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Xcom
10th Sep 2002, 20:06
Since I am now buried in DromED, trying to comprehend the magix of Thief Mission Design, I got curious about what you, folks, prefer better when playing FMs and, actually, OMs too. So, I've compiled a short list of questions. Your responses and comments are most welcome and will be greatly appreciated. Sorry, if this has been done before (probably has, but oh well)

1) Mission Flow, centralised vs. decentralised or combination of both. Centralised is basically area exploration, one/two building(s). Ex. Masks in T2. Decentralised is when you must go from point A to point B. Ex. Ambush (T2).

2) Mission Design Elements. Do you like when a mission has a different terrain types? By that I mean that navigation thru a mission goes like walk(crouch)-climb ladder-swim-mantle-walk-swim, kinda versatile. Instead of just walking and occasionaly climbing somewhere. Also, do you like compact room/area design or you prefer large areas?

3) Gameplay vs. graphics. Yes, a good combination of both is ideal but what is more important, iyo? Will you enjoy utterly ugly but well-thought mission and vice versa?

4) Puzzles. Do you like solving puzzles? Or..do you think that Thief isn't about puzzles but about stealing max. amount of loot? :D

5) Do you like/dislike traps (aka elements of surprise)? As when player suddenly finds himself in an unxpected situation and needs to react quickly or the consequences may be fatal or at least very undesireable. OR.. you like to always be able to plan your moves ahead?

6) Style of play. Are you a tripple-jump-charge-the-guard-with -the-sword-and-arrows person (tnx clayman ;) ), sneaky-blackjack person or a extremely-sneaky-ghost person? Do you think that there must always be way to accomplish the mission in GHOST mode?

7) What AI creatures do you prefer as enemies?
- Undead
- Spiders
- Forrest Creatures (Ape beasts, Tree Beasts)
- Machines
- Humans

8) Storyline. Do you find it's necessary or desirable(as a nice extra but not per se necessary) or you don't care about the story? Do you always/often read scrolls/books seeded throughout a mission?

9) Music. Do you think it should be used in a mission? Sometimes music can interfere with your abilties of hearing more important FX, such as footsteps of an AI. Or..you think this is a really stupid question and a mission builder should take care of this, using his best judgement. :D

10) Your personal preferences. What do you generally like/dislike in missions? What do you most often pay attention to in a mission? What makes a good FM? What can ruin a good FM from a player's point of view.

Danventry
10th Sep 2002, 21:38
1) A perfect FM would contain both. Like for example, T2's Angelwatch. You must go from A to B (Belltower to Angelwatch), but then there's a big area to explore (town/Angelwatch) and such. But since this is usually not possible, I would suggest the centralised way. This let's the player feel free, or able to choose his own path or form of play.

2) Again, both, but this isn't too hard most of the time.

3) IMO it would have to be gameplay. I mean, it's nice to have a pretty world, but we have an imagination too, so we can pretend that that not-so-prefect looking texture is fine. But we can't as easily dream up a gaurd or two here and an extra objective.

4) Although Theif is mostly about stealing, puzzles are the challenge, like how to get past so-in-so without them seeing me, or where the so-in-so item is. Ofcourse there's the REAL puzzles, like a riddle or something, and those IMO make the gameplay much much more interesting.

5) Traps are okay as long as you have enough time for a person who hasn't played before to solve it and live the first time.

6) Ofcourse I am a sneaky, bj person, but being a Ghost is more fun that anything else. Now I would try to make sure it is ghostable (get a ghoster to try it), but if it's not, don't kill yourself over it. Someplaces aren't going to be ghostable, like in real life.

7) Humans and sometimes machines. Everything else creeps me out and shouldn't even be considered. Make sure they're in the correct place, for example, don't put a tree-beast in a house, or a human in the middle of a spider infested secret passage.

8) Necessary. Or there's no reason for the game. Unless you have a simple little in-out mission. Make sure it's explained well too.

9) Make sure it fits in with the surroundings (AKA no nice classical with a battle grounds), and quiet enough to not interfere with the player.

10) I think you covered everything that's really necessary. Oh, no forced playing. Like, don't MAKE a player play ghosting, and don't MAKE a player ghost bust (break a window or something).

clayman
10th Sep 2002, 22:02
Oh goody, a questionaire. :)

IMHO.....

1.) Decentralized. Claustrophobic missions(Shunned, etc.) make me feel just that.

