In November 2001, Terry Pratchett was in Chester, famed for its Roman ruins and well-preserved medieval structure. Staying at a resort within the metropolis centre, Pratchett opened the window of his room, and regarded throughout the historic skyline. “I realised I might drop down on to a roof,” he wrote later. “And from then on there was a vista of roofs, leads and ledges main all the way in which to the tip of the road and past; there have been even little doorways and welcoming attic home windows …
There’s a line break, after which he provides. “I’m going to need to cease enjoying this sport.”
Pratchett was not contemplating a brand new profession as a cat burglar. He was reflecting on his favorite online game – Thief II: The Metallic Age. Launched in March 2000, Thief II was the sequel to 1998’s Thief: The Darkish Mission, a pioneering stealth sport set in a gothic fantasy world. In each video games, gamers donned the cowl of Garrett, a laconic grasp thief partly impressed by Raymond Chandler’s PI Philip Marlowe. Thief charged gamers with breaking into medieval mansions, rooftop residences, banks, cathedrals even police stations, stealing as a lot coin and valuables as they might whereas avoiding patrols of sword-wielding guards.
Pratchett’s relationship with video video games is nicely documented. At all times technologically savvy, he was an early adopter of PC gaming, and loved every little thing from Doom to Deus Ex and Name of Obligation. He even helped to create a mod (an unofficial add-on) for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, writing strains of dialogue for a personality. However Pratchett held a specific affection for Thief. He performed all three video games within the collection, and sometimes contributed to a Usenet newsgroup named alt.video games.thief-dark-project.
That newsgroup, analogous to a contemporary discussion board, has lengthy since been deactivated, however its posts survive in a Google teams archive. Mixed, they supply an enchanting document of Pratchett’s evolving relationship with each the Thief collection and video video games on the whole.
Pratchett first seems on the discussion board in August 2001. Like so many gamers who grow to be concerned in on-line communities, he posted as a result of he was caught. In a submit titled: “Assist! Noticed Each time” he requests help with Thief II’s eighth mission Hint the Courier, through which gamers should comply with a Lieutenant of the Metropolis Watch as she carries a secret message to an unknown recipient. “No matter I do, the sport ends on the premise that I’ve been noticed – even when, as I head up the slope, I’m going invisible. Can anybody assist, please?” Pratchett wrote.
However he quickly begins to share his personal ideas on the sport. In a submit titled: “Favorite Thief II Mission”, he chooses Lifetime of the Get together, an expansive degree whereby Garrett gatecrashes an extravagant reception hosted inside an unlimited, mechanised tower, infiltrating the construction through town’s rooftops. “Lifetime of the Get together earlier than you get to the tower appeared to me what [Thief] ought to all be about,” he wrote. “Excessive above town in a world of your personal, exploring each alternative, with no different aim than ‘nick something you discover’, and the sounds of the Watch are floating up from under …”
Pratchett appreciated that Thief II was a sport that you might end with out killing anybody, which appealed to his private morals. “I get edgy in video games that require killing as an goal,” he wrote in July 2002. “However having the ability to cover from guards who seem to have superb acuity typically is a expertise in itself.” He additionally appreciated that Thief II allow you to resolve its issues at your personal tempo, and in your personal means. “I feel a sport goes mistaken whenever you begin to struggle the programmer somewhat than the sport,” he observes. “The Thief video games are good on this respect – there are many issues, however they are often solved by forethought, care, crafty, lateral pondering or working like hell.”
There was shared lineage between Thief’s anonymous metropolis and Pratchett’s personal work within the Discworld novels. Each take well-liked fantasy tropes and recontextualise them right into a extra human world, unafraid to discover the weirder edges of fantasy. Thief’s bumbling, grumbling guards share sure traits with Pratchett’s personal motley crew of metropolis watchmen. Pratchett was fascinated by Thief’s wealthy and distinctive environment. “I’m wondering what the quintessential ‘Thief’ high quality is? The sense of ‘being there’? The sensation of free exploration?’” he contemplated in 2003. “THE Thief second was me dreamily roping my means from beam to beam throughout that huge corridor within the Financial institution, whereas under me the guards patrolled. No different sport has supplied that, though Deus Ex had its moments.”
Posting underneath his personal title, Pratchett’s presence on the boards didn’t go unnoticed by the broader neighborhood. “Having Terry concerned was a really cool expertise,” says David Geelan, an affiliate professor at Australia’s Griffith College, and a contributor to the alt.video games Thief discussion board throughout the identical interval as Pratchett. “This was an early instance of an creator I used to be a giant fan of partaking with one thing else I beloved.” This sentiment is shared by one other consumer, Mika Latokartano. “Being a giant fan of Discworld novels, it was naturally nice to see him on the boards and to have the ability to trade a couple of phrases with a world-famous creator.”
