Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

Maybe somebody is going to get it right this time (though I’m still holding out for a Camarilla KOEI-style strategy game for us Methuselahs out there). Full article at Gamespot.

“Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines blends the best parts of an RPG and a first-person action game, allowing players to explore a sophisticated character development system in an open, nonlinear realm while experiencing intense action sequences,” said Larry Goldberg, executive vice president of Activision Worldwide Studios. “We are going to take full advantage of Valve’s Source technology to send you deep into a dark and intriguing vampire underworld filled with haunting images.”

I hope he knows what open and non-linear mean because he’s really got my hopes up. At least they’re saying you can make your own character from a choice of clans this time around.

I have a very hard time seeing how the most of the clan weaknesses or some of the disciplines, like Dementation, are going to work in a computer game setting. And the more clans they bring in from outside the original 7 of the Masquerade the more disciplines there are that will be troublesome.

I enjoyed Redemption quite a bit. That is all.

The first one was all right, but it was very limited and gropu AI was completely shot, even with the latest patches.

I would also look forward to a second one, but I won’t get my hopes up as Vampire is a very hard system to put into a CRPG because it’s so open in a table top game.

Here’s [most of] the press release:



Valve’s Source™ Technology to Power Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

Santa Monica, CA - May 6, 2003 - Activision, Inc. (Nasdaq: ATVI) will plunge players into the dark and gritty vampire underworld of modern Los Angeles with the announcement of Vampire®: The Masquerade - Bloodlines ™ for the PC. Seamlessly combining role playing with intense first-person action combat, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines allows players to become a dangerous creature of the night as they assume the role of a recently embraced fledgling vampire in the service of the city’s dark prince. Vampire: The Masquerade- Bloodlines is being developed by Troika Games, whose founding members’ credits include the award-winning Fallout, and is based on White Wolf’s renowned pen-and-paper Vampire: The Masquerade RPG series. Built using Valve’s Source™ Technology - the same game technology used to power Half-Life 2®, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines has not yet been rated by the ESRB and is expected to ship in 2004.

“Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines blends the best parts of an RPG and a first person action game, allowing players to explore a sophisticated character development system in an open non-linear realm while experiencing intense action sequences,” states Larry Goldberg, executive vice president, Activision Worldwide Studios. “We are going to take full advantage of Valve’s Source Technology to send you deep into a dark and intriguing Vampire underworld filled with haunting images.”

“With Vampire, Troika is proving Source can reach beyond the world of FPS games,” said Gabe Newell, managing director and co-founder of Valve. “The character system, rendering abilities, and contextual AI features of Source combined with the veteran RPG design talent at Troika is a great representation of the innovation we hope to enable with this technology.”

“We are very excited to have Activision and Troika producing Vampire: The Masquerade–Bloodlines,” said Chris McDonough of White Wolf Games. “They are among the elite few companies capable of taking our property into the world of first person action gaming while still maintaining the story, setting, characters and role-playing aspects of the game.”

Players begin their journey into darkness by choosing to play as any of seven different vampire clans. Each clan in the game offers a distinctive set of skills, traits and abilities including: supernatural speed, stealth, invisibility, mind control, inhuman strength, combat, and stamina, each of which will be further refined as players progress through the game. Players will earn and apply experience points to increase their powers and skills, allowing them to create their ultimate creature of the night, from stealthy hunter to seductive charmer to a feral, brutal killing machine.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines’ combat will be instantly familiar to players of first-person action games. In addition to vampire skills and powers, gamers will be able to call upon a devastating arsenal of weapons including stake guns, shotguns, flamethrowers, submachine guns and sniper rifles, to name a few. Once players arm themselves to the teeth they will be ready to tackle the host of human vampire hunters, ghouls, werewolves, and enemy vampires that inhabit the City of Angels after nightfall.


This is one of those press releases that gives me pause.

Yes, Troika has done good stuff in the RPG realm, but there are real design challenges here that don’t sound like they’ve been addressed yet.

The press release dodges and skirts like a pro, but having seen a company fail to do this once before, what is it that Troika feels they’re going to get “right” this time?

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines blends the best parts of an RPG and a first person action game, allowing players to explore a sophisticated character development system in an open non-linear realm while experiencing intense action sequences.

When I hear people claiming that they’re going to do something groundbreaking with absolutely no hint of how they’re going to do it my BS meter goes off the scale.

It’s doing it now.

Your Power Pill

I would love to see how they pull this off.

I played some PnP games of VTM and I have to say that the combat system in White Wolf’s games are dangerous and complicated. Depending on the power of your vampire, a sniper shot in the head can kill you in an instant or you will just simply scratch the back of your head wondering what the hell happened. Each shot at a different limb has different results, movement and ‘aiming’ determines how accurate the shots are, and using different bullets or modes (e.g. 3 burst) also influence the accuracy.

