Thursday, June 11, 2015

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.

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