Thief Would Have Worked Better With a Bigger Sandbox

Yahtzee Croshaw

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Thief Would Have Worked Better With a Bigger Sandbox

The overworld design in Thief would have probably worked much better with a sandbox approach.

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Evonisia

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Jun 24, 2013
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I agree, I found this to be an issue when I was playing Grant Theft Auto V and Dishonored as well. Didn't this overworld used to be called The Sandbox Paradox by you?
 

Mufujumon

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I actually liked the overworld for Wolfenstein, but other than that I can't think of any that were particularly well done.
 

rofltehcat

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This game could have been a lot better if it had been designed as a sandbox. However, I think they would have had to go a totally different route and it seems their engine can't handle more than 4 or so characters at once. With a good engine and some good design decisions it would have been great.

Another thing to consider is that some people would probably have cried (a lot. a whole lot) out about the "Assassins Creed-ification" of the game.
 

maninahat

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Whilst I agree the overworld in this case takes the worst from sandbox/mission games and none of the good points, I don't think Thief would ultimately benefit from being a sandbox. Thief should be mission based - but with dense, versatile missions. Dishonoured did this right, by presenting the player with levels that had both the mission zone, and some streets immediately surrounding it. Thus it has enough beyond the mission area to explore in detail, but also easily traversable if you are in a rush. Generally, the smaller the area, the more detail you can afford and the less resorting to copy pasta/background sludge to fill the gaps.

Inevitably, all sandbox games risk becoming a commute, the moment the emphasis shifts from exploring the sandbox to mission progression. Thief sits on a fine line that encourages exploration, but ultimately directs you towards specific goals that must be completed to progress.
 
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Funny, I thought the overworld in Mass Effect 2 was bad for approximately the same reasons. You have a cast of exciting, valuable crew members, each with distinct personalities, goals, fears and desires - and then they spend their entire lives waiting patiently in their rooms (or doing calibrations, bless his alien heart)for Shepherd to visit or send them on a mission. In the whole game, I can only recall a couple of times they left their rooms to interact with each other.

Maybe overworlds need a timer. For instance, in Thief it could be "The meeting is at sundown in this tavern," and you have the opportunity to poke around the district until then. You could case the tavern and make sure you know the quickest way out, you could pick a couple pockets, or you could just hang out and listen to the NPCs go through a little script. You get the sense of life happening that you have from a sandbox, but not the massive programming required to actually make it so.
 

themilo504

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i like the idea of a overworld in thief if the point of the overworld is gathering information and equipment for the next mission, like stealing maps and bribing guards to get keys and info and maybe even looking for secret entrances.
 

Thanatos2k

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It's just another symptom of the bloated AAA budget ruining everything. In the previous Thief games, the lack of an overworld was probably budget driven - they didn't have the time or money to make one, so they did without and focused their entire design on the level. The limitations made the game better.

Now it's a checkbox of "gotta have this" nonsense and 378 people all designing things in parallel.
 

Terminal Blue

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I recall a couple of missions in Thief 2 that took place in the city itself, where Garrett was either on the run from the law or tailing someone (avoiding spoilers) and also one long section of travelling along the rooftops, and they made for an interesting change of pace and environment. I don't think Thief would be ruined by more of that sort of thing at all. What I think would be cool though is if you still retained an overall objective and the impromptu heists, loot and random stuff to be found along the way were purely incidental rather than the focus of the experience.

Both Thief and Thief 2 really rewarded exploration. In fact, on higher difficulties combing the whole map was pretty much essential and you'd also get some pretty neat story and world building material by doing so. It wasn't all "get in, complete objective, get out". The notion of a sandbox still isn't that far from the core thief experience.
 

Darth_Payn

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rofltehcat said:
This game could have been a lot better if it had been designed as a sandbox. However, I think they would have had to go a totally different route and it seems their engine can't handle more than 4 or so characters at once. With a good engine and some good design decisions it would have been great.

Another thing to consider is that some people would probably have cried (a lot. a whole lot) out about the "Assassins Creed-ification" of the game.
For a game like Thief, an Assassin's Creed-style sandbox and way of getting around makes perfect sense. Lots of places hiding goodies to reward and encourage exploration, making your own path through the area, and why not have freerunning?Speaking of, AC IV had the Caribbean Sea for its overworld, and that one kicked ass.
maninahat said:
Whilst I agree the overworld in this case takes the worst from sandbox/mission games and none of the good points, I don't think Thief would ultimately benefit from being a sandbox. Thief should be mission based - but with dense, versatile missions. Dishonoured did this right, by presenting the player with levels that had both the mission zone, and some streets immediately surrounding it. Thus it has enough beyond the mission area to explore in detail, but also easily traversable if you are in a rush. Generally, the smaller the area, the more detail you can afford and the less resorting to copy pasta/background sludge to fill the gaps.

