Deus Ex Director Says Future Of Immersive Sims Is Multiplayer

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Immersive sims are traditionally thought of as single-player titles. They can be really dense and systems-heavy games in which having even one player introduces an incredible number of variables, as that one player uses the freedom they’re afforded to tackle situations in any number of ways. It takes no small amount of creative ingenuity and coding wizardry to allow for all those possibilities, and that would only be magnified by the presence of another player, or a whole set of other players. Think of titles like System Shock or Prey, for instance, and imagine how injecting another player into these games—which already encourage folks to bend the rules—might completely turn them on their heads, and potentially even break them. Imagine The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom with a second Link capable of doing all the things the first could already do. It sounds unwieldy, but the grandfather of the immersive sim thinks this is the logical next step for the genre. I think he’s probably right.

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In an interview with Game Developer, Warren Spector, the acclaimed developer credited with the creation of the immersive sim and landmark titles in the genre like Deus Ex and System Shock, divulged some details about one of his studio’s upcoming games, Thick as Thieves, which aims to marry immersive sim gameplay with a competitive multiplayer angle to break new ground in the genre. The upcoming immersive sim would drop two thieves into a setting not unlike that of Thief: The Dark Project and task them with traipsing through the dark city streets trying to outthief one another. One might embark on a job to steal some highly prized loot while the other waits in the shadows trying to screw them over. Players are also afforded the opportunity to work together, or interact in any number of ways. Spector shared that players can outright avoid each other if they choose to, follow one another, take each other out, or even set aside their momentary differences to work together towards a mutual goal.

Spector’s studio, OtherSide Entertainment, is also working on making the game’s world react to the actions that players take in it. Accordingly, a large part of the loop of a Thick as Thieves session will include gathering intel from around the city, which can be gained by bribing guards, for example. This kind of interactivity with one another in a live and reactive environment is the “next logical step” for the genre, according to Spector. “Part of the simulation is the human interactions in the world…It’s really a simulation that we drop a set of thieves into.” As part of its live-service offerings, Thick as Thieves will likely release new neighborhoods of the city over time as well as new thieves to promote different play styles, according to OtherSide’s CEO Paul Nerath.

OtherSide’s design philosophy surrounding Thick as Thieves emerged from a Dungeons & Dragons game that Spector played a number of years ago. The team is trying to successfully recreate the feeling Spector felt playing D&D, specifically the novelty of player-driven storytelling, by empowering players of Thick as Thieves to chart their own story in a live environment. It’s an approach that’s not unlike the kind of stuff Larian Studios received acclaim for in its previous title, Divinity: Original Sin II, which was praised for the open-endedness of its story and how much the world reacted to the player’s actions by the end of the journey.

The multiplayer angle of Thick as Thieves might also ring familiar to folks who’ve played Arkane’s Deathloop, which allowed players to invade one another’s games as a pivotal character in the narrative. Though Deathloop’s experimentation with this format yielded mixed results, perhaps due to how restrictive the mechanic was, there’s reason to believe that there’s potential in the approach by looking at other titles. Baldur’s Gate 3’s fully functional multiplayer in an otherwise-complicated game suggests as much.

There might be a lot of roadblocks standing in the way of such a clearly ambitious project, and I’m definitely reserving judgment until I see the game in action, but the concept is promising. Not to suggest that single-player immersive sims have bottomed out, because they absolutely haven’t, but one of the most exciting things about modern games is how much players have been able to use them to tell their own stories. A studio making games that explicitly pick up on that thread and seeing what exciting new things it can yield for the medium is a net positive, in my eyes.

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