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Thief: The Dark Project – When banality comes to end, and Fantasia awake.

Roughly two and-a-little-more years ago I wrote other article on Thief I, where I tried to tell my impressions, received from computer game, which inspired me in creative work and helped me to form my view on many things in real life. First try to tell... That was pretty funny scribble, which was easy to read and adored by readers. But every time I remember it, I realized that my mission is not complete, and I didn't tell all yet.

Let's agree on several conditional characters before we start. I'll use my special terminology. During my story, I need to mention several things frequently, which are stated too wordy. So, better to use short conditional names for them. First thing is any imaginary environment, depicted by film, book or game. Therm "world" is too pretentious, because not any book or film describe huge environment, which can be called a world. Let's use therm "room". It can be something less then world, but having it's own aesthetics and rules. And the most complex "rooms" i'll call "zones", where everybody can be "one-minute-visitor" or "frequent visitor". Or "domiciled stalker" at least.   

Second thing is "something, which makes your hidden fantasies to awake and makes you to imagine more then you see on the screen". For fun, let's call it "mojo". Forger Austin Powers, many works of art really have their own "mojo", similar to Monolith from Space Odissey. Mojo can influence on stalkers different ways. Sometimes it throw them like tornado, sometimes it is similar to light breeze, which whispers quietly about your hidden wishes. Sometimes, it close some contacts in soul like automatic mechanism.

Well, in my previous article on Thief: The Dark Project I worried too much to be a boring-boring-bore, who just lists a long list of advantages of his favourite game. So, I failed to fill article with deep meaning, preferring to write just funny story. For first try, this way was rather good. But now I want to change priorities and to write something specially for other stalkers like me. I want to find a reason, why Thief could became a zone, which turn common players to stalkers. Not just fans, but stalkers! In other words, I want to understand nature of Thief's mojo.

My second task is to explain, why Thief's zone in my opinion will never became a part of "gold fund" of culture. Notice for Thief's fans - don't worry, I mean positive things. See - i placed words "gold fund" in quotes. But let's talk about it later. Firstly about mojo.

Truly, i have seen enough rooms and zones in my life. Many ideas and images were noticed by me and included into my inner world. But why exactly Thief's mojo made me to be stalker, and not slave of Thief's rules and standarts but someone, who is always opened for new ideas? Thief teached me to know creative euphoria. But how?

Since my first play in Thief I tried to describe it's mojo through art and fiction. I never published those works, considering them too far from my idea because of my poor skills. That's why I published only arts with sharp-teethed monsters. I painted things, which were common for fantasy artist, but I wished to paint my favourite things. And I couldn't. What was the reason? Once a day I realized it.

Thief's zone itself contains not so many unique and original ideas. Everything was earlier. Also, Thief's zone is not as big, as Tolkien's world or universe of Star Wars. First of all, Thief is powerful "catalyst", "amplifier" of dark fantasies, which can multiply your senses and fears many times, and get from a bottom of memory all phantoms of your past. That's mojo of Thief. And what kind of levers it uses for this purpose? The tools checked up by time: associative images, psychodelic sounds, sense of loneliness, and of course - darkness.   

I always has a suspection, that Thief's developers did they work similar way with George Lucas - analyzed culture of many folks, choosed the most interesting myths, added some modern things and finally made their game on this base. But just recently I was dumbfounded by fact, that game formed it's final idea just several monthes before release, while trough longer half of development process maid idea reduced just to dark medieval ages and war career at times of King Arthur. And Hammer, symbol of Hammerite's Order and of Creativity was just emblem of some knight faction, who used hammer as their favourite weapon. So image of orthodox religionist-hammerite have roots not in idea of order, but just in daily things - benches, wall banners and battle hammer, which inspired imagination of developers in their crucial time to generate image of fanatical monks who worship order. Severe, but keeping in mind a bit of romance:

"Here at last is a man with the mind of a general
And the heart of a poet;
Yet also with the hands of a builder.
He will lift us up from the earth…"


