You've Got To Pick a Pocket or Two

You've Got To Pick a Pocket or Two

Buzz-napping. Cutting purses. Bung diving. Whatever you call it, pickpocketing has slipped unnoticed into the game designer's bag of go-to mechanics.

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Very informative article!

I love pickpocketing in many games and I also like stealth games and those go well together. However, I think pickpocketing based on a calculated chance like in Skyrim is not good, especially when it happens inside a dialogue. Sure, a pickpocket might distract a target by talking to them. However, in those systems the pickpocketing really isn't a game but more of an additional reward for having a certain skill at a certain level.
I think it should not be too easy and I think Dishonored actually did the purse cutting well because you need to sneak up to the targets without them noticing you and the sneaking is sewn so closely with the game's other gameplay that it provides an enjoyable experience. It also creates a challenge because the target often realizes their purse is gone after a few seconds and starts searching for you/it. Also not every enemy has a purse, so carefully inspecting and selecting the targets is also part of it instead of stealing every single bottle cap and dose of Jet from every character in town.

I'd love to see it in more games if it is done well but in some games it feels kinda superficial (Assassin's Creed 2) and tacked on (anything with stealing based on a hidden die roll in a dialogue).

Another thing that kinda ruins pickpocketing are guards etc. mechanics that lead to most players just save-scumming instead of actually running away and dealing with the consequences because running away often is either too hard, the consequences are too harsh (massive stat/gold loss, lots of time lost) and being discovered may actually break many quests.
I think the "best" system for that is probably Assassin's Creed: The fleeing works well with the parcour and fleeing mechanics and it doesn't break any quests etc. The consequences are probably too low but incarcerating the player with stat and time loss (Morrowind) and breaking quests/options (Fallout series, just to name one example) aren't good solutions either.
I haven't seen a "perfect" system for that yet... maybe in some indie game on day...

sounds liek there is potential there for a game.. work your way up the food chain from pickpocket to running your own 18th century thieves guild as such.

i generally hate pickpocketing in games and never do it unless its needed because as rolftehcat mentioned if you screw up you have to deal with really nasty consequences and even cut off quests

I realize what the fencing mechanic is trying to do in games, but it almost always ends up being ridiculous in the implementation.

Amalur had this problem too - If you steal a purple (epic) item it's reasonable that the merchant might know it's stolen and won't buy it. But when it's a generic consumable? This leads to the ridiculous setup where the omniscient merchant will happily sell you lockpicks (to steal things with), and will buy your legit lockpicks, but won't buy your stolen lockpicks.

After reading this, I really want to play a game that is only about the life and tactics of Victorian pickpockets. Excellent article, very informative. My mind feels expanded, the same way one's stomach does after Christmas dinner.

Yeah, if only there was a game series based around stealing things. A game based around Thieving, if you will. Where you play someone who could be considered a Thief. And maybe some mechanics would be dated, but a modern update of the titled could expand the thieving mechanics, since it is the name of the game after all. You know, instead of focusing on actual and combat, they focus on you just being a thief doing thief-like things.

Ah, if only...

So. Which is more racist, the fact that they used a black person's hand to represent the abstract concept of pickpockets, or the fact that there are so few black video game characters that I didn't immediately associate the photograph with a particular vidyagame?

Urg... Skyrim's might be the most "mathematically" correct - but in implementation, it's pretty bland and horrible. Assassin's Creed at least makes the act look natural and unobtrusive.

Yeah, I never really thought of Skyrim being a great example for pickpocketing. While they do put focus into a lot of the details that most other games don't touch, there is a certain lack of subtlety to crouching down behind them while fishing through their pockets. I do agree that pickpocketing could be a lot more interesting though if there were some more complex mechanics put into it like the ability to use any of the tactics mentioned in the article, or even just having a simple distraction

Pickpocketing in Skyrim was for suckers. Despite being a kleptomaniac in those games, and pretty much any RPG, I never really bothered with it. Risk too high, rewards too low. Now burglary, that's where it was at. Wait around for the mark to fall asleep, pick the lock, nab everything that isn't down (especially profitable in a shop with a lot on display) and move on to the next house. It was tense, as you could never be entirely sure if the mark was asleep and would need to sneak around in case you woke them up, and always challenging to see how many houses you could do in a single night. It needs to be worth it though; Oblivion had a similar burglary system but it was very rare you'd find anything worth stealing after the first few good shops were cleared. At least in Skyrim rich people in mansions actually acted like rich people and filled their homes with decent loot.

I would honestly play a theft-based open world game, like Skyrim but based entirely around the Thieves Guild, until my thumbs bled. Be a pickpocket, mugger, burglar, whatever, just keep making that phat cash.

Kind of surprised not to see a mention of Thief here.

SonicWaffle:
Pickpocketing in Skyrim was for suckers. Despite being a kleptomaniac in those games, and pretty much any RPG, I never really bothered with it. Risk too high, rewards too low. Now burglary, that's where it was at. Wait around for the mark to fall asleep, pick the lock, nab everything that isn't down (especially profitable in a shop with a lot on display) and move on to the next house.

Pickpocketing has far higher rewards than robbing houses, mostly with nice light items that don't fill up your inventory. The risk is very off though - since you can never have a better chance than 90% even a master pickpocket with an easy target is guaranteed to get caught a lot. Without save-scumming, it's virtually pointless. Also, you're doing burglary very wrong. Just go in the day and there's no-one in most houses. No point hoping people are asleep.

Kahani:
Pickpocketing has far higher rewards than robbing houses, mostly with nice light items that don't fill up your inventory.

But fewer of them, as most NPCs don't carry that much, even in coin form. The rich family in Markarth (or whatever the mining town was called) were good because they were both rich and ostentatious, enjoyed showing off their wealth with plenty of jewellery, but it seems most characters preferred to stash things at home. Those sub-missions for the Thieves guild were always a little underwhelming, as a "crime spree" could easily be accomplished by burgling a single semi-decent house for everything valuable.

Kahani:
Also, you're doing burglary very wrong. Just go in the day and there's no-one in most houses. No point hoping people are asleep.

Most houses, sure, but without learning the routines you never know. Some people just pop home for no apparent reason. Some of them never seem to leave. Also, if you go in at night and everyone is asleep, you've got an easy pickpocket target right there if you think it might be worth it.

WarpZone:
So. Which is more racist, the fact that they used a black person's hand to represent the abstract concept of pickpockets, or the fact that there are so few black video game characters that I didn't immediately associate the photograph with a particular vidyagame?

I think neither of them are. Racism implies a kind of malicious intent. I don't think independent developers choosing a white protagonist is racist and I don't think having a thief represented by a black person is racist either. After all, having a different skin colour doesn't make you more or less of a thief, but there are thieves of all ethic backgrounds. So why should it matter what skin colour one individual thief has?

Another well-researched, interesting and informative article in the series. Great to learn some more about that historical era - I'll feel slightly more intelligent for the next hour until my memory betrays me.

 

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