her the claw and helped her up, but Gameplay Garrett, the real Garrett, the Garrett who unlocked a jewelry box while his feet caught fire, looks at the book, the stone, the ring, the eye, and the primal trapped in Erin, sees a lock and thing in a box, and gets the thing out of the box first, like he always does.

        And then he wakes up, alone, like he always does.

        That's why I liked the ending.

  9. That guy getting slapped was amusing but they missed a chance, imagine being able to sneak into those rooms, then maybe hew mistress has to leave for a moment (to get a whip?), and Garret rumages around and steals the guys wallet or something, and as Garret is about to sneak out again he sucker punches the guy.
    And maybe overhear a amusing lie or two based on that afterwards between him and the mistress.

    I’d also like to say I agree with most of what you have pointed out Shamus, there are some odd choices here.
    It’s like it was designed by a committee, or did the game have major direction issues?

    It’s like they lost continuity.
    Which is odd considering how many AAA games try to be Hollywood movies. At least movies tend to have one or more guys whose sole role is Continuity, they are even listed in the movie credits.
    Games clearly need those too, a guy/gal going “Hey, this part makes no sense at all, it’s counter to this previous stuff!”

  10. Daimbert says:

    When I read the first part, I had an idea of making Erin Garrett’s sister, which would allow for a relationship like the one they seemed to have and make it meaningful as well. She would be an assassin and he’d want her to not be one and be a thief. That idea would make this conversation make sense, and allow for this backstory: Erin idolized her older brother when she was younger, and wanted to be like him. He tried to teach her, but was too harsh with her, and she felt that she could never live up to his expectations. So she dropped it and became an assassin instead. This would explain the initial comment about her making noise, make her reply be a sarcastic comment on him, explain why he doesn’t like her using the claw despite using it himself later, and explains this comment from her spector. And you could establish it with one line.

    • Axe Armor says:

      I haven’t watched the actual scenes, but Erin’s words and actions have all made sense to me because I assumed from the beginning that she was a giant tsundere. I was going with “daddy issues”, but “Garret-onii-chan no baka” works on essentially the same technology.

  11. BitFever says:

    I don’t see the problem. Clearly Garrett spent that year he can no longer remember reading the plot of this game. Therefore the book from the start MUST be the script!

  12. Anyone besides me laugh out loud at the “opium-based plumbing”?

    I have an alternate theory as to why the writing in this game is so poor: it may be attributable to the average AGE of the writers.

    One thing I noticed while working in the video game industry is that the age of the employees tends to skew fairly young. Most of my coworkers were under the age of 30. Only a handful of us (most were upper management) were over the age of 40.

    Being a good writer takes time, experience, and wisdom. While it’s of course possible for a young writer to be exceptional, it’s not as likely. It takes time – and the subsequent life experiences that come with it – to hone such a craft.

    But most studios aren’t willing/able to pay for (older) experienced writers.

    So what we get is a game with ill-conceived concepts, juvenile themes, and cringe-inducing dialogue that all reflect the writing team’s lack of experience.

    • Naota says:

      I’m not so sure it’s a matter of age as it is talent, decision-making, and internal culture. Ultimately it’s someone’s job to hire the writers and okay the writing for the game, and their preferences will naturally come through in that decision. It seems to me that the game designer (as in, the person who made the game’s initial pitch/GDD) often has more control over how characters act, speak, and present themselves than the game’s actual writer, who is more often just there to provide flavour text and lines for the voice actors.

      It really does feel like there are crucial and immutable writing decisions made by people early on in development who are not, on any level, writers.

      I mean, Rutskarn still has to sneak into movie theatres and I’m of the opinion that his writing for Unrest is miles better than what we’re given in Thief. You’re not saying that age is the defining factor, I know. I just think it’s more to do with the way games are made (or rather, how development teams are hired and managed) than just the preferences of their writers.

      • Rutskarn is the exception that proves the Rule of Cool, as it were.

