Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part 3 – A Tale of Two Masks
[one_third]Our level design-specific analysis of the Thief reboot begins with a look at the Jewellers and road to the clocktower in Chapter 1: Lockdown.[/one_third]
You start this chapter in a small yard off the bridge through which you entered the city via cart in the preceding cutscene. The only way out of this yard is to use the claw you stole from Erin during the events of the prologue. Once you have reached the first ledge you need to use it once more to climb up and over to the street beyond. A simple antepiece space, this area serves to confirm that you understand how to use the claw to climb using ladders and gratings.
Two members of the City Watch are sealing shut the gate at the end of the street beyond the starting area. With their task complete they’ll begin to patrol along the street, passing your position and moving around the corner. The obvious route is to climb up onto the pipework and use this to cross to the other side, though it’s also possible to drop down to the ground level and explore the street itself. However, the area that you have access to only extends as far as the corner the guards walked toward. Once they have reached this point, they will turn and retrace their steps back toward the gate.
Despite its small size, there are four discrete means of entering the Jewellers
Only one of the buildings on this street is explorable. Despite having previously seen a civilian at the door when the guards were locking the gate, the only part of this building you can enter is a single uninhabited room directly off the street.
Having either crossed the pipes or scaled the walls at either end of the short stretch of street, you’ll find yourself in another small yard with a guard, and a climbable ladder beyond. The lone guard doesn’t present a challenging stealth encounter, but this space does serve to indicate that, despite what the audio feedback might suggest, using the claw to climb is noiseless.
[message_box title=”Under The Weather”]Throughout chapter 1, and again in chapters 7 and 8, the rain is cut through at intervals by lightning which, if you are not careful, will illuminate your position and potentially reveal your presence. The strong flashes that you need to be wary of are preceded by shorter ones that illuminate only the sky, but the relationship between these warning flashes and the revealing ones is unclear. This is another element that recalls Mark of the Ninja, though the translation from a 2D perspective to a first-person one has led to a decrease in readability. When a flash of lightning causes your position to be illuminated with no clearly perceived warning, it creates a sensation of dishonesty and arbitrariness on the part of the game.[/message_box]
Through a soft transition, you emerge overlooking a larger section of street on the far side of which two members of the City Watch can be observed looking through the windows of a Jewellers. With this section of street also locked down due to the curfew, going through the shop is the only way forward.
Despite its small size, there are four discrete means of entering the Jewellers. The front door is the most risky, as there are patrolling guards on both sides; the open window on the floor above is the most obvious entry point and the one the level is structured to lead you toward. There is also a back door to the basement, and a way to climb up onto a series of pipes that lead inside and run just below the ceiling of the entire ground floor, including the showroom at the front of the building. These different means of access provide scope for the preparation phase; the selection of ingress point an act of intentionality and player expression.
Though compact in size, the density of objects within makes for only a few spaces where you will not have to engage directly with NPCs. The showroom at the very front of the building is a good example of the style of encounter design possible within a small space. There are multiple items of stealable loot within the showroom, including pieces within cabinet and drawers that require unlocking. The patrol route of the lone guard takes him past all of these valuables with stops at certain points that grant you a few extra moments in which to act while his back is turned. There are four ways into the space; two interior doors, the locked front doors, and an opening near the roof level that will allow you to walk along the pipes running just below the ceiling. This pipework can also be accessed from the inside by climbing up the cabinets against the wall.
The showroom at the very front of the building is a good example of the style of encounter design possible within a small space
The position of the locked display cases relative to the patrol route of the guard is such that you will be exposed by the light if you choose to unlock them. You can try to work the lock while his back is turned but if you take too long you risk detection and may have to abandon your attempt, resetting the lock.
The Jewellers is a form of “tutorial in-situ” a space of limited size within which are a variety of different stealth encounters, basic examples of the various styles of problem you will face over the course of the game. It can hard to make informed judgements about the level design of subsequent chapters from this opening area as the encounters are limited in scope and complexity. It’s a good, if brief, opening that provides a more contextual introduction to the systems of Thief than the heavily scripted prologue.