Sunday, June 14, 2015

Why Thief?

            Ninety to 99% of my creative drive comes from gaming and games I have played. Fifty to 60% of this comes from the first two Thief games. Since I first played them as a kid, I have loved everything about them: their atmosphere, their stories, characters, environments, design, gameplay, and overall aura. The experience of playing the original Thief games has been a fundamental part of my psyche. They are, to get a little melodramatic about it, my first and truest love.
            So okay. I love these two games Thief: The Dark Project and Thief II: The Metal Age. I’m doing this project on them. Great for me—but what about you? Why should you care, especially if you may not be interested in games and may have never even heard of Thief.
            The answer: you should care if you like great stories—great entertainment experiences. My thesis throughout this project is that the Thief games are the ideal story-telling platform and entertainment experience. I’ll try to relay to you why I think this is so via mini-essays on topics and themes from Thief and via mission-summaries I write for select levels from the first three Thief games. These mission-summaries will also include material on Thief fan-missions created by members of the fan community at Through the Looking Glass (see '').
            I hope, through this, to share some of the greatness that I have always enjoyed from the Thief games. So if you in any way appreciate great storytelling and other entertainment experiences, then please read, watch, and enjoy my blog; or, more importantly, play the Thief games.

            -Trevor Whalen

General Introduction

          In 1998, game developer Looking Glass Studios released Thief: The Dark Project, a PC game that was critically acclaimed at the time and that has held and grown a loyal, dedicated fan base since. The game drew inspiration from an earlier work of Looking Glass’, Ultima Underworld, but unlike that role-playing game, Thief had no role-playing statistics and mechanics at the forefront. Instead, Thief took on the more immediate, accessible design of an action game and, like Looking Glass’ other titles, added depth to this otherwise simple setup. Thief was dubbed a “first-person sneaker” at the time, as it was first-person and part of the game’s design was to sneak by the artificial intelligence (AI). But Thief was, and is, much more than a stealth game. Its level design, narrative design, and atmosphere make it a unique, unparalleled experience. This is the case not just for gaming, but for entertainment in general.
            Key to Thief’s design is that the stealth gameplay takes a backseat. Thief is a great ‘stealth’ game precisely because its main focus is not on stealth. The requirement of players to remain undetected and avoid confrontation is used to complement and enhance the greater goal of the game, which is to explore and discover. This is a basic goal, as most games arguably involve exploration and discovery. But Thief does not just involve it to some degree—it executes the sense of exploration perfectly. The stealth aspect forces players into a ‘fly on the wall’ position, from which, lurking in the shadows, they can explore.
           This design complements the narrative and story aspect of ThiefThief’s story is formed through ‘narrative caches’ throughout the game’s missions. These are either journals or other ‘readables’—books, scrolls, letters, or pamphlets lying around—, conversations between AI that players can overhear, and paintings and other artwork on the walls. Much of Thief’s story is conveyed through paintings and other artwork, such as statues, that players will see decorating manor-houses and other buildings. The game’s subtle method of delivering its backstory adds extra weight to the game’s fiction. Rather than something directly fed to the players, the fiction looms in the background, part of the thick atmosphere that overhangs the entire game.
            Thief does have ‘briefing’ cut scenes before each mission, narrated by the player-character Garrett, but these serve only to set up each mission. The backstory of the gameworld is conveyed through the aforementioned narrative caches.
            The level design is excellent. Most of Thief’s levels are large and labyrinthine in structure, and allow players to explore as they please, in non-linear fashion. A few of the missions I highlight in these blog entries are like ‘mini open-worlds’.
            The game series’ fanbase has iterated on all these design principles excellently in fan-created Thief missions, or ‘Thief fan missions’, created using the game’s editing tools, and distributed through Looking Glass’ fanbase ( (I consider many of these fan missions to be among the greatest entertainment and narrative experiences I've encountered, and will highlight some of them in this blog as well.)

