Thursday, July 16, 2015

Broken Triad, by Eshaktaar

(Broken Triad was originally uploaded on May 28, 2008)

~Thief II Fan-mission: “Broken Triad”, by ‘Eshaktaar’

            Any superlative I use in these write-ups could be used on any of the missions I cover, but some of them are most appropriate at describing one specific mission, with the goal of making it stand out from the others. The most appropriate term for Eshaktaar’s “Broken Triad” is ‘genius’. Its design is like some intricate, complex puzzle, or some small, detailed carving, that one loves to hold in the hand and admire.

            The characteristic that most stood out to me as I replayed this mission for this project was its use of items. Like a classic adventure game, “Broken Triad” has many items—and I mean non-standard Thief items, that you don’t usually see in missions—that each have some specific use somewhere in the mission, but where and how you don’t usually know when you first pick up the item. You put the pieces together as you go, everything falling into place as you progress through the mission, as you find out where all the items are used.

“Broken Triad” is like a small, weighty, intricate puzzle box you’d buy at a curio shop. The genius behind it is thrilling. I can’t think of other circumstances where I’d squeal with excitement when I found a sewer-grate key, or put a tree-root through a wood-chipper. It’s all part of the puzzle-solving and the satisfaction that comes with putting the items to their proper uses, and then figuring out where to go next based on that.

            But the genius doesn’t stop with the items. They’re just a part of a grander magnum opus. The atmosphere, visuals, and ambiance in “Broken Triad” meet the high standard set by great Thief fan-missions. The story is very well-done and well-integrated into the mission, continuing on plot points from Eshaktaar’s first mission “Ominous Bequest” (also excellent, though a much earlier fan-mission). I don’t think you need to have played the first one to follow the story, but the author does encourage it in his readme file. Either way, the story in “Triad” is a treat, with a few twists near the end. It starts out well enough: Garrett, staying in a town called Arkford, plans to steal a sculpture called “The Sleeper” from a local museum. The sculptor of this is rumored to have died of fright when he saw his finished creation; Garrett’s replica of it certainly looks creepy. And, the town’s been having trouble with a serial killer, the “mad beheader”, who leaves his victims headless. All that, and the mission takes place on a cold, snowy night; and Garrett gets a surprise as soon as he opens his door. Between all this and the piano ambiance that begins as you first start exploring the town, when I first played “Broken Triad”, I knew I was in for a great mission.

            This mission is also a “multi-mission” campaign, kind of like “The Seventh Crystal”, and is composed of two missions. I cover both here.

            And if you don’t commit the time to watching all of my playthrough, I encourage you to watch at least the first few minutes of the first video, and to scan through the rest.


-Broken Triad, Part 1: The City of Arkford-

            Part 1 takes place in the aforementioned city, or town, of Arkford. What is so well done by designer Eshaktaar is what any of the great “city” missions do: create a feeling of ‘interconnectedness’, or a sense of ‘looping’, throughout the city. This means that the player incrementally opens up new areas to explore (usually via the acquisition of items) and reconnects them with places-already-explored, usually by opening up previously closed gates. To use an analogy I used above again: it’s like putting all the pieces of a puzzle into place, and experiencing the joy of seeing the picture gradually complete, while more and more puzzle pieces are eliminated.

            (An aside: I think a great comparison to make to great city missions like this is to the Nintendo classic Super Metroid. This isn’t one out of left-field; core to Metroid’s gameplay is opening new areas using items one acquires, backtracking and ‘looping’ all the way. It’s the same sort of incremental exploration of a large area.)

            There’s a lot of fun side-stories going on in Arkford, too. This is Thief, so on top of the addictive puzzle aspect Triad has, there are readables, conversations, and plenty of other, clever narrative caches. One of these side-stories involves the dear old ghost of Brother Reginald.

            After getting a key for the sewer-grates in the city, players can enter into an old, crumbled catacomb by way of one of the sewer passages. From this, players come up into a crypt of a Lord Raglan. In here, players can pull a rope to ring a bell. The bell awakens the ghost of Brother Reginald, who had been trapped in the cemetery this crypt is in, waiting to see if Lord Raglan had really died, or had been buried alive.

            So Reginald opens the crypt door and explains, in a great old-Hammerite-ghost voice (better than Brother Murus’, I say) the reason for his waiting, and that he’s thankful he can leave now. Of course, Garrett isn’t really the Lord Raglan calling to be let out; but no matter. Now players have access to the cemetery, which is at the back of the museum, which gives them access to a back door of the museum. The player can also flip a switch to open the gate to the cemetery that connects it to the rest of the town, so the player can go between the cemetery and the town easily now. So we see here the fun connection of a side story with a gameplay purpose: getting access to the museum gives players a new place to explore, and opening the gate allows players to ‘loop’ back into the town and have a new shortcut open.

            But why would a cemetery be at the back of the museum, you ask? That’s another fun story bit. The museum was converted out of an old Hammerite temple. So in the museum you see Hammer glyphs, stained-glass windows, and the such. The player may also come across readables that reveal a letter of the museum’s director demanding that a Hammerite priest bless the spirit of Brother Reginald. Reginald haunts the museum by night, and the director would rather this not come up in inspections. There’s also correspondence between two of the secretaries, one of them noting that now the director wants to get rid of Reginald. (So apparently the museum staff are used to the old priest and his hauntings!)

