Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mission #5: The Sword

            Because games allow players to explore virtual environments, they can convey information about characters by methods through which other media cannot. Games do not just tell the audience about a character; they can let the audience discover who a character is, even when the audience may never read or hear a word. Such an example of game’s unique characterization process is in “The Sword”, the mission in the original Thief in which players learn of Lord Constantine, a central character of Thief.

            Garrett has been recruited by a woman named Victoria to steal a valuable sword from the nobleman Lord Constantine. None of Garrett’s contacts know much about Constantine, other than the fact that he’s a new arrival in town and a recluse. The player will learn plenty about Constantine as they navigate the maze-like, surreal and oftentimes bizarre corridors of his manor.

            Constantine’s manor starts out simple enough. The player expects this is just another “Bafford” mission. Break into a manor house, steal a nobleman’s priceless trinket, leave quietly… etc., etc. But as soon as the player steps into Constantine’s manor, they know that this won’t be just another mansion to rob. From the first floor, the player sees that Constantine has a unique taste in art. A gigantic torch sits in the middle of his entry room, carvings of hedonistic partying line the bottom of his walls, and the first floor opens up, without doors, directly into a huge garden area.

            Then there’s the second floor. The player knows something’s up when they notice they’re walking on the ceiling—or, at least, what looks like the ceiling. The second floor is flipped like a mirror. And the master bedroom is fixed up like the garden outside—it might as well be outside, with all the plants and greenery in it. One door opens up to nothing but a large carving of a face. Other large carvings of strange looking faces shoot small orbs of energy (likely magical) at Garrett if he crosses ‘trip wires’ (or, glyph symbols on the wall). Another room has a raging fire; another, a swarm of hornets; one room has a door, in the floor, that would drop one onto the dining room table below.

            But it gets weirder. Leaving the second floor the player can enter a large, maze-like nature area, with odd giggling and growling coming from the distance. A certain waterway will lead the player up into the drain of a gigantic sink, which is part of a gigantic room, filled with gigantic furniture. Appropriately, there’s a proportionally-sized mouse trap; a skeleton indicates that some other poor human already triggered it. There’s also an area that appears to be floating in space, hallways that twist around from top to bottom…and so on.

The sword itself that Garrett has been tasked to steal is floating in the air above a strange structure, a creepy humming noise emitting from it. Once Garrett grabs it, he says what every player is likely thinking: “Time to take my new sword and get out of this crazy place.”

So Constantine is a strange guy. There’s more to him than just being a recluse. The large garden and nature areas, the surreal architecture, and the clear use of magic or some equivalent illusion all clearly indicate Constantine is a nobleman with strange powers and tastes. And the player learned about him without reading any text or watching any film. All they did was explore the man’s home. In real life, exploring someone’s home would perhaps be the best way to learn of their character, and games allow audience to experience this. “The Sword” is great not just because of its design as a game level, but also because it is a memorable portrait of an eccentric character.

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