“Greetings, Garrett! Thou art expected, though not precisely… welcome.”
Coming two thirds of the way through The Metal Age the infiltration of Angelwatch in Life Of The Party would make a fitting location for the finale. Unlike the actual final level the Mechanist tower of Angelwatch was foreshadowed as far back as the second level, Shipping and Receiving, and for The Metal Age to conclude here would not have been inappropriate. This is not the end however and there are still great levels to come before the finale in Soulforge; that doesn’t stop Angelwatch from serving as a conclusion of sorts. The journey from the streets of Dayport to the Mechanist tower is symbolic of the change in the forces of antagonism from Sheriff Truart and his City Watch to Karras and his Mechanists. From this point the final five levels will see a greater focus on Mechanists and their supporters over the citizens of the City; Life Of The Party is the final time in The Metal Age that you will set foot in the City itself.
The story arc that started with Sheriff Truart’s clampdown on the “unlawful” is over, his death at the hands of Viktoria’s agents serving to bring to light the true danger facing the City. The threat once posed by Truart is nothing compared to what Karras has in mind. The shadow of the Mechnists’ plans falls across everything that has come before, yet the true extent of Karras’ machinations is only revealed once you reach Angelwatch.
With Viktoria’s slightly improved Vine Arrows to replace the Rope Arrows Garrett’s inventory is complete liberating the final third of The Metal Age to throw everything it can at him. Life Of The Party feels huge, the size of a level is not always an indicator of its overall quality yet here that scale is used expertly, a careful player can take a hour or more to reach Angelwatch where they will find there is nearly as much space within that single building as in the City streets surrounding it, and then they have to make their way back possibly while harassed by Mechanists.
This is Thief level design at it’s smartest, sprawling environments make for complex problems but by isolating each one within natural and consistent boundaries (household guards are responsible only for their building) it breaks the complex problem into manageable portions that can be dealt with individually. The logical separation of each building means this division of the level into pieces occurs almost invisibly. Form and function in perfect alignment. The discrete problems of the Thieves’ Highway can be dealt with on your own terms whereas inside Angelwatch you will need to be reactive, improvisational. Where the City is constructed from mismatched brick and wood illuminated by easily dowsed torches, Angelwatch is constructed from metal and stone, and lit predominately by electric lights. Wandering NPCs, blind corners and closed doors limit your ability to plan forcing you onto the back foot. A master thief when roaming the City Garrett is but a hunted insect inside Angelwatch.
Standing in the middle of Dayport one of the richest districts of the City, Angelwatch is an imposing statement of the Mechanists’ power and influence. It is also strangely devoid of purpose, six stories high yet with only a small chapel and office providing space of any clear utility Angelwatch is a façade. Too much of the building has been designed with a focus on presenting a particular image of the Mechanists rather than as a building with a function. Too many of the rooms appear designed for guests rather than the Mechanists themselves who have little use for carpeted floors or ballrooms. Compared to the Mechanist Seminary you will have visited earlier Angelwatch is an architectural billboard, a way of showing off the glory and power of the Mechanists while actually revealing very little.
If the level had begun on the rooftops within sight of the Mechanist tower it still would have felt like a complete experience, by extending out the surrounding areas of the Dayport district the impact of that first glimpse of Angelwatch is magnified. Though you will have infiltrated larger buildings over the course of The Metal Age those, like the First City Bank and Trust, were isolated locations divorced from the rest of the City. Dominating a portion of the City, towering over everything around it Angelwatch is large but in comparison to the buildings you will have passed through in order to get here it looks gargantuan.
Levels set in multiple locations, such as the Dayport sections of Life Of The Party can feel of a lower fidelity than those in set within a single specific place. The rooftops are rife with locked doors and inaccessible areas, while within Angelwatch every internal door can be opened, every room explored.
Life Of The Party show the disjointed view of the City as seen by a thief, moving through a few rooms of one building just to get into another, banks and castles and apartment buildings compressed together, rooftops repurposed as shortcuts, windows and skylights used as entrances and exits. None of these buildings are seen in their entirety there is just enough to provide a hint of its purpose. The mundanity of life within the City witnessed through the moving lens of the thief; the journey through Dayport is an impressionistic one, a brief patchwork of sights and sounds that leave the sense of having explored an entire city district. Then, climbing out of the window of one building onto the rooftop of another there it is, Angelwatch: complete, assertive, modern. Like an Art Deco portrait in the middle of a Impressionist landscape this new presence in the City is jarring and impossible not to react to; the Mechanists are here.
Life Of The Party is not the introduction to the Mechanist Order or it’s mysterious leader, it is instead a reframing of the Mechanists from shadowy conspirators operating at the fringes of society to direct antagonists. It could have been made differently, separated from the City the infiltration of Angelwatch would still have made for a strong level, without the Mechanist tower the rooftops of the Thieves’ Highway could easily provide the layout for a myriad other levels; much as the City streets played host to both Ambush! and Trace The Courier earlier in The Metal Age. It could have come at an earlier point, maybe replacing Eavesdropping and seeing Garrett sneak into Angelwatch to overheard Karras’ meeting with Truart in his office. By occurring when it does, in the way it does Life Of The Party achieves with space a statement that would have felt clichéd if put into words. The Mechanist are taking over the City and their ways are not the old ways, now they have arrived nothing will be quite the same again. Only when directly juxtaposed with “normal” City life do the extremes of the Mechanist doctrine become real. A grand edifice looming over the streets and rooftops of Dayport, Angelwatch is for all its imposing visage still strangely artificial, much like the religion of Mechanists it has been created in the image of one being, not the Master Builder who they profess to serve but Father Karras.
NOTE: A comparison of Life Of The Party to the earlier version The Uninvited Guest is forthcoming, though there is no set time frame for that yet.
Life Of The Party is the work of Designer Emil Pagliarulo.
Thief II: The Metal Age is the work of Looking Glass Studios (Now closed). It was published by Eidos Interactive, now a subsidiary of Square-Enix.
Additional material on Thief: The Dark Project, Thief II: The Metal Age and Thief: Deadly Shadows was obtained from Thief: The Dark Wiki.
In any simulated system there are boundaries, points at which the model being used breaks down, where player behaviour is no longer accounted for. The most obvious of these are the physical boundaries of the game space, the chasm too wide to cross or the wall too high to climb. To a large extent the methods for dealing with these physical boundaries are well developed and understood; though it’s still not uncommon for the occasional invisible wall to appear blocking progress along what looks like a valid route.
Another form of boundary found within the simulated systems of video games are those between supported player actions and unsupported player actions. In his GDC 2004 lecture (.zip file) on the subject Clint Hocking details three ways in which a game can deal with this type of simulation boundary. They can either “extend the design” by adding additional abilities so as to extend the bounds of the simulation further; “support the failure” by allowing the simulation to break but providing alternate means of progress; or “end the game” with a game over screen or a similarly absolute resolution.
Each of these approaches has its benefits and drawbacks, extending the design offers more possibilities to the player but is little more than a way of moving the goal posts. Supporting failure again serves to provide additional possibilities as success at a given task is no longer the only means of progression, unfortunately supporting all failure states can lead to actions feeling like they have no consequence. Ending the game has the benefit of being the clearest means by which to resolve player action at the boundary but it is also the most artificial and heavy handed.
In a recent article on Dishonored, Robert Yang describes a way in which that game deals with a simulation boundary he encountered within the opening moments. My initial reaction to this criticism was that it seemed petty to criticize what is ostensible a tutorial for limiting player agency for the sake of teaching something. This was narrow-minded of me, Robert is raising an interest point about the manner in which Dishonored handles simulation boundaries, and how that compares to the games it is drawing its design influences from. Instead of softly accounting for any errant behaviour and shepherding players back into the supported space Dishonored instead chooses to set a hard boundary identified in some instances by an explicit game over screen. It’s a choice that, as he points out, runs contrary to the approached traditionally adopted by the “immersive sim”. Instead of extending the design or supporting failure as the likes of Deus Ex and System Shock do Dishonored instead resorts of ending the game when certain boundaries are crossed.
The benefit of such an approach is that the feedback is clear and unambiguous: this is an unsupported action, refrain from attempting it again. The same hard boundary can be enforced at many different points at the limits of the simulation, any actions that are unaccounted for can be dealt with in the same absolute fashion. A benefit of this approach is that it avoids one of the problems associated with softer boundaries which is that of repetition of behaviour If I perform an unsupported action once, such as jumping on an NPC’s head, it makes sense for this to elicit a response. Consider the Metro Cops in the opening sections of Half-Life 2. When you throw something at them, or otherwise antagonize them, they will push you back and tell you to stop, if you persist they will draw their stun batons and beat you. That is as far as the simulation allows them to go, you can keep throwing things at their head and keep getting beaten for as long as you like nothing further will happen.
When considering the different ways in which games like Deus Ex, Thief and Dishonored deal with simulation boundaries what stands out is that the times at which these games resort either to hard boundaries, or explicitly limiting player behaviour is when players are required to interact with other characters. It comes as little surprise then that the series that relies most on resolving boundary infractions softly is System Shock, where there are no living characters with whom the player can directly interact.
In Dishonored the approach of presenting a hard boundary is exclusively reserved for dealings with NPC’s, specifically those the game has identified as allies. Dishonored is attempting, by means of hard simulation boundaries, to establish an identity for it’s protagonist Corvo Attano. This is why these boundaries are most obvious in the the prologue section (where Corvo is still the Lord Protector and the Empress is still alive), and in the Hound Pits sections between missions. Certain parts of Corvo’s identity are defined, certain parts are not and the way Corvo treats the people deemed to be his allies is part of the former and something the player has little influence over.
Dishonored‘s design metaphor (that of being a supernatural assassin) doesn’t effectively account for Corvo having allies. As an assassin he only really has targets, and characters or objects that are preventing him from reaching those targets. Though appropriate fictionally even the notion of a non-lethal means of dealing with his targets starts to push at the bounds of that design metaphor. In the missions themselves where there are no explicit allies the approach Dishonored takes to simulation boundaries is to support failure. One of the side effects of which, as Clint Hocking describes, is that this serves to makes the game easier, there is almost always an alternate means of performing a required tasks or reaching a specific objective.
Corvo, and by extension the player, is assumed to be acting in the interests of the Loyalists even if they are not shared interests. This leads to the perception that the only meaningful actions are those related to people you are not required to be nice to, these are the only ones where player actions remain largely unrestricted and thus have direct consequences. In Dishonored the way you treat your “friends” is largely irrelevant. You are only judged by how you choose to treat people you don’t need to treat well.
For all that has changed in game design in the thirteen years since System Shock 2, games like it are still using conceptually similar means of dealing with living characters. These hard boundaries and limits on player agency are inelegant and often binary solutions that are jarring when set beside the softer less absolute means by which other forms of player behaviour are handled.
“To serve the nobility is the highest privilege in life of course but slavery is just so… distasteful.”
