If you're a fan of the Thief games, read on. I've discussed this briefly in the Thief 4 thread, but this deserves its own.
The Thief fan community is amazing. There are literally hundreds of professional-level fan missions for T1 and T2. And there's even an (unofficial) expansion to T2 called Thief 2X: Shadows of the Metal Age, complete with a new protagonist and coherent storyline. You need Thief 2 to be installed for it to run, but the game itself is free to download. It's buggy as hell, but worth a playthrough for diehards.
The Dark Mod (TDM) is the most recent evolution of the fan community, and it's quite incredible an achievement. And the best part is, it's all free to download, and you need nothing else on your system to run it.
It uses the Doom 3 engine to great affect. While the visuals aren't going to quite be on par with current-gen systems, it's still a visually appealing engine, and it's light years beyond T1 and T2 (and more varied than T3 in stylistic options). The engine is also light years beyond those games with scaling, vaulting, jumping, etc. which makes exploration more of a joy than ever.
The levels vary wildly, and allow for a lot of creativity. The best levels are every bit as good as any professional game, and I'd recommend this in a heartbeat to anyone jaded by the recent Thief release (it was visually stunning, but very subpar in gameplay by franchise standards).
The download comes packaged with a tutorial mission and "The Tears of St. Lucia" which was created by a team of experienced fan mission (FM) creators. Other levels can be downloaded through the main menu. There are, as I write this, ~70 fan missions. And while the fractured nature of FMs means that there is no overarching story, many creators will make a series of missions (the longest I've seen is 6) that have interlocking stories and the same protagonists and villains.
Adventurous gamers can also try their hand at level creation, with the Dark Radiant editor program (also free to download). I've dabbled with it briefly. I doubt I have the time to make full-scale missions, but it's intuitive enough that anyone with some computer savvy can quickly pick up the basics. Programming experience helps, but isn't necessary, and there are a lot of beginner-friendly tutorials in TDM Wiki and helpful folks in the forums.
If anyone gets into it, give me a shout. Having dug around and talked to some of the regulars in the community, I can point you toward some of the better levels. It doesn't require a huge investment of time, since you can play a single level and not be tethered to others. So I'd recommend it to anyone interested in stealth gameplay or the Thief series. Beats the hell out of Thief 4, and it's free to boot.
It's definitely one of the strengths, yeah. And in this instance, there's a (strong) case to be made that, collectively, TDM is the best Thief game in existence. It's graphically on par with 3, is a much more smooth experience than 1 and 2, retains the "feel" of the earliest (and most beloved) games, and T4 was kinda meh with gameplay.
The lone drawbacks are lack of a complete story arc and voice acting. While a few incorporate some inventive and talented voice work, Stephen Russell became iconic as the voice of Garrett for a reason. And TDM is decent with voice work in general, but the unofficial T2 expansion (T2X) had some truly cringe-worthy voice acting, and many TDM levels are comparatively silent.
I'm slowly - slowly - trying to get through the primary tutorial to make a working map in the editor. Not a full mission, mind you, but a map. Level design is interesting, to say the least. You end up thinking about things that you never expected, even as a gamer. I'm a complete noob, so there's definitely a learning curve.
A lot of AI behavior is scripted by the editor as a default. So I'm not building it from scratch, no. I can set paths for AI entities, set their "team," which dictates how they'll respond to me (hostile, neutral, etc.). Having just dipped my toe into this, I'm sure there's a TON I'm not aware of that I can tweak manually. I know, for example, that sensitivity to sounds and sights can be adjusted manually, but you don't need to know how to do that for the AI to function. But a lot of the backend work seems done already...which is fine. It's both way easier and creates a continuity between fan missions.
In fairness, that's the opening sequence of the game, but it wouldn't fare much better against the opening level of T2, and that's far from T2's most intricate level. "Multiple options" is a lie when a couple choices only mask linear gameplay. The best Thief levels are playgrounds. The worst - and they do exist even in the classic games - are the most linear and restrictive.
Now, everyone go play The Dark Mod. It's incredible.
Well, first off, thanks. I am actually working on a mission, but it's not nearly as ambitious as most of the stuff others are working on. It's basically to cut my teeth on the editor and figure out how to make a working level. There are basic graphical tricks I'm still ignorant of, and I'm modeling a lot of the level off of tutorial materials that people have created to help you learn the editor.
So I appreciate the interest, and I'll let you know (it's maybe a couple months out? I can't really be sure), but if you really want to experience TDM, my mission won't be the best for it.
My first fan mission for The Dark Mod is now available for download. The link is below, but the easiest way to install and play it is via the in-game downloader. Just install and run the game, then browse through the list of missions. Install, play, and enjoy.
The mission is called "Poets & Peasants." It's a small, straightforward thieving mission set in an upper-class neighborhood. Reviews so far have been generally favorable.
I have too many ongoing projects - both personal and professional - to tackle a large-scale mission at this point. So, for the time being, this is the end of my mission-building exploits in TDM. But I hope to be able to return to it and try some more ambitious projects in the future.