        Right now, most of the younger writers/devs I’m seeing products from are concerned mostly with spectacle and they lack a sense of subtlety. It’s a lot like Michael Bay, who obviously has studied movie making, but he puts the emphasis on the explodey-shooty rather than the plot. And the really disappointing thing often is that it doesn’t take a whole LOT of plot to make the explodey-shooty have weight and be even more meaningful.

        It’s why our vampire-oriented media is getting sillier and sillier (emphasis on the sexy, make the sexy younger and younger, make the vampire curse more like superpowers, etc.), characters are becoming no deeper than their extraordinary abilities (“He’s the wizard. That guy is the barbarian. That’s also their motivation, suck it up.”), and plots often can’t even bother to show the villains doing evil stuff; They just appear with a big “villain, hate me” sign around their necks and what someone thinks is a cool outfit and expects them to be the next Darth Vader.

        And again, it’s not necessarily youth that’s doing this (look at George Lucas), but I’d say it’s a combination of visceral over cerebral coupled with an industry-wide groupthink about what their demographic wants the most.

        • Soylent Dave says:

          Michael Bay is 49, just to ice the “it’s not age, but attitude / talent” cake.

          But the thing to notice – and it’s worth noticing when we’re making a videogame comparison – is that Michael Bay isn’t a writer, yet he utterly controls the style & pace of his films.

          That’s what typically happens in videogames, too (AAA ones, at least) – writers aren’t dictating the structure & content of the game; it’s more typical that they’re trying to tie together key gameplay scenes and last-minute changes into some sort of coherent narrative.

          Not that the writers are blameless, but as Naota said (one step above), it’s not writers making all the key decisions here.

    • Ofermod says:

      And by the same token, how many studios are willing to take on apprentice writers and train/mentor them in how to write better?

    • Mephane says:

      Not having played the game, just reading Shamus articles, my impression is rather one of too many cooks combined with hasty late modifications without either the resources or thoughtfulness to double-check whether the story still makes any sense at all.

    • drlemaster says:

      I did laugh aloud at the opium-based plumbing. Part of me was thinking, “I am a thief who just discovered a brothel with opium-based plumbing. If that isn’t a win state for the game, I don’t know what is.”

    • Tizzy says:

      But, Leslee: do good writers cost *that* much? Given the budget, and given how the writing is a game is so central to the experience, when will studios finally start realizing that i makes sense paying for actual talent?

      • Kereminde says:

        Ehhhh. “Good writers can’t cost that much.” This sentiment is a little troublesome since you can’t evaluate how good the writer is working with something until they’ve done work on it . . . and you’ve either paid them or wasted their time not paying them for it.

        Secondly, how do you judge good writing if you’re not a writer yourself or have studied it extensively? I mean, it’s relatively easy for us all to sit back and figure it out but we have the free time to do this. And some like Shamus and Charles Sonnenberg make a living at adroitly picking things apart. But to the people who sign the checks and hire people? They probably don’t have the same experience so . . . it’d be easy to fake your way in with something which looks cool.

        Thirdly: most good writers aren’t going to the video game market. They’re going for the publishing market, with novels or short stories or other things. Why? I’d wager because while it doesn’t look like it pays well, it pays better than people are willing to pay in the VG industry.

        And *lastly* . . .

        There are too many people who want to write and don’t know how. It makes it real hard for someone who does know how to stand out from the slush-pile, and there is never any guarantee of success in that front. There’s no shortage of applicants who think they can do the job, and not a lot of time to leave that spot vacant. Pick the one who seems to suck the least and get them working, because we can’t spend months trying to find the best.

        “Besides, nobody plays video games for the PLOT.”

