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Thread: General Fan Mission Review And Discussion Megathread

  1. #2951
    Classical Master 2008
    Registered: Jun 2002
    Location: Civitas Quinque Ecclesiae HU


    Making a Profit by vfig
    One of the most “complete” missions from the contest – from a video briefing to changing objectives and a dynamic story, it is all there. The architecture is wonky in the same way many older FMs tend to be, but it is consistently interesting, and has a style of its own. The audio is accomplished, contributing much to the mood. Where this mission shines, however, is the combination of gameplay and story. Multiple styles of stealth objectives found in Thief are integrated into a seamless whole, with multiple solution possibilities (some more standard, some ingenious and technically impressive), and changing objectives. It feels like you are visiting a distinct place with a culture distinctly at odds with the City as we know it, yet nevertheless connected to its mythology; and it feels like a ride of a story from the first twist to the finale. It is technically accomplished and just a lot of fun. This is a FM by a builder who has an understanding of what makes Thief tick – and the skills to recapture its peculiar magic.

    Atmosphere: 7 // Gameplay: 7 // Story: 8



    Mother Redcap’s Last Request by Swiz
    Oversized, boxy architecture with the occasional neat touch, like that one moody spiral staircase. However, the spaces are “flat”; too wide and not high enough, which tends to be the worst-looking combination. The place is fairly empty of guards, and there is very little challenge – you can just run circles around them in the conveniently unlit environment. The plot twist is good, and the mission almost becomes exciting again… but it moves to a sewer section entirely devoid of ambient sounds (the main building had some, just very monotonous). Sadly, not even being a newbie effort saves this one.

    Atmosphere: 2 // Gameplay: 3 // Story: 4



    Order of the Dew by Jayrude
    A return to the look and feel of the better early FMs: limited texture palette, angular architecture with bold contours, and a simple mission into the hideout of a secret society. Everything is suitably low-rent – even the more wealthy corners are on the cheap and uncomfortable side. It has a style you don’t see often anymore.

    There is some good and hard sneaking here, and using your equipment wisely is a life-saver. Some of the AI seem too twitchy for their own good, or they are placed on unforgiving patrol routes/positions. Unfortunate, because otherwise, this is excellent as a nostalgic experience.

    Atmosphere: 8 // Gameplay: 6 // Story: 7



    Shadow Play by Schlock
    A mansion mission that evokes the mystery and wonder of The Dark Project. The architecture is accomplished and varied. Great lighting with strong shadow-and-light contrasts establishes a moody atmosphere. This is helped by an expert use of sound: the author gets what made the original missions work, and the resulting soundscape feels like a creepier, weirder and more chaotic Bafford Manor (there is even a specific location of inexplicable dread which has affected everyone I know – that takes skill).

    The gameplay is also very good here. You have recon and infiltration, with multiple ways inside (and a few side areas, including a really cool easter egg!), followed by a lot of tense sneaking. There are always abundant shadows nearby, but crossing well-lit tile areas with interlocking patrols covering the territory makes it a challenge. Observation of AI patrols is a must for success. The mission is surprisingly strong on verticality, a rarity in indoors FMs – but it pulls it off, and how! It feels like an irregular, ramshackle old manor. Likewise, loot placement is thoughtful and a good challenge – observation, or scouting and nabbing risky pieces is well rewarded.

    Shadow Play has close to no formal story (no readables except for the odd plaque), although the environmental storytelling is strong – it has a superb contrast between a rich lord’s opulent quarters, the dark holes his staff lives in, and the shadows of the surrounding city. Show, don’t tell: here, we learn how it is done.

    Atmosphere: 8 // Gameplay: 8 // Story: 8

    (???)

    Station to Station by Anonymous
    When to trust your own creativity? Wellll… There is a cool beginning idea there, and that turbine room looks pretty neat. Otherwise, it is like one of those big, empty Wolfenstein 3d levels I used to play because I was bored, only to make the boredom even worse.

    Atmosphere: 2 // Gameplay: 1 // Story: 3



    The Burning Bedlam by Phantom
    Apparently, there were people who thought building an insane asylum on top of an ominous Hammerite factory on top of a creepy mine on top of a sinister sewer system was a brilliant idea. Apparently, they were fairly surprised when it all went to hell. Imagine that! Well, this mission is successful entry in the “dark as crap” subgenre. You can usually barely make out your surroundings in the almost complete darkness, making for an even feeling of dread and helplessness. This suspense cannot be maintained all the way through the mission, and it is hard not to become jaded (you could just omit the Black Mesa-style factory and not lose much), but it works most of the time, and looks and sounds good, too.

