Classic Games Resurrected: Thief: The Dark Project
Developer: Looking Glass Studios
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Engine: Dark Engine
Release date: November 30, 1998
Genre: Stealth, First-person sneaker
Back in 1999, a couple of months after the game was released, I downloaded and played the Thief: TDP demo off of a local magazine’s cover CD. Included was the training mission along with the first mission, Lord Bafford’s Manor.
It was only two years later that I got the full version, and in fact I played Thief II: The Metal Age before Thief: The Dark Project.
I was initially stuck on the level called “Down in the Bonehoard” for a long time, before replaying the game a year later and finally making it out.
What is Thief: The Dark Project and why was (and is) it so popular?
Thief: The Dark Project was a game developed and released by Looking Glass Studios back in 1998. It was the first in the series, and arguably the first first-person sneaker, and if not, then it certainly influenced and perhaps created the genre and games that were to follow in a similar vein, like Splinter Cell. There have even been similarities to or instances of Thief, large or small, found in games like System Shock 2, Deus Ex, Bethesda’s Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout 3, Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, and Assassin’s Creed.
All of the above games either had references to Thief or similar gameplay mechanics, or perhaps even had some input from the developers of the Thief series.
Thief wasn’t a mainstream title and didn’t catch on with most people, although it did receive a lot of praise for its originality and was reported to be one of Looking Glass Studios’ best sellers. It formed a cult following and community. Half-Life was released only weeks beforehand and therefore most peoples’ attention was likely focused on that.
Thief Gold was released in 1999, and included three new levels as well as bug fixes. The DromEd editor was also included in the pack.
Thief II: The Metal Age followed in 2000, less than a year and a half after Thief: The Dark Project, and used a slightly enhanced Dark engine. It was shortly afterwards that Looking Glass Studios went out of business, in fact before Thief II Gold could be released.
Thief: Deadly Shadows, by Ion Storm, came out in 2004 and was once again thwarted by the hype and subsequent release of Doom 3 and later, Half-Life 2. It wasn’t a particularly popular title among fans and purists, as many of the features that made the Thief universe what it is, were not included, and some complained that although it was generally good, it felt too different. Some claimed that it was in a bid to ‘dumb down’ the game for the Xbox, and therefore dubbed it “Thief Lite”. There are even those who refuse to include it in the series as a whole, saying that Thief: The Dark Project, Thief Gold and Thief II: The Metal Age are the true Thief games.
There were rumours of a fourth title, and in fact Ion Storm was planning on developing it before going out of business. There was talk of modernizing the series, instead of it taking place in the usual Steam Punk fantasy universe with a Middle Ages setting and architecture with Victorian Era technology. Of course purists once again balk at the mere mention of this.
Eidos apparently put up an advert asking for people who were interested to sign up to work on their next triple A project, and hinted that the game began with a “t”.
As of 2009, the game has officially been announced, named Thi4f, and is now in pre-production while Eidos Montreal tries to assemble a worthy team of working on the title.
You are Garrett, once a young boy on the streets picking pockets and running errands just to survive. One day in the market Garrett was discovered by a mysterious man known as a Keeper, who caught him trying to steal the contents of his purse. Garrett initially struggled and refused to follow the man when asked to, but eventually did so after curiosity got the better of him.
Years later, and Garrett was a young man who had lived in the Keeper Compound and gone through Keeper training. Garrett had other ideas on how to use the skills he had learned and decided rather than be with the Keepers who he had a deep loathing for, he would pursue the life of a thief.
He starts off just casing nobles’ estates, springing old pals from jail, and investigating old ruins, collecting gold and other valuables along the way and using the proceeds to pay his rent and to buy new equipment.
Somewhere down the line, however, he gets pulled into a deeper plot. He has to unearth some olden artifacts and use them in a bid to recover the relic known as the ‘Eye’. After being betrayed by his employer, he discovers that an ancient pagan deity known as the Trickster is making a comeback, and he has to stop him by forming unlikely ties with the Hammerites, who despise the Trickster and his pagan followers.