Annotated Walkthrough, 6:
Without the option to read the books sitting upon the shelves there is little to determine if the library of Angelwatch was created to serve a functional purpose or whether it exists merely as ornamentation for visitors. At least one Mechanist appears interested in reading the collected works, he might just be easily distracted but the Mechanists have already shown themselves to be more professional than the household guards regularly encountered throughout the City.
Regardless of his motivations the single Mechanist on this floor is easily avoided. Entering the library from the third floor the more obviously safe route lies to the west keeping to the shadows against the wall and away from the Mechanist. Staying in darkness and moving pass the bookcases in the southwestern corner of the Library will lead you to the foot of the stairs and your means of access to the fourth floor. Despite the shadows it is sensible to move slowly through this part of the library as a Worker Bot can frequently be encountered amongst the shelves at the bottom of the stairs. Detectable by the mutterings it makes to itself the Worker Bot is a smaller companion to the Combat Bot. Unarmed and blind until they have heard a noise Worker Bots will immediately flee to sound the alarm upon confirmation of a threat. Fortunately there is not always enough space for the Bot to maneuver through this part of the Library and it can frequently be found stuck on the geometry, and is thus easily avoided. When it is not getting stuck the Bot walks a patrol that in general takes it through the third floor, down the stairs to the second floor and back again. When and where its patrol crosses paths with that of other wandering NPCs will determine where it is likely to get stuck on walls and steps. The jostling two NPCs partake in when attempting to move through the same narrow space can often be enough to nudge the Worker Bot into a position from which it cannot free itself. Unfortunately when it is stuck in such a way it cannot be deactivated with a Water Arrow to the boiler, it will also still react to noise and if it detects anything the change of AI state has the effect of breaking its paralysis and it will merrily stomp away to raise the alarm.
Carved from stone, and partially illuminated, the stairs to the second floor of the library, (the fourth floor of Angelwatch) don’t immediately present the most inviting route, thankfully there are other options. As with any hard surface, Moss Arrows or moving slowing will enable you to reach the floor above undetected, though looking up presents additional possibilities. Paneled in wood the library ceiling is a perfect target for a Vine Arrow, or two, bringing the walls of the upper level within reach.
The next gramophone recording can be found on a table against the west wall, along with yet another portrait of Karras. By this stage you’d be forgiven for sensing a degree of narcissism from the head of the Mechanists. It’s possible, and likely, those portraits were hung exclusively for the night’s festivities yet they do seem to have been given just as much prominence as any of the many religious icons on display inside Angelwatch. It doesn’t seem like happenstance that there is a portrait of Karras hanging in the Mechanist Chapel, the Library and as the first thing visitors will seen upon entering the main concourse. Karras’ elevation of himself to a position of equality with the Master Builder is a theme that will become more noticeable in subsequent levels as the Mechanists take on the role of primary antagonist over the now deceased Sherrif Truart.
The bookcase adjacent to the gramophone table will allow you to initiate the recording while remaining hidden from the noblewoman and her strange companion; and as with the other recordings neither of them react to it starting again apparently of its own accord. The fourth recording you will have heard, this is actually the second recording of six and will shed some light on the “Servants” Karras mentioned in the recording found in the Chapel on the second floor. While describing the various tasks the Servants are suited for there is a noteworthy pause before the final task “gardening”, at this stage it is meaningless and may well go unnoticed. Only in the final few levels of the game will the relevance of his pause become significant. It is also not the only time the Servants ability to serve as gardeners will be referenced during your visit to Angelwatch.
Scant feet from where you are standing the noblewoman’s strange companion is one of the very Servants Karras is referring to, Servants he has provided as a gift to his guests the very richest citizens in the City.
These Servants lie at the heart of Karras’ grand plan, and his apparently generous act of gifting them to the noble houses of the City is merely a means of ensuring they have access to the extensive gardens likely kept by the City’s richest. Installed within the body of each Servant is a device called The Cultivator which, when triggered by a signal from Karras, will emit a substance known variously as either Rust Gas, Necrotic Mutox or The Breath of The Builder. This substance consumes all organic matter it comes into contact with creating a rust like compound and more of itself. By seeding these Servants within the large gardens of the City Karras hopes to start a chain reaction that will produce a cloud large enough to destroy all organic life, thereby converting the City into the Builder’s Paradise.
Events witnessed by Garrett within Angelwatch foreshadow a plot reveal that will not occur for a further four levels.
Even without this foreknowledge the Servants themselves are unsettling, having already listened to the recording in the Chapel you will know that they are not entirely mechanical in nature and were once members of society, those deemed troublemakers and vagabonds but still, humans not machines and certainly not whatever they are now. When they speak the dual nature of the Servants is unmistakable, there are clearly two separate voices, two distinct identities existing under that single immobile mask. A subdued voice, often of a girl or young man can be heard begging for help, for forgiveness, this entreaty is then echoed by a second more composed, more artificial voice. Whether the first voice is meant to indicate that something of what the Servants once were remains, or whether it is simply a remnant, a ghost, is not clear though the second voice clearly belongs to the dominant identity as this is the one that takes over when the Servant becomes suspicious or alerted.
Exit from the library can be found in the northern wall, almost directly above the door on the floor below. This door opens onto a brightly lit corridor running east to west. The library side of the doorway is in shadow though not enough to entirely conceal you from the noblewoman and her companion so it may be necessary to make a decision between potentially arousing their suspicion or moving through before you are certain of the safety of such an act. Of course, there is always the option to lean into the door and listen for the footsteps of any NPCs that might be moving around this corner of Angelwatch’s fourth floor.
Having already encountered one on the floor below, and considering the party supposed to be taking place tonight, it should come as little surprise that there are more civilians on this floor, and they are move active. In fact there are more people on this floor than on any of the those you will have previously visited.
In the wall opposite a door opens onto a room containing the western fireplace. Its carpeted floor and the shadows cast by the fireplace make this a good place to pause for a moment, especially if you have timed your exit from the library badly and nearly walked into either one or both of the patrolling guards on this floor.
Opening the door will have triggered a conversation between the two nobles standing to the north of the fireplace, though the dialogue has been written as if you have interrupted them mid-conversation. What initially sounds like a conversation about the morality of creating such Servants, quickly goes awry as whatever compassion Margaret may have is quickly eroded by Christopher, and the thought that the Servants might make good gardeners.
When the conversation is concluded the woman will leave via the door to the north and proceed up the main staircase to the sixth floor. It is possible that the man will also leave, though this is a much less frequent occurrence, one I’ve been unable to recreate. This scenario is seen on several occasions throughout Thief. Once triggered two or more NPCs will engage in a scripted conversation, their discussion including some information useful to the completion of your current objectives, or simply providing some contextual grounding to events, upon conclusion one or more of them will begin moving. Keeping these NPCs in a fixed position until their conversation is triggered means that whatever they have to say is less likely to be missed by the player, this is particularly useful if they are discussing events relevant to the current level, as is often the case. Additionally it encourages patience in players who do trigger these conversations as moving away before they are completed will limited their knowledge of where the NPCs elect to go afterward. As with any scripted event foreknowledge can be used to exploit this behaviour, which is a form of player behaviour few games have attempted to compensate for.
Aligned east to west the main corridor on this floor runs the width of the building, and depending on the timing of their patrol routes can be patrolled by either one or both of the Mechanist guards on this floor.
The male mechanist patrols between the fourth floor landing and the elevator at the end of the main corridor, while his female companion walks a route that overlaps with his, taking her from the northeastern tower to the landing and back. Overlapping patrol routes are common in the more challenging areas of Thief, they have the benefit of appearing to be more secure while in fact providing an easily readable security loophole for players to exploit. Two guards patrolling through the same space creates a redundancy, they can no longer be guarding multiple places at once. When they are both in one area the rest of their patrol route will be left unprotected, and when they both leave that area they will not return until they have completed their patrol. If you think back to the main rooms on the previous two floors they were both at a point where the patrols of multiple NPCs overlapped. On the second floor the entrance to the Chapel was a point where the patrols of the Combat Bot and the Mechanist guard overlapped, while the third floor gallery marked a point on the patrol route of both Mechanist Guards on that floor. When both NPCs are in the same room, it presents a challenge but observation of their movements will allow you to find a point in time at which neither of them are in that room and it becomes all but unguarded, a perfect security loophole. This is one of the core principles of level design for stealth games the creation of spaces that appear secure but on examination prove to be terrible examples of security.
East of the library the main corridor is joined by parallel corridor leading to the fourth floor landing. A small metal machine sits quietly in the centre of a darkened alcove to the east. This is one of several areas like this on the fourth floor that several little function beyond being places in which to hide either yourself or the bodies of guards you may have killed or otherwise incapacitated. The position of this alcove makes it a superb position from which to observe the patrol routes of the Mechanists on this floor or from which to ambush the male guard as he rounds the corner on his way to the fourth floor landing.
Unlike the previous floors the main corridors here lead directly onto the landing and the wandering civilians that are a frequent hazard throughout Angelwatch’s upper stories. Fortunately the shadows cast by the lights inset into the walls extend further across the width of the corridor than the similar ones on the third floor. Not only does this allow a cautious player to traverse the length of the corridor undetected, even by a guard bare feet away, it also allows them to open the door in the western wall without revealing their presence. The reaction provoked by a door apparently opening of its own volition is inconsistent but usually the most you will need to deal with is a single reaction line from any NPCs that observe it.
The landing of the fourth floor can easily be one of the busiest areas in the whole of Angelwatch. Triggered upon reaching the third floor landing a young man walks an extended route which may take him from the second floor and the bedroom in the south centre of this floor and back again. At the same time, and triggered by reaching the fourth floor landing itself, a woman in a red dress walks between the library and the second floor There is also the possibility that there will be a third Mechanist Guard on patrol, his route occasionally taking him between the library and the northwestern tower. It can be difficult to ascertain the exact routes these NPCs take as they are extended, include numerous pauses and might in fact change over time. The relative unpredictability of their movements means making assumptions about who will be in a particular area at a given time can prove dangerous. It’s not uncommon for these wandering NPCs to come across hastily stashed bodies, either dead or unconscious, and sound the alarm. As with most hazards in Thief the only consistent solutions are direct intervention, which often leads to an escalation of problems and might not even be viable, or excessive caution. (Note: I studied the patrol routes for these three NPCs and the Worker Bot over the course of hours and I’m was still not convinced I could say for certain what their exact patrol routes were. It was only later that I found out that there are no fixed paths for these particular NPCs they are meant to be unpredictable.)
To the east the balcony extends out over the atrium, opening as it does directly onto the landing, and with a Crossbow Mechanist standing watching on the southern balcony the acrobatic route to the other side of the atrium is less useful it may have been on the third floor.
The optimal time to traverse the main corridor is when the both Mechanists are in the corridor leading to the fourth floor landing, it’s a trivial task to wait in the alcove at the south end of the corridor until it’s time to move. If you decide not to wait there are still ways of avoiding detection. Half way down the length of the corridor an archway to the north opens onto the first of two small rooms which eventually connect to the southern balcony, where the Crossbow Mechanist will be standing with her back to you.
