Thief: The Source Code…

Thief: The Source Code after the break…

Thief: The Source Code…

Update: Dec. 13, 2010 – Yes, I know about “it.” No, I’m not writing anything about it…yet. For those who want to know, searching the Internet in obvious places is what you have to do. That’s all I’m going to write.

Back to the original post…

No, I don’t have the source code for “Thief: The Dark Project” (or, for that matter, “Thief II: The Metal Age” or “System Shock 2”). However, I’d like to address the issue of releasing the source code for “The Dark Engine,” which was the game engine that ‘powered’ the above-mentioned games.

You would think that every video game developer would deserve to have a dedicated fan base that plays and promotes their games through continued usage. Some video games have this type of fan base while others do not and that is a shame; There are plenty of video games that, for one reason or another, are simply overlooked by the game playing population for a variety of reasons.

Imagine if the text and pictures in the books you kept in your house faded fairly quickly. Every few years, the words get more faded and jumbled while pictures become more obscured. After a decade or so, most of those books would become virtually unreadable and their pictures indecipherable. It is a horrible thought that is fortunately fictitious – Ink doesn’t fade that fast unless a drastic event occurs to the book (such as flood, fire or intentional damage).

While books do not suffer from the above dire scenario, video and computer games are not so fortunate. Computer and video games rely upon operating systems in order to make the function – Think of a spoken language, like “English” or “Russian,” as an operating system. If the English language changes, the book that was written in English before the changes occurred will not be as clear as a book written after the changes. With each new change in the operating system (or “language”), the media that was written in prior versions of that language suffers because fewer people can read that media and read it as it was intended to be read.

Unlike a spoken language, however, operating systems can change drastically enough so that computer and video games that operated without incident earlier might suddenly not operate at all in later versions. This scenario is not hypothetical but has been occurring ever since operating systems have been in existence. Whereas a few words changing in the English language might not render an entire book written in an earlier version of that language completely useless, the same can not be said for computer and video games. All it takes are a few lines of programming code added or removed from an operating system and that computer game may become worthless to that operating system.

Fortunately, computer and video games are written so that they can be easily translated (or transferred) to other operating systems. The “source code” of these games can be read by trained computer programmers and altered to adapt to different operating systems. the function is performed all the time and even has a name for it – Porting.

What is vital, though, is that these games are only easily translated (“ported”) into other operating systems if the source code is available to be translated. Sadly, there is both historical and modern precedent where the “source code” for both games and other media no longer exists for one reason or another.

In early radio, the producers of radio show content was amiss about radio stations continuing to buy content from them. They reasoned, erroneously, that radio stations would be less likely to buy content from them if they kept the content that they had previously bought. Therefore, several stations were forced to sign contracts stating that they would destroy earlier recordings before they could be sold more recordings. In some cases, stations would have to send back copies or the smashed remains of copies before they could acquire the new material. As a result of this form of thinking, countless radio series are most likely lost forever with all of their copies having been lost to both time and intentional damage.

As a civilization, we would like to think that we are always living in a more enlightened age and that we will readily prevent the mistakes from the past from occurring in the present. However, this is not the case with new mediums –

* As black and white cartoons gave way to color cartoons, cinema owners and cartoon distributors carelessly destroyed thousands of priceless reels of black and white cartoons, thinking that they were no longer of any value. Some of the cartoons likely lost were priceless, including early cartoons of “Oswald the Rabbit,” a direct predecessor of “Mickey Mouse.”

* The BBC (The British Broadcasting Corporation) had a policy of destroying prior media efforts of radio, movies and television through a combination of reasoning that involved actors guilds, costs of storing the medium and the illogical thought that the viewing audience did not prefer repeated shows. This has left an indelible scar on English radio and television history as several acclaimed series, such as “Doctor Who,” suffered as a result of destroyed television episodes, likely never to be recovered again.

* As mentioned above, American radio series also suffered from the illogical notion that no one wanted to listen to radio show dramas once television took prominence as the medium of choice. Even popular series, such as “Superman,” may have had dozens of episodes lost forever as a result of corporate squandering from the radio stations on up. Other series, such as “Buck Rogers,” only have a few known episodes in existence while some series, such as the original series of “The Shadow” may be lost forever.

Even when people recognize the importance of saving our media for future generations to enjoy, the preservation techniques are less then ideal. Antique film stock, not properly stored, “rots” within only twenty years and must be carefully maintained to prolong it’s life. Even modern film stock fares little better then it’s ancestor. Compact discs last an average of ten years and their writable counterparts, CD-R, last considerably less. Videotape is notorious for wearing out and fading even when not used, having a maximum lifespan of just over 20 years. Some videotapes from the 1960s are already so worn that they are effectively worthless, both from use and the ravages of time. Even when society has the best of intentions, the original media that these works are comprised on have a limited lifespan.

Source code, fortunately, is different then film stock, video tape and phonograph records – Having source code can keep a computer or video game alive “forever,” because it is a language that can be translated to other languages as seen fit.

So, how does this all relate to a single video game called “Thief: The Dark Project”? Well, for years, the fan base for the Thief franchise has been petitioning the owners of that franchise to make the source code of that game available so that the game may be preserved. With the source code, the game could be updated to become playable on modern operating systems (As of this writing, Windows XP / Vista / “7”). Additional features may be added to the game or it may be re-written to make the game more efficient.

It has come to my understanding that the computer game company Eidos presently has the source code for “Thief” but has not presently made a formal announcement that they are in possession of this source code and have not announced what they intend to do with it.

While I have no authority with them, I would like to suggest that this source code be released to the public. The fan base for the “Thief” franchise is deserving of having this title remain playable through the foreseeable future. This fan base has been dedicated towards the preservation of this series and it’s distinct type of gameplay beyond the original developer’s (Looking Glass Productions) lifespan. They have been so dedicated that there are currently efforts underway to construct a modern-day equivalent of it (The Dark Mod) and even to create a facsimile to the original “Dark Engine” that would work on modern systems (OPDE, “Open Dark Engine”). Thousands of “missions” (the “Thief”-equivalent of “mods”) have been written by countless people from around the world, many of which are equal to or have even surpassed the degree of professionalism displayed in the missions that came with the games themselves.

Not all art is good art but it is better to have art at all then to have no art. Eidos is in a position of letting this particular piece of art live indefinitely, entertaining millions and allowing several more to possibly experience the art as it was intended to be viewed. Eidos, though, would be smart to act quickly for fans age, their priorities change and even the most ardent supporter of a cause can quickly be distracted by reality. Accidents may happen to destroy or damage the source code beyond repair.

If the source code exists, the time is now to release it to the public. At the very least, acknowledge it’s receipt and give assurances that it is being safely stored so that the chance may exist someday for it’s release.

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