March 7th, 2013


It's beginning to look a lot like LG

Hot on the heels of the re-release of System Shock 2 for modern machines, yet more news related to my time at Looking Glass: Thief 4 has finally been officially announced.

For those who never played it, Thief was an absolute hoot: a first-person game that *wasn't* mostly a shooter. Instead, you played a thief, so you were trying to sneak around and steal things. While it was possible to get into fights and win them (using your trusty sword, which was essentially the same object as System Shock 2's wrench), it wasn't the way the game was optimized -- instead, it was largely about sneaking around, hiding in dark places until the guards passed, and using your bow and trick arrows to do things like shoot out the lights.

Thief was how I wound up in the game business in the first place. I'd been working for Intermetrics for ten years, doing mostly fairly boring corporate stuff, when the company got bought by a small-time media mogul who wanted to use it as a springboard to build a new-media empire. We were working on some game projects in-house (I wrote a pitch for us to do a Babylon 5 MMORPG way back in 1997, and we lost a good six months being jerked around by Paramount Digital on a ST:TNG game), but nothing came of most of them. So when Looking Glass found itself in financial hot water (due to the fact that British Open Golf sold about four copies), he swung in and bought the company.

At that point, those of us at Intermetrics who were looking for more interesting things to do seized our chance. My boss (the VP of Engineering, Bill Carlson) jumped ship to LG, and took several of his favorite engineers (including myself) with him. We got tasked with various jobs as "consultants" -- Mike began the initial development of the multiplayer engine (which I more or less completely rewrote the following year for System Shock 2), and I wound up working for Tom Leonard, writing the Dark Engine's resource-management system to his designs. Thief was ramping up to its big final push after years of development (having started life as Dark Camelot, a game about sword-fighting with zombies), so it was a crazy but fun time.

It was a short project -- I worked on Thief for about three months before moving over to System Shock 2 -- but pretty life-changing. Bill arranged to have us all hired formally by Looking Glass just before Intermetrics (by now itself a division of the aptly-named Titan Corporation) sold the company again. (I've always assumed that it was no coincidence that Bill arranged for us to change companies the day *after* we all got vested with stock.) Switching from a biggish company to a smallish one was a revelation: I discovered that, for all the horrors of the game industry, working in a frenetic close-knit team is *vastly* more fun than a bland corporate programming job, and that I vastly prefer small companies. While I left the game industry when LG shut down, I still count it among the most formative experiences of my career.

Anyway, fingers crossed that Thief 4 lives up to its predecessors -- that the folks working on the new game grok *why* Thief was so great, and create something new and cool along those lines...

Yeah, okay -- this algorithm is now hitting on all cylinders

I know that my synonym-finding algorithm is finally truly debugged when it tells me that "Gwenllian Bassett" is the same person as "Rhiannon Ravensong". My reaction, of course, was "WTF?" -- and then I go digging, find that Gwenllian is also named "Rhiannon Bassett", with the epithet "Ravensong".

Always disconcerting (but encouraging) to find that my software is now smarter than I am...