On the opposite side of the corridor an unlocked doorway opens into an empty carpeted room. Directly in front of you is the fireplace against the southern wall, while flanking you on either side a single beds with expensive blue chests at their feet. Both locked these chests contain a health potion and a small stack of gold coins. With the door closed behind you this is a relatively safe room, but leaving it can be a problem if you don’t take the time to find out the position of the guards in the corridor beyond; possibly either through listening at the door or by using a Scouting Orb.
Through the archway a small closet to the east serves as a good place from which to observe this stretch of the main corridor. At the same time its darkened interior, door and position off any patrol routes make it a great place to hide the bodies of dead or incapacitated NPCs.
Faint chanting or choral music can be heard through a further archway to the north, beyond two angel statues stand in alcoves flanking the doorway to the southern balcony. Bathed in light from above the sound seems to emanate from the statues themselves. Whether it is actually chanting or the noise of wind moving through myriad pipes and ducts above is difficult to make out. Directly above is the office of Karras himself where the noise is hard to make out if it is present at all, but on the level above a large fountain dominates the ballroom on the sixth floor where the sound is as strong as it is here. It’s possible ducts connect from the roof of Angelwatch to here and the sound is simply the wind moving through them, or that music is being piped in as part of some religious display, either way the sound is difficult to make out and unsettling for it.
The sound is similar to the industrial droning that can be heard throughout Thief and with no discernible source it can be difficult to ascertain why the sound exists at all. One effect it does have however subtle, is to make the statues and the area around them uncomfortable as if there’s more than simply the sound that is unexplainable.
The patrol routes of the two Mechanist guards diverge at the end of the main corridor just north of the the elevator shaft. As on most other floors the area directly ahead of it is well illuminated with electric lamps, though there are shadows at the end of the main corridor that provide enough concealment to wait out its arrival if you opt to use it.
Following the patrol route of the female Mechanist leads into the northwestern tower with its guest bedrooms, all of which are currently unoccupied. Before reaching them you need to pass the fireplace set into the eastern wall, in the shadows to the south of which is an entry point into the air ducts.
Entering or exiting the ducts on the fourth floor presents the greatest risk, the means of access is scant feet away from an area patrolled by two Mechanists and there is neither a door nor walls to obscure the sound of your footsteps on the metal plating. In an emergency, or when you have already been detected, this still provide a good means of escape from Angelwatch, though there is a more dramatic means of escape just around the corner.
Much like it does on the third floor, the corridor leading into the northeastern tower makes a pair of sharp turns, first to the west and then back to the north where a doorway leads onto the atrium balcony; best avoided if you’ve not dealt with the Mechanict Crossbow guard as the it provides little in the way of concealment. A closed door to the north opens into a modestly furnished bedroom. There’s little of interest within beyond a small coin purse that one of Karras’ guests has apparently left on the table.
Opposite the entrance to the balcony the corridor continues again to the east, before turning north when it runs alongside the external wall, doorways to the west led into a pair of bedrooms, again modestly furnished compared to the likes of Lady Louisa’s suite. The first of these rooms contains a locked blue chest holding the paltry sum of five gold coins, less even that can be obtained from the purse on the table in the other bedroom.
Where the corridor meets the eastern wall of Angelwatch a window has been opened, looking out as it does over a number of deserted buildings this window is not notable for the view; though it does offer a better look at the fate of the drunkard’s companion who you may have spotted earlier. Beyond the window a narrow a ledge runs along the side of the building to a point above the original hatch through which you entered.
Extending out from the wall, atop an angled metal platform, is the giant angel statue that you will have first seen when approaching Angelwatch. With no Slowfall Potions anywhere in the level (Likely to prevent players attempting to reach the streets of Dayport), the drop to the metal below is fatal. It isn’t be until Thief: Deadly Shadows that players have the option of creating their own means of cushioning their falls; shooting a Water Arrow into a patch of Moss causes the Moss to rapidly expand creating a soft carpet which mitigates falling damage. Fortunately there are still options, the metal side of the platform on which the angel stands is made up of a metal grating, into which Vine Arrows will gain purchase. The ability to hold fast on this surface is the single difference between Vine Arrows and the Rope Arrows you will have come across in prior levels. By shooting a Vine Arrow into the grating and taking a leap of faith from the ledge, you can jump the gap, grab onto the Vine and descent it safely to the ground. It’s even possible to perform the same action in reverse, by using the Vine Arrow to climb onto the platform before leaping across to the ledge. Doing so is difficult to and will almost certainly result in you taking damage as you land on the ledge.
It’s likely this is the first example of a grated surface you will have come across in this level so its connection to Vine Arrows might not be obvious, this and the risky acrobatics involved make it doubtful that this will be the primary means of entering Angelwatch for most players.
Back through the window it’s time to continue upwards. Instead of heading straight to the fifth floor we will instead use the main stairs to ascend to the sixth, as visiting the floors in this order provides some benefits that will make things easier when we reach Karras’ office.
Mounting the stairs of Angelwatch is an ascent into light. Climbing out of the basement like claustrophobia of the second floor the gas lamps are replaced with electric lights, the bare brickwork hidden behind paint and paper while small balconies, extending into the incongruously well lit atrium, face a large window looking out across Dayport. Initially this change in atmosphere is not apparent, a dimly lit hallway leads from the landing to the rest of the floor. South of the landing this hallway makes two right angled turns in quick succession. Turning first to the east the hallway connects to a balconies, then turns back to the south and continues past a number of doorways to terminate at the door to a small broom closet.
Opening onto rooms and hallways on three sides of the atrium the balconies provide a shortcut across this floor. It might be worth using some Moss Arrows on each of them as the patrol paths of the two Mechanists guards pass close to the entrance to each balcony. In additional, though she is concealed from this position, a Mechanist crossbow guard stands watch on the north facing balcony of the floor above.
To the north a large window looks out over Dayport, there’s not a great deal to see through this window, the large Angel statue obscuring any real view of the city beyond, regardless this single element helps to sell the idea that Angelwatch exists within the larger context of Dayport and the City itself. This is a marked contrast to the way locations are treated in other Thief II levels. First City Bank and Trust for example, is supposedly within the city limits yet it is presented as an entirely isolated construction with no connection to the streets and buildings that apparently neighbour it. The use of a series of city hubs in Thief: Deadly Shadows goes some way toward mitigating this sense of isolation. Locations are accessed directly from the streets of the city, yet the discrete mission based structure of Thief means this is something that cannot be entirely avoided.
Patrolled by a pair of Mechanist guards Angelwatch’s third floor has little in the way of functional territory beyond providing access to one of the recording devices you will need to find. It exists because in a building such as Angelwatch it should exist, it marks a transition between the austere functionality of the previous floor and the ostentation of the upper storeys; more formal than the proceeding floor it is still less luxuriant than those above it. Much like the second floor the predominate colour throughout is grey, though here it is lightened by off white trim, and patterned wallpaper.
Turning south before your reach the balcony you will pass underneath a metal lintel supported by two beams. Visible throughout Angelwatch they serve the logical purpose of providing structural support while the shadows cast from them are deep enough to provide concealment in what are otherwise well lit corridors. On the upper floors these are covered with wooden paneling to conceal the metalwork within though their dual function remains.
The electric light inset into the east wall illuminates the doorway opposite while the shadow cast by the lip of its recess creates a patch of darkness at the base of the wall. Parts of this hallway are patrolled by both the Mechanists guards on this floor and if you wish to explore the room to the west you will need to leave the shadows to do so. The potential risk and reward dynamic created by this use of lighting seems wasted here. The room to the west holds nothing of interest, and its position on the illuminated side of the hallway means there is little benefit to using it to observe the guards’ patrol routes; this task can be performed just as easily from the safety of the shadows along the opposing wall.
This room does contain one object of note, within is the fireplace in the middle of the western wall, a simple element that can help you orientate yourself within Angelwatch.
Further south the next doorway opens to the east directly onto the gallery where another gramophone can be seen, once again on a table beneath a portrait of Karras. This area is referred to by Karras in the recording as the “gallery” though other than his own portrait and a statue of an angel the only objet d’art visible are a variety of cogs and gears. The implication is far from subtle, the Mechanist view of art and culture is myopic to say the least.
Entering from the western hallway, there is another entrance to the gallery on the wall opposite though this one is not directly in line, being instead a few feet further toward the south wall. In the middle of that curving wall a closed door leads into a further room. A female Mechanist guard patrols between this room and the entrance to the Library in the southwestern corner of this floor. The path of her companion also takes him through this room as he patrols between the third floor landing and the bedrooms in the northeastern tower. Next to the gramophone, in the north wall, a fourth doorway leads onto the balcony which looks out directly on to the large atrium window.
With four different entry points, metal flooring and lighting provided solely by electric lamps hanging from the roof, the gallery is immediately readable as a dangerous location. You need to listen to the gramophone recording, but how are you to go about it? The lights cannot be doused so there will be few places of darkness to hide in if the guards enter. The metal flooring will give you away if you move any faster than a crawl, noise that will alert the previously mentioned Crossbow guard currently hidden from view on the balcony above.
Again the options are manifold and depend on both your own preferences and the current difficulty level. With a few exceptions for specific level scenarios Thief II makes no explicit requirement that you maintain a low profile on any of its three difficulty settings, Normal, Hard or Expert. It is possible to directly confront guards and civilians regardless of the difficult selected however on Hard you will fail the mission if you kill any civillians, Expert adds the additional condition that you kill no human enemies of any kind. Though these restrictions limit some of the options available, the tools at your disposal can be used to deal with non-player character in non-lethal ways, either through distraction or incapacitation. Incongruously it is possible get away with indirectly killing NPCs even on Expert difficulty, within your inventory are Frogbeast Eggs, the creatures that hatch from which are effectively organic land mines that explode on contact with a NPC. Two Frogbeasts are enough to kill a Mechanist guard and any fatalities caused by them are not attributed to you therefore circumventing the restrictions of Hard and Expert.
Along with these limits on lethality, scaled increases in the quantity of loot required, and minor changes to the layout of each level, there is one other major change that occurs between Normal, Hard and Expert. Using a system influenced by GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64, each mission requires the completion of certain objectives and as the difficulty increases the number and complexity of these objectives expands. Often completing these additional objectives will require exploration of more of the level, leading to more encounters and potentially requiring the expenditure of more resources. Unlike the other levels in Thief II changing the difficulty for Life Of The Party does not change the number of mission objectives, though the higher loot requirements and the restrictions on killing remain.
Moving slowly and keeping the metal column in the centre of the room between you and any patrolling Mechanists will allow you to move through the gallery without drawing attention to yourself. Once again any NPCs within the level seem oblivious to the gramophone starting to play.
