Last month there was a minor uproar when Thief game director Nicolas Cantin appeared to indicate that the game's hero Garrett had been designed with more mainstream tastes in mind than those of the series' existing audience. As it turned out, he was actually discussing how the character had evolved during this Thief game's development, rather than claiming it was a shift away from the series' enduring values. "Our early design went a LOT more gothic - with black nails etc - but we thought that this wasn't true to the legacy of Garrett so we pulled it back a bit," Cantin wrote in an official forum update.
Funnily enough, as that story broke I was actually sitting in Eidos Montreal's demo theatre as Cantin and his colleagues walked the international press through the game and many of the design decisions that have gone into it. You can read my Thief preview elsewhere on the site today, but in light of the ruckus Cantin's misconstrued comments caused, I thought you might like to hear what he had to say in person about Garrett's design.
The Thief reveal at Eidos Montreal was staged in several parts - there was a lengthy in-game demo, which we got to see twice through, a tech demo showing a burning mansion, roundtable and one-to-one Q&As with various development staff, and a lot of Powerpoint presentations. One of the latter focused on Garrett specifically.
"We had the opportunity to change the character, but our goal was to bring back Garrett - to reinvent the character but to keep the main pillar of what was Garrett," Nicolas Cantin explained as he walked us through the slides. (If some of his quotes here seem a little awkward, bear in mind English is Cantin's second language and he was commenting on slides rather than just answering questions or giving a talk.)
"From there, we looked at a lot of references, a lot of inspiration, a lot of movies, a lot of games - a lot of things in fact - to create our new Garrett. The main inspiration was the cliche of a thief. You cannot reinvent what is a thief.
"The title [of the game] worked more around the cliche, around what is outlining a character that can be called 'thief'. A raccoon - if you look on the internet it's often related to a thief. In the game industry you already have Sly Cooper who honed that title, but just by looking at videos of the behaviour of [raccoons], you can get inspiration. For us it was food for the mind. To see a Garrett looking like a raccoon is not a goal at all, but just to get inspired from how [a raccoon] invades a home, how he opens a window at night; all those things were really interesting to look at...
"Our main character Garrett is an anti-hero at some point. He's a thief - the word by itself [indicates] he's not someone who is there to do good things. On that side... we wanted to prove he could be a popular character also. Remember The Joker in Batman - he was more popular than Batman almost. So at that point for us it was something that we can go in that direction, make sure Garrett is mean a little bit, even though he is really charismatic.
"The full leather costume - Garrett was already full leather, but with the platform today we can really go deep in the shaders and almost say which kind of leather I want on the character and it will be exactly that. So on that side it was really something we did really strongly - we made [real-life] costumes and then we lighted it to see how it was reacting to the lighting, and then getting inspired by those realistic things. On that side there was The Crow in the 90s - remember The Crow, everyone was dressing like him during Halloween time.
"We wanted to bring a new layer of Garrett, about the identity to hide himself a little bit in the shadows and the mask for us as an outlaw was coming naturally. And it gives really when Garrett is going more stealth - when he's focusing on what he has to do - he puts his mask on in the shadows."
Ah, The Crow. What a blast from the past! At this stage in the presentation we had seen slides of various inspirations, including raccoons, The Joker, The Crow and the hooded face of a classic Wild West outlaw. Next we saw close-up images of Garrett.
"Being Garrett, being the master thief, was one of the biggest fantasies we wanted to keep," Cantin continued. "When I look at his face, I see his past; I see everything that has come from him. So yes, it can be related to where he lived before in the previous game, but like we say we reinvent the character, we have a new story that will explain how he's coming back... 'What's yours is mine.' That is the centre that really we wanted the catchphrase of Garrett to be."
Gesturing to the character portrait on-screen, Cantin added: "It's an in-game character, it's the mesh that we use presenting the game for the cinematic and in-game thing. You see we can reach a lot of details, and it's not only a mesh with a texture on it, it's really... Every detail has been thought about is it fitting, is it really related to Garrett and all those things.
"From here, being a master thief, what it means - he's a shadowy figure, skilled in stealth and infiltration. Intelligent - Garrett is really intelligent, he thinks about what he's doing. Solitary - don't have a lot of friends. Basso [from Thief 2] would be the best one - he's also a side-quest giver. Manually dexterous. Agile. All those things that on our side we wanted to empower Garrett - his agility counter from the previous games - it's a lot of things like that we wanted to push. The survivor feeling - when he's coming back to The City, it is his city, you want to save it at some point. That's what makes him also a hero."
Apart from learning that Basso is involved and scraping a few loose plot morsels from the game demo, there wasn't a huge amount of narrative detail to take away from our day of presentations, but before moving on to other aspects of the game, Cantin talked a little about how all of this fine detailing would be drawn together into a whole by the world design and the story behind each of Garrett's targets.
"The game's occurring always at night, but within the night we have a lot of variation of colour scheme and theme," he noted. "We want to make it sure it feels like each location is unique and has its own flavour, because it's really important for us to feel the immersion of those locations. You're not just going there for loot - you're going for loot with a story. You're going to understand why you're there."
Read our Thief preview for the bigger picture of how all that is coming together at this stage of the game's protracted development. Thief is expected out on PC, PS4 and "other next-gen consoles" (Durango) in 2014.
This story is based on a press trip to Eidos Montreal's offices in Canada. Square Enix paid for travel and accommodation.