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.

deep end

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.”

Good times

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.

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