    There is a lot of very ambitious architecture here, coupled with good gameplay, and a backstory which integrates in interesting ways with Thief canon. The puzzles are a mixed bag: some are well designed, but some seem arbitrary (like gaining access to the asylum area). However, the mission is overall imaginative and very-very impressive in the way it looks and feels. No regrets.

    Atmosphere: 8 // Gameplay: 7 // Story: 7



    The Hunt by Grandmauden
    A proper Lord Bafford homage with welcome complexity. It is the same idea – yellow manor, haughty lord, priceless object – but a different mission. There are many ways it may play out, since it has a mostly open-ended structure (barring a few bottlenecks). There is a city district around the manor, with multiple ways to gather information and find your way inside; the main location has three floors to explore. It reminds me of Geller’s Pride, a classic fan mission that does something quite similar.

    The graphics are relatively simple but effective, and the place has a nice, consistent look. Ambients are also used well, and you can eavesdrop on a handful of custom conversations. There are multiple side-plots which add to the lived-in character of the place; you get the idea you are intruding on the lives of real people. The highlight is the gameplay: it is never particularly difficult, but it is varied, and has well-designed puzzles, sensibly hidden loot, a functional alarm system, and an increasing difficulty curve – going from streets where the guards don’t bother you to more and more challenging game spaces. This is a well-balanced mission that should be fun to play – and replay again with a different approach.

    Atmosphere: 6 // Gameplay: 7 // Story: 7



    The Lost City of Gazing Glass by mtk
    As someone who has disliked Lost City missions since the original level, I approached this one with some trepidation. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised, although I didn’t end up completing it. The architecture is simplistic; more correctly, there are setpiece areas which are quite imaginative and non-standard (without relying on too much detail), and there is connecting tissue which mainly consists of bland, featureless corridors. There are things like a great half-sunken pyramid with surreal water placement, something looking like a fallen meteorite, and an archaeological dig – like many early TDP missions, it is an excuse to place random, odd things which are fun to build and explore. I loved these, and they really did more for me than a standard LC level would have.

    However, it is largely a key and loot hunt, and the second aspect quite punishing at that – you have a high loot goal and piddly little treasures for the taking (treasure objects with decreased values). Not much sneaking is involved after a tense, well-realised initial section. There could have been more ambient sounds as well. A lot of the time, the mission feels empty – nondescript mazes with little content and a flat atmosphere. Then you get to something original and fun, but you wonder if you could just cut out the rest All in all, I wouldn’t mind seeing further missions from the author, with “more killer, less filler”.

    Atmosphere: 6 // Gameplay: 4 // Story: 5

  2. #2952
    Classical Master 2008
    Registered: Jun 2002
    Location: Civitas Quinque Ecclesiae HU


    The Scarlet Cascabel by PukeyBrunster and Tannar
    Two missions, both overwhelmingly ambitious, and both heavy on heavily customised stock resources (obeying the contest rules to the letter, while playing fast and loose with the spirit). These maps are both around the limits you can push the Dark Engine; things you had previously seen in the Beauty Contest are now the building blocks of full, sprawling, playable missions. The first, taking place in the woods and a mountain town, has a dynamic story with good objectives, and a comfy atmosphere – perhaps a bit like a very advanced take on Autumn in Lampfire Hills. Here are simple pleasures, very well realised (save the occasional, minor aesthetic mistakes which got lost in the last days of building).

    The second mission is grander, but also has a few gameplay-related problems. This is the “enormous posh location with a dark backstory and a huge interconnected puzzle” kind of FM, and in that field, it can stand its own against the likes of Rowena’s Curse and Ominous Bequest. The grandiose hotel/mansion is impeccably detailed (and customised – the rooms are varied and the small backstories you run across have a lot of character), the atmosphere thick.

    But as these missions tend to, the stealth gameplay suffers a bit: lots of long, unpredictable patrol routes, whiny servant AI everywhere (in lots of places where they can be stuck, too), and an objective which fails the mission if the alarm is triggered – this is a hazardous combination, particularly when you scour the territory for the umpteenth time. Or when the AI see you through the several windows, corridors and other conduits which allow them a treacherous vision, and a short route to the nearest gong. Then there’s the other one. While the puzzles are good and well designed, it is still finding (well designed) needles in a (well designed) haystack. Miss one, and the whole machinery comes to a creaking halt. It only happened to me once (missed an obvious lever due to the darkness), but there were some near misses in there.

    The criticism of extraordinary things does not take away from their excellence. This is an excellent two-mission pack, and a lot of fun. It is an instant classic. Nevertheless, I found the prelude more likeable than the main event.