  13. Lisa says:

    There were a few times later in the game that Garrett suffered from the visions, though this is the only one he actually passed out from.
    While I agree with a lot of your points, I can’t help being amused that we see the story about Erin so differently. To me it all seemed quite clear and straightforward. She worked at the brothel previously and with one of her clients (maybe even her first) rebelled and killed him.
    Her relationship with Garrett also seemed clear: an abrasive mentor/student or father/daughter type. She respects him, perhaps wants to emulate him, but she’s also rebelling at him being always overbearing and ‘right’. She seems like someone who has been hurt a lot in the past (and the Brothel ‘scene’ hints at what some of that was) but who wants to trust, perhaps to be ‘better’ (in her mind Garrett seems to be the ‘better’ she’s thinking about).
    Everything else though: spot on, in my opinion.

    • Chris says:

      It’s particularly frustrating because I really liked the strained relationship angle they sort of half-had here. Like, my fear going into this Thief is that Erin would be the stock off-the-shelf love interest who dies and then needs to be avenged to justify Garrett’s actions (the trailers did nothing to alleviate this). And she wasn’t that at all.

      I understand Shamus’ frustration – we enter en medias res, and at that point in time their relationship is already strained and she does nothing but bicker with Garrett. Then she ‘dies’ and that’s all we get to really see of her interacting with him.

      But I totally read their relationship the way you did. And in a game that had a properly developed narrative she would have been an interesting addition to Garrett’s lifestyle, not some awkward distraction from it. The frustrated teenager protege, thinking she knows enough to run off on her own but ultimately still a fanboy of Garrett. Garret and Erin would both have trust issues. They respect each other, but are frustrated with each other in their own ways. It would totes be a relationship I could fanboy over and enjoy, and it would grow Garrett from sarcastic loner to begrudging parent/friend.

      But alas, that game isn’t this game. Erin may be the character we want to reflect Garrett’s growth, but holy jeez if she didn’t pick a terrible game to show up in (narrative wise).

      • Tizzy says:

        There is a lot of ways you can spin a strained mentor to pupil relationship, all of them interesting. Is the student dismissive of the mentor’s teaching because she thinks she knows better? (teenagers? knowing better?) Or is the student a fan and crushed and disappointed at how hard this is, and rebels as a way to avoid admitting failure? Is the mentor disappointed by the student’s lack of talents? Disappointed by his own lackmof teaching skills?

        Mentor/ disciple relationship are emotionally charged and fraught with all these dangers. But it means also that you can’t just sit back and say: ” oh, their relationship is tense” and leave it a that…

  14. Decius says:

    Garrett isn’t the best mentor. He was barely able to complete the Keeper training himself, not from discipline but from skill. Erin lacks both the discipline to become a trained thief and the intuition to become a natural one, so she becomes an amateur thief instead.

    Garrett has previously scolded her for making too much noise, and more than once recognized her by sound alone (Hence “How else would you know it was me?”)

    When Garrett tried to explain how to handle a difficult situation to Erin, and mentions that killing guards might be done as a last resort, he didn’t realize that situations that were trivial for him to ghost past would be impossible for Erin, and that he wasn’t training Erin well enough in the prior resorts of stealth and distraction.

    Erin looks up to Garrett as a father figure, because he’s the first (only?) person to take her seriously as a person. There’s more of a nuanced multidimensional relationship than is referenced, but even the most obvious references to background that the player lacks are panned as not making sense.

  15. papersloth says:

    “Orion, the guy who wanted the ring in the first place. I'm not sure if the game says so explicitly or not, but I'm sure he's also the one that requested the job to steal the primal stone at the start of the game.”

    Uhh, we learn from Baron that Orion=Aldous, why would he want Garrett to interrupt a ceremony he’s a part of? I think the schism between the brothers could have started after the failed ritual, and afterwards in a year’s time Orion prepared his whole revolution thing.

    That book though, somehow moving from the ceremony into abandoned ruins without an entrance, locked by Keeper glyphs no less (with the ‘key’ lying around at Erin’s place all that time). And Orion’s “I’m told it’s somewhere in the brothel”. Ridiculous.

    • modus0 says:

      I got the impression that the book used in the ceremony had been destroyed, and the book you were going after was another copy.

      And I don’t think the game ever does explain who hired you for that job in the prologue.