-Thief Introduction-

            The Thief series consists of four games. The focus of this blog will be on the first two: Thief: The Dark Project (1998) and Thief II: The Metal Age (2000). Both titles were developed by Looking Glass Studios, and are the series’ best. The third game, Thief: Deadly Shadows (2004), is a mixed bag. It was developed by Ion Storm and had technical limitations and design fundamentals that gave it a lukewarm reception among the fans. One of its missions, however, will be covered in this blog, as it is one of the finest segments of the Thief series and is Deadly Shadows’ saving grace. The fourth Thief game, a reboot titled only “Thief” (2014), was released recently and developed by Eidos-Montreal. This game is not very good, was ill received by fans of the series (who had anticipated it with much cynicism in the first place), and will not be covered at all in this blog. (Indeed, this blog’s author refuses to recognize this latest Thief as a Thief game at all.) The fan missions covered in the blog will all be for the original two, Looking Glass-developed Thief games. For the blog entries, Thief: The Dark Project will be called simply “Thief I”, and Thief II: The Metal Age just “Thief II.” Thief: Deadly Shadows will be called “Thief III”.
            With the formal introductions out of the way, let's move on to the story specifics. In the Thief games, you play as Garrett. When players first meet Garrett in Thief I, he is a stray child, who, in his own words, had no parents and had to keep “running messages and picking pockets to keep [his] ribs from meeting [his] spine.” But Garrett runs into an old man one day who is a Keeper. The Keepers are one of the different sects in Thief’s fiction, a group who remain hidden, read prophecies, use the “power of glyphs”, and try to maintain balance in the City.
          “The City” is Thief’s setting. It is always and only ever referred to as “the City” in the game—there is no proper name. Thief’s world is a blend of many different eras. There’s medieval, Victorian, and even some early modern flair and style all mixed together in a fantasy world decidedly flavored steampunk. Thief I is mostly medieval, with a ‘dark middle ages’ vibe. Thief II is mostly Victorian, with art-deco style throughout. Thief III returned the series more to medieval fantasy, toning down the Victorian style of Thief II. But in all, Thief’s setting is fantasy, and best described as a medieval-Victorian hybrid with a little steampunk.
          So you’re Garrett, in the City, and you learn from Thief I’s intro that Garrett got invited into the fold of the Keepers through the coincidence of bumping into one of them. From the Keepers, Garrett learns the “art of not being seen.” This learning process is the setup of Thief I’s training mission. Garrett could use this “art” of the Keepers to…be a Keeper. But he decides to ditch the shadowy organization and go out on his own, using the ways of the Keepers to be a thief. Thus begins the story of the Thief series.
          Throughout his adventures in burglary, Garrett will deal with all the wonderful people of the City. One large organization in the City is the Hammerites. These are the religious people of the Thief universe, their order, “The Order of the Hammer”, being, essentially, the Thief world’s Catholic Church. They’re like technophiles, worshipping the ‘Hammer’ and all the tools for building and constructing, praising their “Master Builder” for delivering them from humanity’s dark, wild past. They wield huge, heavy hammers, which they will use to swiftly crush Garrett if they catch sight of him in one of their temples.
          Opposite the Hammerites are the Pagans. In Thief I, players never see Pagans, though they read of them many times (and their mystique of ‘being unknown’ overhangs the atmosphere). In Thief II and III, players will see and interact with Pagans. They’re enemies to the Hammerites, as Pagans loath the constructs of civilization and prefer, instead, to live wild in the woods. As the Hammerites practice technology, the Pagans practice magic. They worship “the Woodsie Lord”, an ancient god whom the Hammerites call “the Trickster”. The Trickster is basically Thief’s devil.
          It’s important to note that these two groups, integral to Thief, and especially Thief I’s backstory, are introduced gradually through the afore-described narrative caches. And it’s never cheap, because players never pick up a book titled “An Introduction to Hammerites”. Indeed, players are first introduced to the Hammerite vs. Pagan dichotomy via a painting in Thief I’s first mission. At the time, players don’t even know it, as they don’t know anything about Hammerites or the Trickster in the first mission. It’s an early, subtle introduction.
          In addition to the Hammerites and the Pagans, there’s the star of the show: the City Watch and private guards. These guys are the guards players will see and hide from in most areas of the game. The City Watch patrol the streets, and private guards patrol manor-houses. Private guards and City Watch look and act very similarly. There also appear different ‘characters’ amongst the guards who serve as the game’s humor. There’s the slow, stupid guard; the straight-talking guard; the drunken guard; and others. All the guards and their dialog serve as comic relief. It’s amusing to hear guards mumble “must’ve been rats” or “just the wind I guess” whenever the player makes a noise, alerting them, but the guard gives up the search. Guards will also mumble to themselves things like “I haven’t had a thing to eat in days, when will they bring me my dinner” or “Someday I’ll show them all…someday they’ll get what they deserve.” One comic guard, named “Benny” by the fans, has some particularly funny dialog. Some guards’ conversations are done in classic straight-guy / funny-guy style, as one is from the very first mission of Thief in which two guards discuss going to “the bear pits.”
          Then there are the already-introduced Keepers, who players don’t run into much, but who do get in touch with Garrett every now and then. They play their biggest role in Thief III. They have their prophecies, their glyphs, and their dedication to maintaining ‘balance’ in the City. They also always keep their eye on Garrett.
          Thief II has a unique group, the “Mechanists”, an outbranch of the Hammerites and, as far as the Hammerites are concerned, outright heretics. I guess you could see the Mechanists as Thief’s Protestants. It’s thanks to them and their mechanical inventions that Garrett has to deal with security cameras and robots in Thief II. In the style of the series, these security machines are not just for gameplay—in all of the Mechanists’ devices there is evidence of their crazed religion, with the security bots spouting Mechanists’ “propaganda” and scripture, all recorded by the Mechanists’ founder himself. In most other games, security bots don’t say things like “blessed be the children of metal” as they patrol around—but this is Thief. Story and gameplay always intertwine, the two supporting each other; and hardly, if ever, in conflict.
          Garrett, the player-character and “master thief”; the shadowy Keepers; the zealous Hammerites; the mysterious Pagans; the humorous guards; and, in Thief II, the crazed Mechanists; and also the City itself are the major characters of the Thief world. Throughout my blog entries, how the games introduce these groups will be an area of focus.