The game's concept in 1997 was originally that it would be titled "The Dark Project", and the gameplay was more similar to a regular FPS title.
• Interesting level architecture.
• 12 missions to play through.
• Some frightening characters like the undead.
• Great Story.
• Good AI.
• A good sense of humour at times.
• Unique weapons and tools.
• Innovative style of play, relying on stealth.
At the start of a mission, a cutscene will play, with animations and sketches on parchment, detailing the mission and the objectives. Once this is over, the player is taken to a more comprehensive list of goals that must be achieved, and these differ according to what difficulty level is chosen, and some of the goals on the harder levels are quite humourous.
After the briefing, you are able to choose what weapons and tools you will take with you on the mission by spending your hard earned (stolen) gold. The amount you have does not carry over from the last mission so you should spend it all on things you will need.
Thief: The Dark Project differs from most first-person titles by focusing on stealth rather than combat. Every mission takes place at night, and Garrett, equipped with his dark garb and cloak is meant to stick to the shadows and avoid the light to survive being in a place he’s not supposed to be.
The player is equipped with three permanent weapons; the blackjack, the bow, and the sword.
The blackjack is used for knocking out guards and pretty much anything else without causing a lot of fuss, provided that they have their backs turned and are not alert. The bow can be used with multiple types of arrows, like broadheads for killing, water arrows for dousing torches, rope arrows for climbing, and gas arrows for knocking enemies unconscious, among others. The sword is for combat, and is used as a last resort. Garrett is not particularly good at full frontal attacks and against multiple guards he will most likely lose the battle.
Enemy types come in a few different flavours, with guards, Hammerites, undead zombies, and otherworldly creatures like Craymen, Apebeasts and the like.
Mission goals can range from stealing a certain amount of loot to procuring a valuable item. As the game progresses, the goals become more plot-centric and there’s less emphasis on looting.
Once all the goals, or at least the ones that are necessary, are completed, the mission will end, and you will progress to the statistics screen, where you can see how well (or poorly) you did in a mission.
Northon’s Ultimate Difficulty Mod works with Thief: The Dark Project as well as Thief Gold, and its purpose is obviously too increase the difficulty of said games by eliminating some bug exploits and making the enemies smarter, more alert, faster and more deadly.
Thief: The Dark Project used an in-house developed engine, called the Dark engine. The graphics weren’t particularly good, with the characters’ feet looking very pointy, as if they were wearing elves’ shoes, and generally didn’t look very detailed and appeared as very blocky.
Most of the game is set in a dark universe as it takes place at night and the use of shadows to sneak up on enemies or avoid them is critical to your success. Walls and other textures are not that good up close and tend to look quite pixelated, especially in lit rooms. Floor textures seem cut and paste in design, with the surfaces of cobblestones for example being one large area with one texture instead of being more detailed. Everything seemed to have a green tinge to it too.
Nameless Voice along with other members of the TTLG community have made a Thief Enhancement Pack that works with Thief: The Dark Project, Thief Gold and Thief II: The Metal Age.
The music was another hallmark of Thief: The Dark Project that I found amazing. It was composed by Eric Brosius, who has worked on all the Thief games as well as System Shock 2, and combines some atmospheric sound with an industrial style of music that suits the game’s dark setting and plot enormously.
The entire Thief soundtrack is available off of thief-thecircle.com. There are also fan mixes and mp3s from other Thief mods and projects.
Child of Karras remastered the audio files from Thief Gold and assembled his version of the Thief Gold OST, which he calls Thief: The Dark Project - The Golden Soundtrack.
One thing that was magical about Thief: The Dark Project was its sound. You had to rely on sound effectively to get through a mission unscathed. The sounds of people talking, guards walking on patrol, and other sounds were integral to knowing where the enemy was, and sneaking past him.
There were many times if you listened closely, you would be able to eavesdrop on important and often humourous conversations that might give you some inside info on what to expect during the mission.
