The Builder’s Influence (Dark Mod mission) review…

The Builder’s Influence (Dark Mod mission) review after the break…

The Builder’s Influence (Dark Mod mission) review…

I was “thisclose” to deleting Doom3 & the Dark Mod off of my hard drive. I hadn’t played any Dark Mod missions in a while and I wasn’t overly enthusiastic with playing any more, given the recent spat of missions I had played previously. I needed the hard drive space because I’m historically very thrifty about what I put onto it.

Then, v1.04 of the Dark Mod emerged.

Let me be completely honest – I thoroughly enjoy the fact that The Dark Mod is a reality. That is the 100% honest truth, regardless if I am waterboarded or not about the topic. For those not in the know, “the Dark Mod” is a total conversion mod for the “Doom 3” computer game. “The Dark Mod” attempts to both emulate and update the game play mechanics of the “Thief” series of computer games that were made by Looking Glass without using their intellectual property.

However, I also have a confession to make – I’m not very good at being a thief in “The Dark Mod.” To paraphrase a rather tired quote, The Dark Mod is not your father’s Thief series. To put the point across a bit more bluntly, The Dark Mod is a Thief game written by Thief fans… “No gurlz alowed!” If The Dark Mod is your first experience to the world of Thief game play (or worse, if Thief 3 was your first experience to Thief game play)… I feel sorry for you for the learning curve is steep and there are few levels so far (that I’ve played) willing to forgive you for your mistakes.

Unlike a commercial product, “The Dark Mod” depends upon fan-made levels for it’s content. Besides the perfunctory training mission that familiarizes you with the fundamentals of game play, Dark Mod players are at the mercy of individual designers to create a cohesive game play experience. The quality of these levels (or “missions” as they are called) vary significantly along with the expected style of game play that the missions are designed for.

After playing a host of Dark Mod missions, I’m beginning to develop an idea for my limits to this modern Thief substitute:

  • I’m no good at “ghosting.” In Thief parlance, “ghosting” is when you sneak past people without knocking them out or killing them. Imagine proceeding through a normal day, never knowing or even suspecting that someone was sneaking around your place of employment or your home, even if the two of you were in the same room. That’s “ghosting.” Well, I’m not good at it. I like knocking people out. I like the sense of progress that it gives me to “clear” an area, to pick apart an interwoven route of two or three guards, to find the weak spot in their path and exploit it with a well-timed strike of a blackjack. Missions that force me to “ghost” don’t get played for long. It’s just not my thing.
  • I’m no good at aiming. Thief 1 or 2 had a software limitation – Strike a guard anywhere with the blackjack and you’d knock that guard out. Back of the head? Out. Middle of the back? Out. Elbow? Out. Ankle? Out. Little toe? You get the drift. “The Dark Mod” forces you to, shockingly, actually aim for the back of the head and strike it. This narrowing of the window has frustrated me more then a few times. Personally, I enjoyed Deus Ex 1’s solution to the “aim carefully or else” game play frustration, which was to give you a taser-like device. It allowed people to be knocked out and gave a reasonable enough excuse as to why you could do so regardless if you hit their pinky finger or their neck.
  • I like choice, even if it’s a false choice. The Thief series of games are broken down into individual missions. Before each mission, you have the opportunity to buy and sell equipment that caters to your style of game play. Enjoy bloodbaths? Buy more broadhead arrows. Like the dark? Purchase more water arrows (so you can snuff out torches). Hate making noise? Invest in moss arrows (kind of like putting a carpet on a floor). Love making noise? Get some noisemaker arrows and feast upon the confusion and frustration as guards run around chasing after noises that don’t exist. Unfortunately, I’ve run into a spat of missions where you have no opportunity at all to configure your starting equipment. Granted, buying and selling equipment has always been regarded by some in the Thief community as the “tail bone on a human” game play feature and it also complicates level design since one level might respond well to a stealthy approach but be pathetically easy to a sniper without a conscience or vice versa. Regardless, I like choice, even if it’s false choice.

One of the reasons why I decided to update my Dark Mod and attempt another mission is that the designers have apparently fixed a long-standing annoyance peculiar to Dark Mod save games – Huge save games. The larger the mission, the larger each individual save game is. Hard drives have a repulsively huge amount of space but larger Dark Mod missions could mean that each individual save game could be 20-30 megs or more. All those save games add up in a hurry, even for people who don’t mind utilizing their hard drives to their fullest capacity.

For my latest mission, I decided upon “The Builder’s Influence,” a 16 meg mission co-created by “Springheel” and “Railgun.” “Railgun” is no stranger to The Dark Mod mission scene, having been involved in previous missions “Trapped!” and “Thieves.” “Springheel” is a part of the Dark Mod development team but this is his first time at helping to create a mission (outside of the tutorial mission).