          Lastly I want to briefly describe how a typical Thief mission begins. First, there is a mission “briefing.” No one is briefing Garrett—only Garrett speaks, talking either to himself or the player. Following this is the screen listing the mission objectives, and the option to change difficulty setting and to see the differing objectives for each setting (Thief’s three difficulty settings are ‘Normal’, ‘Hard’, and ‘Expert’). Following this, in most cases, is a menu that acts as a store—as if Garrett is buying equipment. You can either buy or ignore any of the equipment available, and how much money you have to spend depends on how much loot you got in the prior mission. After this, the mission starts. Throughout my project will be gameplay recordings and videos of the mission briefings.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Introduction to missions from 'Thief: The Dark Project'

This project will begin with overviews of the missions I want to highlight from the first Thief game: Thief: The Dark Project. To begin, here are a couple videos that, while not essential to the project, do help to set up the context of the story. They are of the training mission, which sets up the story of the game with Garrett being recruited by the Keepers and subsequently turning to the thief's life.

Mission #1: Lord Bafford's Manor

          Thief: The Dark Project starts off with a simple, straightforward and brilliantly designed mission that sets the tone for the adventure the player is about to begin. Our cynical antihero, Garrett, has gotten word from his fence that Lord Bafford is out of town. The time is ripe to break into Bafford’s manor house and steal the lord’s jeweled scepter.
            From the get go, the player is introduced to the design and atmosphere elements that make Thief special. The mission starts with the player dropped just outside the front gate to Bafford’s manor. From this point, the player may travel left or right, and from those directions other ways, including down into the sewers. The plan is to enter a well house which leads into a water system that connects with Bafford’s manor.
Stepping forward into the shadows of the front gate to the manor, the player can overhear two of the guards engage in conversation. Overhearing conversation between AI characters is a key element in this series—Thief lets the player be a fly-on-the-wall. As the player walks around towards the back of the manor house, wind blows through the city streets, broken only by the occasional chatter that comes from the closed windows of lit, crowded taverns. Environmental sound effects and audio is something the developers at Looking Glass got perfect in the first two Thief games.

           Audio continues to set the mood as the player sneaks into the interior of the manor. As the player explores the manor house, more guards converse; notes hang pinned to the walls; journals lie scattered about. The player can engage in all these ‘narrative pockets’, or just continue on to nab the jeweled scepter.

            The manor’s design is brilliant and well-balanced. The player first enters the cellar, then proceeds to the outer areas and then, finally, into the inner areas. Audio cues and changes in the balance between lighting and shadow set the mood for each section.