You can reach the balcony adjoining the gallery by jumping from either of the other balconies on this floor, or by descending a Vine Arrow from above if you are visiting the floors in a different order. This balcony provides little in the way of concealment, so if there are still Mechanists on patrol it would be advisable to stand back from the doorway once you have activated the recording, or find some other hiding place within audible range to partake Karras’ discourse on the beneficial nature of a “joyful spirit”. His proclamations on the power of aesthetic beauty finishes with a vague reference to the trustworthiness of the servants which he has gifted to each of his visitors.
South of the gallery is a carpeted room, where a woman in a red dress stands admiring the fireplace positioned in the middle of the south wall. There is nothing of value in this room, though it does mark a point on the patrol route of the female Mechanist guarding this floor. The carpeted floor allows you to move quickly without being detected, making this an ideal position to ambush her. The doorway to the east leads, via a short hallway, to the elevator.
North of the elevator, inside a small room behind a closed door, is the third floor access to the ducts that run through the eastern wall. Directly to the north of this room, the hallway passes the fireplace on the east wall. Flanking this fireplace are two windows each recessed approximately two feet. Only textures these windows provide no view onto the City itself however the shadow formed in the corner of their recesses is enough to hide in. To the north of the fireplace the shadows surrounding the window are much deeper and extend further into the hallway, though reaching them from here will require moving through the section of hallway directly illuminated by the fireplace.
Past the fireplace the hallway makes a series of sharp turns to the west and then back to the north as it moves into the northeastern tower. The physical structure of Angelwatch is such that from the second floor two towers rise in the northwestern and northeastern corners flanking the atrium window and the Angel statue. These towers are only separated for two storeys after which the floor extends out again allowing the fifth and sixth stories to occupy a greater floor space than those immediately below.
While the northwestern tower is given over to the stairwell its counterpart is dedicated mainly to providing bedrooms, most of which are empty. The rooms on this floor are simply furnished and the initial assumption is that they are for what servants are needed to keep Angelwatch operating, of course this is unlikely as Karras’ has his own very specific servants who have little need for sleep. The other possibility is that these rooms are either for Karras’ less prestigious guests or the retinue of those guests who have their own rooms on the floor above.
This point where the corridor opens slightly, a doorway to the west leading onto the atrium balcony, marks one of the end points of the male Mechanist guard. His patrol takes him from the third floor landing in the northwestern tower through the gallery to here then back again. From the opposing balcony it is possible to watch him reach this point and begin his return journey, the opportunity can then be taken to jump across the balconies from one side of the atrium to the other and get behind him.
Of the two bedrooms in this tower the one to the north which opens onto a well illuminated section of hallway is empty, while the room to the east with its door shrouded in shadow is occupied by a single female civilian. Another smart design decision, the placement of shadows around this eastern door allows you to observe the room beyond without having to reveal yourself until you choose to. Though with both doors closed the occupancy of each of the two rooms is initially unknown, the room to the north presenting the more risky proposition.
This northern bedroom is unoccupied and contains nothing of value. Despite their silver appearance the hand mirror and hair brush on the table do not constitute loot, though like all similar items in Thief you will need to pick them up before you can be certain whether they are valuable or not. Thief: Deadly Shadows would later implement a “loot glint” system to alleviate this issue with everything that was worth stealing signified by a glint. This single addition also has a number of useful secondary affects. By ensuring that all loot glinted it allows the game to reuse the same models for items like goblets and candlesticks while attaching a loot glint to only specific instances of each model as required. Allowing items to glint from a distance also enables their use as a means of drawing the attention of players to areas of the level they might not realise are accessible; if something is glinting on a distance balcony then there must be a way to reach that balcony. One of the downside to this loot glint is that by clearly indicating items of value it removes the sense of self discovery that comes from exploring a space at your own pace and developing a mental model of which items were likely to be worth stealing are which are merely props.
This problem isn’t present in the eastern bedroom, the bright blue and gold chest on the far side of the room obviously contains something of value, one hundred and twenty gold coins in fact. Avoiding detection by the woman standing at the foot of the bed seems like a challenge and it can be unless you are willing to take advantage of one of the quirks of the perception model used for NPCs in Thief.
As always there are a number of ways to draw her out of the bedroom or otherwise distract and dispatch her; Noisemaker Arrows or the application of a judiciously placed Broadhead. If you want to stay unobserved you can do so by sticking close to the wall of the room and moving around behind her, then over the bed to reach the chest. Of the various factors that make Garrett less visible one of them is keeping close to the wall and in this instance the benefit provided by doing so is enough to avoid detection.
Unsurprisingly the chest is locked, it will take both lockpicks in order to open it. Picking locks in Thief requires nothing more than the use one or both of Garrett’s lockpicks, Triangle tooth or Square tooth, and time. Audio feedback is provided by either a continuous clicking to signify unlocking, or a single duller click to indicate failure. Some of the more complex locks will require a change of lockpicks, possibly multiple times, until the lock has been completely picked. The status of a locked door or chest can be seen from the position of the handle, when it is pointing toward the floor the item is unlocked. For a locked door the handle is usually at the horizontal position, how much the handle will move with each second of picking is not consistent so there is no way to judge the relative difficulty of a pick before you start it. Fortunately it is possible to abandon a pick half way and resume at a later point if you are at risk of detection.
With the northeastern tower explored it’s time to move up to the fourth floor and from here there are multiple ways of doing so. There are the three obvious methods, the elevator and ducts can be found in the southeastern corner, while returning to the northwestern tower will allow you to mount the stairs to the fourth floor landing. In the southwestern corner of this floor, on the other side of the gallery is a door we have not yet explored. Beyond is the library of Angelwatch which occupies this corner of both the third and fourth floors, a set of stairs connecting them. There is even a fifth way to reach the fourth floor though it requires some skill, a Vine Arrow shot into the roof beams at the top of the atrium will allow you to climb from the balconies on this floor to those on the floor above. This is not necessarily an obvious route and it is not without risks, the Mechanist crossbow guard on the fourth floor balcony who will spot you should you attempt this route. With the tools at your disposal, Flashbombs and Noisemaker Arrows particularly, there are ways to distract her for long enough to reach the fourth floor balcony and find a hiding spot.
We will avoid the more challenging means of reaching the fourth floor and instead, because it is still part of the third floor and has yet to be explored, return through the gallery to the Angelwatch library.
From the roof outside Sir Cullen’s Keep there is still some distance to go before reaching the Mechanist tower at the heart of Dayport. From here at least two buildings need to be traversed before you can gain entry to Angelwatch itself, the Dayport Trader’s Bank occupying the upper floors of a building to the east, and beyond that the suite of Lady Louisa. There are additionally a number of diversions that if explored can help replenish your potentially dwindling inventory.
Directly north a narrow beam crosses The Baron’s Way and is you means of entry to Castle Carlysle. Despite being a physical dead end there is a greenhouse within the confines of the castle that contains a valuable stockpile of equipment include a rare Gas Arrow, that provides a means of subduing multiple guards from a distance. This is protected by Longdaddy, the affectionately named spider who appears to have been adopted as a pet and “gardener’s assistant” by Anna the horticulturalist responsible for the greenhouse.
If you purchased one of the hints available at the start of the level you will know that within the castle walls lies the Carlysle Armoury. Nothing comes for free however, and if you are to redistribute the weapons and items within you will need to use a Vine Arrow to gain access to the open window overlooking this rooftop. A single guard patrols inside, and if you have acquired the Sunburst device from the Astronomer’s room you can detonate it, with a Fire Arrow, to blast through the door. A more subtle manner of entry can be achieved if you have already located the key from Carlysle room inside Angelwatch. Once the door has been bypassed you can stock up on Broadhead Arrows, alongside acquiring a number of rare Fire and Noisemaker Arrows.
Returning to the south side of The Baron’s Way there is a skylight on the roof outside Sir Cullen’s Keep. The stacks of coins visible on the table below are inviting. As the most obvious display of wealth in the whole of Dayport, it might just be a little too inviting. The civilian servant standing by the table presents little threat, judicious use of Vine Arrows would allow you to grab the gold without even touching the floor.
What’s not visible from this rooftop is the doorway behind the servant, and the guard waiting in the room beyond. Exploration will provide an alternate means of entry into that very room, and this one encounter is an example of Thief level design in microcosm: the obvious route if rife with concealed dangers, exploration is power.
Moving through a room to the east, you can drop down onto the window ledge outside the Dayport Trader’s Bank, or double back along the south side of The Baron’s Way to find the alternate route into the room beneath the skylight.
Much smaller than the First City Bank and Trust that you will have previously infiltrated the Dayport Trader’s Bank occupies only a single floor of one of the buildings surmounting The Baron’s Way. If you’ve taken them up on their offer one of your informants will have provided information about a certain Valencia and the stash of uncut diamonds he’s entrusted to the bank.
There are only two guards on duty within the bank, with only one patrolling the interior, while the other remains stationed on a balcony on the far side of the building overlooking Grandmauden Road. The marble floors throughout do little to mask your footsteps and will make it difficult to approach the patrolling guard without being heard, though they also make it a lot easier to hear where he is and avoid him if necessary. Despite being internally consistent the idea that solid marble or metal plate floors would be louder to walk across than gravel or dirt is initially counter-intuitive. It makes sense from the perspective of the affluent buildings presenting more problems for stealthy navigation but it does bring up the question of whether Garrett’s chosen footwear is a pair of hobnailed boots.
The patrolling guard’s route through the bank makes it easy to bypass him.
Valencia’s diamonds can be found inside a safe in the main room of the bank, a safe that can only be unlocked by finding the switch inside the office of the Supervisor, Mr. J. B. Tuttleshank. From the art on his walls Tuttleshank is a Hammerite, or at least a supporter. This, combined with the bank’s location on the top floor of an obviously prestigious building might go some way to explaining the lack of Mechanist security devices. All that’s necessary to uncover the switch to open the safe is to first pick the lock on the small panel beside Tuttleshank’s desk.
Moving east, a set of double doors open onto a balcony overlooking the intersection of The Baron’s Way and Grandmauden Road. To the south is a rooftop leading back to the Shemenov Estate, while the path to Angelwatch lies to the north through Lady Louisa’s Suite.
At this point The Baron’s Way runs east to west through Dayport while Grandmauden Road runs north to south. Two guards stand watch over the point at which they cross in the heart of one of the wealthiest districts of the The City. Both archers the first guard is on the balcony ahead of your while his companion is stationed on another balcony on the far side of Grandmauden Road. The positioning of these two guards is such that they can both, under certain circumstances, observe movement on the opposing balcony. There is a qualifier as it’s possible to incapacitate the guard on the balcony of the Dayport Trader’s Bank without alerting the other provided you do so quietly. The best option to remain undetected is to stay in the shadows provided by the canopy above, however doing this while avoiding the attention of the bank guard himself will require either extremely cautious movement or the use of Moss Arrows to deaden your footfalls.
Across the roof to the north, an open window ahead leads to the suites of the Lady Louisa who is currently being entertained within Angelwatch.
