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‘Help! I’ve been spotted!’ Terry Pratchett on Thief, his favourite video game | Games

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In November 2001, Terry Pratchett was in Chester, famed for its Roman ruins and well-preserved medieval architecture. Staying at a hotel in the city centre, Pratchett opened the window of his room, and looked across the historic skyline. “I realised I could drop down on to a roof,” he wrote later. “And from then on there was a vista of roofs, leads and ledges leading all the way to the end of the street and beyond; there were even little doors and inviting attic windows …

There is a line break, and then he adds. “I’m going to have to stop playing this game.”

Pratchett was not considering a new career as a cat burglar. He was reflecting on his favourite video game – Thief II: The Metal Age. Released in March 2000, Thief II was the sequel to 1998’s Thief: The Dark Project, a pioneering stealth game set in a gothic fantasy world. In both games, players donned the cowl of Garrett, a laconic master thief partly inspired by Raymond Chandler’s PI Philip Marlowe. Thief charged players with breaking into medieval mansions, rooftop apartments, banks, cathedrals even police stations, stealing as much coin and valuables as they could while avoiding patrols of sword-wielding guards.

To slip past guards in Thief, you must hide in shadows, and avoid treading on noisy tiles and metal.
To slip past guards in Thief, you must hide in shadows, and avoid treading on noisy tiles and metal. Photograph: Square Enix

Pratchett’s relationship with video games is well documented. Always technologically savvy, he was an early adopter of PC gaming, and enjoyed everything from Doom to Deus Ex and Call of Duty. He even helped to create a mod (an unofficial add-on) for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, writing lines of dialogue for a character. But Pratchett held a particular affection for Thief. He played all three games in the series, and often contributed to a Usenet newsgroup named alt.games.thief-dark-project.

That newsgroup, analogous to a modern forum, has long since been deactivated, but its posts survive in a Google groups archive. Combined, they provide a fascinating record of Pratchett’s evolving relationship with both the Thief series and video games in general.

Pratchett first appears on the forum in August 2001. Like so many players who become involved in online communities, he posted because he was stuck. In a post titled: “Help! Spotted Every time” he requests assistance with Thief II’s eighth mission Trace the Courier, in which players must follow a Lieutenant of the City Watch as she carries a secret message to an unknown recipient. “Whatever I do, the game ends on the basis that I’ve been spotted – even if, as I head up the slope, I go invisible. Can anyone help, please?” Pratchett wrote.

But he soon begins to share his own thoughts on the game. In a post titled: “Favourite Thief II Mission”, he chooses Life of the Party, an expansive level wherein Garrett gatecrashes an extravagant reception hosted inside a vast, mechanised tower, infiltrating the structure via the city’s rooftops. “Life of the Party before you get to the tower seemed to me what [Thief] should all be about,” he wrote. “High above the city in a world of your own, exploring every opportunity, with no other goal than ‘nick anything you find’, and the sounds of the Watch are floating up from below …”

Terry Pratchett’s favourite video game Thief II: The Metal Age. Released in March 2000
Angelwatch, the mechanised tower of Life of the Party, viewed from the rooftops along the Thieves’ Highway. Photograph: Square Enix

Pratchett liked that Thief II was a game that you could finish without killing anyone, which appealed to his personal morals. “I get edgy in games that require killing as an objective,” he wrote in July 2002. “But being able to hide from guards who appear to have amazing acuity sometimes is a talent in itself.” He also liked that Thief II let you solve its problems at your own pace, and in your own way. “I think a game goes wrong when you start to fight the programmer rather than the game,” he observes. “The Thief games are good in this respect – there are plenty of problems, but they can be solved by forethought, care, cunning, lateral thinking or running like hell.”

There was shared lineage between Thief’s nameless city and Pratchett’s own work in the Discworld novels. Both take popular fantasy tropes and recontextualise them into a more human world, unafraid to explore the weirder edges of fantasy. Thief’s bumbling, grumbling guards share certain traits with Pratchett’s own motley crew of city watchmen. Pratchett was fascinated by Thief’s rich and distinctive atmosphere. “I wonder what the quintessential ‘Thief’ quality is? The sense of ‘being there’? The feeling of free exploration?’” he pondered in 2003. “THE Thief moment was me dreamily roping my way from beam to beam across that big hall in the Bank, while below me the guards patrolled. No other game has offered that, although Deus Ex had its moments.”

