Paul Neu­rath dis­cusses Look­ing Glass’ can­celled plans for ThiefIII.


Look­ing Glass Stu­dios an­nounced its clo­sure on May 24, 2000, just four months af­ter the launch of its fi­nal game, Thief II. The stu­dio had weath­ered fi­nan­cial trou­bles for many years, but its end still came as a shock. This was be­cause Look­ing Glass had all but set­tled a new deal with Ei­dos In­ter­ac­tive, with the pri­mary fo­cus of the deal be­ing on the Thief fran­chise. In­deed, when Look­ing Glass closed, it had been hard at work on a third Thief game for the best part of a year.

“Be­fore we shut down, that en­gine was look­ing as good as Un­real”

“Thief be­came one of the best-sell­ing games Look­ing Glass ever did,” says Paul Neu­rath, the founder of Look­ing Glass Stu­dios. While it was a slow-burn­ing suc­cess, the ini­tial sales fig­ures were enough that Ei­dos wanted a se­quel. “But they wanted Thief II to be very mod­ern scale, the budget was very mod­est, the timescale was very tight. It was, ‘Do a fast fol­low-up on Thief.’”

Nonethe­less, Look­ing Glass was able to im­prove upon its pre­vi­ous work be­cause, sec­ond time around, it un­der­stood what kind of game it was mak­ing. “We were re­ally able to lever­age our knowl­edge of how stealth worked, which I think made Thief II a bet­ter game,” says Neu­rath.

Just as work on Thief II be­gan, how­ever, sales of The Dark Project started to take off, and Ei­dos saw a vi­able fran­chise. So it signed the stu­dio for a third Thief game, more am­bi­tious than Thief II. “The budget was three or four­fold higher than Thief II. And the time­frame was like a two-and-a-half-year time­frame.”

With the deal in place, Look­ing Glass be­gan work­ing on Thief III in 1999. The planned fea­tures were tan­ta­liz­ing. Thief III would have mul­ti­player. It’d have a freely ex­plorable city, and be built in a new en­gine, dubbed the Siege En­gine.

Fore­most amongst those fea­tures was that open world. “We had re­ally wanted to push was giv­ing the city more con­text and a more per­ma­nent state,” says Neu­rath. “Be­cause the mis­sion struc­ture we did in Thief was so kind of ab­stracted out. The city didn’t re­ally have a sense of place. We wanted to give the city more of a con­text… more of the kind of game­play you see in the GTA games.”

Home Sweet home

In­side this city, Gar­rett would have a place to call his own. “The base build­ing was part of the project. You could have your own place, you could bring your loot back there, and you could deck it out.” The story, mean­while, would have fo­cussed on the Keep­ers, the third of Thief ’s city fac­tions along­side the Pa­gans and the Ham­merites. De­tails are sketchy, but the plot would have seen Gar­rett em­broiled in the Keep­ers’ pol­i­tics, as their po­si­tion as ar­biters of the city’s sta­tus quo be­gins to crum­ble.

Another pil­lar of Thief III’s de­vel­op­ment was mul­ti­player. Look­ing Glass bounced around mul­ti­ple ideas, rang­ing from co-op­er­a­tive mul­ti­player, to com­pet­i­tive death­match, and even ‘theft­match’ style modes. Neu­rath can’t re­call if they set­tled on an ap­proach, but points out that Sys­tem Shock 2, re­leased the year be­fore Thief II, sup­ported a co­op­er­a­tive mul­ti­player. “We crammed in a two-player co-op mode in Sys­tem Shock 2, which was kind of bro­ken, we didn’t have time to do it right, and I wish we’d just not done it. But it wasn’t a choice be­cause EA had made it a re­quire­ment that we have it. But us do­ing that work un­der­scored, ‘We’ve got real work to do. We need to do more un­der-the-hood engineering to make mul­ti­player ro­bust.’”

In­deed, most of Thief III’s ac­tual de­vel­op­ment time was spent in R&D, up­grad­ing the new en­gine to sup­port a larger map that en­abled mul­ti­player. “We were start­ing to look at, ‘How do we cre­ate a more com­plex, larg­er­scope world that we might have to stream in, where we can’t deal with sim­ply load­ing in a level?’”

En­gine room

Along­side this, Look­ing Glass was also work­ing on vis­ual im­prove­ments, as the Dark En­gine had been de­signed to sup­port soft­ware ren­der­ing, and was be­hind the curve on mak­ing the most of 3D ac­cel­er­a­tion tech­nol­ogy. Chris Siegel, another Look­ing Glass alum­nus, “Right be­fore we shut down, that en­gine was look­ing as good as Un­real. I was sit­ting down for a cou­ple of tests, and the light­ing and the tex­ture den­sity and all that was right up there with Un­real at the time.”

Look­ing Glass’s Thief III never saw the light of day, but if you’re think­ing the out­line to Thief III sounds sim­i­lar to that of Deadly Shad­ows, Randy Smith, the de­sign lead of Deadly Shad­ows, was also one of Thief III’s project heads, and Terri Bro­sius, who was tasked with writ­ing Thief III’s story, was lead writer on Deadly Shad­ows. Thief III might have never hap­pened, but many of its ideas found their way out of the dark.

BE­LOW: ThiefIII would’ve seen Gar­rett tan­gle with the Keep­ers in an open world-style city.

LEFT: Paul Neu­rath was the founder of Blue Sky Pro­duc­tions, which be­came Look­ing Glass Stu­dios.

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