Through the open window of the building to the east a hooded figure can be seen moving; a Keeper. It’s difficult to tell but it’s possible this Keeper is in fact the same one you saw at the start of the level, certain events that occur in Thief: Deadly Shadows serve to explain how he might have been able to get here ahead of you; this would also explain his otherwise inexplicable disappearance if you attempt to follow him. Through manipulation of the semi-sentient Glyphs the Keepers can gain access to various hidden passages that exist throughout the city. A note, decorated with the keyhole symbol of the Keepers, has been left on the desk inside the room and it is addressed to Garrett himself:
We hope the information we have provided you thus far has been useful. You do well to seek information at Angelwatch. But beware! All is not as it seems at the Mechanist tower, and Karras is more aware of your actions than you may think. Still, there are ways to outwit him.
Despite you having walked away from them when they first warned of the threat besieging the city the Keepers have clearly been monitoring your efforts. It is likely they know much more than they let on, or at least believe they do, but their dedication to maintaining the balance limits the information they are willing to divulge. It’s worth considering that despite their unwillingness to act directly everything they have told you is accurate, including this missive. That does not mean they are unwilling to provide more material support, in the hallway adjacent to this room an unlit torch can be tilted to open a hidden equipment cache. From this secret compartment you can recover a pair of Noisemaker Arrows along with a Gas Mine and an Invisibility Potion, the last of these makes little sense within the context of the game as it has previously been established that the Keepers can effectively hide in plain sight provided they “do not wish to be seen”. To complain too much would be foolhardy, as the functional usefulness of temporary invisibility should be obvious.
Climbing through the window into Lady Louisa’s Suite first appearances indicate this could be a difficult room to traverse. However Garrett’s blase attitude is a good indication that first appearances are not necessarily to be trusted. Well lit and with too much furniture for rapid movement it should be difficult to get past Lady Louisa’s two female servants without being detected, especially as one is looking out the window you will need to exit from. This assessment is not inaccurate, it is challenging to move through these suites undetected, however the need to avoid detection is not as high here as in other parts of the level. There are no guards within earshot so even if you alert one or both of the servants they have no means by which to impede your progress and their cries of distress cannot be heard by anybody else.
The intricate purple wallpaper, and abundance of gold framed portraits mark out Lady Louisa as one of the City’s richer residents, even in as illustrious a location as Dayport her ostentatious wealth is notable. A total of 200 in gold, split between a vase and a coin purse, can be found within the single room of hers you pass through. This is more unsecured gold in a single location than anywhere else in Dayport. It may be enough to enable you to complete one of your Mission Objectives before you even reach Angelwatch.
Through the window on the far side of Lady Louisa’s Suite your view of the way forward is obstructed by the upper floors of a large brick building. A ledge allows you to continue around the building in either direction. Rounding the corner you are presented with your first glimpse of Angelwatch.
So far Life Of The Party has inverted the traditional Thief II relationship between you, as Garrett, and the spaces you explore. For the majority of the game the buildings you need to infiltrate have been singular constructs, intricate continuous spaces enclosed within what can often feel like vaguely arbitrary boundaries. For the beginning Life Of The Party apparently throws off these prior restrictions, the level ahead of you is a sprawl of discrete encounters, fragments of buildings passed through in seconds never to be visited again. The boundaries are still present but their presentation is more organic, a gap between two buildings too wide to jump across, a castle wall impossible to climb, a guarded road with no bridging structures. This change is liberating, and then Angelwatch spoils everything. Even from your position several stories above the streets the Mechanist tower looms above you dominating the skyline; it’s sheer bulk physically intimidating.
Everything to this point has merely served as introduction, scene setting, to help sell the size of Angelwatch in comparison to the rest of Dayport. Angelwatch is too big for the City it’s presence an intrusion; the Mechanists are starting to take over, soon their technology will have reached every corner, converted it, consumed it. The Mechanists are coming and Angelwatch is merely their vanguard.
In terms of it’s spatial footprint Angelwatch is smaller than a lot of the buildings you will have explored prior to this point, however in context it feels larger. Those other structures existed isolated from the rest of the City making it difficult to accurately judge their scale, Angelwatch stands in the centre of one of the City’s richest districts, and its size in relation to the buildings surrounding it is remarkable.
Before the final ascent to Angelwatch there’s one more occupied rooftop to traverse.
Obviously bored by his current assignment it seems Benny has been at the wine again. Even in his drunken state this guard can cause problems, his detection range appears significantly reduced so you can easily make it to the ladder to your east without being spotted. It can be worth the risk to move a little closer as Benny didn’t start the night drinking alone and the fate of his companion can be seen by looking over the edge of the roof. Whether he slipped in his drunken state and fell to his death, or whether there is a more malicious reason for his demise it’s clear than Benny will have some explaining to do once he sobers up.
To the north the density and fidelity of the buildings is markedly reduced, a sensible optimisation given that it’s impossible to progress further in this direction. Hopefully at this stage your attention is reserved exclusively for the vast bulk of Angelwatch looming above, so this clear level boundary is not as distracting as it could have be.
A small hatch on the eastern side opens onto a series of connected air ducts running through the walls of Angelwatch. From here it’s possible to access all but the first (ground) and sixth floors, care will need to be taken when dismounting the ladders within this ducts as if you fall you are liable to create a lot of noise on the metal floors. This will be most important when reaching the fourth floor as air ducts here open directly onto a well patrolled hallway.
“Hey, the City looks almost bearable from up here.”
Annotated Walkthrough, 1:
From the moment it starts Life Of The Party feels different from the rest of Thief II. Everything is brighter, the surrounding walls no longer tower above you, even the sky seems closer.
Some familiar elements remain, the constant industrial drone that pervades every level, the sounds of civilization layered over it. Somewhere to the right somebody is snoring heavily, while footsteps can be heard ahead of you though something is a little off, they sound close but there is nobody in sight. Those footsteps are indeed ahead of you, but also below you, several floors down, at street level.
For the first time you start a level with neither your objective in view nor the sound of Garrett musing over the task at hand. It isn’t until you’ve moved to the edge of the Bell Tower, upon who’s upper floor you start, that Garrett makes his opinions known and even then it’s more cynical commentary than meaningful advice. You will need to scale the pipework on the opposite roof before he will make any suggestions regarding the best way to proceed. The suggestion to “follow the road north” is an almost cryptic one as there is an inaccessible building to your north and the road in question is aligned east to west.
Though initially confusing, the advice is good. It will be difficult to keep Grandmauden Road in view at all times on your way to Angelwatch but it will serve as a landmark by which to orientate yourself as you make your way along the Thieves’ Highway.
Looking down to the street below highlights this level’s inversion of the traditional relationships of space and height; no longer are the buildings of the City towering over you. It is a liberating view of what has until now been portrayed as a uniformly oppressive and restrictive environment. The buildings that once stood as obstacles during your flight from the Crippled Burrick (in Ambush!) are now the very means by which you’ll traverse the city.
Even before reaching this point there have been opportunities to stray from the path. To the left of the Bell Tower a ledge leads to a secret room containing a handful of gold coins and some Water Arrows. While following the snoring takes you to a small room where a liveried guard appears to be sleeping off the effects of a bottle of wine, some more loot can be retrieved from his unsecured footlocker. Heading in either direction very quickly leads to a dead end, but it won’t take long before the routes available will begin to diverge much more significantly.
Having used the pipes to cross Grandmauden Road there is another brief diversion available to you. A ladder on the left descends to a rooftop occupied by a pair of generators, the noise from which it is difficult to ignore. There is an open window in the building to the north, the guard within alternating between facing the roof and the room itself. The window ledge is just high enough to be climbed onto, though if you fail the sounds of your clumsy footsteps are certain to alert the guard even though the ambient noise from the two generators should have been enough to mask any sounds you may make.
Unfortunately the implementation of audio within the Dark Engine is such that even when you think they should background sounds are often not loud enough to completely drown out the noise you make. Occasionally frustrating this also works in your favour at times, as Noisemaker Arrows and other forms of audible distraction can still be employed in noisy areas. Any sound effects associated with the player or other functional elements within the world are always higher in the mix than ambient sound effects. This ensures they are always readable, even in circumstances where environmental sounds could realistically be expected to drown out all other noise.
Climbing, or mantling, is one of a number of secondary techniques within Thief II that extend the standard inputs to increase the scope of Garrett’s movement options. By approaching a low wall, or window ledge, and holding down the jump button while moving forward you can mantle up onto the wall. It’s not always straightforward, you will need to ensure that your view is centred correctly or you will miss the mantle attempt and inevitable make noise as you jump ineffectually against the wall. Extending this technique is the ‘running jump-mantle’, by running towards a wall and holding down jump at the last moment it is possible to grab the edge of the wall and pull yourself up. As well as being useful for reaching areas too high for the standard mantle it can also be used to scale walls on the other side of the gaps. A very useful skill in Life Of The Party, where a number of ledges can only be reached by leaping between buildings. The third of these secondary movement techniques is the ‘crouch-drop’ which is as simple as it sounds. By crouching and walking off a wall it is possible to land without making a sound, though care needs to be taken as when landing from a ‘crouch-drop’ you will automatically stand up again.
Development of these movement skills greatly increases the playable space of the level. Though the majority of locations can be reached through reliance on the standard move set, the directed graph that defines the relationship between accessible and inaccessible, safe and hostile, spaces is altered as each of the secondary movement mechanic are learnt. Two locations that were once only accessible via a third location can now be moved between directly, while routes that once restricted backtracking now become bidirectional.
The presence of these secondary movement mechanics highlights an often overlooked aspect of the Thief games. Despite their name the actual act of thievery is not where the focus of the game systems lie, what you do when you reach the loot is secondary to the means you employ to get there. Thief is a game about movement through space, and the manipulation of that space to increase its relative safety or hostility. As such in terms of its mechanical focus some of it’s closest modern contemporary are not the superficially similar Splinter Cell series which has a greater focus on the tools at your disposal, but rather Mirror’s Edge a game very explicitly about movement through, and therefore mastery of, space. The commonality of the mechanical and aesthetic experience between these two apparently disparate games will become clearer as your progress through Life Of The Party.
If you are unwilling or unable to climb onto the window ledge, there are other options. Positioned directly above the window is a wooden roof support, a good target for a Vine Arrow, and if you are willing to look for one there are plenty of crates and similar objects throughout the level. Whatever method your choose to gain access to the room, timing it to ensure the guard’s back is turned requires either judicious use of a scouting orb or a fair degree of luck. Whether the stack of coins within is worth the effort of attaining it depends on the difficulty setting and your own preferences regarding the acquisition of loot.
Watching over your actions, from a window in a building to the north is a hooded figure, a Keeper, who will have disappeared once more when your emerge from the room. This is not the only member of his Brotherhood to be found on this level though he does manage to be the more subtle of the two.