On trawling the TTLG forum, I came across another project by Child of Karras, who has resampled and edited the sounds from the original game to improve the quality. The games that are compatible are Thief: The Dark Project, Thief Gold, and Thief II: The Metal Age.
Northon’s Ultimate Difficulty Mod is mainly used to modify the gameplay, but in addition this, some aspects of the sound are also changed, like the sound of the player’s footsteps and the amount of sound that travels from blackjacking someone, collapsing bodies, and yelling of the guards, and the others enemies’ response to it.
The controls are one issue that I have with the Thief series of games, short of Thief: Deadly Shadows, which was only marginally better.
There’s the awkward manner in when you try to mount on top of a structure, you have to be precisely at the right point for it to work, otherwise the player character will fall down and create a sound that alerts the guards, which is what you are really trying to avoid in the first place.
The player’s running speed, and the ability to jump when running were also an issue, with many times leading to death or loss of health. I also found that the character could easily slip off of surfaces and fall to his death as well.
All in all, the control scheme felt a little edgy and frustrating.
Bugs and other issues
There are a few problems with trying to run both Thief: The Dark Project and Thief II: The Metal Age on modern systems. They don’t like dual, multi core or hyper-threading enabled processors, and they also have problems with running on systems that have anything over Direct X 5.0. I’ve had these issues as well as the problems with not being able to run the in-game movies and problems with the game installer or autostart.
A lot of problems have workarounds thanks to people that have tried and tested them, and I have been successful in running them on my own system. You can find the links under Patches and Other Updates below in the Resources capsule.
What I think of Thief now
Thief is one of my favourite games of all time, and it’s great to see it still around and still quite popular after all this time.
There is talk of modernizing the series.
If you have to take a look at the Trilby games, specifically The Art of Theft by Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw, which was made in AGS, a modern setting could work for Thief, but the use of a different character would mean it wouldn’t quite be Thief. I suggest they make a spin-off series and still continue with the familiar setting on the main series of games.
The mystical bow upgrade
A video game urban legend that relates to Thief is that there is a bow upgrade, which is purported to be found in the "Down in the Bonehoard" mission (mission 3). This was in fact just a rumour started by TTLG forum goers to troll people who were new to the game.
Other notable Thief-inspired fan projects
The Dark Mod
Developer: Broken Glass Studios
Engine: Doom III
Genre: First Person Sneaker
Fans of Doom and Thief unite! This game is a mod in development by Broken Glass Studios (in homage to the now defunct Looking Glass Studios, RIP) and its aim is to build the classic Thief experience in the Doom III engine. It set to be a single-player affair along with development tools to design your own levels, and what’s more, I think the tools are set to be a lot easier than dromed!
The guys got together around 2004 after Thief III (Thief lite) was released and asked the question on everyone’s minds, “Where are the rope arrows?” Some of the characters working on the project are the same that brought you the great unofficial expansion for Thief II, Thief 2X: Shadows of the Metal Age, who took five years to churn out the final v 1.1!
The Beta release (v 1.0) of the Dark Mod was released in October 2009. It took five years to reach this point.
Developer: Thievery UT team
Engine: Unreal Tournament
Genre: Multiplayer; First Person Sneaker
Thievery is a multiplayer TC for Unreal Tournament. Although it may sound odd using such an old engine for this game, the developers maintain that they like it for many reasons, and that they will consider porting it to a more modern engine after its release.
Developer: Black Cat Games
Engine: Unreal Tournament 3
Genre: Multiplayer; First Person Sneaker
Nightblade is another multiplayer based mod, originally for UT 2004, but includes elements from Unreal Tournament 3 as well. It is essentially like Thievery, but for a more modern engine.
There are many other FMs that are archived on various sites that you will find in the resources section below. I have mainly played Thief II FMs, but there are quite a number of Thief one on these sites.
There's are also forums, like at TTLG where you can discuss your favourite FMs with others.
What do you think of Thief: The Dark Project?
© 2009 ANDR01D