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zergrush

Doing away with torches indoors: an appeal to mission designers

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If everything TDM can do is to copy Thief for the sake of familiarity, one might as well just play Thief instead. It's a slippery slope that can easily justify turning TDM into nothing else but a Thief clone.

 

 

Given the game has been out for a decade now, I'm having a hard time making sense of that argument.

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Given the game has been out for a decade now, I'm having a hard time making sense of that argument.

My point is that TDM is not (or at least no longer is) a Thief clone to begin with. It has a game base that is similar to Thief but it is much more developed in terms of AI, mechanics, physics, even lore. This challenges the assumption you should keep using certain tropes in mission design just because old Thief players are familiar with them, and ignores a whole potential player base of people who are not familiar with Thief.

 

The problem is, when you take torches out of the picture, you do the same with water arrows. Maybe you can use them to douse gas lights, but, since you're all for realism, what about the leaking gas? ;)

 

You could have lightbulbs/electric lights destroyed by broadhead arrows, but you'd have to make all the models with their broken counterparts, and it would probably change the whole player equipment economy (arrows would have to be more sparse and expensive, so the player can't destroy all the lights in the map). And you'll have to teach players all of this, so that's also a question of tutorials within your map.

Gas fueled flames can be put out with water, and besides that most TDM indoor lamps look like oil ones, not gas.

 

As for using arrows to break lamps, that would require adding new specific breakable objects and creating new "broken" versions of the mesh, which not only is a lot of work, but it also alters an element of difficulty that is supposed to be tolerated by players. I'm not saying torches should be banned or removed from missions, I'm just questioning their choice of placement from a pure design perspective, not a gameplay one. It's just that it looks better if mappers don't use them inside buildings. I am not requesting a feature here, nor for the game to be changed. And again, we already have a variety of TDM maps that do just that.

Edited by zergrush

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I'm not saying torches should be banned or removed from missions

 

Looks at thread title:

 

Doing away with torches

 

Now, English is only my 12th language, so I may not be understanding you, but it looks like you want to do away with torches, which would mean they would not appear in missions.


I always assumed I'd taste like boot leather.

 

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AluminumHaste, if you read the entire first post you'd also notice I wrote this:

 

So what does this mean for TDM?

 

As of the moment there is an unholy amount of torches on plenty of TDM fan missions as part of this misconception, and my goal with this thread would be precisely to change that. While TDM is a fantasy franchise it is important to notice people are incidentally educated of many historical notions through fantasy representations, and as such I feel it is important to keep at least some aspects of daily live grounded in actual reality for this purpose. This does not mean you should rush to delete all the torches from your current mission, but maybe be more wary of their placement in the future missions you create.

And on a later post this:

 

This has little to do with the aspects that are not based in reality (such as steam machines and robots) and more with the ones that are (such as how fire and smoke behaves in real life). Naturally there always aspects of gameplay that are adapted or streamlined to make things fun, such as hiding in minimal shadow rendering you near invisible. Torches on the other hand, serve no such purpose with all the alternatives already available. Being aware of this is something that can even help mappers add some nice details to flesh out missions. For example, if you still want to use indoor torches, placing them in a surface that is not flammable and with an air vent right above.

*EDIT* Also at the title of curiosity, the original thread title was actually "doing away with indoor torches" but I changed it because the word torch did not appear in the preview. I have now changed it to "doing away with torches indoors".

Edited by zergrush

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To sum it up, what I'm saying here that is that a better placement of elements such as torches fleshes out missions by showing attention to detail, which in turn increases suspension of disbelief on the whole.

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Yeah, you ignored my post that bypasses your argument, so I'm going to ignore yours that you quoted. Fairs' Fair.


I always assumed I'd taste like boot leather.

 

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Yeah, you ignored my post that bypasses your argument, so I'm going to ignore yours that you quoted. Fairs' Fair.

Well, it was nothing personal, but that's just because I also mentioned that magical torches are fine for me in the first post, as long as they actually look magical:

 

In what situations would it still make sense for me to use a torch?

 

In every situation where it would either make sense to have a beacon meant to be seen far away (such as tower) or as an impromptu flame source on outdoors locations such as encampments. Although not truly historical, this usage can at least be justified by common sense through some extent.

 

One good example of allowed indoor torches would be magical flames created by paranormal events or entities. These flames generally take a unusual color (such as green or blue) to signal their unnatural source.

Edited by zergrush

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Why is the magic limited to only supernatural or paranormal events? There's mages, chemists etc, who could do this as routine torch creation.

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I always assumed I'd taste like boot leather.