2.) I call the mission trait elevation, or lack thereof, where you must not think at ground level only. The design makes you climb, crouch, swim, look up/down to extremes to solve a puzzle, answer a question, get loot, find a switch, etc. Missions without ladders, ledges, ropeable areas, underground tunnels, secret passageways, hidden chambers, devilish leaps required etc. are boring. Of course, if you require the player to crate stack, then you get a clayman thumbs down. ;)

3.) Gameplay, definitely. But when graphics really add to the ambiance, like in Equilibrium, or Return to the Cathedral, then they are much appreciated. Graphics that interfere(Trail of Blood, Maw of Chaos) are interesting light shows but hinder immersion.

4.) Fair puzzles, and logical ones. Ones that are placed there just as an illogical barrier to loot, those that require searching the four corners of the map for an answer are irritating. The puzzle/combination to the vault in First Bank and Trust was fair to all levels of player : you could search about for the scroll that explains it if you want, or you could just stand there and punch buttons until it worked. Think about realism when you design puzzles. If you were the lord of your manor, would you go to all that expense and trouble just to secure whatever it is ? Or would you just hide your key reallyreallyreally well and hire mean guards ?

5.) Love traps. Trap floors, sliding crushing walls and ceilings. I always wanted to see an FM trap like those swinging bamboo stake traps at the end of the movie Papillon. They can easily be made too hard though, i.e. the wall in The Ritual. But don't design one you can fall into and not die but never get out of. The stubborn player will run/jump for hours before asking a question here and getting really mad when they find out if was just a dead end with no way to die or escape. But those are pretty realistic. ;)

6.) I'll steer clear of this one, other than to say try not to force a player to play one style. Offering Ghosting as an option(Art of Theivery, several others) is a nice touch.

7.) Humans definitely. I don't like the over-used "Beat the Super Bad Guy at the End" thing. Making AI quirky/unpredictable is nice, i.e. the Kung Fu shopkeeper in Autumn in Lampfire Hills is a classic.....you just waltz in thinking you're going to blackjack him and...Hieeeeeya !

8.) I like a nice simple story. Making me read too much causes impatience, especially if its a 12 page book with the code to the vault on page 11 after a long pseudo-religious dissertation. I might miss that one. I've found that many designers try to add their "personal touch" in the books and scrolls they scatter about. Most of it is distracting, although sometimes its hilarious, i.e. the heavy metal-themed tombstones in either The Vigil or Lord Edmund Entertains. ;)

9.) The only time music really registers with me is when it changes by moving from area to another. Like a good movie director, an FM designer can signal things to come by changing the ambient music type or volume. A nice touch that either goes unnoticed, or isn't done much. :)

10.) My all-time favorite thing to see(and it is done rarely because of how it can muck up the mechanics of the mission tremendously) is a moving objective. Following Cavador in the OM Kidnap was genius. Whoever thought that one up should be on point in the design of Thief 3. I like changing objectives(read this scroll, and suddenly find out you are in real trouble ;)). I like the idea of completely different areas to access and objectives depending on difficulty, but the only place I've seen it applied effectively is in Inverted Manse, and I never finished that one, so I'm not sure its that great of an idea after all. My favorite environment is city streets and buildings; Assassins and Errand Boy are the standards to measure yourself against there, designers. I like AI that wander about, rather than patrolling in a box route.

But of higher importance, I like a mission I can finish in less than a month. ;) No kidding, I think the trend of "bigger is better" is wrong. The Art of Thievery was a masterpiece, Seventh Crystal almost, but that should be the outer limit of mission size, IMO. And I've not even played CL yet. Making a really tight concise mission is a lost art, just like short story writing vs. Stephen King size novels.

On a technical note, make sure you can finish the mission bug-free(or as close to guarantee as possible) before you release it. There are so many FMs, if a player encounters technical trouble, many will dump it immediately and go on to another. I know I've become less tolerant of glitches as I have replayed my way through the FMs so far.

But most of all, just make one. Any effort put forth by any designer is greatly appreciated by the Thief community. :)

Nightwalker
10th Sep 2002, 23:48
Well, I pretty much like'em all! But, if asked for preferences, I can come up with some, so here are my answers:

1) I agree with Danventry that a combination of the two would be ideal. LotP was a perfect example and, in FMs, A Smuggler's Request, was also set up that way.

2) Nothing makes me happier than finding ways to go "UP" in a mission. For some strange reason (because I'm deathly afraid of heights in RL), I love climbing around on beams, rooftops, etc.

3)Gameplay is definitely the most important to me, in this category. The other stuff is icing on the cake.

4)I like puzzles that aren't too hard. It adds a nice element and makes you use your brain, but if it's too difficult, it gets frustrating and spoils the fun.

5) I like planning ahead, myself. The odd trap can get the adrenaline going, but it's not my favourite thing to run into.