Most of the disciplines are simply insane and powerful, like one discipline where you can attract all the animals within a 300 mile radius. There is a lot of wierd factors in the PnP that I would love to see anyone try to pull off in a computer game.

Then there is the rituals that can grant things like the ability to walk into sunlight for a year. Eek…

Now I really want to see the end result of this.

Such as? Isn’t Arcanum the only game they have done, and it got mixed reviews (i thought it was decent, but combat was terrible). You could say they have Fallout, but that didn’t really show in Arcanum. I mean, I am glad that they got someone who actually does RPGs, but until Temple of Elemental Evil comes out, I don’t think it’s fair to say they have done good stuff yet.

I also agree that Vampire is incredibly hard to reproduce as a CRPG. The point of that game was the intrigue and politiking. I played through one campaign without a single combat (I was Ventrue, so I dominated and Presenced my way through it). could that even be fun in a CRPG? Personally, I think Werewolf would work much better for this, since that game seems more combat focused.

In either case, you would have to change a lot of the rules. As Angie noted, the disciplines don’t match up in CRPG terms. Maybe they could use the versions from the LARP version…keep the rules from the PnP (since rock/paper/scissor is stupid), but use the basic types from the other, since that was made to be played in an action-based style.

I would love to see this game pulled off properly, but I just don’t think it translates well. Ars Magika would be another one that would be incredible to play, but almost impossible to properly make.

What really bugs me is the clan weaknesses. Disciplines you can fudge around a bit to make more combat oriented, or flat out switch out powers that can’t be made to work. But what are they doing to do for the Ventrue weakness, have a drop down list of different types of people to drink from? How are the Malkavians going to be insane, other than the player deciding to follow the rules? Toreadors aren’t all entranced by the same type of artwork, and how much would it suck to have to sit there looking at the same damn painting for 4 hours because no one breaks your vision from it?

But the weaknesses, to me, make the clans interesting. Without them they’re meaningless.

If they’re attempting what I think they’re attempting, which is moving their 3rd person design model into 1st person, then I wish them luck. I just wonder if it’s going to work.

I guess Vampire: Morrowind is what we’re heading toward here.

Well, there are work arounds for some of this. Maybe instead of a Toreador getting ‘stuck’ watching a painting you simply loose track of time? There could be a flash forward and suddenly you really need to find a place to crash before the sun comes up in a big hurry or realize you missed a meeting or are much lower on blood that you thought (poachers or unconscious use of Disciplines)?

But Malkies are something else. They’d be much better NPCs than PCs in this kind of format. Crazy works much better as a spectator sport in an FPS engine. And even if there was a way to model it (other than extra chance for frenzy or something weak like that) you still couldn’t model the Malkavian Madness Network or make coherent the idea that many Malkavians don’t even believe that Malkavians exist.

And that’s the point. There are workarounds for everything, given enought time and money.

But why spend the time trying to code every solution over making a few that work really, really well? Best case is that most customers only get to see 1/7 of the work that you put in…

To their credit, Bioware seems to have tackled these issues head on, and solved them through sheer tenacity and content, a method that is antithetical to the kind of self-generating complexity systems that tend to attract me.

Your Power Pill

Not really. In NWN, the 3rd edition rules are really botched. Most of the spells that could’ve easily be put in the were left out (e.g. Earthquake and Inflict Wounds spells). The AoO isn’t proper, and parry is a completly useless skill (they could’ve easily put things defensive mode, etc). Some important skills they took out like intimidation, bluff, or disguise mess up how skill points are placed. Use Magic Device on Rogues is horribly wrong, making them insanely powerful characteres later on when they can cast the same spells as a wizard or sorcerer. They replaced BullRush/Trip with knockdown, which doesn’t even work properly. Discipline skill doesn’t make sense at all and completly unbalances the game towards any class with Discipline (a level 20 sorcerer can be tripped by a level 10 fighter) and pickpocket allows Rogues to steal big giant bastard swords from a fighter’s backpack, which is pretty much considered impossible to do in 3rd edition.

Icewind Dale 2 does a much better job at using the 3rd edition rules, but its too bad IWD2 is pretty mediocre because its the same thing with the same boring storyline years ago.


The reason you do it, Andrew, is because players may want to create characters based on the game-system the title is themed after. What’s so hard about a fade-to-black and stat adjustment for a spaced out Toreador or auras suggesting kine edibility, or not, to a Ventrue predator?