 

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But assuming kerosene other petrochemicals are already known by the inhabitants of the TDM world: torch sticks doused in them they still make for poor indoor light sources in the real world by the sheer size and instability of the flame alone. That's why they don't use them in churches, for instance.

Edited by zergrush
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The torch. To most players this simple light-emitting object is the staple inanimate foe in both TDM and the original Thief games. It represents what any half-decent sneak artist must avoid in order to stay alive, an icon that has been seared into the minds of stealth game players ever since they took their first steps into the Metal Age.

 

Outside of Thief, torches are also frequently depicted as the most common light source in both pre-modern fantasy and historical fiction settings alike, and can be found as permanent fixtures on the walls of every fictional palace, castle or peasant hut, from the Lord of the Rings film series to the Gladiator.

 

But what does history actually say about the usage of torches before the invention of gas and electrical lights, and how sensible and commonplace was their usage? I've debated this matter on the thread of a recently released FM, and I thought it would be worthy to further put this into deeper discussion.

 

I am of two minds about this thing:

- Yes, strictly speaking, it is not all that historically accurate. Most of the lamps used would be "candle-powered", so to speak, such as wooden chandeliers, candlesticks, lanterns and so on (incidentally, we have all of those). Oil lamps of various types would also be used indoors. Torches are, in essence, something of a later popcultural misunderstanding on how medieval buildings were lit.

- For the sake of gameplay, I think torches are a "necessary weasel", that is, a necessary cliché. It's not just about TDM following in the footsteps of the Thief design legacy, though that plays a part. It's also about using something that is quickly familiar to a lot of people - torches giving out lots of open fire - and is therefore ripe for an intuitive understanding on how to use water arrows.

 

Quite honestly, for a fantasy stealth game, I'd say the current TDM already has enough of a whiff of historical accuracy about it than most other games of this sort would have. TDM's world is actually rather more grounded and further down-to-earth than that of Thief. You might have noticed the existing robots in the setting are a lot less stylised than those from The Metal Age, most of the trick arrows are non-magical, and our thief characters use a spyglass (itself an early modern invention, not medieval) instead of a mechanical eye. Seems like a "nolanification" of Thief to me. If you want absolute historical accuracy, you'll have to ditch all the fantastical elements, and those are one of the main appeals of TDM, in addition to sneaking around.

 

The best thing to do is a reasonable compromise in approaching level design. If a map author wants torches to be used in interiors, let them. However, one can always give reasonable recommendations, such as, "use torches for lighting in more barren hallways and passageways and lanterns and candles and lamps in living spaces". That adds to both common sense design and an element of historical accuracy, while still keeping gameplay dynamic and varied. Even some of the earliest released missions - e.g. Saint Lucia - used this rationale. Most of the habitable interiors, public rooms or studies in St. Lucia are lit with historically accurate (or more precisely, historically plausible) lighting sources. Torches are outside or in storage areas, and there are also early electric lamps in a few places.

 

Long story short, I don't mind torches. I know very well about reality vs. fantasy, but in a game like TDM, torches honestly don't bother me. If you'd want hyper-realism in everything, we'd have to throw away most of the more fanciful steampunk elements, all of the fantasy elements, and finally, possibly even stop being a stealth game. Do you really think someone can lurk and move in the shadows as easily as Thief or The Dark Mod portray ? I don't deem it impossible, but I have my doubts about its plausibility. We therefore need a happy medium between fantasy and historically plausible stuff.

 

----

 

One of the officially approved missions is set entirely aboard a medieval steampunk airship. How do you "plausibilise" that ? Airships would need a lot of technologies pre-invented first in order to be built in a setting more similar to our real world some 400-500 years ago, rather than 100-200 years ago. TDM's setting presupposes an earlier (if slow-burning) industrial revolution, with steam and clockwork mechanisms and so on several centuries earlier, in a fictional late-medieval style society. But beyond that, the mere fact there are airships in the TDM universe raises all sorts of questions - if you want to analyse it deeply, a fantasy society with flight provided by airships would eventually see changes to how trade or warfare are conducted. Will we now over-analyse the presence of that airship in the mission and strike it down, because it could propel the setting too far into the future in terms of how progress impacts daily living and politics in the setting ? And on a similar note, wouldn't steam engines and primitive robots and electric lighting cause similar repercussions, even moreso than it's already portrayed within the game ?

 

My advice is: It's a fantasy game. We're not striving for super-plausibility, just a broad plausibility. And above that, above all, we're striving for the game being fun, engaging, all that good stuff. Torches don't make or break TDM.

