A nostalgic trip to Garrett's past

Welcome to the FM Author Spotlight, a series of interviews that provides an exclusive peek into the world of fan mission creators. In this episode, we are talking to Snake, the author of recently released A Thief`s Training, a very competently made daylight mission for Thief Gold.

Aemanyl: Please introduce yourself and tell us how you discovered the Thief games.

Snake: My name is Colm and I am originally from Galway in the west of Ireland but have been living in Dublin for the past 12 years. I am an accountant by background and currently work in banking regulation.

My introduction to Thief is probably an experience shared by many others. It began with a demo disc which came with the February 1999 edition of PC Zone, a UK video game magazine. I still have a copy of the disc. I was only 11 years old at the time so I can thank my older brother for purchasing the magazine in the first place. I have vivid memories of us playing that demo disc repeatedly, which contained A Keeper’s Training and Lord Bafford’s Manor and I think for that reason, both those missions are ingrained in my memory more than others, and might explain the setting of my debut mission to some extent. We eventually got our hands on The Dark Project and there was something about it that hooked me instantly, it was different to anything else at the time (most first-person games were shooters) and it evoked a unique and memorable atmosphere which I think is still unmatched today.

There are moments from TDP that still resonate with me from the first time seeing them, like the twist in the cutscene following Return to the Cathedral. I got stuck in The Haunted Cathedral for a long time that I nearly gave up on Thief entirely, and truth be told, I was probably too young and scared to play the game. I did obviously return to it after a short break and remember getting Thief Gold, Thief II, and Deadly Shadows as they were released. It was in the void left following the final game of the trilogy that I discovered T2X in 2005 and with that, TTLG and the world of fan missions.

Aemanyl: Do you have a favourite genre, style, or theme of fan missions?

Snake: It will probably come as no surprise that TDP/TG is my favourite game of the series and I naturally tend to prefer fan missions made for it as a result. There is a style of mission that is hard to describe but I think I’ve heard some refer to it as "urban mystery" and Melan is a master of this with Bad Debts, Disorientation, and Rose Garden being good examples. Skacky has put his own stamp on it too with Endless Rain and Sound of a Burrick in a Room.
Other genres I enjoy are those missions which recreate that other-worldly surrealism of The Dark Project. I am thinking here of missions by Schlock and Squadafroin such as Alcazar and Into the Odd.
Not to dismiss T2 entirely, I really enjoy a well-made mansion mission, with Heist Society, Duncan Malveine, and Conspiracies in the Dark springing to mind.
Finally, I enjoy supernatural/horror themed missions as well, but I tend to prefer the feeling of dread, or what you don’t see, as opposed to an out and out undead filled map. Horror can be created through atmosphere without ever encountering a haunt or zombie.

Aemanyl: Can you walk us through your typical DromED workflow? Where do you typically begin, and how do you approach the different stages of mission development?

Snake: My experience is based on building my one and only mission to date and given that I was very much learning as I was going, this may not be best practice!

I started A Thief’s Training by rebuilding the exit corridor from A Keeper’s Training. That was a great learning exercise, as rebuilding a small area from an original mission (OM), by reference to the OM itself in Dromed, helps you pick up some of the basics quite quickly (but almost all my Dromed knowledge came from Nicked`s excellent tutorial and help/support from the Dromed Discord and TTLG). If I were to give one tip to any new Dromeders, it would be to look at other missions in Dromed and figure out how they built or implemented certain things.

From there, I just built room by room without any plan as such. I had a general idea in my head of areas I wanted, like a main entrance hall, a scriptorium, a library, etc. but didn’t sketch any of that out. I used many photos of real places and tried to recreate those spaces in Dromed or at least use them as a base (more on that in my next answer). I also had no story, and it took me quite a while to figure out a reason for Garrett to return to the Keeper training compound. That part came quite late in development. In fact, the entire outdoor starting area was the last part built for the mission.

I tend to try and fully complete all processes for a room or area before moving on, so for example, I build the geometry, texture it, and roombrush it before moving on. I understand other authors might use dev textures and complete final texturing and roombrushing at a later stage. The processes I left until nearer the end were sound design, AI placement, readables, objectives, and some more technical aspects like setting up scripts and traps and the like. A Thief’s Training was largely complete from a geometry/brush perspective by Q3 of 2023 but it took many more months to implement those other elements (along with taking a break to play The Black Parade… and getting married!).