6)I'm pretty much the BJ queen, as my normal mode of play, though I have ghosted missions and enjoyed it immensely. I don't think it's necessary at all that mission be made ghostable, unless that is something that is important to the person creating it. Half the fun is trying to figure out IF you can do it. When you know ahead of time, it can take some of the challenge out of it. That being said, there is The Art of Thievery that is designed to be ghosted, but is so well done that it is still remarkable challenging.

7)Humans are the best, but I also like undead levels if they're well done. No superhuman badguy to kill at the end, though, please!

8)I like a nice storyline, but it's not essential for me to enjoy a mission. It justs adds a little depth.

9)Added quietly, in the background, it can contribute enormously to the atmosphere. I didn't really quite appreciate this until I was betatesting Lord Alan's Basement for T2. It has music added but I didn't have the newest version of Darkloader, so I wasn't getting it. I decided to switch to the new version and I was really impressed by the difference the music made in the level.

10)Forced kills spoil the mission for me, at least to some extent. Even if that's in the mission, well, you make it and I'll play it! :D

Gumdrop
11th Sep 2002, 00:47
Centralised vs. Decentralised
I prefer a centralised gaming environment while playing Thief. I enjoy missions that focus on a single structure etc...But offer multiple entry points and inner navigation choices. I will however play anything, and the choice you make really all comes down to what setting/story you intend to create.

Mission Design Elements
A good key configuration workout is not essential to a strong mission, but there are those of us (Mr Smith?) that enjoy alot of vertical tricknology. I have read comments by others out there who have gotten a little frustrated with extreme "roping" and such, but I'm a climber from way back so bring it on! :)

One thing you may not be aware of as a budding Thief mapper, is the devious tricks players will stoop to in order to scale every surface available in the search for...err...Anything! Easter Eggs are often hidden in areas that can only be accessed by judicious use of the crate, or by opening the mission up in DromEd. Crate/body/object stacking is rife in this community, so think long and hard about how a mission can be broken.

Gameplay vs. Graphics
Give me good gameplay and you can keep your fancy olive groves! That said, I tend to focus too much of my time on the visual side of mission design, purely becouse this is the area I most enjoy. But seven crystals and the odd legacy aside (not that these two outstanding Fm's didn't have great gameplay), the gameplay is where it's at - something I assume a QIII mapper already knows. ;)

Puzzles
Kinda tricky this one (pun intended). I'm one of those rare entities that enjoyed Myst and Riven yet don't sport a beard! :D Most players like a little bit of thinking, but frustration levels are slighly lower that in a RPG community. I went with puzzles once - simple ones I thaught, but for every person who feels smug for figuring something out for themselves, I received 5 emails from frustrated Grubber's. Players also tend to hate having to wade through 30 pages of text just to find the answer to a certain problem, so you might want to steer clear of that one.

Traps
As much as I love the first Tomb Raider game, that's as far as it goes. Traps can be cool as long as the player is given some sort of clue as to what is comming up. This rarely happens though, but I would take a gander at Bonehoard to see how a few traps can enhance the gameplay. Ofcourse Apache has different ideas about traps (;) ), but his missions still manage to be fun.

Style of Play
It has been pointed out before, but it's worth mentioning again that a ghostable mission is not a necessity. Alot of players (mostly here rather than TTLG) enjoy a spot of ghosting, but most tend to take the middle ground and flick between G & BJ mode depending on the circumstances. I would say don't go out of your way to make a mission ghostable, just find your own style and go with that. End of level big bosses don't really fit in the Thief universe though.

AI Preference
Again I would say go with the story/environment. Some like undead, others don't. Some hate apes, others stroke. :p

Story
Personally I love a good yarn. Most players like reading a little text to flesh out characters, story or environment, but tend to shy away from novella style Hammerite scripture. I love it as long as it is well written.

Music
A personal favorite of mine. Music - and more importantly ambient sound, can really enhance a mission. I'm not one for walking round a mansion with 16 bars of Angel of Death screaming out of my speakers, but well chosen "mood" music is da bomb! I have been experimenting with ambient music for my up and coming missions, and have found that low ambients work best in most cases. I myself am quick to pick up on any new aural intrusion ( :o ), so I tend to keep it down for the most part. Sometimes however, a quick blast of beats can elevate a particular event. Rely on your own judgement and preference.

Personal Preferences
I think I have already outlined my personal preferences above, but I do like most of the missions that I play (which isn't that many). I have a fetish for Burrick's, but that is nither here nor there, and good lighting can make or break a mission for me. The lighting enhances gameplay as well as google value, so I would pay particular attention to this area of mission design.

