LIVES OF THE PARTY
The creators who are celebrating Thief ’s 20th anniversary.
Garrett’s original adventures may have come to an end with the launch of Deadly Shadows, but that hasn’t stopped a legion of admirers following in his shadowy wake. According to the Thief wiki, almost 1,000 fan missions have been designed for the Thief series over the last 20 years. These range from dedicated fan expansions to the original Thief story, such as T2X and the currently-in-development The Black Parade, to ludicrous flights of fancy like Fables of a Penitent Thief, which uses the Dark Engine in a completely different way.
This map-making community, which is based around the Forum site TTLG (Through the Looking Glass) is made possible by DromEd, the Thief level editor designed by Looking Glass, which the studio released free to users when it closed down. “[DromEd’s] biggest advantage is that you can modify most of the game in it without having to learn how to program,” says Romain Barrilliot, known on TTLG as Skacky. “You won’t be able to radically change it to turn it into another game entirely, but you can still be extremely creative with it.” DromEd also doesn’t require the user to compile their level when iterating. “You can switch from editor to game on-the-fly, which is a huge time-saver.”
Barrilliot’s own levels are primarily based around Thief ’s city, which offers tantalising opportunities for exploration in the first two Thief games. “I have always loved missions such as Assassins or The Haunted Cathedral, but there weren’t that many city fan missions like these around, so I decided to make my own,” he explains. His most recent output has been for the aforementioned Black Parade, a planned ten-mission campaign for which three missions have already been designed. Barrilliot was the project lead until earlier this year when he was hired professionally as a level designer.
Barrilliot has recently returned to Thief map-making, however, as part of a 20th anniversary map design competition of his own devising. “This one takes full advantage of all the things I learned with NewDark (the updated engine for the game),” he says. “This mission is a big adventure across an entire district at night that has Garrett go from the highest rooftops to the lowest depths in search of a manuscript written by a Hammerite saint.”
The competition specifically asks for maps that rekindle the feel of the original Thief. Some designers, such as Jordan Mafiodo,
“Thief has an atmosphere that I haven’t found anywhere else”
are taking this quite literally. Also going by the name FireMage, Mafiodo is known for his Forgotten Creature Project, which aimed to recreate Thief ’s bizarre bestiary as Looking Glass originally conceived it. This time, his focus is on the world of Thief itself. “I’ll try this time to recreate the city as it is shown in the cutscenes. A city made of mansions and churches crushed by archaic, noisy and rusty machines, pipes, smoke and grime, narrow and dark streets,” he says.
Creating levels that mimic Thief’s Gothic steampunk architecture isn’t easy. One of the flaws of DromEd is that it blocks out levels using simple geometric shapes. “Having a complex world will ask for a lot of [shapes] and then reach the limits of the engine pretty quickly,” says Mafiodo. “Forcing the mapper to choose between having a small map or spending time on optimisation, thus reducing the complexity of the level in order to build more.”
Of course, anyone who has played missions like The Sword will know that Thief isn’t just about cobbled city streets and logical architecture. The game has a penchant for the strange, and this is the focus of fan designer Michael Grunke, known on the forums as Stinky Kitty. Grunke’s contributions include the Gems of Provenence campaign, and a twist on Thief ’s infamous Bonehoard.
“Most of my levels contain bits of surrealism, though I try to make them as believable as possible within the context of the world.” Grunke’s own contribution plays on this surrealism. He’s working with another designer who goes by the name McTaffer on a ruined mage’s keep that explores “the story of his fall into madness”.
Both the dedication and the productivity of the Thief fan community show the impact Thief had on gaming, and its enduring significance today. “Thief has a certain atmosphere that I haven’t found anywhere else,” Grunke says. Barrilliot, meanwhile, points out that Thief ’s concept and emphasis on setpiece missions, alongside its comprehensive editing tools, provides an ideal platform for custom maps.
“You can already make so many different things while sticking to the original formula,” he says. “But you can go further and create some really interesting things that are pretty far removed from the original game… There aren’t many games out there that have this right out of the box.”
RIGHT: Barrilliot’s city level has an Edinburgh vibe about it. 3D View Right View
Top View Front ViewLEFT: Such ambitious Thief levels are made possible by NewDark, a Thief game executable developed anonymously.