Inevitably, all sandbox games risk becoming a commute, the moment the emphasis shifts from exploring the sandbox to mission progression. Thief sits on a fine line that encourages exploration, but ultimately directs you towards specific goals that must be completed to progress.
Yahtzee already compared the new Thief to Dishonored (unfavorably to both games) in his video last week.
 

Xman490

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Now I wonder if The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past (and A Link Between Worlds) had sandboxes instead of overworlds. It's obvious that the 3D Zelda games (except for Wind Waker, I guess) had plain overworlds: Hyrule/Termina Field/Sky. While every Zelda game has dungeons that are separate from the overworlds, ALTTP and ALBW have things to do besides commuting in them, thus placing themselves as many fans' favorite Zelda games.

And there is the key distinction: sandboxes have way more to do than overworlds. In GTA, you can run over pedestrians and escape cops. In Skyrim, you can flee from a troll and snipe a saber cat with arrows atop a big rock. In Prototype, you can kill everything in sight and collect things. And in ALTTP/ALBW you can charge into guards and get tools and tips from villagers.
Just like in Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Skyward Sword, Thief 4's overworld is little more than a commute. The only things to do in them besides running are stopping by secret grottoes, dropping by little floating islands, and slipping into houses, respectively. The worlds are practically blank besides those spots.

At least The Legend of Zelda on Wii U is inspired by ALBW and Wind Waker HD, so there may finally be a glorious combination of nook-and-cranny exploration and 3D earthy areas.
 

meunkin

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It looks like the link to the Thief video is broken and now just points to an ad for the escapist's youtube channel...
 

Batou667

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My favourite Overworld has to be the main city in the original Ninja Gaiden. The free-running nature of the game made it a pleasure to run, leap and wall-run through, whether you were trekking to the next mission, exploring, heading to Muramasa's shop or just finding dudes to kill. As geeky as it sounds, the architecture was one of my favourite things about that game, and being able to explore a city was a great experience (albeit an effin' murderous city full of contrived lever and button puzzles).
 

Llarys

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With the idea of an "Overworld" or "Hub Area" or "Red Light District," whatever you prefer, what about the likes of the overworld in Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and to a lesser extent, Mario Galaxy?

I always enjoyed those (at least, much MUCH more than those horrendous level select screens that have plagued Mario ever since Galaxy), as they added some life to the areas Mario was exploring. Finding all the little nooks n' crannies in Peach's Castle was fun. Harrassing the Pinatas from the central island in the island chain, where you could see the other islands (that were the levels) was also fun.

I guess with the dichotomy of Overworlds vs Sandboxes, I feel the Overworld needs to be more in the vein of the first two Mario games I mentioned. They serve as an interesting areas choke full of fun secrets and collectables, and serve to add life to the game world, rather than turn it into a sloggy player conveyance area.
 

FPLOON

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Well, given that I finally realized the true difference between Overworld and Sandbox, I can honestly say that I still cannot tell the difference between them based on the games that I have played so far... But, I'll try...

For example(?):
-The first God of War (when you think about it) had a semi-changing Overworld...
-The first Tales of Symphonia (even before reaching the "first" half-way point in the game) is an expanding Sandbox that first comes off as an Overworld... (The second game's Overworld was just a map..)
-Catherine has two Overworlds... kinda...
-Sonic 06 had a Sandbox feel, but it totally acts like a poorly-done Overworld... (The same could be said for Sonic Unleashed... kinda...)
-Sonic Generations has a "great" Overworld... (with a "hidden" trophy room...)
-The later Persona games has a day Overworld used for Social Links, Request, and more... and a night Overworld mainly for choosing your teammates for the night...
-The first Jak and Daxter had an Overworld while the two main sequels were basically Sandboxes...
-The original Legend of Zelda was an Overworld trapped in a Sandbox while it's sequel, Link's Adventure, was basically that only more Overworld than Sandbox...
-All three Hyperdimension Neptunia games had different approaches to an Overworld, with the last two having a similar Overworld feel...
-Kingdom Hearts 2 had a better Gummi Ship Overworld, however the worlds, themselves, in the first Kingdom Hearts were less restricting in overall navigation...

Yeah... I still can't tell the full difference, but both kinda need to have that feel that the world the game creates matters in some way... Otherwise, it comes off as "odd" during gameplay...
 

Razorback0z

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What I find most disappointing about Thief and many other games of the past couple of years that touch on "medieval" subject matter such as thievery, swordplay, adventuring etc, is that Oblivion did them all in one game and did them better as individual elements than the games that specialise in that element.

Seriously the rogue/thieving mechanics and storyline in Oblivion are massively better than Thief. They are comparable if not superior to AC in most respects and the list goes on, including doing the sandbox about as well as any other game.