Edited by Petike the Taffer
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Great topic. I really like the idea of being more realistic with the use of resources. Discussions like this can only improve the game, and that's a good thing. :)


I have an eclectic YouTube channel making videos on a variety of games. Come and have look here:

https://www.youtube.com/c/NeonsStyleHD

 

Dark Mod Missions: Briarwood Manor - available here or in game

http://forums.thedarkmod.com/topic/18980-fan-mission-briarwood-manor-by-neonsstyle-first-mission-6082017-update-16/

 

 

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@Petike the Taffer thank you for your reply. This is the type of discussion I was hoping to start when I raised this thread. Naturally I am aware TDM is not meant nor it should be a hyper realistic sort of game with added steampunk elements. If it was, hallways wouldn't be supplied with permanent light fixtures as they are, because on the absence of electric light it is easier and least expensive to just leave the house dark at night and carry your own light source when you need to move around, which is what most people did 150 years ago. My point is that grounding simpler aspects of level design in reality makes attention to detail more palpable, and missions more atmospheric and engaging in return. Just as a player would react with estrangement if he saw a fire burning underwater, he will react with delighted surprise if he notices a vent placed above a torch fixture burning indoors.

One of your points I have to contest though:

- For the sake of gameplay, I think torches are a "necessary weasel", that is, a necessary cliché. It's not just about TDM following in the footsteps of the Thief design legacy, though that plays a part. It's also about using something that is quickly familiar to a lot of people - torches giving out lots of open fire - and is therefore ripe for an intuitive understanding on how to use water arrows.


Why? On what grounds? This assumes players are unable to deduct, my god, that water can put out fire, unless you spell it out with a big burning torch! Moreover, not only TDM provides a training mission to instruct new players, but the actual first mission included in the package (A New Job) does not feature any big torches indoors. So I feel this is a poor reason to propagate an inaccurate and silly trope. Put torches only outside or add at least proper ventilation. It just makes for better level design.

Edited by zergrush

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I think we're going to need more nails

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I always assumed I'd taste like boot leather.

 

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It just makes for better level design.

 

Good level design utilizes game mechanics, so everything from player movement model to player tools environment reactivity and AI capabilities, to maximum extent. In that regard using torches and giving player water arrows as an ability to extend his "safe territory" is a part of a good, conscious level design. It has nothing to do with realism or accurate architectural design, which is what you're going for.

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Good level design utilizes game mechanics, so everything from player movement model to player tools environment reactivity and AI capabilities, to maximum extent. In that regard using torches and giving player water arrows as an ability to extend his "safe territory" is a part of a good, conscious level design. It has nothing to do with realism or accurate architectural design, which is what you're going for.

I don't deny this. What I am saying is that attention to detail makes for better level design, not that good level design depends on it. Edited by zergrush

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But it really doesn't. It doesn't contribute to anything mechanics-related. It's minor value and only to those focused on strict realism in games, which is very, very small subset of gamers.

I don't think that is the case. This implies that level mechanics and level aesthetics are mutually exclusive instead of mutually related. Aiming for a particular atmosphere/look in aesthetics can and should affect building design, otherwise levels will feel inconsistent. To quote yourself on a different thread:

 

 

knowing how to balance fun and challenge with just enough sense of realism is a core pillar of good gameplay design.

And to bring it all back to the initial topic, all I am suggesting is that it would look better if one type of light source was phased out in favor of others that are already available. And if, like you say it's a minor, relatively simple change to make, that results in added value in the form of immersion, then why not make it so, when there's nothing to lose?

Edited by zergrush

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IMO you're using the term level design in your own, broader sense, and that's the source of confusion.

 

Level mechanics and aesthetics aren't mutually exclusive, but in most games lighting isn't part of the mechanics, so the aesthetics is mostly irrelevant. You do your primary level design on greyboxes to check whether the level is fun. If it is, then the setting is also largely irrelevant. As an exercise, you could adjust it to e.g. a city setting, as well as, forests, catacombs, whatever you like. That tiny does of realism I mentioned is basically an amount of symbols that is just enough to make player think: ok, I'm in the desert/cathedral/swamp etc.

 

The problem is, in a light-based stealth game the aesthetic doesn't have that much independence from level design. That is one of the reasons why Dishonored games use that only in narrow sense, so they can have a variety of daylight settings. Line-of-sight-based stealth turned out to be easier to implement and much less setting-dependent.

 

That's why limiting torches in Thief games or TDM has some serious implications. It is strictly related to player tools and the element of player strategy that enables making some permanent changes to the light/shadow territory layout. It's basically like slowly capturing an enemy territory. Taking torches from homes or dungeons either changes that mechanics to something else or takes it away in favor of total darknes, which is super boring, from both aesthetic and gameplay perspective.