            One of the secretaries is Sheila, a woman the player is tasked to meet so they can a key to the museum from her. A correspondence between two of the staff notes that Sheila had looked frightened lately, and wonders what might be scaring her. This is after the player has discovered Sheila, in her apartment, with her…well, there is a “mad beheader” on the run, remember!

            Another great looping moment comes with a warehouse for a ‘Hewitt and Sons Transports’ company. The player can see the sign for this building through an iron gate—but it’s impassable. Turns out that the player can get into the yard just outside the warehouse from the sewers, and from the warehouse yard open this gate up to connect a path back to the city. As for the warehouse building itself, here the player discovers a ‘wood chipper’ machine. In this, the player can place a tree root, which they nabbed from some roots growing into the local tavern’s basement. This root can be turned into sawdust. Where will this be used? Later in the mission! For now, it’s just another cool item.

            One of the funnier moments occurs in this warehouse. To get the key for the wood-chipper, players need to climb up some boxes, and open the window into one of the offices, where the key is. But, there’s someone in this office, looking at a bulletin board. His back is to the window, though. I thought I might knock him out with Garrett’s blackjack once I opened the window (this is a tactic I try to avoid. As you may see from my videos, I tend not to use the blackjack to knock guards out). But no need! When I opened the window, it opened into the office, and *bonk*! Down the guy fell. Things like this never happened in the official Thief missions, and it’s one of the charming things that can surprise one in the midst of a fan-mission.

            (Turns out this guy was “Friend Turbine”. A readable indicates he’s part of a new up-and-coming religious order. Another readable describes Arkford as being a perfect ground for spreading a new religion. Sounds like references to the Mechanists!)

            In the course of the mission, players can get into the museum director’s house, and in here discover a secret area, and in this, a viktrola. It plays a nice little tune. But what’s it for? When the player is exploring the museum, they discover that the museum director’s office is locked with on ‘audio’ lock. It’s a panel of buttons, each with a note (six of them), and a certain sequence unlocks his office door. Of course, this sequence is what the viktrola plays. A careful listening and reproduction of the tune will open the director’s office.

            Inside his office, the player notices a series of books, that highlight when looked at—meaning they can be ‘used’ by the player—and that on each of these books is a big letter. The player may also have read a note written by the museum director where he writes that he must memorize his wife’s name. The player also picked up a ‘flower-card’ from the museum director’s house, addressed to his wife. The letters necessary to spell the name on this flower-card are each on the books. And so the pieces fall together, and the player can open up a hidden room, in which a switch to deactivate the museum’s security system lies. Once again, a couple seemingly useless items—a viktrola and a flower-card—are both used in fun, unexpected ways, in order to satisfy an objective.

            One more neat sequence I want to highlight here—all of them being in my videos, if you wish to see them all—involves a bottle of lamp oil and a lantern. Sheila had set up a signal for a guard in the city-watch station. She would light up a lantern, and the guard would then go open the door to the city watch, so Garrett could get in. Well, Sheila being…disabled, Garrett must make this signal. While in the museum, near Sheila’s desk, the player sees a lantern. The player may have the oil flask, and may think to pour this oil flask in the lantern—after all, the lantern highlights, so it can be used, and oil and a lantern go together. So players pour the oil in, light the lantern, and then—in one of the coolest moments of detail in any Thief mission—a guard may be seen, in a window across the street, stand up, with a start, and head away somewhere. Sure enough, when players go down to the side of the city-watch station…the side door is open now!

The player can then go into the station, go to the cells, go into one of the cells, find and hit a hidden switch, go into a secret passage that leads to a catacomb area, from here go up into a locksmith’s office, and in here get a “green skeleton key.” The player now leaps for joy, knowing that all the green-handled doors, that so far had denied any lockpicking, can now be opened! It’s all addictive looping, and part of the theme of ‘pieces-falling-together’, so key in this mission.

            Now I’ll highlight a few more story bits. One is seeing the ‘Sleeper’ sculpture for the first time, in the museum. The player has a replica of it in their inventory, so they know what it looks like. But seeing it up on the pedestal, with the hum of the security machine’s rays around it, is an example of a great use of a visual and an ambiance to create atmosphere.

            In the museum galleries are many interesting things to look at, with references to other Thief missions. One item on display is the good ol’ Horn of Quintus.

            There are also a few foreshadows of the second mission in Broken Triad. In the museum the player may see a painting of ‘Tempest Isle’, and also come across an old book that journals the voyages of a sea-captain who came upon Tempest Isle.

            My ‘Part 5’ video shows the story as it takes a few twists near the end of the mission. There’s more going on in Arkford than originally seemed to be, especially for poor Garrett. The story twists lead to a new gameplay segment, which includes exploration of previously inaccessible areas: the White Cathedral and the Crematorium. The town takes a slight change as well, and in the Crematorium the player may encounter one of the most unique enemies in a Thief mission.

            “Broken Triad” is a very complex mission, with lots of items, puzzles, and story bits and twists. But at its base level its operating on the same Thief design principles as all the other missions looked at here are. There are story caches—readables—, there’s non-linear exploration, there’s thick atmosphere, there’s a well-done story that gradually emerges, and, despite all the complexity, there’s still the basic ‘sneak and don’t get caught’ gameplay that most Thief missions must have.

            “Broken Triad”, then, is a complicated representation, or an advanced execution, of Thief design. It’s like “Bonehoard” or “Life of the Party”, squared. Or, maybe even cubed.

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