Moving west again you are soon presented with the first real opportunity to diverge from the straight ahead path. Climbing down a ladder onto a low roof two routes are now available, head inside the building directly east of you or jump across to a ledge on the wall of a building to the south and follow Grandmauden Road as it continues past the building and further east. It is worth noting at this point that the route of Grandmauden Road is not as straight forward as depicted on the map. Though the general direction is accurate the position of the buildings surrounding it often mean it has to go a short distance in a perpendicular direction before turning back on course. This can occasionally make it difficult to orientate yourself with relation to the map, however the road can be seen at enough points to allow you to ascertain which direction leads to Angelwatch.
Accessed through an open window the building to the east is the first of the self-contained encounter spaces. A corridor, two small rooms and a staircase with a single guard on a patrol route passing through each area. In Thief terms this is a trivial encounter, the corners of the room at the bottom of the staircase offer enough shadow to hide while the guard moves past. A window half way up the staircase will allow you to leave the building and keep heading west, however there is an alternate way out of this building and one that will allow you to bypass a large section of the Dayport streets.
Entering from the hallway, it’s possible to spot a hole in the wall directly ahead. Accessible from the roof-beams and partially blocked off by wooden boards this grants access to a secret area and eventually the Shemenov Estate. A Vine Arrow is the most efficient means of reaching the roof-beams as it is noiseless and the Arrow itself can be retrieved and reused.
The wooden boards covering the hole need to be broken, though they take no obvious damage when initial struck. Unless you have encountered the few similarly breakable surfaces in previous levels, this can be a little disconcerting as there is no feedback to indicate attacking is the correct approach. If you are trying to maintain a low profile, it will be necessary to ensure that the patrolling guard has closed the door and started up the stairs before you attack the boards as the noise will easily alert him. The sound of the guard’s footsteps as he scales the stairs to the room at the top and then returns, can feel like a ticking clock creating a moment of tension in what is a very simple situation. There is more than enough time to break through before the guard returns but it doesn’t necessarily feel as safe as it actually is.
On the other side of the wall is the attic room of an Astronomer who clearly has a rather dubious concept of both the scientific method and the value of human life; not to mention a single-minded fascination with the moon. It is possible to steal the Sunburst Device described in the Astronomer’s journal and doing so might actually be one of the noblest things Garrett will ever do. A final curious note about the Astronomer’s room is that though it’s possible to switch the electric lights on it’s impossible to turn them off again, they simply flicker a little and remain illuminated. It can evoke a brief moment of worry that lasts only as long as it takes to realise nobody can reach you here.
Thief is rife with moments like this, players, especially first time players, can not always be certain if an area is safe and this knowledge gap between perception and reality can be exploited to imply hostility where none exists.
Moving past some stacked crates, a window in an empty room below leads to the Shemenov Estate and a perfect example of the isolated problem encounter spaces upon which the Dayport sections of Life Of The Party are built.
Despite there being at least three ways to reach the Shemenov Estate each require exploration to find and as such this section of Life Of The Party can feel much more isolated than some of the locations to the west of Grandmauden Road. This isolation, along with the limited number of AI agents (Two patrolling guards, one static guard and a civilian) make it a good case study for the various ways in which the Thief series uses spatial layout to promote stealth gameplay.
Stripped of any interaction verbs beyond those concerned directly with movement there are three ways of moving unobserved through a space patrolled by a hostile AI.
Watch and Wait: Find a location along the path of the AI from which you can remain unobserved and wait for the AI to pass you heading in the opposite direction, then proceed across the space.
Bypass: Locate an alternate route through the space that avoids contact with the hostile AI completely.
Follow: Trace the same path as the AI until you find a point that allows you to break contact.
Since method 3 is a variation and combination of the first two methods, there are essentially only two approaches to stealth movement. The tools available to the player can be used to change the environment to facilitate either of these approaches but within most Thief levels it is possible maintain unobserved movement without a reliance upon tools. In general there is a path that offers a near zero change of detection, of stealth failure.
The first and second (external and internal) sections of the Shemenov Estate are good examples of these two methods of stealth movement, and the level design needed to support them.
The external section of the Shemenov Estate, which you enter from the Astronomer’s room, consists of a lower and upper roof space, linked by steps, with two rooms off the lower roof, one accessible from a closed door on the lower roof itself and the other by a second set of steps rising to the same level as the upper roof. This upper room is lit by a torch and has an attached balcony upon which is a guard. The other guard patrols between this room and the upper roof, though he has a tendency to embellish his route with occasionally and apparently random loops that making following him a risky proposition. Arriving on the lower roof, it is initially impossible to see the static guard, while the patrolling guard could also be hidden from view in the upper room on on the upper roof, though as he never actually stops moving his footsteps will quickly give his position away.
The erratic behaviour of the patrolling guard combined with an unawareness of the layout of the upper roof make any attempt to follow him a risky option, with no apparent means of gaining access to the upper roof without taking the steps the only viable option is either to deal with the guard directly or adopt the Watch and Wait approach.
The level design in the Thief series makes a lot of use of what appears on first glance to be purely logical territory. Each level is full of small rooms and little nooks that seem to exist simply because such locations would exist in a bank or a warehouse. However an understanding of the dynamics of Thief shows that these locations are in fact just as much functional territory as logical territory. They may contain little, or even nothing, in the way of loot, and are likely undisturbed by guards or other NPCs, but their very emptiness makes them prime locations from which to observe the behaviour of the NPCs and plan your next move.
The room behind the door on the lower roof is a prime example of such a space. Ostensibly it is a guard barracks, with a double bunk and a small foot locker, however its position makes it an ideal place from which to observe the movements of the patrolling guard. It is away from his standard route and though illuminated by an electric light there are enough dark corners to allow you to wait undetected.
Despite the multiple ways you can leave the Shemenov Estate the route that will keep you heading in the direction of Angelwatch requires heading inside the estate itself and finding another way out to the north. The only way to gain entry to the interior is via the chimney on the upper roof where a Water Arrow is needed to dowse the flames in the fireplace before you can descend.
Even with the fire out the kitchen still presents a hostile environment, a torch illuminates the floor ahead of you which is made up of hard stone that is difficult to cross inaudibly, while a servant performs her duties in the corner. Once alerted she will scream and run for help from the guard on patrol inside the Shemenov Estate. If you move slowly you can leave the kitchen without being seen, however opening the door to the hallway without first taking the time to listen for what is on the other side is a risky proposition.
On the counter opposite the fireplace and behind the servant is a scroll that contains the latest in a series of missives concerning an Alchemist’s and the arrangements of two people to meet therein. This minor subplot is detailed in various scrolls found within several of the previous levels, even as far back as the third level Framed.
The second patrolling guard can be found in the interior of the Shemenov Estate, his route taking him from a small storage area opposite the door to the kitchen up two flights of stairs and out onto another roof.
Within the storage area beneath the stairs there are two chests,of the kind within which loot or other useful items are usually found, however in this case one of them contains a bucket that you will automatically pick up. Putting this bucket down creates a lot of noise which may alert either the guard himself of the servant in the kitchen; assuming you haven’t closed the door behind you. Though it’s a simple task to wait until the guard has moved away before dropping the bucket, it is equally simply (and more likely) to discard the bucket as worthless, allowing it to clank nastily on the stone floor. The placement of his chest was not unintentional and it feels like a slight admonishment against not thinking things through, against acting too quickly. After all which is more likely to be found under the stairs, gold or cleaning supplies?
Though the storage area provides a good hiding place from which to avoid the AI, as it marks one of the end points of his patrol it will not be possible to wait here and then proceed past him. Because his entire route cannot be observed from any one location exit from the Shemenov Estate will require you to take a risk and follow him up the stairs.
Each of the two landings is lit by a single torch and once plunged into darkness either makes a good point at which to wait for the patrolling guard to move past. Continuing up brings you out onto an unguarded rooftop with a high wall to the north. Mantling this wall and moving across another roof leads to the intersection of Grandmauden Road and The Baron’s Way, a well guarded intersection and the point at which all paths through Dayport converge.
“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:
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 IIthere 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 hostileterritory. 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.
“‘Survival of the fittest’ that’s the rule in the Drop, the only rule.”
Combat in The Drop:
One of the themes at the heart of BioShock 2 is that of regaining your place in the world. You are Subject Delta, the first successfully pair bonded Big Daddy. You were once an important figure in the history of Rapture, possible the most important, but that was a decade ago. In order to find Eleanor you will need to regain that position of power, to once again become the most important individual in the city; the black sheep of the Rapture Family. Mechanically this ties to a core appeal of action games, the sense of empowerment. In order to regain your position of importance you will need to regain your power, your mastery.
In BioShock 2 the mastery you need to reclaim is not simply over the genetic powers at your disposal but over the environment itself. Much more than Jack in the original BioShock, as Subject Delta you need to be aware of your environment and how you can modify it to your advantage. Where other games are about the change in territory from Safe to Hostile, in BioShock 2 the important territorial change is from Unfamiliar to Familiar.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the moments when you have to defend your Little Sister as she gathers the vital Adam needed to improve your genetic abilities. Mastery of your environment during these encounters leads to a resource reward, which fuels the mastery of your abilities. Abilities with grant access to a broader toolset through which you can modify the environment to your advantage.
In order to sustain this character growth you will find yourself spending the majority of your time in combat protecting a Little Sister as she performs her macabre ritual. Having only experienced two required Gathering Encounters so far the design of those within the The Drop can feel like a lesson on how best to use the game space, both physical and mechanical, to your advantage. Some locations have been designed with longer sight lines and sparse cover encouraging the use of Plasmids and long range weaponry such as the Rivet Gun or Machine Gun. While others take place in confined apartments requiring a focus on traps and melee attacks.
This focus on the modification of your environment to your own advantage is one familiar from the Thief series. A large number of the verbs available are used indirectly to modify the status of the environment instead of being used to directly affect any one character.
Before each Gathering Encounter it is important to use your understanding of the environment and the tools at your disposal, to change the territory around you from one that is Safe for the Splicers to one that is Hostile.
The Gathering Encounter outside the Fishbowl Diner is likely the first one players will experience and is designed to provide opportunities for using every one of the tools currently at your disposal.
Positioned behind a newspaper stall in the northwestern corner of the Diner area, this Gathering Encounter allows you to position yourself with your back to the wall, and provides sight lines to the south and east.
There is a doorway behind you on the north wall, which leads back to the platform, however it is an obvious choke point, therefore an ideal spot for the deployment of Trap Rivets. With your back to the wall, and the one weak point behind you protected, the only way in which you or your diminutive charge can be approached directly is from the south or east. In each direction there is an environmental element that can be exploited with your available Plasmids. There is even a bicycle near your Little Sister that can be wielded with Telekenisis. The obvious opportunities for Plasmid use in this Gathering Encounter help to encourage a mentality of rapidly switching between different Plasmids to make the best use of your environment, a skill that will prove useful in later levels.