Posting under his own name, Pratchett’s presence on the forums did not go unnoticed by the wider community. “Having Terry involved was a very cool experience,” says David Geelan, an associate professor at Australia’s Griffith University, and a contributor to the alt.games Thief forum during the same period as Pratchett. “This was an early example of an author I was a big fan of engaging with something else I loved.” This sentiment is shared by another user, Mika Latokartano. “Being a big fan of Discworld novels, it was naturally great to see him on the forums and to be able to exchange a few words with a world-famous author.”

It’s worth pausing at this point to ask: how did the community know this was the real Terry Pratchett, and not some impostor masquerading as the author for a jape? Geelan points out that Pratchett didn’t make a big deal out of his identity, and his purpose on the forums appeared earnest. Geelan believed he could “recognise [Pratchett’s] ‘voice’ from both the novels and the various interviews with him I’d read and seen.” The most compelling evidence, however, is the email attached to that particular usenet account – tpratchett@unseen.demon.co.uk – an account fans had used to send emails to Pratchett since the early 90s.

Pratchett and his daughter Rihanna at home in 1998.
Pratchett and his daughter Rhianna at home in 1998. Photograph: Alexander Caminada/Rex

“I tried to be cool and just be a fellow gamer and not​ behave like a fan,” Geelan says. Nonetheless, the community sometimes couldn’t help but wonder about the relationship between Discworld and Thief. Pratchett addressed their questions patiently but definitively. When one community member asked whether Pratchett had spotted any references to Discworld in Thief, he answered: “I’ve been careful not to look for DW references. There’re quite a few similarities between the city and Ankh-Morpork but that is because they’re drawing on the same general tradition.”

When another user asked whether any of Thief had inspired Ankh-Morpork, Pratchett was a touch more sarcastic. “Well, sure. From now on I’ll definitely set my books in a quasi-medieval city with anachronistic modern touches, like a police force, and I’ll definitely have these guys who wear black and sneak around the rooftops)”. That said, Pratchett makes minor nods to Thief in some later Discworld novels, such as Night Watch. In July 2002, months before the book’s launch, Pratchett mentions a “moment” that is “only a reference for taffers” (a slang insult used by Thief’s guards). “A corridor, one lamp out, barely any shadow … you’ll see,” he teases.

Thief II was Pratchett’s first experience with the series, and his favourite. He called The Dark Project “Tomb Raider with edged weapons”. The third game, Deadly Shadows, didn’t come out until 2004. “I sure hope T3 takes after T2,” he wrote in December 2001. “The ‘genius’ of the Thief world is in levels like The Bank, or Life of the Party – proper honest thieving.” Deadly Shadows didn’t quite live up to Pratchett’s expectations, but he praised the game’s most famous mission – Robbing the Cradle – for its intense atmosphere and cunning use of horror. “I’ve always said I play Thief for the immersion, but on that one I came closer to drowning,” he wrote about the infamous orphanage-turned-insane-asylum. “Insofar as it does exactly the job it sets out to do, this is a wonderful level.”

Outside Thief II, Pratchett’s favourite Thief experiences were delivered by Fan Missions, or FMs. Thief has a small but dedicated community which, over the years, has created hundreds of custom maps for the game. Many of these are enormously ambitious, and Pratchett frequently praises the talent on show in FMs such as Durant, Lord Alan’s Fortress, and Calendra’s Legacy. “I can’t help being amazed again at the quality of so many FMs.” he wrote in July 2003. “I recently played through T2, and some original missions paled by comparison.”

Sneaking past the City Watch inside their own HQ in ‘Framed’. Terry Pratchett’s favourite video game Thief II: The Metal Age. Released in March 2000
Sneaking past the City Watch inside their own HQ in
Framed.
Photograph: Square Enix

Pratchett continued posting until the end of 2006. By this point, he’d been introduced to Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a fantasy RPG that featured stealth systems similar to Thief, but in a much larger world to explore. Ironically, it was a user of the Thief forums who put Pratchett on to Oblivion. In April 2006, Mika Latokartano asked Pratchett: “Have you tried Oblivion yet?”, to which he responded: “No, but it’s now been ordered.” Two days later, Pratchett posted again, writing “Aaargh! What have you done to me? Bought the game on your recommendation, and now I see my life slipping away.”

Pratchett’s posts on the alt.games Thief forum are a unique record. Not only do they evidence in detail an artist’s heartfelt affection for another type of art, they also represent a mode of interaction between a creator and fans that is far less viable in the age of mass social media. Geelan, who around this time also frequented a cyberpunk forum visited by William Gibson, notes that “authors could react more directly with the few hundred or couple of thousand people who might have been on a web forum or usenet group in the mid 90s, than with the millions or tens of millions who would want that contact now.”