Aemanyl: What would be your proudest achievement in DromED?

Snake: This a short and easy answer given my equally short output in Dromed - finally finishing and releasing a fan mission. I take particular pride in this considering I first took up Dromed all the way back in 2005 and abandoned it for many years before returning to it at the beginning of Covid and lockdowns, where I had a bit more time to learn it all again. Even though it took me almost 20 years, I got there in the end!

Aemanyl: Your debut mission, A Thief’s Training, evokes a raw and austere atmosphere that is reminiscent of the early Middle Ages. Some of the readables were inspired by the poetry of William Butler Yeats and Martial. What are your main sources of inspiration?

Snake: A Thief’s Training started life as a potential entrant for the New Dark contest, a deadline I missed by some margin. Linking back to my earlier answer on how I discovered Thief, I spent a very long time replaying A Keeper’s Training from the demo disc and I remember my 11-year-old self being fascinated by that final corridor and where those doors might lead to. So, I thought it would be interesting to use the theme of the New Dark contest (create a new mission inspired by an original mission) and explore this idea by expanding on the original Keeper training compound. There was something about the daytime setting of the training mission (and Cragscleft) that made those missions stand out and resonate with me many years later, especially that contrast between the clear blue sky and birds singing, with the more dark and foreboding interiors, shadows and droning ambient music.

I rely quite heavily on photos for architectural inspiration. Many of the areas in A Thief’s Training are based on real life places. For example, the Restricted Library is inspired by the “Long Room” of the library in Trinity College Dublin and the internal cloister area is based on a similar structure in the fortified monastery of Lérins on the island of Saint-Honorat. Deadly Shadows was an inspiration for things like the Council Tower and sound design while other elements come from the small glimpses of things we see of the Keepers in TG/T2 such as the Interpreter’s Tower (also how this was implemented by Melan and others) and the scriptorium (eagle-eyed players might see that this comes from the first Keeper intro cutscene of TG, I even put imperfections in the pillar of the window separating the two sections of the scriptorium which can be seen in that briefing video).

In terms of inspiration for the story, setting, and readables, I tried to be authentic to a medieval setting, without it being too “real world” based. Many of the names are based on early medieval Anglo-Saxon names and some of the readables employ Elizabethan English, but I found these quite difficult to write so that style is limited to 2 or 3 readables. Most of the readables in the Keeper Compound reference other FMs or are loosely based on medieval political intrigue, particularly those referencing noble families and banking. Whenever I come across an article on an obscure or interesting medieval matter, I bookmark it for later reference. For example, most of the stories in the newspaper in the inn are based on real life peculiar medieval incidents.

As you have highlighted, I included two readables more or less verbatim from real poets - Yeats and Martial. The Yeats poem is only partially included (the beginning and end) and it is edited to remove real world references and replace them with Thief world ones. The Martial epigram is also edited (and I actually found it difficult to find a consistent version of it as it seems there have been many translations over hundreds of years).

Finally, many authors and missions inspired the design, particularly Alcazar, and there are some areas in the mission which should be instantly recognisable to those who have played Alcazar.

Aemanyl: Are there any creators whose style is similar to your vision of design?

Snake: As indicated above, and I am in no way putting myself in their category, but I did take a lot of inspiration from authors like Schlock and Squadafroin in particular but also the rest of the Feuillade team (DirkBogan, DrK, Firemage, marbleman, and Skacky). I am a big fan of all their work and I like how they have brought a lot of love and care back to The Dark Project, raising interest in that game and inspiring more fan missions to be created for it.

Aemanyl: You have recently published your debut mission. Any specific plans for creating more levels in the near future?

Snake: Right now, I will take a short break from Dromed, but not for long as I don’t want to forget everything I’ve learned or get out of practice. I have some ideas in my head, some of which had seeds planted in A Thief’s Training. So hopefully I can begin work on something new soon.

Aemanyl: What are some of your other interests, pastimes, or hobbies that you enjoy in your free time?

Snake: I enjoy film, reading, travelling, ballet, and art. Also watching, but no longer playing, football (fan of Liverpool) and snooker.


Thank you for reading! We hope that you've enjoyed this insightful interview with Snake. Every Friday you can look forward to a fresh interview with fan mission authors, featuring both the rising stars and the seasoned veterans of our beloved community.

Stay tuned and see you in the next issue of FM Author Spotlight series!