The greater your willingness to explore the area around the Diner the more you can co-opt the environment to your cause. Throughout the area there are oil drums that can be brought back to the site of the Gathering Encounter to either be wielded with Telekenisis or rigged with Trap Rivets. On the roof of the Fishbowl Diner itself is a Machine Gun turret that if Hacked will provided protection against the few Splicers that will attempt to attack from that elevated position. On the southern wall of the Diner is a security camera that can serve a similar purpose with Splicers approaching from that direction.
Within this single encounter space there is an opportunity to use all the verbs guaranteed to be available at this stage. It is even possible to leave this Gathering Encounter until after you have visited the Fishbowl Diner and obtained the Shotgun. This will provided you with extra firepower to deal with any Splicers that do managed to get within close range. However with the Diner now accessible, a new avenue of attack is opened up. With the newspaper stall positioned between your Little Sister and the entrance to the Diner you will need to either deploy Trap Rivets across the entrance or keep moving so as to not allow Splicers to sneak up on you. Organically increasing the hostility of the environment in this way is a smart method of ensuring that even if the player has gained the Shotgun the increased firepower it provides is offset by an increase in the challenge of the Gathering Encounter. Even if you have been able to increase your toolset the environment itself changes to compensate.
Using all the tools available to you for this single Gathering Encounter is significant overkill, however the option to use any of them in combination or isolation, makes it easy to experiment and learn how they all interact with each other. From this single encounter you can start to develop an idea of which Plasmids and Weapons will prove most compatible with your particular play style.
The concept of mastery over your environment isn’t limited to the Gathering Encounters, though this is it’s clearest manifestation. The general rule while playing BioShock 2 is that players will be the ones to initiate combat encounters. Splicers will attack when they spot you, however in most circumstances they will announce their presence in a variety of ways making it easy to get The Drop on them (Sorry). Each level features some notable exceptions to this general rule, yet all of these apparently exceptional occurrences follow a similar trend; areas that previous been made Familiar and Safe, are turned Unfamiliar and Hostile. Players need to make use of their existing knowledge of the game space, both physical and mechanical, to return these areas to a state of Familiarity and Safety.
When obtaining the Shotgun inside the Fishbowl Diner you will find the roof collapsing inward and experience a close range attack from multiple Splicers. I have discussed previously, that this encounter is an ideal place to make use of the newly acquired Shotgun. Since you have been granted the perfect weapon to deal with the sudden threat the ambush itself does not feel like so much of a cheap trick. Upon entering a number of audio and visual ques help indicate that you are likely to come under attack while inside the Diner or soon after leaving, therefore observant players will be able to plan for the coming encounter. As you will have been required to move through the area once in order to trigger the encounter you will not be forced to fight in Unfamiliar territory.
On the first floor of the Sinclair Deluxe you can follow a Splicer through an abandoned apartment, past a hanging Splicer corpse in the living room, and through into a deserted kitchen. Upon returning to the living room you will be ambushed by Splicers ‘playing dead’ on the floor. Having already passed through the living room if you were paying attention you will quickly realise that something is wrong. With a moment of pause between reentering the living room and the Splicers leaping to their feet, you will have time to prepare if you have been observant enough to spot the trap.
These are small examples of being encouraged to use knowledge of the environment to your advantage, a further instance of this can be seen when you leave the Sinclair Deluxe after confronting Grace Holloway. From here until the end of the level it is impossible to avoid combat fortunately every encounter from this point on takes place in a location you have already explored. Though there are additional objects within these locations, the physical layout of the encounter space, and the environmental elements within, is largely unchanged. Forewarned by either Grace, or Sofia Lamb, as to the coming attack you will have a good idea of your potential options before combat begins.
The range of Plasmids and GeneTonics available within Pauper’s Drop is such that it’s unlikely two players will leave with exactly the same load out making this the last level in which the player’s starting toolset can be accurately determined. Using the encounters within the level to promote experimentation and train players in the different tools available is an intelligent design decision, it serves to prepare them for the rest of the game.
Spatially Pauper’s Drop shows a marked increase in both vertical space and openness over previous locations in Rapture. This also serves to subtly train players in the type of encounters they will experience in the later stages of the game. Until this point the combat in BioShock 2 has been largely on par with that of the original BioShock, from now on that starts to change.
“Ol’ Andy rambles on about the Great Chain… I got people shellin’ out to pull it for me!”
Annotated Walkthrough, 3:
The concept of a crumbling apartment building is hardly a new one, Max Payne, Condemned 2: Bloodshot and BioShock have all included representations of such locations. They are familiar places, safe places, made explicitly unsafe and unfamiliareither through the actions of man, time, or nature. In the case of the Sinclair Deluxe all three have likely had some role to play in the state it now finds itself. Never built with an eye towards the sophistication seen in some parts of Rapture and never to be mistaken for a luxury residence, it is yet clear that before the many disasters that befell it the Sinclair Deluxe was one of the more impressive parts of the The Drop.
One curious fact about the Sinclair Deluxe, which might never have been noticed by the less pedantic, is that on each floor there is no apartment number lower than 6. The lowest apartment number I can locate in the entire building is number 106, on the right hand side of the first floor. It would seem one way to avoid having innumerable locked doors in a level is to simply remove as many doors as possible.
Something about the current state of the Sinclair Deluxe, and the nature of BioShock 2 in general, implies it would be pointless to even attempt to use the lift. So instead you will need to make your way up the stairs to the first floor.
Approaching the first floor foyer, the way ahead appears dark, but Eleanor has apparently managed to convince one of the little ones to leave something waiting for you by the dead Splicer…
The supposedly dead Splicer that leaps to attack you as you approach is a new trick, one than the residents of the Sinclair Deluxe seem particularly fond of, and one you’ll see infrequently through the later levels.
Counter intuitively the first floor of the Sinclair has seen more obvious damage than the floors above. The power is off in most of the apartments, the walls have crumbled and the floor and ceiling are giving way in a number of places. This enforced darkness means that you will automatically begin using your suit mounted light to illuminate your surroundings. The restricted field of vision provided by the single light source combines with the large contrast in height between the entrance court and the first floor hallway to provoke a distinct sense of claustrophobia and the mild panic that brings with it.
This sense of tension is augmented by the behaviour of the Splicers who will use the sparse lighting and crumbling walls to lie in wait for you, luring you into traps or simply pouncing on you from a doorway. The combat in this first section of the Sinclair is close ranged and brutal. Though there are some Leadhead Splicers it appears the majority would rather simply beat you to death with lead pipes, wrenches or whatever comes to hand.
Whatever caused the destruction on the first floor was either something the residents saw coming, or something that meant they never felt comfortable returning. Though showing some signs of occupancy few of the first floor apartments show the degree of individualised habitation that can be seen on the upper floors.
It’s a curious design decision as exploration of these first floor apartments is required due to the roof collapse that has blocked the central hallway whereas it’s possible to completely ignore the second floor apartments. Maybe the very individuality of these residences was seen as enough of a motivation for exploration and an explicit barrier to direct forward progression was not considered necessary.
The lights are still working throughout the second floor of the Sinclair Deluxe, this combined with rooms that are generally larger and more open removes the previous floor’s sense of claustrophobia and provides you a moment of respite to explore the various traces of human habitation that fill these rooms.
There are two consistent themes throughout the second floor, that of pinning something to the wall, and of keeping money hidden in cookers. The former makes a degree of sense, other that some obvious and a little overly regular holes in the interior walls, the majority of the second floor is in a good state of repair. The latter I’m really not so sure about. Several dollars can be found in every cooker on this floor, which is a surprisingly large number, there are in fact more cookers than toilets I believe.
The manner in which the different rooms are decorated in an obsessive fashion by the inhabitants recalls the similar individualisation of the cells within Shalebridge Cradle, the penultimate level of Thief: Deadly Shadows.
With working lights sources, a more open layout and fewer enemy encounters this floor can feel like a different location to the first. The decision to personalise each apartment is an appealing one, however few of these personal touches speak to the broader narrative of Rapture as a city, or to any characters we have already heard of. They can therefore feel disjointed and one dimensional. We should care about these people because they had something that made them unique, however when all we know about one resident is that he was a butterfly collector and all we know about another is a fondness for photographs it can feel a little like we are being asked to care about a concept more than a person. These rooms, though aesthetically appealing, feel like an attempt at an emotional conclusion to which there has been no buildup; a pay off that hasn’t been earned.
The personalisation of the cells in the Shalebridge Cradle works on an emotional level because these are characters we have already developed some investment in. They exist beyond the confines of their cell and it is up to the player to piece together the various pieces of out of context information provided and built up a piture of who these people were. That level is a mystery that the player must unravel and the inhabitants are a key part of it. The residents of the Sinclair Deluxe are nobodies, heard of once and then forgotten.
What if the tale of Gideon Wyborn, the butterfly collector, had been laced throughout the earlier parts of The Drop? The butterfly is used as a symbol throughout BioShock 2 so his obsession with them seems like a fitting side story. A audio log in the diner of two residents discussing “that creepy guy with the butterfly net” or a recording of a therapy session with Dr Lamb. How she had taken to using the butterfly motif after talking with him. Imagine then the entirety of the Sinclair Deluxe being without power, having to pick your way through the crumbling, decaying apartments by the light of your suit. Never sure if around the next corner would be a Splicer or an empty room. You duck into a side room as a respite from the tension of exploring this dark ruin of a hotel, your light catches off the hundreds of butterflies pinned to the walls. You know who’s room this is, who’s home this was, without having to be told. One little mystery is solved and you’ve taken a step closer to an understanding of what it means to be a citizen of Rapture…
Instead there’s a fairly blunt reveal of the room of the butterfly collector along with a rambling audio log. We get it, he was creepy and obsessed. As a singular narrative beat to signify that there were once people living here, it works but it feels obvious, almost a heavy handed. The allusions to the butterfly as a metaphor for the people of Rapture is an intriguing one, and as such deserves a defter touch; it is at odds with the subtle touches throughout the rest of The Drop.
After a close range encounter with a Brute Splicer it’s time to move up to the third floor and prepare for a confrontation with Grace Holloway.
Grace lives in the penthouse, apartment number 307, at the very front of the building. The touches of humanity are given deeper significant by the steady revealing of her character throughout the level; she can in fact be heard first in an audio log at the end of Ryan Amusements. Grace means something to us, and so everything inside her apartment means something too.
It has taken an entire level to get here and now the choice of how to obtain the override key and what to do about Grace is left to you. Even Sinclair himself seems reluctant to offer advice either way, advising you beforehand that her hatred of you is based on a “misunderstanding” yet also willing to accept the logic of your decision if you do choose to kill her.
No matter your choice, whether you confirm her belief that you are a monster or prove that you have your own motivations, you will still have to fight your way out of The Drop. If you do allow her to live she won’t be able to call off the Family but she will provide you with a little support in the way of two upgraded Security Bots.
Upon leaving Grace’s penthouse the door to apartment number 306 is opened and through it you can drop through into apartment 106, completing a loop that allows you to avoid returning through the collapsed sections of the Sinclair Deluxe.