Much more challenging will be a real open-ended, non-linear, setting. I’m taking a leap of faith believing these guys are really going to put that into motion, being jaded as I am by marketing phrases of convenience, but if they are it will require some interesting dynamic and reactive systems. If you bite somebody and are witnessed are the cops called? Is there a vampire in charge of protecting the Masquerade? Will he or someone else cover up you crime, kill you, or both? Are there hunters that might get wind of things? Will prestation and status be modelled? What about blood bonds or ghouls? Are you stuck as an anarch or a neonate pawn or can you gain power and come to own assets or followers? Are political and personal interactions between NPCs fixed and scripted or are they dynamic and reactive based on changing events and player behavior? Can you discover things about NPCs and manipulate them or is every problem solved with a shotgun and napalm shells?

It’s much more likely this will be a branching linear, scripted, game which lets you wander around a little like an (overrated) Deus Ex than a real open-ended (underrated) Daggerfall experience.

BTW, I thought of a way to include Malkies as a player character class. Don’t include them as PCs in the main game. Hire the guy that did Bad Milk to work with a couple modders on seperate mini-game with art, rules and something of a story (as related by the voices in his head) of a Malkie in the city. Otherwise I don’t know how you could do it justice.

EDIT: Maybe what would be fun, if there’s time, would be to include all sorts of bloopers, easter eggs and designer commentary in a Malkavian role. After all, they already know it’s all a silly illusion.

Leonard Boyarsky interview at IGN

Thanks Mr. Lemon! :) Wow. Well. Okay, I’m keeping my hopes up. These guys seem to know what drives the setting (plotting and power aka The Jyhad) and the also seem committed to letting players do their own thing. Very cool. I’m curious to see how they’re gonna do it myself.

Sure, every feature is easy when it’s taken by itself. But every added attribute has systemic repercussions that you’re going to have to live with every time you want to modify or improve something in the base gameplay.

A project always begins with a nice big fat wish-list titled: “Everything we’re going to do.” Then the designer and the producer hack away at that list every time the lead programmer says “if we have to put in Obfuscation we’re going to miss the milestone”.

Your Power Pill

I’m a pretty skeptical fellow myself but I’m inclined to cut a break when I see developers saying things that make sense. A problem with the original Vampire: Redemption was that the gameplay was completely oblivious to those qualities that made the roleplaying game what it was. Essentially it was a linear hack-n-slash game that could have been about anything with a relatively nice backdrop.

Troika seems to be saying that they understand the importance of free-will, not only in CRPGs in general, but Vampire in particular. A character is bound by all sorts of social constraints and driven by unnatural, inhuman, lusts and fears. Navigating the minefields of vampiric nature and Kindred politics offers the, often enthralled or bloodbound, neonate precious little room for pursuing his own goals. However pursing his own base of power is the only way for a neonate to survive in the long run lest he become expendible. How a character builds his network and who he aids or alienates, including his own sire, will define that character even more surely than any collection of stats on a page.

The sorts of early adventures you might see in a supplement like Chicago tend to center around packs of young vampires, the player characters, trying to make sense of their new condition even as they carry out errands for elders. What’s around them is a confounding and complex maze of relationships between, often ancient, individuals of different clans with different agendas - all of whom see the neonates as potential rivals or cannonfodder. Kindred law only protects neonates against overt acts, the protection of their sires is a far surer guarantee than that of a fickle Prince. Even so it’s not an cushy unlife. Still, surviving long enough to make allies, or more importantly accrue prestation debts (favors - incredibly important in immortal vampiric culture - it’s how ‘score’ is kept in the Jyhad), ensures a character of a chance to continue not breathing and, just maybe, purse other agendas of his own.

If Troika gets this, and it seems to, then gameplay, not just storyline, around politics and positioning will bring Vampire to life. Essentially young Kindred are at the beck and call of elders which is an easy way to assign missions and taking on missions of factions or individuals you think might help you out could build favor with them (and collect prestation debts which could be traded in for all manner of things including cash, items or training). Playing style and character Clan will also suggest different allies either to offest weaknesses or for reasons of compatibility.

They may have to gloss over certain aspects of ‘background’ as they’d be hard to impliment and some Clans might not be very suitable as player characters. Lastly, maybe most importantly, Arcanum didn’t exactly convince me that Troika understands how dynamic or open-ended systems really work but it did display a love of setting and theme which would serve a Vampire game well.

I dunno, Andrew, I’m a skeptical guy but I think I’m going to cut them some slack for now since I’ve got absolutely no firm reason to think they won’t deliver on what they’re talking about. I just hope what I’m reading and what they’re saying are the same things. I’ve played thoughtful and complex games before and it might not be too much to hope that will happen here as well.

I’d love to see a Thief-like actiony Vampire RPG–action in the sneaking around and nabbing prey sense, not in the Diablo-like monster hunt sense. One with a dynamic city environment.

I enjoyed Nihilistic’s Vampire game, but I agree that it bore little resemblence to the source material.

Trailer at IGN