Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab spacer
spacer New Entries Archives Links subheader placeholder
left edge
Looking Glass Studios Interview Series - Audio Podcast 4 - Randy Smith


Part 4 of a continuing series, where I interview members of the now-defunct but highly influential Looking Glass Studios (1990-2000), which wrote the book on 3D first-person narrative game design throughout the 90s, in such games as Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Thief.

In this episode I talk with Thief level designer extraordinare Randy Smith. Randy created some of the most memorable levels in the Thief series, often bringing the more horror-inspired elements (zombies, ghosts, mysteries) of the Thief universe to the fore. We talk about his approach to level design and how it developed and evolved in the creative environment of Looking Glass before seguing into some of his post-Looking Glass work, including his role as project lead on Ion Storm's Thief sequel (Deadly Shadows) and his indie company Tiger Style, makers of Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor.

Download The Podcast!

To subscribe to the RSS Feed, enter in to your podcast client or RSS reader of choice.


On June 24, 2011 at 1:45 AM, Author Profile Page said:

Hi, in this interview Matthew asked Randy about whether the LGS decision "against" zombies for Thief 2 was influenced by fan reaction to the zombies in Thief 1 on message boards etc.

I was a programmer on Thief, so one of the things I did was "playtest" the game very early. My recollection of this is that the team got lots of pushback on the zombies and burricks from internal testers like me--that some of us had much the same experience with the zombies that came out later on message boards. (That is, we couldn't tell that the zombies had stealth gameplay, etc., and found that experience frustrating.)

So my belief here is that the change in Thief 2 was based not on loud-but-possibly-unrepresentative feedback online, and more based on actual observable internal reactions, with reason to think it was representative. (Certainly I had this opinion, but I think it wasn't just me; but these memories are pretty fuzzy now.)

As long as I'm posting, I'll mention I suspect Randy is right about the overcorrection being unnecessary. I'm suspicious that the narrow corridors of the original zombie encounters made it much harder to discover the stealth gameplay, since you were very limited in where you could go, so the level probably "trained" the player wrong about how to deal with zombies, but this suspicion of mine is just off-the-cuff.

-- Sean Barrett


Good comments here by Sean Barrett.

I enjoyed the weirdness of Thief I, and I agree that the "over-correction" for Thief 2 probably went a bit far, although I also personally felt that some of that correction was well placed.

I did yearn for a bit more of a "true medieval stealth game", so the direction worked for me on the most part, although perhaps sometimes did err towards the overly-dry.

I also thought that Thief 3 was a real pleasure to play, as I was a bit afraid that the "soul" of Looking Glass may not be present. but the end result was a real pleasure for me, and it even came complete with some of the somewhat-charming clunkiness that was always inherent in the first two games!! (Ha!).

I was amongst those for whom "The Cradle" was probably going a bit far in terms of scariness! I actually left the game for some weeks or months at that point, with my nerves almost at meltdown, and to be honest, to really enjoying the degree to which that mission messed with me. To a large degree, I think it was painting the player into a corner, where it was not only scary, but just frustratingly difficult on some ways that felt more frustrating than scary. Partly, I just think the whole area was a bit too large and complex, and left the player (well, me) feeling quite confused and lost, seeing as it took many sittings to get through the level. But maybe that was just me!

However, upon returning several times, and finally getting through that section of the game, does leave you with a special sort of satisfaction, similar to finally finishing "The Lord of the Rings" books. You may not always have enjoyed every description of those little Hobbits "just knuckling down, drawing their cloaks tight and doggedly putting one foot in front of the other..." but by the time you read that last page, you feel like you've been on a truly epic journey!


- Murray

right edge
bottom curves