SONGS OF THE CAVERNS
Terri Brosius talks about designing Thief:Gold ’s opera house.
Song of the Caverns is the 11th mission in
Thief: Gold, and the last of the three added as part of the Gold expansion. It sees Garrett on the hunt for the Water Talisman, which will help him open the doors to the Haunted Cathedral and steal a mysterious jewel known as the Eye. His search leads him to a sprawling opera house containing the Water Talisman.
The story behind Song’s development offers an insight into both Looking Glass’s process and the atmosphere of the studio behind the game. Song was designed by Terri Brosius, who started work in games in a different capacity entirely.
“I entered the game world sideways, so I was a musician first,” she says. Specifically, Brosius was in a Boston-based band called Tribe, with fellow Thief veterans Eric Brosius and Greg LoPiccolo. Several Looking Glass employees were fans, and the band members ended up writing music for the studio.
What Brosius really wanted to do, however, was write for games. But at the time game studios rarely hired writers, at least not specifically. After applying for various roles at Looking Glass, Brosius was eventually hired as a junior level designer along with two other people.
“There was no way to train designers. We were just, like, thrown in,” Brosius recalls. “The reason I was able to build levels was because Emil Pagliarulo (the creator of Thief II’s Life at the Party), and Randy Smith
(the director of Thief: Deadly Shadows) were sitting right next to me in the designer pit… and so, of that group of designers, I came up to speed fastest.” One day, Brosius was told with little ceremony that she would be designing a level for Thief: Gold. “I remember the feeling of being shocked, ‘Hey, new designer, you’re gonna be building a level for Thief: Gold.’ It was like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’”
Before she could start building the level, Brosius had to submit a written design pitch. The only specification was that, being an expansion level, it couldn’t interfere with Thief ’s overarching narrative. Brosius quickly decided that she wanted to build an opera house. “When I proposed this all the senior designers said, ‘Oh we’ve tried to build theatres and opera houses before and DromEd [ Thief’s level editor] won’t handle it.’ So I was thinking, well what about more of a Shakespearian theatre where there’s no seats, just a pit, to take the strain off of DromEd.”
Brosius had a particular affinity for Thief’s level editor, finding it much more intuitive to use than many of her fellow designers did. “I remember so many people complaining about it. But it worked in a way that made a lot of sense to me,” she says. “I felt like if I could imagine a space then I could build it with DromEd.” This, combined with her choice of a more Shakespearian theatre, meant Brosius could pursue a level design previously thought impossible.
Brosius researched plans and designs for opera houses, and concluded that although the idea would indeed be complicated, it would make a great setting for a Thief level. “I remember reading about opera houses with so many subbasements, because they would have real horses… and they would need ways to get them up [on stage].” Brosius also took inspiration from Phantom of the Opera. “There’s a little room where some ballerinas are practicing, and there’s a little cutout in the wall, that the guy in the caverns would have been looking at [them]. The plot of that level isn’t Phantom of the Opera-y. But the whole thing was sort of inspired [by] it. I wanted some intrigue at an opera house, basically.”
It proved an ideal location for a Thief level; a logical and coherent space, but one stuffed with cubbyholes, secret passages and undercrofts. “I like the boxes, where you can creep in and look around the box seats. And I put [in] the curtains, so if you’re looking straight at them it looks like they’re closed, but if you go to the curtains you can actually get between them, the curtains on the stage.”
What Brosius mainly recalls from her time working on Song of the Caverns is the camaraderie at Looking Glass. Colleagues would offer assistance and expertise, while the programmers actually made adjustments to the level editor so that it could support the scope of Terri’s design. “Sometimes I didn’t know they were doing it,” Brosius says. “They would make a tweak to DromEd so it could handle my level.”
After finishing Song, Brosius moved onto Thief II, designing Trail of Blood before going on to focus purely on writing and acting. By that point, it was her turn to be the person sat next to the new designer, and she joined the cycle of paying it forward. “Someone else had built a level, but their little corners were off and stuff. So I would go in and tighten up little spots, and that’s all because I got that training right away, and so I always look back fondly,” she says.
“There was no way to train designers. We were just, like, thrown in”
TOP: Sadly, you can’t drop that chandelier onto an unsuspecting guard.
BELOW: The mission starts with Garrett looking for an informant called Giry. This is Giry.LEFT: Beneath the stage, ballerinas prepare for the show.FAR LEFT: The level is filled with fun little details, such as this slumbering drunk.