“The Builder’s Influence” has the best introduction I’ve seen yet, coming pretty close to what old Thief missions used to start out with – A stylized PowerPoint slide presentation. In the mission, you are charged with helping a gang steal some incriminating evidence from a town hall that has been taken over by the fanatical Builders, a religious organization akin to our own Christianity during the times of the Crusades and the Inquisition. The Builders are perpetually on a quest to rid the world of people who don’t think highly of The Builders or their religion and they have the hammers and swords to back up their hypocritical religious fanaticism.

While frustrating at times, the mission is logically laid out. The building is functional with indoor outhouses, a kitchen and offices that are all constructed somewhat logically. You have to find a way into the building, then hunt for keys to the Mayor’s office, the archives and finally the private records room. All the while, you’ll be facing Builder and independent guards. You’ve entered the Town Hall during an especially tense time with town council members essentially being persecuted for no other reason then because they aren’t Builders. Too bad there wasn’t an option to provoke the few remaining independent guards in attacking the Builders.

Reading scrolls and books is a large part of a lot of Dark Mod missions and this mission has plenty to read. The readables give hints as to where the Mayor’s key is as well as the existence of a safe in one of the offices (hint: look behind vases – All of them). It also provides a lot of non-game play finger pointing and back stabbing.

One aspect from a lot of missions that I don’t care for are unopenable doors. I hate it when designers put doors into missions that look like they can open but can’t. It’d be nice if there was some aural clue that it’s off-limits (ex. a voice over muttering, “I’ve got better things to do” or “Not tonight, I’m on a deadline.”) permanently.

While I was pretty good at finding things, I needed help finding the hidden safe as well as the private record’s key. Even with the lantern and careful searching, I couldn’t spot the private records key until I accidentally picked it up and only because I had been tipped off exactly where to search (hint: writing desks). I know that the key was supposed to be hidden but maybe it was too well hidden?

“The Builder’s Influence” is a nice Dark Mod mission but make no mistake – It’s not for everyone and especially not for those just beginning their career as a Dark Mod Thief. It’d be nice to see some of these mission designers come together and create a cohesive campaign, some missions being a little more lenient then others. No, I don’t want a “consolized” Thief… I just want half a chance of blackjacking a guard successfully without having to replay it 30 times to get the exact spot right.

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8 Responses to “The Builder’s Influence (Dark Mod mission) review…”

  1. TTP Says:

    The 1.04 update reduces save game files to about 1/8 to 1/10. When savegame compression gets implemented in 1.05 maybe, it should go down even more!

    • Lutonaut Says:

      Hello and thank you for reading my blog.

      One of the reasons why I upgraded to v1.04 is the feature that you mention – Smaller save games. If what you write concerning v1.05 (that save games will be even smaller in size then in v1.04), then that will be absolutely wonderful. It certainly will lend itself to trying out the larger missions.

      Again, thank you for reading my blog.

  2. b1k3rdude Says:

    Evening

    Just reading yer review and got to the line “It’d be nice to see some of these mission designers come together and create a cohesive campaign”

    be careful what you wish for…

    • Lutonaut Says:

      Hello and thank you for reading my blog.

      Drats. I knew I should have wished for that $1 billion dollars first. Oh well. 🙂

      Actually, it would be terribly nice for the source code of Thief to be released. Now there’s a wish that a lot of people in the Thief community wouldn’t be careful in making…

      Again, thank you for reading my blog.

  3. Springheel Says:

    Hi Lutonaut,

    I did most of the story work and the intro for BI, so I’m glad you liked it.

    Just wanted to let you know that the next update (which won’t be far off) will include adjustments to make blackjacking easier.

    • Lutonaut Says:

      Hello and thanks for reading my blog.

      I know that I should never be frustrated with my limitations as what is difficult for myself is probably pathetically easy for others and vice versa. It is frustrating, though, to swing the blackjack and think you’ve hit but instead the guard is only alerted (or you miss entirely), effectively ending the mission and a re-load becomes necessary (I know that you could technically “fight” the guard but that’s not really in the spirit of Thief game play). Was I too close? Aimed too high? Too low? Was the guard alerted just before I swung? Again – While I fumble through 20 re-plays to get the swing “just right,” I am sure that others ace the swing on the first shot or even “ghost” the level.

      I suppose a “Gold Standard” for mission briefings, for myself, would be near replication of the old Thief 1/2 mission introductions. I haven’t played a mission yet where someone has attempted the Garrett voice but I also haven’t played a lot of the missions.

      Congratulations on releasing The Dark Mod & continuing to improve upon it and thank you reading this blog.

  4. Springheel Says:

    Hi Lutonaut,

    Just thought you might like to know that TDM 1.05 has been released, with a series of blackjack tweaks that should make the experience less frustrating.

    • Lutonaut Says:

      Hi and thanks for reading my blog.

      I will look into the new version as quickly as I can. Thank you for informing me of this.

      Again, thank you for reading my blog.

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