Even with this help the way back to the platform is a challenging one, while you’ve been exploring the Sinclair Deluxe the Splicers of The Drop have been preparing for your return. The Fishbowl Diner becomes a focal point for the combat in this final part of the level and once you are through it’s time to use the override key and unlock the Atlantis Express Line once more. Don’t take too long, Eleanor is waiting…
“There ain’t a side of the tracks more wrong than under ’em.”
Annotated Walkthrough, 1:
Stepping onto the platform at the start of the level one thing is immediately clear, this place is dirty. Compared to the luxuriant excess of the Adonis, or the manufactured joviality of Ryan Amusements, Pauper’s Drop feels old, decrepit. Designed initially as temporary housing for the workers building the Atlantis Express Line, The Drop became home when those workers found there was no place for them in the rest of Rapture.
The hand written sign above the entrance way says it all, whatever this place was before, it’s Pauper’s Drop now.
It’s interesting to note that The Drop appears to be sealed from the outside. A decision by those above to keep somebody in, or the work of a friend to those within, to keep the rest of Rapture at bay?
Even before you’ve entered The Drop proper there’s a distinct air of humanity to the place that has been lacking so far in your return to Rapture. This place might not be particularly welcoming but for somebody it’s home, and as a product of the Rapture above, you are not welcome. That’s made abundantly clear from the moment you Hack your way in, the first sight to great you being the corpse of a fellow Big Daddy, a Rosie. This is a motif that is repeated throughout the level. Big Daddies are not welcome in The Drop, Subject Delta especially not.
Moving forward you can see the various lines of the Atlantic Express stretching off across Rapture, and Big Sister watching. Looking through the windows throughout Pauper’s Drop you can see Big Sister circling in several locations, observing, waiting.
Heading further forward you come across something that has only really been hinted at in the proceeding levels. The deification of Eleanor Lamb is one of the key themes of BioShock 2, and the ritualistic nature of it is a concept that is first presented here for a payoff at the conclusion of the subsequent level, and a confrontation with the self styled Father Whales in Siren Alley.
Rounding the corner the level opens up as you approach the Fishbowl Diner and after your second sighting of the Brute Splicer, you are ‘welcomed’ by Grace Holloway, a character who knows who you are even if you don’t know yourself. The area in which the Diner is situation is one of the most open areas yet experienced in BioShock 2, and it serves as a hub from which you can explore the separate wings of The Drop.
Like all such locations in BioShock 2 the area around the Diner appears more open than it actually is. There are few entirely clear sights lines between one side and the other. As well as helping with the optimisation of the level by ensuring that not everything can be seen at once, it also means that there is a variety of cover for both you and your opponents during combat.
Trapped in Pauper’s Drop you need to gain access to the Sinclair Deluxe and obtain the override key from Grace Holloway. That things will not go as simply as that is a given, and if you decide to approach the Sinclair Deluxe first you will find their way blocked by a Brute Splicer acting on the orders of Grace herself. In order to clear this obstruction you will need to locate and make use of the Research Camera, a device familiar to players of BioShock.
This form of gated progression is a common technique to keep players from moving onward until a particular skill has been learnt or tool acquired. It is a technique used extensively throughout Half-Life 2 and is to some degree a form of the tool based exploration that is one of the cornerstones of the Metroid series.
Though free to explore the Diner and Downtown in any order you choose the Sinclair Deluxe is off limits until you have proven your understanding of the Research Camera. A skill that will prove vitally important as the game progresses. This is a very similar goal to that used in BioShock‘s third level, Neptune’s Bounty, where players are required to photograph, and defeat, three Spider Splicers in order to convince Peach Wilkins to grant them access to the Smuggler’s Hideout.
Actually obtaining the Research Camera is a multi-part objective in itself. You will need to explore the whole of the first section of Pauper’s Drop in order to locate it and only then will you be able to access the Market, where the Camera can be used to research a Brute Splicer and grant you the Drill Dash ability.
The Camera itself can be found within King Pawn in the Downtown district, and it is here that you will head if you heed the advice of Augustus Sinclair. The doors to King Pawn itself have been chained shut and you will need to find another way in through the Clinic. However the Clinic itself requires a keycode to enter, a code which can be found within the Fishbowl Diner.
Since there is no explicit requirement to enter the Sinclair Deluxe until after you have visited one or more of the other locations several variations of Sinclair’s dialogue have been recorded in order to provide the correct information in the correct order. The keycode lock on the Clinic door is another form of gated progression, serving to ensure players understand the need to locate keycodes using clues within the environment, often through listening to audio logs. It’s worth noting that the audio log outside the Clinic explaining the whereabouts of the person responsible for changing the code, Tobias Riefers, plays automatically upon collection; unlike the majority of other audio logs throughout the game. This particular log contains important information and therefore you are required to listen to it. Showing players a location and then requiring that they return to it to complete a subsequent objective is a common means of making use of all the available space while instilling a sense of familiarity in players.
Asking players to explore a location they are already aware of reinforces the interconnected nature of a level, this is especially true if the game recognises that the player has already completed any objective in this area the first time around. Something BioShock 2 does at several points throughout Pauper’s Drop.
The late Tobias Riefers can be found slumped against the wall inside the Fishbowl Diner, the Shotgun in his possession apparently not enough to prevent his death. Though it’s presence does make you wonder why none of the Splicers around have taken it for themselves…
The ambush upon obtaining the Shotgun is reminiscent of a similar occurrence in the Medical Pavilion in BioShock, it would appear in Rapture the Shotgun is a highly popular form of bait. The ambush itself serves an interesting purpose, it is unlikely that many will will switch out the Shotgun for another weapon having just acquired it, so the attack in close quarters serves to highlight both the main strength of the Shotgun and it’s major weakness. Attacked at such close quarters the first Splicer will almost certainly be on the receiving end of a point blank blast to the face, an action almost certain to be fatal. However from here the encounter gets more unpredictable, as the small magazine size (Two shells) make itself immediately apparent. You will need to either switch to an alternate weapon or start to get creative with combinations of Plasmids and melee attacks. The lessons learnt in this brief encounter will serve you well when you enter the Sinclair Deluxe and are faced with a number of similarly point blank encounters. It may also inform the decisions you make upon next locating a Power to the People machine, that Shotgun Clip Size upgrade is clearly a useful proposition in any close range encounter.
With the code in hand it’s time to head Downtown and, assuming you’ve not been there before, your first encounter with a Brute Splicer.
The Downtown section of Pauper’s Drop is less open than the area around the Diner and initially appears much smaller. Your objective is clear from the first moment you step into this area, the broken neon signage above King Pawn is impossible to miss, this signposting augmented by the sight of the Brute Splicer jumping from the roof toward you. One thing is clear this is an important location and one you should seek to explore.
The door to King Pawn is chained and padlocked and an alternate means of entry is not immediately obvious. If this is your first time in Downtown the audio log leaning against the wall of the Clinic and the keycode locked door are clear indicators that this is somewhere that warrants further investigation. If you are returning here having already secured the keycode it’s likely you’ll enter the Clinic immediately and pay little attention to the other doorway in this area. On the opposite side of the central square to King Pawn, past the fallen train car, the way to the Market is currently inaccessible, presumable to prevent anybody from defeating the second Brute Splicer before they have obtained the Research Camera. Since anybody reaching this point is likely to be more interested in King Pawn and the Clinic it’s likely few will realise this door is sealed shut until the Research Camera has been acquired. It’s a rare instance of being locked into a particular area without some form of explicit in world acknowledgement. However the low probability of anybody attempting this door until the correct time means drawing attention to it would probably do more harm than good.
Entering the Clinic was the moment that defined this level for me personally. Up until this point the layout had seemed to conform to a fairly standard design, similar to the majority of levels in BioShock: a central hub area with a number of side spokes branching from it. A floor plan exemplified by the Medical Pavilion and Hephaestus among others. Though Pauper’s Drop conforms to this design on a macro scale, each spoke serves as it’s own little hub from which areas seem to branch outward and outward. Moving up the stairs I was expecting to find a back room that allowed access to King Pawn and maybe one or two extra rooms containing items and possibly an audio log. Instead there are two exits at the top of the stairs and exploring either leads to various walkways, and hidden rooms, with little obvious dead end in sight. In the space of one moment an area that had seemed so obviously limited in scope became a much more interesting place.
What seems obvious on the surface is hiding a web of interconnected passages and backrooms. There is much more to be seen if you scratch the surface than you would imagine from a cursory glance. It is a metaphor for BioShock 2 itself, there is greater complexity at work than might initially appear. Stumbling over walkways between rooftops and through decaying apartment buildings I felt like I had changed from a visitor with a very specific objective, to an explorer rummaging through the private areas of Rapture. I was no longer an observer I was an inhabitant.
Among the many areas that become accessible upon entering the Clinic, the majority of which are not vital to progression, is the office of Private Investigator Rock Flanagan, in whose office can be found an audio log describing how he had to pawn his Genetic Research Camera. Since this reinforces something we have already been told, that there is a Research Camera in King Pawn, I wonder if at some point during the development of Pauper’s Drop players had been required to actually locate the Research Camera for themselves and this audio log is a remnant of a previous focus on investigation. Something that would fit with the obvious ‘Film Noir’ references throughout The Drop. This concept seems to be reinforced by comments made by Senior Level Architect Alex Munn in the Deco Devolution art book.
It’s actually possible to gain entry to King Pawn fairly quickly after entering the Clinic, however with so many options available for exploration it’s unlikely you will go there immediately. When you do find your way into the pawnshop the method you use is one that will soon become familiar, especially in Siren Alley. Using a hole in the roof to gain access to an otherwise blocked area, or alternately using a hole to rapidly exit from an area, is something that you will find yourself doing several times before the game is over.
Both of these layouts are variations on the structure of level design I refer to as a loop, or circuit. In essence it is the concept of: long way there, short way back. Players are required to invest time and resources in order to access a climatic or otherwise important part of a level but from there can return to the start quickly. This is usually achieved in one of two ways, by completing a loop that only works in one direction a ‘saw-tooth’ loop or by ‘unblocking’ a route that had initially been sealed. Numerous examples of the ‘saw-tooth’ loop can be seen in Borderlands where players are required to make their way through a number of lower level enemies gradually in order to reach a boss encounter. Once the boss is defeated the layout will allow players to jump from a window, balcony, or ledge to a location much closer to the start of the level.
The ‘unblocking’ form of loop is seen in Ryan Amusements, where upon reaching the end of the Journey To The Surface, players activate the security override and open previously sealed doors throughout the level, allowing rapid access to the start of the ride.
This form of looping structure can also be combined with gated progression to lock players into a particular location until they can perform a required task. A good example of this can be seen in Half-Life 2: Episode 2 where players drop through a window into a confined location and must destroy the Combine Auto Turrets within in order to leave.
Now that the Research Camera has been found it’s time to head to the Market district, aka Skid Row…