Now I am sure, that historically-realistic way to create game environment, which had place in a beginning of development process, made the game only better. I think, everybody knows wise words: "white can be seen easier in the black". If to eat tastiest food every day, then after a week you'll lost ability to joy it's taste, and after a year you'll committing a suicide! In deep past, I never assumed that traditional fantasy will be ever such pestered to me, as it is today. Moreover, I never was a big fan of fantasy, I never read a lot of fantasy books and never studied fantasy encyclopedias too much, so I had no condition to be overfull of this. There is other reasons. When you are thrown into fancy world, populated by monsters, elves and knights, so at first moments you are gasping of admiration, but after just some time you howl of boredom. You don’t need to see it for years. So, creators of Thief game made an emphasis on less popular, but well-tried method of manipulating by stalkers minds. They covered magic of Thief by curtain of dirty dark streets, enmeshed it by network of primitive technological pipes, made sky to look black and severe, devoid of multi-color beauty. Population of Thief world is kind of people (just humans, not elves or gnomes!) in dull, worn clothing, with indifferent faces and crudely forged armor, and well-grounded buildings of old stone and rust metal hangs over streets and rivers and stretch their dull walls to skies.

Hero is matching to this world pretty well. Pursuing a task to survive and to fill his pockets, he nuzzling everywhere, where he is thrown by fate. Sewerage network, closets stuffed with supplies, dusty attics, basements and close and dirty streets of poor neighborhoods – that’s his everyday life. This is a way to teach player to know price of unusual in game, this is a way to make it more tasty…

Dipping into other world… For me, Thief will always be a way of dipping totally different from LotR, Star Wars and other big zones, which has millions of their stalkers. No, I don’t want to belittle those amazing worlds. This is a thankless task, to belittle them. I just want to say, that Thief can do something, which they can’t do – to open my “third eye”. In LotR and StarWars I succeeded to become a " frequent visitor", but not a stalker. Let’s see a problem by contradiction – when I has read article on Thief in game magazine (1998 or 1999 year), I found accusations of lack of scale, of magnitude, of Epic. Author wrote a lot of good things about Thief, but complained about the lack of Epic. Even then I thought: "Sorry, guy, good thing, that there is no epic scale in Thief". This game don’t need it.

Here is Thief’s key to success among stalkers. There is no beautiful and mysterious legends in Thief. No elegant magical towers, stretching in beautiful brilliant sky. No wise elves, no stubborn dwarves or brutzl orcs. No love stories of belles and knights, no brave heroes. Mojo of Thief gets into your mind by little portions through things, which seems to be common. And then, Thief’s mojo raise from the depths of your subconscious the most fearful and dark images, which you saw in the children's nightmares. But one moment later, Thief’s environment gets changed and awakens a sense of hope and faith in the future, acting quite on the other strings of the subconscious.   

The authors was well aware, that slow gameplay and limited area not allowed to please gamer with that kind of enchantment, which could be found in "Lord of the Rings" or "Star Wars". Garrett just can’t climb on top of some huge tower and see Mordor on horizon or panorama of Tatooine with it’s two suns. Also, Garrett have nothing to do in forests of satyrs or caves of golems. But creators of Thief invented better kind of magic.   

Pictures on walls, records in diaries, dark corners of abandoned basements and corridors under sauce of psychedelic drones – that’s " trivia", which made world of Thief. Hey, almost everybody have seen otherworldly creatures in shadows of room at childhood. In fact, they were just common things as towel fluttering in the wind or armchair lit by dim glare of window glass. In Thief you’ll meet them again and remember old fear without a doubt. When you’ll get closer to them, you’ll meet just towel or armchair again… in nine out of ten cases. Who will be discovered by you in tenth case – you never know before.   