      • papersloth says:

        Well that would be convenient, wouldn’t it? I wonder why there’s no backup Primal Stone stashed away for plot convenience too.
        And I don’t think it would even work that way – with the single cog-shaped ring to unlock them both.

        • modus0 says:

          Well, it was locked up in a Keeper library. Maybe they had a spare made in case something like what happens should occur, so that they could reverse the ritual.

          And maybe there’s another cog ring out there, lost, which can also open the book(s)?

          We, unfortunately, will never know, because I doubt the devs truly know.

  16. Tea says:

    I just want to remark at how TERRIBLE and cliche Madam Xiao-Xiao was. The devs were patting themselves on the back for having a transwoman in the game and it’s the most offensive and horrible stereotypical transwoman possible.

    They gave her the deepest voice possible, a horribly mangled haircut/wig and like the most dudeface of dudefaces, and made her the mistress of a brothel. They could not have been more stereotypical if they’re pulled Dr. Frank N Furter out of Rocky Horror.

    • papersloth says:

      A character being cliche in Thi4f – what a surprise, what a tragedy. Stands out so much among all these other well-developed original personalities…wait what.

      Why are you even so sure it’s not just a crossdresser? It’s not like there’s any reason to believe otherwise.
      Not to mention that he/she only appears like 1.25 times and should the devs have chosen to keep it subtle no player would even suspect a thing.

      • Tea says:

        Because everyone uses female pronouns for her in the game (at least they did that right?) and the devs have straight up said so while patting themselves on the back for it:

        “I do think we’ll start seeing more LGBTQ secondary characters emerging,” she added. “For example, although we didn’t make a song and dance about it, there is a transgender woman in the Thief world.” Critics didn’t really highlight the presence of a transgender character in Thief either. But many critics didn’t really enjoy the game in the first place, so they might have just thought it wasn’t worth celebrating in any case.

        Also it is completely obvious she’s trans because they gave the the manliest of manly faces they possibly fucking could and the deepest voice possible.

        • Decius says:

          … Why do you assume that Xaio-Xaio is the transwoman that they included? There are several other women that could be trans…

        • papersloth says:

          So, doesn’t that directly contradict what you said? The only one patting herself on the back is Rhianna Pratchett (isn’t she considered a light in the dark within feminist circles?) who more or less disowned her contributions to Thief on twitter.

          The official info is as ambiguous as this:
          “Xiao Xiao is a woman that many firmly believe to be hiding much more than first meets the eye. It is widely held that she’s actually a man although none would ever mention it to her face and none certainly would ever look below-skirts to test how far that theory goes.”

          And I would have thought that having a flat chest, deep voice and manly face are the signs of a man in a dress rather than a transgender person.
          Don’t forget the implications of the game’s setting, too. You seem to think your modern-day perception is the absolute that should be applied to fictional late middle ages. E.g you think they did the pronoun thing right, but actually they would “do it right” if the guards used ‘he’ behind her back, and ‘she’ to the face, which would be consistent with the universe.

  17. newdarkcloud says:

    Thank you for mentioning how completely out of nowhere the catacombs seemed to be. I distinctly remember thinking how implausible it was that Garrett just knew the catacombs were there and that the book was in them.

  18. Brandon says:

    Man, it’s a really good thing Garrett had the sense to read the script before you guys started out. Imagine if he hadn’t?

    This game sounds like an absolute landslide of poor design, it’s a real shame.

  19. Nate Winchester says:

    A client asks to meet the Thief? Wouldn't that be an automatic “no”? Isn't it Basso's job to keep Garrett hidden, anonymous, and secret from clients? Not a big deal, but it did strike me as kind of odd.

    No! Wait, this IS a big deal. Why? Hardcore Thief fans, do you remember the last time a client asked to meet with Garrett? Think hard…

    Yep, it was when Victoria asked Garrett to meet Constantine in the first game. The start of the titular “Dark Project” that led to – among other things – Garrett losing his eye. So yeah, after that incident it seems like Garrett would have a very strict “no meeting clients” rule in place.

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