Ninjalicious is the founder of Infiltration, a zine documenting his urban exploration hobby in hilarious and diagram-enhanced travelogues. He’s recently been playing Thief II (Eidos, 2000), a videogame with a focus on stealth, and I asked him about how the first-person sneaker measured up to his real-life experience.
What made you start playing it?
I thought it would be cool to see if it could be used as practice, or at least to check out if it was realistic. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it can be used as practice, but it’s pretty realistic.
Yeah, a lot of the game is about listening — you can hear people’s footfalls in the game. How close is that experience to what you do?
Obviously it lacks some subtlety — in real life, if you concentrate on your footfalls you won’t make any noise on any surface, but in the game it’s impossible to walk across a metal catwalk silently. But the game does teach you to favour grass and carpet over tile and wood. Some of the other sounds they’ve chosen to ignore are kind of weird. It doesn’t make any noise to open and close a door — it makes a sound, but the guard doesn’t “hear” it.
What else would you like to see?
More dead ends. In real life there are lots. I guess it’s kind of frustrating in a videogame, but…
I’ve noticed that. Everything’s there for a reason. When I come across a flippable switch in any game, I flip it.
See, in real life I would never pull a switch like that. It’d be trouble. I like to be careful. I get a kick out of being really careful. They’ve put a lot of time into this game but I’d admire them if they were willing to have a few useless things, a few dead ends.
Videogames never try to teach you how to know when to give up. While everything is there for a purpose, what I noticed with one of the levels was that I was able to achieve the objective without going through a third of the rooms.
To me that’s admirable, because they know that some people are going to push right through it. I did do everything on that level, just for the sake of seeing everything.
Shouldn’t they force you to get to know every level well?
No! The game is best when you’re in unfamiliar territory. The best game of Thief II I had was my first — exploring the building without realizing that I was able to do anything other than sneak and hide, and not having any clue what the various threats were. As you play the game you realize, oh, the AI is not that smart — the guards just walk back and forth in a pattern.
The artificial intelligence is patchy.
Yeah. One of the major innovations that Ms Pac-Man (Midway, 1981) made over Pac-Man (Midway, 1980) was that the ghosts stopped simply predictably chasing your character and threw in some random stuff as well. There needs to be more of that with these guards.
Given the choice, a human opponent is more satisfying?
Yeah. The game and real life are similar in that you’re trying to figure out a puzzle and people are pieces in that puzzle, but in Thief II I would say the most interesting pieces are architectural or mechanical while in real life the most interesting pieces are people.
Puzzle? Give me a real-life example.
Well, like getting in the pool in the Crown Plaza Hotel. The door was locked, and it was a glass door, and there was always an attendant at the desk. You couldn’t wait at the door, because they’d see you waiting there. What you had to do was go down the hallway, wait until you heard the elevator ding, then you’d have to walk down the hallway, getting your pace just right so you’d arrive at the same time as the person who had a key. You had to make small talk with the person as you went through so it looked like you were buddies.
That is such a videogame moment.
I was well aware of that at the time. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is better than Impossible Mission or Elevator Action.’
I noticed that the infiltration.org site used to have an Elevator Action theme — how much of your hobby comes from videogames?
About half. Half comes from 2600, the magazine about hacking, and half comes from videogame cheat books. Playing the game was fun, but reading the cheat books was really fun. I wanted to write cheat books for exploring real places.
I get a real kick out of there not only being rooftops to explore, but drains and boiler rooms. But if it was up to me, the only goal would be to take pictures of these things and leave.