On the alt.games newsgroup, Pratchett may have been posting as a famous writer, but he was also posting as a fan, with all the unabashed enthusiasm, obsession with minor details, and debates that entailed. Thief established common ground between him and the rest of the community, allowing them to talk on level terms, and share in the devious delights the game offered. Nothing demonstrates this better than a post he made in June 2002, titled “Back in the dark”. “Brothers and sisters, I hay-ave sinned,” Pratchett began. “I forsook the true path, and took the way of Medal of Honour, Return to Castle Wolfenstein and even of Alien v. Predator 2, for the new games machine here was top of the line.

“And then I reloaded T2 the other night, and how nice and calm it all is. Just me, the night, the occasional jingle of a key, and the thwop of blackjack on helmet. Here’s to stealth gaming. I’m back.”

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4 reasons hybrid working looks set to stay for young professionals

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From priorities to practicalities, Dr Amanda Jones of King’s College London explains why hybrid working may be here to stay and outlines the pitfalls that younger employees will need to avoid.

Click here to visit The Conversation.

A version of this article was originally published by The Conversation (CC BY-ND 4.0)

We’re in the middle of a remote working revolution. In the UK, though remote working was slowly growing before the pandemic, in 2020 the number of people working from home doubled.

While this rapid rise can be explained by Covid lockdowns, a recent survey my colleagues and I conducted with 2,000 London workers found that six in 10 employees still regularly work from home despite restrictions no longer being in place. And most don’t want that to change.

Findings from other parts of the world similarly point to a substantial increase in the number of work days being undertaken from home.

For young professionals, the shift has been particularly significant. Before the pandemic, employees in their 20s were by far the least likely to work from home.

In 2022, 64pc of 16 to 24-year-olds we surveyed reported working at home for at least part of the week. This figure is in line with 25 to 49-year-olds (65pc) and in fact higher than for people over 50 (48pc).

Other research also shows that young professionals now engage in hybrid working – dividing their time between their home and their workplace – and may prefer this model to being in the office full time.

US and European data shows that around four in 10 jobs can be conducted from home. But this figure may be higher if we consider that some jobs could be at least partly done from home. In particular, jobs in finance and insurance, information and communication and education are among the most conducive to being performed remotely.

Technologies which support remote working, such as Zoom and Slack, have been available for a number of years. While the pandemic has served as a catalyst for the rise in remote working among younger employees, I would argue that other factors have also contributed to this shift – some of which were already evident before the pandemic.

Importantly, each of these factors suggest this change to the way young professionals work is here to stay.

1. Priorities

Evidence suggests that even before the pandemic, young people were becoming more focused on their own goals, wanted greater flexibility and control, and sought a better work-life balance compared with previous generations. The reasons for this may be related to the changing nature of organisations and careers, which I’ll discuss later.

Our own and other research indicates that remote working, especially working from home (as opposed to, say, at client sites), can boost feelings of flexibility and control and enhance work-life balance. So working remotely could help younger people achieve these goals in a way that traditional working arrangements can’t.

In fact, research indicates that many young people would now rather switch jobs than compromise on the flexibility they gain from hybrid working. So for employers, supporting hybrid working may be necessary to attract and retain the best employees.

2. Practicalities

Across all age groups, participants in our research picked avoiding the commute as the biggest benefit of working remotely. While this has long been a recognised advantage of remote working, it’s important to note that we surveyed London workers – and the commute may be less of an issue for people in other places.

Aside from the time and hassle involved in commuting, travelling to work every day can be expensive. The cost of working in the office goes up if you also factor in lunches, coffees and after-work social activities.

This may be difficult for younger people – who are contending with the rising costs of living, often on lower salaries – to manage. Working remotely can help reduce spending, making it an attractive option – and even a potential lifeline – for younger employees.

3. Career trajectories

Studies show that a move towards less hierarchical, more efficient and flexible organisations results in a “new deal” of employment. Employers no longer guarantee job security and progression for employees, but gain their commitment by providing opportunities – including training programmes – that enhance their employability.

The onus then moves to employees to manage their own career progression, which remote working may help them with. For example, we know working from home can reduce distractions and improve productivity.

Taken with the commuting time saved, young professionals may have more time to dedicate to development opportunities, such as studying for additional qualifications. This could increase their attractiveness in the job market.

Indeed, young professionals seem to be the most likely to switch jobs. If they don’t expect to remain with an organisation long term, they may be less motivated to build strong relationships with colleagues and managers, and unwilling to put their own goals aside for those of the organisation.