It’s price pausing at this level to ask: how did the neighborhood know this was the actual Terry Pratchett, and never some impostor masquerading because the creator for a jape? Geelan factors out that Pratchett didn’t make a giant deal out of his identification, and his goal on the boards appeared earnest. Geelan believed he might “recognise [Pratchett’s] ‘voice’ from each the novels and the varied interviews with him I’d learn and seen.” Probably the most compelling proof, nevertheless, is the e-mail hooked up to that individual usenet account – email@example.com – an account followers had used to ship emails to Pratchett because the early 90s.
“I attempted to be cool and simply be a fellow gamer and never behave like a fan,” Geelan says. Nonetheless, the neighborhood typically couldn’t assist however marvel in regards to the relationship between Discworld and Thief. Pratchett addressed their questions patiently however definitively. When one neighborhood member requested whether or not Pratchett had noticed any references to Discworld in Thief, he answered: “I’ve been cautious to not search for DW references. There’re fairly a couple of similarities between town and Ankh-Morpork however that’s as a result of they’re drawing on the identical basic custom.”
When one other consumer requested whether or not any of Thief had impressed Ankh-Morpork, Pratchett was a contact extra sarcastic. “Properly, certain. To any extent further I’ll undoubtedly set my books in a quasi-medieval metropolis with anachronistic fashionable touches, like a police power, and I’ll undoubtedly have these guys who put on black and sneak across the rooftops)”. That stated, Pratchett makes minor nods to Thief in some later Discworld novels, similar to Night time Watch. In July 2002, months earlier than the e-book’s launch, Pratchett mentions a “second” that’s “solely a reference for taffers” (a slang insult utilized by Thief’s guards). “A hall, one lamp out, barely any shadow … you’ll see,” he teases.
Thief II was Pratchett’s first expertise with the collection, and his favorite. He known as The Darkish Mission “Tomb Raider with edged weapons”. The third sport, Lethal Shadows, didn’t come out till 2004. “I certain hope T3 takes after T2,” he wrote in December 2001. “The ‘genius’ of the Thief world is in ranges like The Financial institution, or Lifetime of the Get together – correct trustworthy thieving.” Lethal Shadows didn’t fairly dwell as much as Pratchett’s expectations, however he praised the sport’s most well-known mission – Robbing the Cradle – for its intense environment and crafty use of horror. “I’ve all the time stated I play Thief for the immersion, however on that one I got here nearer to drowning,” he wrote in regards to the notorious orphanage-turned-insane-asylum. “Insofar because it does precisely the job it units out to do, this can be a great degree.”
Exterior Thief II, Pratchett’s favorite Thief experiences have been delivered by Fan Missions, or FMs. Thief has a small however devoted neighborhood which, over time, has created a whole bunch of customized maps for the sport. Many of those are enormously bold, and Pratchett steadily praises the expertise on present in FMs similar to Durant, Lord Alan’s Fortress, and Calendra’s Legacy. “I can’t assist being amazed once more on the high quality of so many FMs.” he wrote in July 2003. “I just lately performed via T2, and a few authentic missions paled by comparability.”
Pratchett continued posting till the tip of 2006. By this level, he’d been launched to Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a fantasy RPG that featured stealth programs just like Thief, however in a a lot bigger world to discover. Paradoxically, it was a consumer of the Thief boards who put Pratchett on to Oblivion. In April 2006, Mika Latokartano requested Pratchett: “Have you ever tried Oblivion but?”, to which he responded: “No, but it surely’s now been ordered.” Two days later, Pratchett posted once more, writing “Aaargh! What have you ever executed to me? Purchased the sport in your advice, and now I see my life slipping away.”
Pratchett’s posts on the alt.video games Thief discussion board are a novel document. Not solely do they proof intimately an artist’s heartfelt affection for one more kind of artwork, in addition they signify a mode of interplay between a creator and followers that’s far much less viable within the age of mass social media. Geelan, who round this time additionally frequented a cyberpunk discussion board visited by William Gibson, notes that “authors might react extra immediately with the few hundred or couple of thousand individuals who may need been on an online discussion board or usenet group within the mid 90s, than with the thousands and thousands or tens of thousands and thousands who would need that contact now.”
On the alt.video games newsgroup, Pratchett could have been posting as a well-known author, however he was additionally posting as a fan, with all of the unabashed enthusiasm, obsession with minor particulars, and debates that entailed. Thief established widespread floor between him and the remainder of the neighborhood, permitting them to speak on degree phrases, and share within the devious delights the sport supplied. Nothing demonstrates this higher than a submit he made in June 2002, titled “Again at the hours of darkness”. “Brothers and sisters, I hay-ave sinned,” Pratchett started. “I forsook the true path, and took the way in which of Medal of Honour, Return to Citadel Wolfenstein and even of Alien v. Predator 2, for the brand new video games machine right here was high of the road.
“After which I reloaded T2 the opposite night time, and the way good and calm all of it is. Simply me, the night time, the occasional jingle of a key, and the thwop of blackjack on helmet. Right here’s to stealth gaming. I’m again.”