Thief has a mystery. But Thief’s mystery is not like hugger-mugger of for example, of The Suffering. Inside mansion of daemonic chaotic demigod of nature named Constantine are no daemons with sharp teeth, fire hellish scenes, pentagrams on walls or other stuff. Just cozy mansion of wood and stone, guarded by human guardians. But what a strange mansion! Geometry is broken, all topsy-turvy, no common sense in architecture. Floor, walls and ceiling are swapped. Giggles of otherworldly spirits coming from the depths of the corridors, and walls of the basement are dug with burrows, which are weaved into a complex network. Two steps sideways – and you are before a balcony, which leads into… open space!!! Pictures on walls are even more strange. Main hero feels himself observed by many eyes of strange ancient creatures, who are pictured there. Those creatures are not dragons, not undead, not daemons, but some old-old elders, whom are woven from the branches. Every detail with sense, all not just.   

And when you see real nature of Constantine, where he reveals his true personality names the Trickster, you get into his mansion once again to see, that pictures become real, and revealed it’s true meaning.

Characters in Thief are nothing primitive. Constantine and his “creatures of nature” are not “fantasy greenpeace” like ents or night elves. They are forces of Chaos, for whom images of nature is just favourite toy and space for experiments. And hammerites are not just people of Order in pure form. They are living people with human’s limitations, who able for tediousness and fanaticism and for loftiest sentiments as well. The motives of the characters are not frankly – Constantine wants put people into darkness and fear once again to “retrieve their ability to dream”, but could be hammerites accused of lack of ability to dream? Of course, no. Maybe, Trickster just wanted to rule once again and nothing more.      

Facts from history of The City, frightening rumors about places, which are on the queue to Garrett’s visit – all of this stuff creates a picture of grim, but challenging world. Trickster’s cruelty scares, but it has its own attractiveness. Hammerites are nice with their philosophy of liberation from the bonds of nature, but as every kind of emergent technocrats, they are categorical and stubborn. Thief zone is cognized from inside gradually, forming overall mosaic of thousands of little things – and then destroys it, revealing new hidden faces. Garrett faced with a real demon Trickster, and dark and dull City become a little spot of light and hope inside the pitch darkness of the primordial chaos, little warm fortress of well-being. But just try to reach its streets – and again it turns into giant mousetrap, where our hero tries to find saving a piece of shade to hide from foes.

Thief is dull, but full of poetry. Hammerites aspirations to be free from ancient chains, Trickster’s plans to return dream-giving chaos – all of this seems to be born as frank outburst. But after a while you realize, that you also have both of those intentions, that ancient underground Bonehoard, the Lost City, deserted walled area and numerous concealed rooms of mansions – all of this is objectification of dark corners in your mind.

"Dark project" is really dark, as night itself. In the same time it’s bright as day for me, because it was like ray of light and fresh in darkness of popular art. Thief appeared when I suspect My Favourite Game to be something with ugly aliens, robots or dark castles with poltergeist. I expected something alien, extremely uncommon. From the first minutes of playing Thief, I learned to see the most uncommon things in the most common things.   

Frankly – after recent re-viewing of "Space Odissey 2001" I have some assotiations. Totally I watched this film several times, last time in 2001, and now I am surprised, how could I miss this thing. Several days ago I bought DVD with film and noticed, that some ambient sounds in Thief sounds almost the same, as ambient from film do. Moreover, the same approach is used for creation a variety of moods   - from a vague horror to soothe and pacify.   

I will not write about graphics again – I already did it in old article. Only thing I want to repeat again – some scenes generated by Dark Engine impress me so far, even today. Only newest games can impress me by shadows and dark rooms as well as old Thief.

Now, let’s talk about the second main question of this article – why Thief zone, having a big army of stalkers almost never presented in charts of best games, best fiction worlds e.t.c… and why, over time, I considered this to be good.   

For a start, let’s talk about the situation in the gaming industry as a whole. Previously games were made by separately taken enthusiasts, now games - an industry, placed almost on a conveyor. And to this reason, the overall picture will draw the most common of players.