4. Managers’ behaviour

Research shows many more managers now work remotely compared with before the pandemic. This change has two important effects.

First, managers who work remotely are likely to find it harder to stop juniors from doing the same. Managers’ ability to monitor and develop their junior staff in person, a common reason for prohibiting remote work in the past, is also reduced if managers are away from the office themselves.

Second, as more managers work remotely, younger employees may feel more confident that doing so won’t prevent them achieving success. Managers serve as role models to junior employees and evidence shows that younger professionals seek success by copying role models’ behaviour.

Avoiding the pitfalls of hybrid working

Despite the positives, younger employees, with comparatively limited experience and networks, may face disproportionately negative outcomes from remote working in terms of recognition, development and networking opportunities.

So if you’re a young professional working remotely, how can you avoid the pitfalls of hybrid working?

Setting your own goals can keep motivation and performance high. Meanwhile, proactively communicating your challenges and achievements to senior and peer-level colleagues can ensure that you receive guidance and recognition.

It’s a good idea to plan some of your time in the office to coordinate with team members or managers. At the same time, it’s useful to try to schedule office visits on different days of the week. This can help maintain key relationships but also help build networks through bumping into colleagues you don’t necessarily work as closely with.

Finally, upping attendance at external conferences and events could increase your value to the organisation through encouraging innovation and fresh ideas, while keeping you aware of external employment opportunities.

The Conversation

By Dr Amanda Jones

Dr Amanda Jones is a lecturer in organisational behaviour and human resource management at King’s College London.

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Kids’ tech: the best children’s gadgets for summer holidays | Gadgets

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With the long school summer holiday well under way, you may need a bit of help keeping the kids entertained. From walkie-talkies and cameras to tablets, robot toys and fitness trackers, here are some of the best kid-aimed tech to keep the little (and not-so-little) ones occupied.

Robot toys

Sphero Mini – about £50

Sphero Mini robotic ball.
Sphero Mini robotic ball. Photograph: Bryan Rowe/Sphero

Lots of tech toys are fads but my longtime favourite has stood the test of time as a modern update to remote control fun. Sphero is a ball you control using a smartphone or tablet, and has hidden depths, with games and educational elements also available.

The mini Sphero ball is a lot of fun to drive around and small enough that overexuberant indoor excursions won’t result in broken furniture and scuffed-up paintwork. The Sphero Play app has games, while the Sphero Edu app is great at fostering creative learning.

Kids or big kids can learn to program, follow examples, get the robot to do all sorts of things, or go deeper and write some code for it in JavaScript. Higher-end versions such as the £190 BOLT take the educational elements to the next level, too.

Tablets

Amazon Fire 7 Kids – about £110

Amazon Fire 7 Kids edition tablet.
Amazon Fire 7 Kids edition tablet. Photograph: Amazon

If you would rather not lend your precious breakable phone or iPad to your little ones, Amazon’s practically indestructible Kids edition tablets could be just the ticket.

The cheapest and smallest Fire 7 has just been updated and is available in a range of bright-coloured cases with a pop-out stand. If your offspring do manage to break it, Amazon will replace it for free under its two-year “worry-free” guarantee.

It does all the standard tablet things such as movies, apps, games, a web browser if you want it, and parental controls to lock it, set time limits and age filters. There’s even an option restricting access to curated child-safe sites and videos but it doesn’t have access to the Google Play store, only Amazon’s app store.

The Kids edition comes with a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+ (£3 to £7 a month afterwards), which is a curated collection of child-friendly text and audio books, movies, TV shows and educational apps.

The larger £140 Fire HD 8 and £200 Fire HD 10 are available in Kids versions, too, if you want something bigger, or Amazon’s new Kids Pro tablets start at £100 with additional features aimed at school-age children.

Alternatives include LeapFrog’s various educational tablets, which are fine for younger children, or hand-me-down or refurbished iPads (from £150) in robust cases, which can be locked down with some parental controls.

Cameras

VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 – about £39

VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 kids’ camera in pink.
VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 kids’ camera in pink. Photograph: VTech

Before the advent of smartphones, standalone cameras were the way we visually documented our lives, and they still can be a bit of creative fun and inspiration for kids.

The VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 is a “my first digital camera” of sorts made of rugged plastic and simple in operation, which VTech reckons is suitable for three- to nine-year-olds. It captures 5MP photos of reasonable quality and can shoot from the back for selfies, too, all viewable on a 2.4in screen.

The optical viewfinder helps them line up the shot, which they can transform with fun filters and effects. It even shoots video, too. The kid-centric nature of it might turn off older children but every award-winning photographer has to start somewhere before the smartphone takes over.