Apart from this though, you really can't go wrong. This community envelopes every new addition to it's FM collection, and what might be dull for a few, will be good taffing times for most. :)

Peter_Smith
11th Sep 2002, 02:56
Xcom,

Glad to hear about your getting into the FM business. I haven't heard much about your thief playing, per se, but it's good to have you join us.

1. Decentralized. Life of the Party and Preciouos Cargo are my type of missions. I like more variety and extensive exploration.

2. Different terrain. Same reason. I really like vertical missions with a lot of rope work. Calendra's Cistern comes to mind.

3. Game play first, graphics second. I prefer grungy, old looking graphics with atmosphere and a feeling of dread (common to T1) to the more poslished T2 type of thing. If working in T2, that takes extra effort. I still play Doom.:)

4. I like some puzzles. I dislike difficult puzzles, even though I am pretty good at solving them. They detract from the game play.

5. Traps can be amusing at times. Kind of a pain if too difficult or time consuming to avoid. I like the occasional one shot surprize that startles you once and is easy to avoid thereafter, not a tedious walk through pressure plates.

6. It varies. Extremely-sneaky-ghost person if possiible. If the guards make it too difficult, then I BJ them all, leaving none standing (another form of challenge). If that is a problem (like the Elevator mission), then watch out. The gates of hell are opened.

7. Mostly humans. Fewer machines. I also like undead, particularly zombies and haunts. And spiders. Gotta love 'em.:) Forrest creatures are fine, and what about burricks?

8. Story is not absolutely necessay, and many Thief stories are weak - more just a setting than a real story. But a good cinematic story that portrays characters with goals can make the difference between a good misison and a great one. The Seventh Crystal comes to mind as a mission that was carried by the story and the architecture. I think story deserves a lot of attention if you want it to stand out.

9. Music must be played at the right time and for effect, not constantly and not at loud volumes, and especially not drowning out other sounds you need to hear. Often it is approproiate when you enter a new creepy area, before you are challenged. In most places you want subtle ambient sound like wind, dripping water, etc. I think Bonehoard has the best use of music of all missions I have played.

10. I think I have already covered most of it. Basicaly you want a combination of great architecture, good ambience, good lighting (not too bright, nice shadows but not too dark), good sound, good story, complicated map to explore, plenty of things to do, challenging AI that are not too difficult, plenty of loot, and objecives that are tricky to complete but not overly so. Something that offers challenge but that most players can complete given enough time. Pet peeves are unfinished, simplistic architecture with empty rooms, loot goals that are unrealistically high for the average player, excessive use of keys, long lock picks, misaligned textures, sound that does not propagate correctly, and obvious bugs owing to lack of testing and attention to detail.

Xcom
11th Sep 2002, 16:24
Hey, very interesting & informative responses so far. Keep 'em coming!


Originally posted by Gumdrop
the gameplay is where it's at - something I assume a QIII mapper already knows.


True, but making deathmatch maps and sneaky singleplayer missions are not exactly the same. So I wanted to make sure. ;)


Originally posted by Peter Smith
Glad to hear about your getting into the FM business. I haven't heard much about your thief playing

:o Why Peter, I recently finished T2. :p

Kosmala
11th Sep 2002, 21:13
1. Exploration is more fun. Let the player decide what they want to do and where they want to go first.

2. A balanced mixture, I would say. Climbing buildings to gain entry, swimming through the sewers, jumping from roof to roof is the way of the thief. Inside buildings should just be about wandering around and hiding.

3. As long as the effort is there then gfx dont have to be that good. Gameplay is a must though. E.g walking through a detailed city is nice at first but if there's not a lot do, it gets a bit boring.

4. There should be a few puzzles to work out, even if it's something simple like a vague entry in a journal as to where the safe key is hidden. Thieving isn't supposed to be easy.

5. Traps are good but they shouldnt kill you, just catch you off guard. Also, they should be relevant to the location. A lost city ceiling trap in a trophy room for instance, is a bit much.

6. The player should be able to play the mission in the style they choose, i.e ghosting or attacking. They shouldnt be forced to confront AI just to create a challenge.

7. Humans & undead.

8. Sub-plots help to build the atmosphere, expand the mission and give the player the option to do more if they want. It really should be restricted to relevant books though like diaries and journals, maps or plans etc.

9. I always turn music off in games if there is the opportunity. I find it distracts from the game. Music such as Down in the Bonehoards pipe music is subtle enough but pounding drums is not needed.

