Groping The Map: Life Of The Party, Part 1.
“Angelwatch? Is this how our arrangement is gonna work, you coming up with ways for me to get myself killed?”
“Is this really Garrett the Master Thief I hear talking? If danger is going to be a problem for you, then…”
“Just– give me the details.”
The third instalment of Groping The Map will be presented in the following parts:
- Annotated Walkthrough, East of Grandmauden Road.
- Annotated Walkthrough, West Of Grandmauden Road.
- Annotated Walkthrough, The Baron’s Way and approach to Angelwatch.
- Annotated Walkthrough, Angelwatch, Floors 1 and 2.
- Annotated Walkthrough, Angelwatch, Floor 3.
- Annotated Walkthrough, Angelwatch, Floor 4.
- Annotated Walkthrough, Angelwatch, Floors 5 and 6.
- Conclusion and References.
- Additional: Life Of The Party and The Uninvited Guest.
The set up for the tenth level of Thief II: The Metal Age is mundane compared to what has already been asked of you: make your way across the wealthy Dayport district to infiltrate the Mechanist tower and find any information regarding the “Cetus Project”, and the “New Scripture of the Master Builder”. Already you will have guided Master Thief Garrett through an infiltration of a City Watch station to plant evidence against the Sheriff’s right hand man, escaped through the City streets after being betrayed and ambushed, and broken into First City Bank and Trust to obtain blackmail recordings from a safety deposit box. After all that infiltrating a Mechanist tower should be child’s play.
With the blackmail attempt a failure and Sheriff Truart lying dead on the floor of his bed chambers, you needed to tail the only suspect, his Lieutenant, to a contact with her co-conspirators and on through the Pagan woods to a reunion with an old foe the wood nymph Viktoria former companion to the Trickster who’s scheme, and life, you ended in the previous game. The enemy of your enemy is your friend, at least for the moment and with Viktoria’s help you start to unravel the ties between the deceased Sheriff and the enigmatic Karras, head of the Mechanists.
Fueled by a belief that all organic life is inherently flawed and holding that only those of mechanical construction are fit to fulfil the tasks of the Master Builder, Karras’ Mechanist are an insidious threat to the City and Garrett’s comfortable way of life.
In terms of gameplay and structure Life Of The Party is an exercise in carefully managed complexity. Starting on a bell tower some distance from your objective and with no defined path across the rooftops it would have been easy for the level to degenerate into a chaotic mess. With each level constructed as a series of unscripted problem encounters, and few explicit barriers between each one, a traditional Thief II level of the size and complexity of Life Of The Party would all too rapidly have snowballed beyond your ability to react to it; one accidentally alerted guard triggering sympathetic reactions from those within hearing range leading to a Benny Hill-esque chase across the rooftops.
To counter this Life Of The Party follows a structure that most Thief II levels avoid. Each building within Dayport is treated as a discrete encounter, those guards patrolling within unwilling and unable to follow you across the rooftops. The boundaries of the building serving as the boundaries for each encounter space. This approach serves the dual purposes of preventing an uncontrollable escalation and reinforcing the concept that each building is home to a different family with their own guard patrols.
Levels set amidst the streets and buildings of the City itself, rather than one isolated location, are not uncommon in the Thief series. The concept of exploring a part of the City in order to approach and gain access to one specific location is one that makes its first appearance in Assassin’s the fourth level of Thief: The Dark Project. Even within Thief II there have already been two levels that take place on the streets of the City, Ambush! and Trace The Courier. In all of these levels the buildings of the City mainly acted as barriers to progression, their interiors used either as shortcuts or brief detours to acquire loot. Thief: Deadly Shadows builds upon this use of the City, turning it into a multi-part hub linking each of the separate storyline levels. Whether this is the approach a Looking Glass Studios developed Thief III would have taken is unknown, though Life Of The Party seems like a good indicator of the direction they were heading and the type of location that the Siege Engine (Internal Looking Glass Studios name for the Dark Engine’s successor) was being created for.
As the tenth of fifteen levels Life Of The Party occurs at a point where players can be expected to have a strong understanding of the various game mechanics and the interactions between them. However, the structure of the Dayport sections means that despite featuring one of the least restricted and non-linear layouts of any Thief level it is also one of the most forgiving. Any mistakes can be rectified by making the leap to a different building where any guards will still be in their default patrol state. This holds true until you arrive at Angelwatch where you will be faced with some of the most challenging encounter spaces yet.
Life Of The Party marks the start of Thief II‘s third act, the true threat has been revealed and it’s time to take action. There are still some plot developments to come but those there are only clarify the nature of Karras’ schemes rather than presenting any truly revelatory information. This is also true of the game’s mechanics, some of the subsequent levels will present variations on existing concepts but nothing entirely new will be introduced. In preperation for these final levels, the Dayport sections of Life Of The Party allow for a last moment of experimentation in a relatively risk free environment. The discrete nature of the initial encounter spaces provide the opportunity to experiment with a reduced risk of absolute failure. It’s an opportunity that is worth taking as once inside Angelwatch the gap between partial and total failure will become much smaller.
Angelwatch is a beacon of Mechanist craftsmanship and hubris, a six story tower of metal, wood and marble with an artistic style bordering on Art Deco. While the majority of the City still relies heavily on torches for illumination Angelwatch features a much greater use of electric light sources which cannot be dowsed by Water Arrows. There are also several gas lamps which can be extinguished but unlike traditional torches are able to be relit by passing guards. In combination the hard floors, electric light sources, and sheer number of patrolling guards serve to make Angelwatch a difficult building to infiltrate, it is very clearly hostile territory. Get spotted within it’s chambers and it won’t take long before a half dozen Mechanists are hunting you.
The differences in aesthetics and structure between Angelwatch and the rest of Dayport highlight the contrast between the traditions of the City and its future as envisioned by Karras. Until now the threat posed by the Mechanists has been an abstract one, they were supporting the Sheriff and his attempts to crackdown on the City’s “unlawful”, and their security devices were appearing everywhere, but they themselves had been able to avoid public scrutiny. The Mechanists were a threat insofar as they were making life difficult for Garrett, however with Truart dead the true nature of their plans is starting to come to light, their impact on the City undeniable. Until his arrival at Angelwatch Garrett is the master of his domain, the Thieves’ Highway is where he is most comfortable, most powerful. The initial sight of Angelwatch towering over the surrounding buildings is the first sign that things are changing and that Garrett’s reign is under threat.
Ultimately Garrett doesn’t defeat Karras and the Mechanicsts out of some noble belief in his cause, he does it to survive because if their plans come to fruition there will be no room in the “Builder’s Paradise” for the likes of him. Life Of The Party is the point at which it becomes clear what the future might hold, and the point where Garrett’s actions change from those of guided by simple avarice to those motivated by survival.
An early version of this level entitled The Uninvited Guest was released as the demo for Thief II, and despite a generally similar layout there are a number of notable differences between this alpha version and the finished Life Of The Party; differences that I’ll be examining in a later post.
Originally Life Of The Party was to be shrouded in fog, as can be seen in The UninvitedGuest, however due to some problems with the release build of the Dark Engine and my current graphics card, it can be difficult to get the fog to display correctly at all times. Since it doesn’t have any direct impact on the perception levels of the AI I’ve made the decision to turn it off entirely for this playthrough.
This entry was posted on Sunday, September 12th, 2010 at 11:58 PM by Justin Keverne and is filed under Groping The Map, Level Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.