It certainly shows how incredible Oblivion was, but it also clearly demonstrates how unbelievably lazy most developers are. They are satisfied with just enough to make a profit and not much more in most cases. Rockstar being a notable exception more often than not.
 

Shalok

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maninahat said:
Whilst I agree the overworld in this case takes the worst from sandbox/mission games and none of the good points, I don't think Thief would ultimately benefit from being a sandbox. Thief should be mission based - but with dense, versatile missions. Dishonoured did this right, by presenting the player with levels that had both the mission zone, and some streets immediately surrounding it. Thus it has enough beyond the mission area to explore in detail, but also easily traversable if you are in a rush. Generally, the smaller the area, the more detail you can afford and the less resorting to copy pasta/background sludge to fill the gaps.

Inevitably, all sandbox games risk becoming a commute, the moment the emphasis shifts from exploring the sandbox to mission progression. Thief sits on a fine line that encourages exploration, but ultimately directs you towards specific goals that must be completed to progress.
100% Agree that Dishonored did this right
 

Kahani

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Thunderous Cacophony said:
Funny, I thought the overworld in Mass Effect 2 was bad for approximately the same reasons. You have a cast of exciting, valuable crew members, each with distinct personalities, goals, fears and desires - and then they spend their entire lives waiting patiently in their rooms (or doing calibrations, bless his alien heart)for Shepherd to visit or send them on a mission. In the whole game, I can only recall a couple of times they left their rooms to interact with each other.
I was going to mention Mass Effect as a series that generally did it quite well. The important point is that the overworld isn't just the Normandy, which I agree was a bit shit, but also places like the Citadel, various big mission hubs, and the galaxy map. Almost all the world building and role playing happens in these areas where there is little to no action. You can run straight through them to get to the missions if you want, or you can wander around exploring the setting. Deus Ex, both the original and HR, are similar, with overworlds that do a lot to expand the setting and give you the feeling that the game actually takes place in a world rather than just being a series of action setpieces strung together.

The problem with Thief 3 (I've not played the new one) is that it really wasn't a world at all. It was just a few boring streets you had to walk down over and over again to talk to the same person to give you your next mission. That's really the difference between an overworld that works and one that doesn't - it has to actually feel like a world, not just an overly long connecting corridor.

Darth_Payn said:
and why not have freerunning?
Because it's silly and really doesn't fit in with the game at all. Freerunning might be entertaining when you're playing some sort of crazy ninja, but in Thief you're supposed to be basically a regular guy who steals stuff. Normal people do not get around the place via interpretative dance. It doesn't make a lot of sense in a game like Titanfall either, but at least that can get away with it by not having any real story at all so having a bunch of soldiers dancing along rooftops doesn't feel quite as silly. Basically, freerunning is an interesting gameplay mechanic, but like any other mechanic you can't just throw it in every game and assume it will work because people liked it in a different game.
 

Elementary - Dear Watson

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Llarys said:
With the idea of an "Overworld" or "Hub Area" or "Red Light District," whatever you prefer, what about the likes of the overworld in Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and to a lesser extent, Mario Galaxy?

I always enjoyed those (at least, much MUCH more than those horrendous level select screens that have plagued Mario ever since Galaxy), as they added some life to the areas Mario was exploring. Finding all the little nooks n' crannies in Peach's Castle was fun. Harrassing the Pinatas from the central island in the island chain, where you could see the other islands (that were the levels) was also fun.

I guess with the dichotomy of Overworlds vs Sandboxes, I feel the Overworld needs to be more in the vein of the first two Mario games I mentioned. They serve as an interesting areas choke full of fun secrets and collectables, and serve to add life to the game world, rather than turn it into a sloggy player conveyance area.
I think you have stepped onto something similar, but maybe catagorised differently here. A lot of platformers, mostly 3D ones, have this kind of level selection, and it works for them... although it lacks all realism. The only reason it works with platformers is that the mechanics of a platformer revolves around collecting things. The level select world therefore can create scenarios that allow you to collect further things, and allow you to test abilities in a safe environment.

The overworlds here are also where the story is often... with games like Spyro and Gex where the levels were totally random, but the level-select world provided the background scenario and was where the story progression took place.

It's something I don't think would transfer well to realistic games like thief.
 

Objectable

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I think Overworld vs. Sandbox can be defined as this:
An Overworld is a group of dungeons that are connected by a large room. This room often has cool stuff in it, but the real meat of a game is in the dungeons.
A sandbox is where the overworld IS the dungeons. It will often have important locations, but more often than not the various areas all bleed into one another.

Essentially, its Arkham Asylum vs. Arkham City
Asylum has an overworld.
City has a sandbox.