It needs an SD card for storage and takes four AA batteries at a time, and chews through them fast, so buy some rechargeables to help save money and the planet.

For older children, rugged and waterproof action cams could be the way to go, shooting video and photos. Budget no-brand cams cost from about £80 but secondhand or refurbished models from the big boys such as GoPro and DJI go for about £100 and on eBay and elsewhere.

Fitness trackers

Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 – from about £55

Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 Star Wars edition.
Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 Star Wars edition. Photograph: Garmin

Your child may not need any encouragement to tear about the place but if you are after a gadget to “gamify” and reward their activity – as well as giving them a smartwatch-esque gadget to play with – the Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 could be a winner for ages four and up.

Its watch-like form comes in various themes and designs, including with various Star Wars, Marvel and Disney characters, with custom watchfaces to choose from. The user-replaceable coin-cell battery lasts a year, so you don’t have to worry about charging it. Water-resistance to 50 metres means swimming should be no problem either.

It tracks steps, activity and sleep with motivational messaging. It has mini games to play once your child has hit their goals, and can all be managed from a parent’s phone or tablet, so you can keep an eye on their data. Parents can even set goals, competitions with their own activity levels, chore reminders and tasks that can earn virtual coins for them to trade for rewards with you.

It is button-operated rather than touchscreen, and the backlight doesn’t stay on long to preserve the battery.

If you are a user of Google’s Fitbit trackers yourself, then the firm’s Ace 3 (£50) means you can compete on activity, but it needs charging every seven or so days. Other cheaper adult-focused fitness trackers such as the Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6 (about £29) may be better for older children.

Walkie-talkies

Motorola T42 Talkabout – about £35 for three

Motorola Talkabout T42 two-way radios.
Motorola Talkabout T42 two-way radios. Photograph: Motorola Solutions

Walkie-talkies are a great replacement for phones, allowing kids and big kids to keep in touch without fear of fees or smashed screens.

There are plenty of child-centric options available with various character themes but basic units usually work better. Motorola’s T42 Talkabout comes in various colours and multipacks.

They are simple to set up, with a pairing button and multiple channel selection to find a clear one. Once going, just push to talk, even over long distances. Their quoted 4km range might be a bit ambitious but they should be good for at least 500 metres in urban environments, or much further in the open air.

They take three AAA batteries each, which last about 18 hours of talking or roughly three to four days in active use, so you might need a small army of rechargeable batteries.

They have a belt clip and loop for hooking to a carabiner (metal loop) or similar, and are fairly rugged, too, so should survive being launched across a room or two.

Nestling’s camouflage walkie-talkies (about £26) are also a popular choice but there are lots of choices under £30 available on the high street.

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India’s latest rocket flies but payloads don’t prosper • The Register

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India’s small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV) made a spectacular debut launch on Sunday, but the mission fell short of overall success when two satellites were inserted into the incorrect orbit, rendering them space junk.

The SSLV was developed to carry payloads of up to 500 kg to low earth orbits on an “on-demand basis”. India hopes the craft will let its space agency target commercial launches.

Although it is capable of achieving 500 km orbits, SSLV’s Saunday payload was an 135 kg earth observation satellite called EOS-2 and student-designed 8 kg 8U cubesat AzaadiSAT. Both were intended for a 356 km orbit at an inclination of about 37 degrees.

That rocket missed that target.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) identified the root cause of the failure Sunday night: a failure of logic to identify a sensor failure during the rocket stage.

ISRO further tweeted a committee would analyse the situation and provide recommendations as the org prepared for SSLV-D2.

ISRO Chairman S Somanath further explained the scenario in a video statement, before vowing to become completely successful in the second development flight of SSLV. “The vehicle took off majestically,” said Somanath who categorized the three rocket stages and launch as a success.

“However, we subsequently noticed an anomaly in the placement of the satellites in the orbit. The satellites were placed in an elliptical orbit in place of a circular orbit,” caveated the chairman.

Somanath said the satellites could not withstand the atmospheric drag in the elliptical orbit and had already fallen and become “no longer usable.” The sensor isolation principle is to be corrected before SSLV’s second launch to occur “very soon.”

Although ISRO has put on a brave face, its hard to imagine the emotions of the school children who designed AzaadiSat. According to the space org, the satellite was built by female students in rural regions across the country, with guidance and integrated by the student team of of student space-enthusiast org Space Kidz India.

EOS-2 was designed by ISRO and was slated to offer advanced optical remote sensing in infra-red band with high spatial resolution. ®



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