You know, when Thief first came out I wasn't into it. I thought it was too much waiting, and too punishing when you got caught. I didn't give it enough of a chance. But enough people raved about it, so later I played Thief 2 and realized that the game wasn't so much about hiding in the shadows, but about sneaking up behind people and knocking them out. That knowledge, and an increased reliance on quicksave, made it one of my favorite games ever.
The Thief 3 tutorial makes sure you know the bread-and-butter gameplay of Thief before it turns you loose, including a demonstration of how to use flash bombs, which I never used that much in Thief 2 but now realize are very useful.
Something game designers hear a lot: "I didn't like your game because such-and-such was too hard." At which point the designer says, "Oh, but you can just such-and-such to get past that point." We can't ship the game designer with the box, so we make these tutorials, hoping and praying they'll teach the player everything they need to know to have fun, but all too often don't.
That's What I Would Have Done
If you'd handed me the Thief license and said, "Where can we go from here?" I would have said, "Let's put it in a continuous world. The city can be an overworld and then you can go inside basements and houses - they'll be your dungeons." Which is just what they did. "Ideally, it would be seamless, but we're stuck with the Unreal engine and not made out of money, so people will just have to deal with the load times as you go from district to district." Check. (We were going to do the same thing with Spider-Man 2, but then we decided that we are made out of money, so we went for seamless.) "And we could gradually expand the area of the city that you can get to as you progress." Check. "And the outfitting you used to do between missions can be done in some kind of black-market shops." Check. "And we can have side quests." Check. (Although I didn't actually do any.) "And hidden areas with extra loot." Check. The end result: it's more than a game, it's a world.
Thief 3 has small levels that are exquisitely detailed. To my untrained eye it's as close to photorealistic as action-adventure has gotten. The framerate suffered for it on my poor PC. Still, it's as if they decided to do the opposite of GTA; instead of a large, empty city it's small and jam-packed with interest, and I think that's what allowed them to make the levels look so nice. I think it was a good choice.
Simulation vs. Game - as graphics get more realistic, one might think it's a good idea for the simulation to keep pace. There are all kinds of places in Thief where the simulation isn't convincing: when you drag a dead body away, you leave his sword there, and nobody seems to notice; bad guys searching for you in the shadows walk right up next to you and don't notice you; the bad guys keep a run of banter going as they search...as if you're telepathically listening to them. (Maybe you are, I'm not clear on whether Garret's keeper training included telepathy or not.) When they find a dead body, they search for you a little while, and then resume their normal patrol. (Shouldn't you guys be calling for backup or the coroner or something?) BUT 'fixing' these flaws would probably ruin the game, making it too punishing.
Underneath all the pretty graphics there is a rule system. Blackjack or shoot an unaware opponent and they die; once they're aware, the blackjack does nothing, and the arrows hurt but do not kill. Not a very good simulation (surely a well placed blackjack or arrow would kill them whether they were aware or not, eh?) but a good game, one that encourages stealth above all. Once you've used your flashbomb, you can run, but not fight - hitting or shooting your opponent magically restores their sight. Again, not a good simulation, but a good game. Your opponents hear you if you run, but they don't hear the sound of their friend's body slumping to the floor after you've sapped him. Learning the rules takes time, but once you've learned them, you start feeling the sensation of mastery; you can play this game perfectly. (And when you do slip up, there's always the flash bomb.)
I imagine the split between the quality of the visual simulation and the abstraction of the gameplay bothers some people. I can imagine people saying, "Why didn't that kill him?" and "Why was I caught just now?" It doesn't bother me. (Who was it who said, "I don't see Mario; I see a cursor"? I can't find the reference.) For me, good graphics on an abstract game is like having a high quality chess set.
This Industry Chews Up Directors
So Randy Smith quit after Thief 3; Harvey Smith quit after Deus Ex 2; Chris Soares stepped down after Spider-Man; it's looking like Tomo may step down after Spider-Man 2...he certainly seems battered by the experience...; am I just focusing on anecdotes or is directing really rough? It seems like they're flogged for every imperfection, and they get it from both ends: people in upper management want to make sure their thumbprint mars the director's vision, and people on the team get pissed off because they think the director is working them too hard, or is focusing on the wrong things, or whatever.
(I just looked for that bit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest about how the bird at the head of the V can't hold that position forever and needs to take turns but couldn't find it.)
We have an idea for making the job easier next project; I'll tell you how it worked out in three years.