*Note: In my gameplay recordings, I am playing Thief under the 'ghosting' style. This is a style created by the Thief fan community under which one uses little to no weapons or items while playing. So, in my videos, I'm mostly just sneaking around and soaking things in. There are other ways to play, though; I could be pulling out my blackjack to knock out guards, which I rarely do in these videos. I include this note just so you know that the way I play Thief in these videos is not the only way to play Thief.*

            Once the player reaches Bafford’s throne room—“How pretentious can he get?” Garrett asks—the scepter is in plain sight, hanging on the wall. Players nab it. On Normal, the mission ends. On higher difficulties, players must get back out, and they will need to have been nabbing other loot from the manor. On Normal, players can be murderer as much as thief; on higher difficulty settings, Garrett’s a professional, so no killing. The Thief games’ gameplay design and player experience changes substantially between each difficulty level.

            Bafford’s Manor sets the stage for the rest of the game. The elements introduced here are used to memorable, fantastic effect as the game proceeds. Every time I replay Bafford’s manor, and it numbers in the thousands by this point, I’m definitely ready for another adventure through Thief.

Mission #2: Break from Cragscleft Prison

            Cutty, Garrett’s fence, has been locked up by the Hammerites. He’s incarcerated in the religious group’s compound at Cragscleft. The place contains the prison in which Cutty is being held as well as a factory and a mines. As Garrett notes, the Hammerites don’t venture much into the mines as they’re supposedly haunted, but that’s exactly the way Garrett’s going to take to get into the compound to get Cutty out.

*Note: The voice actor who voices Garrett, and many of the other characters and monsters in the Thief games, is Stephen Russell. He's a great voice actor and still acts in games today. His voice work is an integral part of the original Thief experience.*

            Things don’t go as planned. “Break From Cragscleft Prison” has a couple twists, which is a trend in the official Thief games and many of its fan-made missions. “Cragscleft” also contains a contrast between the two main themes of Thief: The Dark Project’s fiction: the well-lit, industrious, civilized world of the Hammerites, as experienced in the Factory and prison sections (though, perhaps, a prison isn’t truly civilized), and the dark, mysterious, decayed world of the undead, as experienced in the haunted mines. Thief: The Dark Project has throughout an underlying darkness, rising explicitly in the game’s haunted segments. The story, in general, is one of technology versus magic. And, again, in Cragscleft, with its industrious factory and haunted mines, one can see this contrast in demonstration.

            On to the mission.

            “Cragscleft” begins with the player plopped outdoors in a crevice of the mountain that the mines, factory, and prison complex are carved in to. The blue sky and chirping birds are an ironic prelude to the dark mines the player must enter at the start of their journey through Cragscleft. Garrett leaves the cheery outside by diving into the water and swimming through a passage and up into the cold embrace of the mines.

            Zombies are a big staple of the original Thief game, and here the player meets their first one. It’s lying dead, for now, but will rise if alerted. The undead’s groans and moans horrified me when I first played through Thief as a kid. And these zombies are one of the elements that make Thief: The Dark Project such a unique stealth game. You don’t just sneak past guards, but also the undead. And giant spiders—one of which lurks in the depths of these mines. (There are also dinosaur-like “Burricks”, whom we’ll meet in the next mission.) Though sneaking past guards has its thrills, there’s something about creeping past zombies that’s all the more spine-tingling.

            The literal darkness of the mines coupled with the zombies make walking through them a daunting trek. A great deal of the atmosphere comes from the audio. The distant moans, the scurrying and squeaks of rats, and the creak of wooden beams fill the player with dread and give them a sense of the decay in these mines. The player empathizes with Garrett. The players’ palms sweated as Garrett broke in to Bafford’s manor, but now poor Garrett has to deal with the supernatural. Relaying such dread through atmosphere is done really well in Thief, which allows the player to identify all the more with Garrett.

            Little narrative pieces heighten the dread. A flickering light above a broken keypad for an elevator conveys the ruined nature of these mines. This elevator once would have served as a quick link to the light world of the factory above, but now it can’t be called, not to this level. The player will have to find another way up. A glance down the elevator shaft reveals the dim outline of a very large spider—the player certainly doesn't want to go down.

            Using Thief’s sometime awkward mantling maneuver, the player can make their way upwards to a higher level of the mines. The factory should be nearby—but for now, Garrett is still stuck in the mines. One of my favorite moments from Thief: The Dark Project lies on this level of the mines. The player may find a tucked-away Hammerite sanctuary, long in ruin, with benches, an altar, and some religious décor. In here, there are also a couple holy water fountains. Using these will give the player Holy Water Arrows for a brief time, which for now is the only sure way to destroy the undead. (Of course, this option is not always the best to take. For Garrett, sneaking is always better.)