    Atmosphere: 9 // Gameplay: 8 // Story: 10



    The Sound of a Burrick in a Room by skacky
    This mission takes you through the houses, rooftops and hidden underground locations of Sootchime District, a city district designed on a massive scale. Mere size is not a recipe for great gameplay, and some of the largest missions tend to feel fairly empty – but here, a good balance was struck between creating enormous structures, and giving the different places their own colour. Two large manor houses, a Hammerite monastery towering above multiple waterfalls and water channels, and other locations offer plenty to explore. The waterways allow fast progress through the level, but like Calendra’s Legacy, they also “reset” a lot of progress you will need to make to reach some of your destinations. There are also rooftop routes which feel natural, and do not restrict the player to a few paths of the thieves highway. And there are many “side events” to the main show. This mission makes for a well-balanced experience, and is a lot of fun to play... multiple times.

    Atmosphere: 8 // Gameplay: 9 // Story: 9



    The Tomb of Saint Tennor by vegetables
    Two missions in one, from a haunted monastery to an underground tomb-complex… and more. Both FMs feature good visuals, somewhere on the detail level slightly above OMs, just more of it. It is like taking the scale of a mission and blowing it up by 50%: the haunted cathedral is towering, the cloister is enormous, and the underground tombs are vast, inky black pits. This means there is more to do, but also that there is a lot of empty space. You spend a lot of time moving around, and in most cases, AI are fairly easy to avoid in the large spaces.

    Of the two missions, the first is more linear, but uses its locales effectively to let you get into places in interesting ways (even if, typically, there are not many ways forward). It is essentially a keyhunt, but masks this with some fairly good sub-objectives. The second FM, in comparison, is very much like the Bonehoard, with alternate routes and hidden spaces galore. It does not have the sheer variety of the Bonehoard map, but it has a series of self-contained tombs, each with its own peculiarity of design and challenge. The mission also has content beyond the scope of tomb-raiding; three distinct environments, one of which is quite excellent, and two which are kinda empty. All in all, an adventure.

    Atmosphere: 7 // Gameplay: 8 // Story: 6



    The Whistling of the Gears by Firemage
    Way back, in times that now seem primordial, there was a game called The Dark Project, and after an exhausting finale, it ended on a wonderfully bleak note. The Trickster was dead, and we were told to beware the dawn of the Metal Age – a nightmare of unchecked industrialisation gone horribly wrong. We were never really given that specific Metal Age (although we got a good game by that name, and many wonderful fan missions in the bargain). Until now: this is the experience some of us have been patiently waiting for all these years.

    The Whistling of the Gears is a mission which brings you the rampant industrialisation; the smoke; the towering metal structures; the dirt and grey misery. It is something that had previously only existed in a cutscene and our imaginations. The resulting mission is a super-complex city mission with a small footprint but remarkable height and density. It is filled with primitive machines and metal structures whose only seeming purpose is pollution, noise, and being eyesores. It has human environments which look cramped, uncomfortable, and miserable. It also has a visionary style which builds on dull grey and other muted colours to establish its feel. Item textures are looted for terrain in fun ways. Stock objects are repurposed with ingenuity to build mad things like a hanging string of sausages or cheap, gaudy ceramics, or sparkling wires above a street, or weird antennae, or whatever.

    There is much to do here. The central objectives are complex and multi-stage. The mission has to be traversed multiple times, and this can be a bit exhausting… it needs a certain dedication, but it pays off. There is great infiltration in an industrialist’s demesne, sabotage, dodging stationary and moving AI with tricky routes, and some non-standard technical wizardry that’s kinda mindblowing in a “how did this madman do it” way.

    In my mind, this mission is the best of the contest. There are landmarks in mission design which show us there are things previously thought impossible – and this FM has done just that.

    Atmosphere: 10 // Gameplay: 9 // Story: 9



    Ultimate Burglary by terra
    First things first: this mission doesn’t look half bad. Although it lacks the interesting height variations which give Thief missions their character, its visuals range from decent to outright good (particularly the main locations you have to visit – the Hammerite church is beautiful, and Bafford and Ramirez both have some good-looking rooms).