“Best movie”, “best game”, “future of genre” – very often, non-original products received such a loud names, while real engines of genre remains in shadow. But is this a tragedy? In past, I and other people like me felt very upset because of this. I even seen an article by old Doom-I fan, who claimed, that games as art dies today. Over time, I understood, that to think so pessimistically is almost the same as to feel upset only because streets filled not by kind and nice people only, but also by different types of morons. That’s is life. Good zones, even if not recognized as top works, still are good zones. They just become less observable against the piles of anadromous games, and for the better, because they exempted from the obligation to please everybody in a row. In 1999 I was indignant, when I saw Baldur’s Gate promo art on “Navigator” magazine’s cover instead of Thief art. Today, I am indifferent to this – where Thief and where Baldurs Gate is now? Have Baldur’s Gate as many beautiful and meaningful web sites, communities and discussions as Thief? Baldurs Gate is cult game, indubitably, but searching in Google gave me just articles on Wikipedia and outdated fan site. Where is necessary, Thief game got it’s prize.

Thief and other great zones just don’t need to be recognized as “best” by mass. This is just not advisable for Thief, as Louvre’s pictures don’t need understanding of their beauty by any visitor. Frequently, when fine art got in hands of philistine, it used in role of “tray for cups of tea”. We all use art as help in common life from time to time, but if one looks for spiritual support and answers to questions, then others need only helpful clown, ready to entertain. We can’t judge last ones, but it is just loss of time and resources trying to make them be stalkers.

Hey, being a little aside - is a privilege of stalkers. I believe that many of us should ask themselves a question – what’s better, to seem to be relevant or just to be relevant. I think, there is some limit of popularity, if you want to get higher, then you need to pay by originality. Excuse me stalkers, unless you never had to feel pretty egocentric sense of "being chosen"? Forget about popularity, if you got it, you have to sacrifice by something significant.Yes, there are some things, which are popular and original in the same time, but it’s almost impossible to make it so consciously. Lucas, Tolkien – both never assumed so bug future popularity, they just did their thing. By intention, you can only try to look like this, but that's another song. :)

But not only mass players can be rude and clumsy in their assessments. Some players who think they are “informal and unique” also do. The most dangerous enemy of taffers (stalkers of Thief zone) is intention to always be original.

Simple example – trying to be original without effort a lot of people use today “gothic” style of clothes, of behavior, of tastes in arts. It’s simple – easiest-to-understand symbols of romance, darkness, and originality are the sharp spikes of Gothic cathedrals, the predominance of dark tones in clothing and subtle tracery ornaments. But in Thief: The Dark Project “gothic” style is not presented. Industrial steel and molten metal cheeky woven into a thick wall of coarse Romanesque castles and narrow streets, and from the Roman culture, we turn immediately to the pretentious opulence of the Musketeers and then – to Victorian era. All this creates a unique atmosphere of a breakthrough, a turning-point in the history of Thief, the echoes of which clearly felt during a dive in its zone. World of Thief have no strictly restrained style, this zone is beyond of all styles, Thief develops by jolts explosions, and this is cool, but people who seeks originality in attributes like “gothic” style never to understand this. So what? Let them listen their “Nightwish” and paint her nails black. But there is another way to romance of darkness. :)      

If I worried about any innovations in the world of Thief, I probably long ago would have burned in the fire, because its always possible to find fault, if to to have such kind of intention. Genuine people are always canny. They   will never fully express solidarity. For example, when T2X was released, being completely made by hands of taffers, I didn’t like it at all. Book by Alexey Pehov “ The Chronicles of Siala” also don’t have charm of Thief. Im not pleased by those things? So what?. :) There is things, which I like, this is more important. For example, Hammerite Imperium, do not mind that unfinished. Must think positively.   

Thief - an alternative among the alternatives. It does not go ahead entire "planet", don’t call ahead. Thief is self-sufficient in its nearby shadow and raises from the depths of the soul the most daring imagination. But every stalker will get from Thief unique fantasies.

With this words, I conclude my article and wish to all taffers around the world many hours of gaming pleasure as well as success in their own arts.

8 September 2006