The soft hum of the Holy Water fountains and the secluded nature of this sanctuary give the player a feeling of safety. This sanctuary is a respite from the creepy mines all around. As a kid first playing this game, and even today, I'll sometimes crouch in a corner of this sanctuary. I like feeling safe from the haunted horrors of the mines. But eventually, the objectives—or, specifically, the need to find my imprisoned fence—come calling, and it’s back into the fray.

Finally, the player sights a signpost that reads “Factory.” The way out of these creepy mines! But around a corner—a genuine jump moment—lies one last fright: a floating skeleton, that shoots its skull forward and falls apart as Garrett approaches.

Okay. Enough of these mines.

A few scattered zombie parts and faint noises of humans—living ones—humming and whistling give the player indications that civilization is nearby. Take a peak around a corner, and you'll see a stairway up. There are also some nice torches, lit ones. And at the base of the stairs are a couple of guys in some funny red, chainmail armor getup—and they’re carrying big sledge-hammers. Oh—these must be Hammerites! Their conversation gives the player a peek into their story and place in Thief’s world.

Up into the Factory, the player discovers a different world. Here the hum of machines, the clank of gears and levers, and the mumbling of Hammerites replace the haunted noises of below.

Something else the player, myself included, find out real fast is that it was much easier sneaking past zombies in the darkness of the mines than sneaking past Hammerites in this brightly-lit factory. These guys are alert, move fast, and have big hammers. Holy Water doesn’t work too well on them, either.

But persistence, good use of quick saves and quick loads, and a few Moss and Water arrows should have the player successfully transport Garrett through the factory and to the prison. In the prison, the player gets a mix of the other two sections: the prisons are still civilization, with lights and Hammerites, but throughout them echo the moans of starving prisoners. Hmm…I could go back to the zombie moans now, maybe.

But, I can’t—not yet, because I need to rescue Cutty. And, if I’m playing on Hard, I need to recover Freddie’s “hand of glory.” If I’m playing on Expert, I need to do both those things and rescue Basso the Boxman. I always play on Expert now, so, time to get to work!

The prison is divided into four cell blocks: cell blocks 1 and 2 on one side, and 3 and 4 on the other. On each side, a security hub with a Hammerite guard lies before the entrance to the cell blocks. Cells 3 and 4 must be 'higher maintenance’ because the security hub is more well lit. This drives me, and would likely drive any player, towards cell blocks 1 and 2, putting off cell blocks 3 and 4 for later. However, a conversation between two Hammerites indicates that Cutty is in cell block 4. Thankfully, a central room, that can only be accessed from within the cell blocks, gives the player an easier route to cell blocks 3 and 4. Given how many hundreds of playthroughs I creeped through the well-lit hub before finally discovering this easier route is one of many testaments to the fact that Thief always has new secrets to discover, even for a veteran player such as myself.

After some sneaking, some reading of who’s who in the cells, some knocking out of guards, and some flipping of levers, Garrett can nab Freddie’s hand of glory, pick up the unconscious body of Basso to carry back to the surface, and meet with Cutty. Unfortunately for Garrett, who is owed by Cutty, Cutty is dying. In his last, choked-out words, Cutty gives Garrett the only payment he can now—a tip. Turns out another prisoner here, named Felix, broke out of his cell. He had a map of some place called “the Bonehoard”, and in this Bonehoard lies a valuable treasure, the “Horn of Quintus.”

Okay—interesting. But the player now has another task. Cutty’s fallen down dead, so scratch him—it’s time to find Felix and his map.

From cell block 1, the player can access the Barracks. From here, the player can then access the higher offices. This is where, according to Cutty, the Hammerites had locked up Felix’s map in an ‘evidence vault’. But a perusal of the area and the reading of a journal lets players know that Felix was able to steal the map back out of the evidence vault. Oh well. The walk through the barracks and offices did give the players a chance to see some pretty décor and nab some more loot, though.

Felix was able to nab the contents of the Hammerites’ evidence locker, but he wasn’t able to make it out of the complex. The player finds his body, with the map of the Bonehoard beside it, in a secret area off from one of the security hubs. Discovering secrets like this is one of the great parts of Thief—in this case, the sound of running water alerts the player to there being an underground river. This sound is coming from the entrance to the secret area.