10. I prefer undead/lost city type missions. Exploration, frequent surprises etc. Still play normal city/mansion missions but prefer less AI. A guard at every doorway or corner puts me off. Infrequent, relevant placement is more enjoyable. For instance at midnight, a mansion should not have 50 guards wandering around. A few doing the rounds and some more guarding the treasure etc should be enough with reinforcements in dorms. I hate trying to explore a mission but continually having to run away or fight

Spitter
12th Sep 2002, 16:56
1) Mission Flow, centralised vs. decentralised or combination of both. Centralised is basically area exploration, one/two building(s). Ex. Masks in T2. Decentralised is when you must go from point A to point B. Ex. Ambush (T2).

The combination of both styles is the best way to go, but I have really no opinion on this - both'll do fine.

2) Mission Design Elements. Do you like when a mission has a different terrain types? By that I mean that navigation thru a mission goes like walk(crouch)-climb ladder-swim-mantle-walk-swim, kinda versatile. Instead of just walking and occasionaly climbing somewhere. Also, do you like compact room/area design or you prefer large areas?

Again, I think this is up to you. Large, grand areas can look really good, but they tend to drag the framerate down and, if overused, it'll just look silly. Small and compact areas also have a certain appeal, but don't make it cramped.

As for terrain types, try to make it real, not artificial. A climb or two and some swimming here and there is good, but as far as sneaking is concerned, it's all just extra. If you can implement these things without them 'sticking out', it's all good.

3) Gameplay vs. graphics. Yes, a good combination of both is ideal but what is more important, iyo? Will you enjoy utterly ugly but well-thought mission and vice versa?

I have to confess that I'm probably a bit more towards graphics, although even that won't save if the gameplay itself is horrible (some of the quite-but-not-so-recent missions have suffered from this).

4) Puzzles. Do you like solving puzzles? Or..do you think that Thief isn't about puzzles but about stealing max. amount of loot? :D

Puzzles are good, as long as they aren't too hard (nor too easy). Try to make them logical (unlike my puzzle in Geller's Pride) and challenging, but give adequate hints! And whatever you do, don't bury the only hint to the puzzle somewhere in the middle of a hundred-paged book full of poetry. That'd be just sadistic design.

Oh yes, and reward the player after completing the puzzle! This part is very imporant (and I overlooked it), but try to have something more original as a reward than just a bunch of loot.

5) Do you like/dislike traps (aka elements of surprise)? As when player suddenly finds himself in an unxpected situation and needs to react quickly or the consequences may be fatal or at least very undesireable. OR.. you like to always be able to plan your moves ahead?

Surprises are good, unless they're of the sadistic kind. Being killed without any warning in the middle of a corridor is anything but fun, whereas I can still remember some of the most memorable lethal surprises (it has nothing to do with Thief, but the trash compactor in Half-Life was fun - but then again, Half-Life has autosave).

6) Style of play. Are you a tripple-jump-charge-the-guard-with -the-sword-and-arrows person (tnx clayman ;) ), sneaky-blackjack person or a extremely-sneaky-ghost person? Do you think that there must always be way to accomplish the mission in GHOST mode?

I tend to blackjack everything that moves, even though I admit it's pretty lame. If the mission can be ghosted, it's always a nice bonus (although I'm not a ghoster), but don't emphasize it too much in the progress of design (too much = the level becomes too easy for non-ghosters; been there, done that). Whatever you do, please, do not force it. One of my pet peevees in Thief FMs is the forcing of certain playing styles (although sometimes it's fine and good - The Night I Ghosted Berkshead for example).

7) What AI creatures do you prefer as enemies?
- Undead
- Spiders
- Forrest Creatures (Ape beasts, Tree Beasts)
- Machines
- Humans

I don't have any preference towards the species - use what serves your level most.

8) Storyline. Do you find it's necessary or desirable(as a nice extra but not per se necessary) or you don't care about the story? Do you always/often read scrolls/books seeded throughout a mission?

I live for the story, although, in all honesty, there are only two FMs thus far which I admit having an extremely good storyline, and both are Frobber's. I read all books I encounter, but I skip it if I find it unnecessarily long and boring, and not all too well written.

9) Music. Do you think it should be used in a mission? Sometimes music can interfere with your abilties of hearing more important FX, such as footsteps of an AI. Or..you think this is a really stupid question and a mission builder should take care of this, using his best judgement. :D

As long as the music/ambience enhances the overall feeling instead of detracting from it, go ahead. But remember, sometimes silence can be golden.

10) Your personal preferences. What do you generally like/dislike in missions? What do you most often pay attention to in a mission? What makes a good FM? What can ruin a good FM from a player's point of view.

In FMs, I tend to look for a good, novel story and a nice setting. And remember - the more intriguing your readme-briefing is, the more likely I am to download the mission.