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I think you are missing the point. He does not want to remove fire based light sources indoors. All he suggests is to exchange torches with other extinguishable light sources that fit better into an indoor environment, but have the exact same properties gameplay wise. You can use light sources that have the same light radius and intensity and are oviously extinguishable by the player that are simply not torches.

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Jep, I agree with Destined, but in general:

 

DM or Thief missions without torches (even if they do not make sense in the areas they are positioned) is like asking for Heavy Metal music without electric guitars.

 

On the other hand: The upcoming mission "Hidden Hands: Vitalic Fever" will not include a single torch for the reasons zergrush/Destined mentioned above.

 

Hm....it is not that easy! :)

 

Jack

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I think you are missing the point. He does not want to remove fire based light sources indoors. All he suggests is to exchange torches with other extinguishable light sources that fit better into an indoor environment, but have the exact same properties gameplay wise. You can use light sources that have the same light radius and intensity and are oviously extinguishable by the player that are simply not torches.

 

Thank you Destined, this is very much what I meant. What's funny is that there already seems to be an implicit understanding, especially within the TDM fan mission designers (less in Thief FM designers), that torches in particular have a certain limited use to mostly dungeons, basements, castles or outside areas, whereas oil lamps and candles are preferred for house interiors, manors or palaces.

 

Two good examples of that are Tears of St Lucia and NeonsStyle's Briarwood Manor.

 

From Tears of St Lucia - the crypt and back-end levels feature torch illuminated walls, whereas the church itself and the builder's quarters are lit by lamps and candles.

 

post-8527-0-01823100-1558304077_thumb.jpg post-8527-0-40567500-1558304318_thumb.jpg

 

From NeonsStyle's Briarwood Manor - the cellars and back-end stairs are lit by torchlight, but as you go up oil lamps become the rule instead.

 

post-8527-0-89021800-1558304667_thumb.jpg post-8527-0-91601700-1558304679_thumb.jpg

 

So there is already an implicit restriction imposed by a fair number of FM designers on where torches should belong. My goal with this appeal is for FM creators to update this design standard, and let candles and oil lamps take the place of torches in dungeons and basements as well, letting torches remain on outdoors settings. The point is that beyond torches being impractical for indoor usage, both oil lamps and candles are cheaper, last longer, and are easier to maintain.

 

Several maps already do this without acting in detriment of either aesthetics or gameplay. Some good examples:

 

A New Job - no torches are present in this mission whatsoever. The basement section of the inn is lit instead by oil lamps.

 

Grayman's Wm. Steele Part 1: In the North - All basement levels are lit by candles. The only torches present are used outside.

 

Dragofer's Down by the Riverside - all the interiors are lit by oil lamps or candles. Some torches can be seen outside.

 

Another alternative that could be considered would be to replace standard torches with oil-fueled ones instead. Something akin to a tiki torch, that is to say, a large bottle of flammable liquid placed on a torch stick/fixture. These usually produce a much bigger flame that could be matched to the current wooden torch radius very easily.

Edited by zergrush
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Then this discussion is largely irrelevant. You're not talking about level design but aesthetics, since oil lamps and torches are functionally interchangeable. Both are doused with water arrows. If those were actually torches on the first floor of Briarwood Manor, then yeah, like 2-3 people on the forums would complain about that's unrealistic. The rest would be too busy having fun with the map.

Edited by peter_spy
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I don't see why discussing aesthetics is irrelevant after we established they play a role in immersion, atmosphere, and can affect mechanics too. I think the interest for increased levels of authenticity is on the rise both in video games and general media, given the amount of historical commentators and analyzers on platforms like youtube. It is how you go from celebrating laughingly bad films like Braveheart to the release of the historically faithful Outlaw King. I just happen to think fantasy settings can play a role too and benefit from that along the way.

 

I am sorry if I made my point a bit too long-winded for a simple change, but I expected more resistance from the long time Thief grognards. :D

 

Because I highly value atmosphere and greatly respect the work and attention to detail of TDM FM designers, I think it would be good to suggest something small that can contribute to make most missions even better.

Edited by zergrush
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Braveheart was a superb movie at the time, a great drama that nailed down all the highs and lows leading up to its finale. All the history nerds and nitpickers who expected realistic Scottish accent from Mel Gibson (just listen how ridiculous that demand sounds), or pin-point historical accuracy should have stayed at home and watch a documentary.

 

Same goes with games, if you can't see bigger picture or enjoy a setting or atmosphere because of the nitpicks, then you are one of those few people who have a problem. Calling it better level design or mixing it up with any other terminology doesn't make it more important to anyone but you :)

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