Once Garrett has the map, he must go back through the mines to leave. There are several transition areas between the Factory level and the haunted mines. This is another example of how Thief can scratch the exploring itch. Even on recent playthroughs, I discover a way to approach this mission that I hadn’t before. In this case, a running stream with a waterfall downwards, an elevator shaft, the stairs noted above, or a secret passage through a cavern will each connect the player back to the mines. These paths don’t all present themselves, and the player may only ever be aware of one. It’s always satisfying and fun to discover new passages.

“Cragscleft” is a great example of how to put two different worlds together, in this case the haunted mines and the Hammerite factory and prison complex. Both are blended together, and can be jumped to and from throughout the mission. Both have different atmospheres, and the ascent from the haunted mines into the factory, and then back, gives the player a sense of adventure.

Mission #3: Down in the Bonehoard

            A great thing about the Thief games and their fan content is that they are not always ‘standard stealth fare.’ This is especially true of the first Thief, in which, as has been explored, there is an underlying ‘dark’ or ‘mystic’ theme. While “Cragscleft” had some horror elements, the first full-on ‘haunted’ or ‘undead’ mission in Thief is this one: “Down in the Bonehoard.” What makes this mission great is not just its creepy atmosphere, but also its labyrinthine design. On Expert mode, especially, the designers have the player exploring every bit of this mission’s location: a large underground crypt, or catacomb—whichever term you prefer. It’s a pretty abstract design, and is a kind of catacomb structure that could not possibly exist in our real world. And as Garrett explores it, he's not so properly a thief, as he is a...grave robber. This mission is much less on the sneakster side and more on the ‘Indiana Jones’ side, though there’s certainly sneaking to be had. So grab your hat and whip—or, in this case, your cloak and rope arrows—and let’s explore the Bonehoard.

            In Thief, difficulty setting can radically change the playing experience. The changes are not just in terms of the awareness level of the AI or in the amount of health the player has versus the damage the player takes, though these are affected by difficulty level. The changes are also in the amount of objectives and, more importantly, in the very structure of the level. On the ‘Normal’ difficulty, “Bonehoard” is simple: Get the Horn of Quintus. That’s it, and the design is as simple as the single objective (though still brilliant). This is good for a player’s first time through Thief. But on ‘Hard’ and especially ‘Expert’, “Bonehoard” becomes a very different experience. More areas are open to explore and there are many more objectives, including returning to the surface once all the objective items have been acquired. It makes for a great adventure, and this write-up is based on the ‘Expert’ version of “Bonehoard.”

          The player starts out in front of a small crypt entrance. It’s a small opening into a cornucopia of Thief-y fun.

            Garrett begins his descent towards the legendary Horn of Quintus by climbing down a rope into one of the tomb areas. Here a solitary zombie walks around. Creepy art styles decorate the wall—the air is thick with a sense of isolation. You’re down here all alone. But other thieves have tried to rob the dead, as evidenced by the corpses Garrett finds with journals lying beside them, detailing the final days of these late explorers’ lives.

As Garrett moves through this early tomb section, he crosses a few booby traps, such as a falling boulder, and treasure chests that trigger shooting arrows when opened. There are quite a few more of these throughout the tomb. Once Garrett reaches the caves that will lead him to the main area of “Bonehoard,” the mission really opens up.

            “Bonehoard’s” open-ended design makes it highly re-playable. I’ve played it hundreds of times (literally, no hyperbole) and even still will suddenly feel the itch to dive back into the Bonehoard for a fix. It’s great design and lots of fun.

            The tunneled caves, with Burricks (large lizard-like creatures), and the large crypt areas, with the undead, make up the main area of this mission. Both weave in and out and soon enough the player will find they are going in circles. But this a good feeling here—one with lots of discovery and the joy that comes from it. Discovering new areas, or new passages to old areas, is crux to the Thief experience.

            Acquiring the Horn of Quintus is one of the most memorable moments from the Thief series. When the player first step out of the Burrick-infested tunnels and then enter the large, main catacomb area, they will hear, echoing from the distance, a piped-tune playing. Garrett mutters, “Tombs with piped-in music. How classy.” It is the Horn of Quintus, and it will keep playing until Garrett nabs it, giving players a signal to follow to the treasure they seek.

            The main section has several areas to access, each one of them filled with tricks and traps. The tomb of the Quintus family is located past a cavern filled with Burricks. These, however, are standing still and do not attack Garrett as he walks by. The tune coming from the Horn of Quintus is what is keeping them still. So, once Garrett steals the Horn, he won’t have as easy a time getting back past these Burricks as he had getting into the Quintus’ tomb.

