LIVES OF THE PARTY

The cre­ators who are cel­e­brat­ing Thief ’s 20th an­niver­sary.

PC GAMER (UK) - - FEATURE -

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.”

City slicker

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.”

Weird world

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.

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