The cover of issue 379 of PC Gamer, featuring the game Space Marine 2.

(Picture credit score: Future)

This text first appeared in PC Gamer journal challenge 379 in January 2023, as a part of our DNA Tracing collection, where each month we delve into the lineages behind iconic video games and studios.  

The time period ‘wanting glass’ readily brings to thoughts warped fantasy worlds: Alice in Wonderland, twisted smiles and a way of not fairly figuring out what you are stepping into. As an organization splash display screen, it felt a becoming intro to Thief—with its Tweedledum guards and servants of the Trickster, minions of chaos and nature who communicated in a sort of rhyming babyspeak (“Name the darkish! Name the black! Bringsie forth I name it again!”). Thief’s first stage definitely takes you down a rabbit gap of kinds: first into the sewers, to floor throughout the grounds of a manor, then down a properly, to lastly emerge among the many rat poison and beer barrels of Lord Bafford’s basement. 

But check out the emblem of Trying Glass Studios from the time, and you will see a telescopic eyeglass—the identical unusual steampunk system fitted into the fitting socket of Thief protagonist Garrett, after his personal orb was plucked out in some primordial Trickster ritual. And that exact ‘wanting glass’ happened due to cutscene author Terri Brosius. 

“I am taking a threat right here,” she recalled considering, in dialog with MIT’s GAMBIT Game Lab in 2012. “I am writing about any individual taking a watch out whereas chanting some verse. Now I’ve to attend for 3 days earlier than I get to listen to again whether or not I am fired.” 

Terri, together with Eric Brosius and Greg LoPiccolo, had come to Trying Glass simply as their musical careers had begun to falter. The trio had performed in a preferred Boston band, the Pixies-esque Tribe. However, discovering that their attraction did not prolong far exterior the New England space, they steadily migrated to Trying Glass – Terri contributing bizarre fiction and changing into the voice of the AI antagonist Shodan in System Shock, whereas Eric and LoPiccolo wrote soundtracks and helped form the studio’s minimalist strategy to sound design. A lot of Thief’s atmosphere was made up of four-second, looping drones—single held notes slightly than a dramatic musical rating.

“Much less is extra,” Eric Brosius informed GAMBIT. “I discovered that it virtually hypnotised you and sucked you into what you had been doing, and made you very conscious of stuff round you, due to the simplicity of what you had been listening to. We had been keenly conscious that this is able to be the primary stealth game that might actually depend on audio cues.” 

By the top of Thief’s growth, LoPiccolo had risen to the position of undertaking lead— appropriately, since Thief centred sound as a mechanic in a approach few first-person video games have managed, earlier than or since. Gamers needed to hear for mumbling or whistling to find out the location of close by guards—and take care to keep away from marble flooring where doable, for concern of alerting these guards in flip. After launch, Thief followers would playfully rib Trying Glass for Garrett’s ‘faucet footwear’, so noisy had been his footsteps. 

(Picture credit score: Sq. Enix)

A few of Thief’s earliest design ideas, nonetheless, got here from Ken Levine. The longer term BioShock designer’s first video games business job was at Trying Glass, where he labored alongside Doug Church to invent worlds for the corporate’s subsequent motion RPG. His rejected concepts included College for Wizards, Darkish Elves Should Die and Higher Pink Than Undead – the latter a Nineteen Fifties pulp story a few CIA agent preventing communists in Russia throughout a zombie outbreak. The seeds for Thief, nonetheless, got here from Darkish Camelot—a retelling of Arthurian legend in which you’d play a black-skinned Mordred, and by which King Arthur can be a villainous nobleman responsible of racial prejudice (a theme Levine would in the end return to in BioShock Infinite).

Whereas the swordfighting and medieval fantasy transferred to Thief, virtually every part else modified as studio founder Paul Neurath landed on the theme of housebreaking. “Trying Glass audio was thus far forward of every part else,” Levine informed GAMBIT. “It was such a robust device, and we actually needed to take advantage of that.” 

On the time, there was no such factor because the stealth style—by unusual coincidence, Thief and Steel Gear Strong would launch virtually on high of one another. And so Levine drew inspiration from submarine video games like Silent Hunter—particularly “how highly effective you had been whenever you had been unseen, and the way weak you had been whenever you had been noticed.” 

(Picture credit score: Trying Glass Studios)

“I began writing paperwork about thermocline layers,” Levine remembered. “Submarines will undergo these as a result of they type a barrier to sonar. I began enthusiastic about how we may construct a terrain that is based mostly upon sound.” Both Church or lead programmer Tom Leonard got here up with the thought of utilizing lightmaps within the stage to point how hidden the participant was, including a visible dimension to Levine’s premise. 

Quickly afterwards Levine left the corporate, alongside Jon Chey and Rob Fermier, to arrange Irrational Video games. However they did not go far: Trying Glass incubated the brand new studio all through its first undertaking, System Shock 2—offering tech help on the Thief engine, and naturally, sound design. That signature eerie drone is current on the Von Braun, an area station populated by lifeless our bodies and audio logs.

(Picture credit score: Sq. Enix)

The absence of residing NPCs was a design principle Trying Glass had selected years prior – having made two RPGs within the Ultima universe and grown uninterested in the restrictions of textual content conversations. The lifeless, they figured, would draw much less consideration to the boundaries of their in any other case cleverly simulated worlds. Thief’s drunken guards had been an extension of the identical concept—although alive, chatting with them was out of the query. Your job was to remain out of their approach. It is this fictional coherence that makes Trying Glass video games so beloved to today. 

System Shock 2 would show to be a passing of the torch: Trying Glass went out of enterprise the 12 months after its launch, leaving Irrational to revive the method with BioShock. The Austin workplace that Trying Glass had closed after the Thief workforce turned the Deus Ex workforce. And the previous members of Tribe went on to steer growth of Guitar Hero at Harmonix, bringing the Boston music scene to a world viewers in any case. Trying Glass could also be lengthy lifeless, however as System Shock as soon as proved, there’s a lot the lifeless can nonetheless train us.