            Climbing up the large corridor to the Horn, its tune becoming louder as Garrett progresses to it, is magical. Once in front of it, Garrett says, “The Horn of Quintus, I presume.” A sound of distant rumbling plays. Thief’s use of audio, both Garrett speaking out loud to himself and the atmospheric ambiance, is brilliant at creating atmosphere, and it shines in this ‘Quintus’ experience.

            Either before or after grabbing the Horn, the player may explore all the other areas of the crypts and get all the other artifacts. “Bonehoard” is a fun, well-designed grave-robbing adventure that fuses the world of Thief with the classic dungeon-crawling vibe. Like many of Thief’s levels, it’s a great non-linear, open-ended mission that encourages exploration and rewards this with discovery. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Garrett's Character as Essential to the Story-telling in 'Thief'

            What makes the Thief games great games is that they are not stealth games. They have stealth in them, and they are partly stealth games; if someone described them as such they would not be invalid. But stealth is not their primary drive or goal. These games are about exploration and discovery, and having characters and stories gradually, subtlety make their way to you. The Thief games use the stealth premise as a vehicle for a unique, effective method of story-telling, key to it being that the player is a proverbial fly-on-the-wall.

            Just as stealth is incidental to a better story experience, so too is Garrett’s status as a thief. Garrett is a thief not just so players can ‘play as a thief’; he’s also such so that players can receive the game’s story in a certain, very effective way.

            The first way Garrett's status as a thief is used in such a way is by establishing an “atmosphere of intimidation.” This atmosphere only exists because Garrett is a thief who must always hide from those around him. Garrett’s surroundings, both the other people and all the buildings, are hostile to him. This gives the character groups and the buildings in the game a “heightened sense”—they tower above Garrett. This would not be the case were players a knight-hero, or something. In this case, players would be on an even plane with those around them. To a heroic knight walking through the City, who does not have to worry about hiding, the appearance, beliefs, style, and overall aura of the Hammerites or other groups in the City would not be as intimidating. Garrett, to the contrary, is skeptical of them and indifferent to them. Everyone is a threat to Garrett.

            Garrett also sees the bad side of people. To the average citizen, perhaps the Hammerites would only ever be thought of as good. But Garrett sees them when they think no one is watching, being a thief who can also double as voyeur or snoopster.

            The second way story-telling is affected by Garrett’s status as thief is by “Garrett’s disinterest.” Precisely because Garrett is disinterested in the world and the characters around him, their stories become more interesting. They are relayed to the player incidentally. I’ll provide an illustration to demonstrate. If you had a knight-hero in the world of the City who was sent on a quest, by the king let’s say, to either deliver to or pick something up from a Hammerite Temple, learning about the Hammerites would be less interesting. The knight-hero would walk into the Hammerite Temple, freely and with no need to hide, and would read books lying about in the open and carry out dialogue with Hammerite guards. Because the Hammerites would be easily approachable and would be on an even-plane with the player, as they’re a lawful hero, the Hammerites story would appear less interesting. It would not tower above the player.

            If you had Garrett, or any like thief, sneaking into a Hammerite Temple to steal valuables, and optionally coming upon journals and other notes lying around—“just-so-happening to”, that is—and the same for overhearing conversations between Hammerites, rather than dialogue with them directly, the story becomes more interesting. This is because Garrett, or the thief, is not supposed to be there and the Hammerites do not know that he is there. Being a fly-on-the-wall is key to Thief more effective method of relaying story.

            Along with this, Garrett is only ever interested in his own personal and selfish adventure at any given time. When he goes in to a place, he just wants to steal. Story-consumption is more secondary than it would be for a hero going in to a place on a legitimate quest.

            The third way storytelling is made more effective by Garrett’s status as a thief is through the idea of Garrett being “one piece of the puzzle.” Garrett is ‘detached’ piece, if you will, of a much larger puzzle. This would be less the case with a legitimate hero, as one of these would be more attached to the places and people around him, being a legitimate part of their world who does not have to worry about hiding.

            Garrett moves by his own will, not by the will of an overarching good force (like, say, a king giving him quests). As Garrett is in his world, the player is by proxy more in their own world, and the game’s story is more interesting because it intersects with or passes by our own world. As a thief like Garrett, players are viewing the world from the perspective of a detached rogue—uninvolved—as if we are viewing it from within a glass globe. The game’s world is more intimidating and alien because of this, and more interesting.