    Here is where the problems start. A disturbing amount of terrain is copy-pasted without introducing variation; rooms and balconies are exact copies of each other, down to the exact location and orientation of their interiors. During the course of the mission, you even meet Raoul the mad opera owner – thrice: once as a beggar, once as an innkeeper, and once as a homeowner (who curiously cohabitates with a small spider). Much of the mission is also designed without rhyme or reason. Apartments are senseless. One house is a single room with an armoire, a bucket of water arrows, an astrology chart and a coin stack on the floor; another one’s master bedroom consists of a badly textured cubbyhole with a dog flap leading to a much larger, completely dark space with two random treasure chests. Yet another seems to be built for dwarves who don’t mind the super-low ceiling. Bizarre features like that abound. There are windows in places where no windows could exist, or they are placed without respect for spatial logic (i.e. close to the floor, or in dubious positions). In some builds, weird architecture is a sign of originality and organic construction (as one would find in many old cities, or in Thief’s surreal level design), but here, it feels haphazard and thoughtless, and it is often unpleasant to look at.

    Gameplay is not much to speak about. AI stand in place mostly with their backs to you, or walk simple point-to-point patrol routes. You are forced into obvious paths by the way the locations are lit, but the guards are either very easy to avoid, or downright impossible – no middle ground involved. The loot goal is fairly steep (you have to steal a ludicrous 8000 out of 9216), and you pretty much have to trawl through most of the map to meet your requirements – all difficulties are identical. I was frustrated, but never properly challenged. At no point during this mission did I feel rewarded for doing something creative or out-of-the-box. This is not something I require from fan missions, but it felt odd that there were essentially no secrets, interesting hiding spaces, or alternate routes into different locations. The architecture is complex enough to look like it might lead to interesting things, but it never does. There is a repetition of the five levers puzzle from Undercover, but all levers are in plain sight in their respective rooms. Actually, most loot pieces are also just lying around. And sometimes, you open the door to a mansion room, and come face to face with two fire elementals. What are they doing there? Are they guests from the Fire Dimension? Why is there a burrick guarding an archway in the graveyard? Visual storytelling could help here, but it looks entirely random. There is no story, no focus to the thing, and the readables are bad jokes or devoid of character (“Recently, there have been several creepy events in our town. I presume a magician is behind it …”). You don’t really need them to make a good mission. Shadow Play doesn’t have any, and it pulls off a great experience through tight gameplay and masterful ambience. But this mission has neither of those.

    This mission is a mystery. It is large, fairly detailed, and obviously took a lot of effort to make. But it is senseless, flat, a chore to play (and sometimes downright unpleasant), and has no cohesion or discernible identity. It feels like those machine learning experiments where you feed an AI 1000 romantic comedies and make it generate something new, except with Thief FMs.

    Atmosphere: 5 // Gameplay: 2 // Story: 2



    The Upward Spiral by spoonman
    This mission was not entered into the competition, but it makes sense to discuss it as another anniversary mission. What begins as a search for the magical book of an ex-Hammerite soon turns into a mixture of eerie surrealism and dumb jokes. It is a peculiar mixture. Like previous spoonman missions (especially The Ravine and King of the Mountain), it is heavy on architecture and mood, and very light on plot. Even the start is non-standard: a stroll through an empty city at twilight which serves little purpose except to set the stage and pull you in. The building you are infiltrating is a labyrinthine affair of interconnected stairwells, rooms, balconies and overlooks. Things are off, and it is left to the player how to interpret the situation while sneaking through the place and looting it of its valuables.

    One gets the impression that the mission is unfinished, or it has been repurposed from a different project. The minuscule loot goal is entirely at odds with the obscene riches of the place. On some occasions, new objectives seem to trigger, but they don’t actually get added to your list. And the few readables have been filled with obscene jokes and gibberish… well, except where it suddenly looks like pointed satire. Was there something else there originally? Who knows. Likewise, stealth has its challenges and rewards, but it is hard to tell if this is careful design or a slapdash affair that sometimes clicks. Again, it is weird as hell. Worth playing for the good parts (and if you are a mission author, for inspiration). Perhaps it should not be taken as seriously as I have done here.

    Atmosphere: 8 // Gameplay: 6 // Story: 2

  3. #2953
    Master Builder 2018
    Registered: Jan 2008
    Location: The lovers the dreamers and me
    Melan, what a treat to read your thoughts here! I have to say, though, that I think you were far too kind to us.. especially on ratings of gameplay, LOL. Something we hope to remedy.

    Hope you will continue to post your thoughts like these on forthcoming missions. Off topic, but had a blast reading your readables in Rose Garden. Just sayin.

  4. #2954
    DromEd Archmage
    Registered: Nov 2010
    Location: Returned to the eternal labor
    Wow... great reviews Melan and... wow... I wasn't expecting my mission to be your favorite!
    Thank you very much! I really feel honnored and I must say that words are missing... Thank you!

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