Last week, Paradox Interactive announced that cult classic Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines was finally getting a sequel, more than 15 years after its original release. While I haven’t delved too deeply into the original Bloodlines, I’ve been playing White Wolf’s Vampire games in one form or another since about 1996 (when I was thirteen, and way too young to be playing a game like that).
I’ve run more hours of Vampire (Requiem and Masquerade) than I can count, and I’m excited to see that this ancient intellectual property (aptly) refuses to die. Naturally, I had some strong opinions about what I’d like to see in the upcoming sequel.
Challenging subject matter, handled well
To me, Vampire: The Masquerade, at its best, contains a few specific thematic elements. (I also have ideas on how to create ludonarrative consonance with in-game mechanical elements, which I’ll go into later.)
- Consequential violence. Every death should create problems, quests, and stories for the player.
- The slow slide from humanity to monstrosity, and trying to manage that situation.
- A world similar to ours, but darker, uglier, and more violent because of the presence of the supernatural, particularly vampires.
- Morally compromised protagonists and sympathetic villains.
Vampire: The Masquerade is a game about playing a monster. Vampires are immortal creatures who feed on human blood in order to rise every night. The sun burns them to death. And they are part of an ancient, exploitative society dedicated to hiding their existence from humanity (the titular Masquerade). One of the central conflicts in VTM was trying to balance survival while maintaining your precious Humanity.
Even if you’re a humane and decent vampire who only feeds on people who consent to it, you still have a monstrous Beast inside of you. In VTM, the Beast is a vampire’s ferocious, animalistic id that only wants to feed, kill, or flee. It lingers dangerously close to the surface, and can be provoked by hunger, humiliation, or danger. If a vampire loses control, they enter a frenzy state wherein the Beast takes control and follows its most immediate impulse, which is almost always violent.
If a vampire survives for long enough, they eventually start to run up a body count, some innocent victims, some bastards. And violence means fallout and consequences.
Video games are often built around intense violence. In many games, it’s the primary activity that you’re engaged in. I’m not against that, but I think that a game about personal horror (the original VTM tagline) necessitates an exploration of the impact that violence makes on the world. Some of the best games (Spec Ops: The Line, for example) explore what happens to both the perpetrators and the victims of that violence.
To that end, there should be no disposable cannon fodder enemies in Bloodlines 2. Everyone should have a backstory. Sabbat shovelhead, random thin blood, ghoul, mind-controlled gangbanger, street cop, hired thug, whatever. Everyone is connected to someone. Everyone has a life. That can be conveyed through a wallet, a handbag, an unlocked phone full of text messages, a diary, an apartment full of personal items, or even grieving friends and family you meet.
If Fullbright Games, the makers of Gone Home, can make you feel for people just by showing a bunch of stuff they own, then Hardsuit should be able to break your heart by showing you the shattered remains of the life you just decided to end.
In VTM, every vampire has a Humanity rated from one to ten. A vampire with a ten Humanity is incredibly conscientious, while a vampire with a one Humanity is a barely cogent monster, more animal than man. The original Bloodlines used a similar system, and started you off at Humanity 7, which is a normal human level – you don’t kill or steal, but “sometimes the speed limit is too damn slow” – a funny bit from one of the original Vampire sourcebooks.
Hardsuit can implement a lot of the original low Humanity penalties from Vampire, i.e. you look dead and your weird, sharklike stare freaks mortals out. The devs can show that change via altered dialogue trees and NPC reactions.
But how about this? Once you end up around Humanity 4-6, your character’s reaction to your victims’ in-game items changes. You stop feeling torn up about it. You stop regretting the fact that you killed them.
And when you drop really low (say, 1-3), you stop being able to see any victim content. You can’t look in the wallet. You can’t open the handbag. Your character is just too monstrous to care, so you, the player, can’t see it. They’ll still be able to find plot specific items, but anything beyond that is out of your reach until you regain some Humanity.
In the best VTM games, the mortal, human world matters. Its presence in the game creates a contrast between who you were and who you’ve become. I’d love for you to start the game as a person with a normal life. Friends, family, job, hopes and dreams.
When you’re Embraced (the VTM term for turning someone into a vampire), all of that still exists, but now you’ve got a terminal solar allergy and you can smell your loved ones’ blood when they give you a hug. And god, it smells so good.
When you’re a vampire, your relationship with your loved ones changes. That’s your brother. That’s also food. In Bloodlines 2, I’d love to grapple with a mortal life that still pulls on you – a job you still care about, a family that’s still calling you every week. Now your loved ones are a danger to the Masquerade, and the closer they get to you, the more danger they’re in.
In an interview with VG24/7, Hardsuit devs mentioned that we get to use the character generator twice – once to create a human, and then again later when that human becomes a vampire. But why stop there? Why not create your character’s entire backstory?
A recent iteration of Vampire called Vampire: The Requiem introduced the idea of a Touchstone character. This was a human character that you kept in touch with, who kept you anchored to your fading Humanity. This kept your character close to the human world, and kept a vulnerable mortal in harm’s way of supernatural forces. Naturally, they’re a great source of drama.
It would be great to be able to create this Touchstone character by mixing and matching a set of pregenerated backgrounds, genders, personalities, etc. that would play out in-game. You could choose the nature of your relationship to this person along with different aspects of their background. This set of choices can play out in a single long sidequest that plays out over the course of the game.
If you created a little brother who was involved in a gang, your absence might drive them closer to the gang. Then another vampire takes control of that street gang, and starts using your brother for riskier jobs. What do you do then?
Maybe you keep hanging out and hooking up with your ex, and eventually they start asking why you can’t meet for Sunday afternoon brunch anymore. “It was our thing, after all. Did you meet someone else? You can tell me, you know.”
If you choose to feed on her, do you tell her the truth or sneak it in during hook ups? What if she starts to become addicted to the ecstatic feeling that the vampire’s bite creates in mortals? Eventually, your vampiric enemies get wind of her, and you have to decide whether to protect this mortal you love or pursue your undead goals and aspirations.
Like a spreading bloodstain, being a vampire permeates every aspect of your life. You can’t escape it – you can only try to mitigate the damage.
A bloodthirsty system
Inspired by films like The Godfather, White Wolf created a game world where vampiric existence requires committing smaller sins to avoid committing bigger ones. This is the evil of an undying, eternally hungry, predatory economic system, and the currency is blood.
One of White Wolf’s most brilliant creative moves, way back in the first edition of VTM, was to make vampiric existence morally untenable. Vampiric survival requires blood, and drinking blood requires hurting people over and over again. Starving yourself is not an option because if you get hungry enough, you’ll frenzy and kill someone – the exact outcome you were trying to avoid.
You must feed and hide from the sun to survive. Vampires fall into a deep slumber during the daylight hours, so it’s not like they can just hang out in a subway station until nightfall. There’s never enough of anything – enough territory, enough safety, enough blood. Survival means fighting with other vampires over mortal victims, territory, and safe havens.
Even worse, young vampires have an entire ancient, vicious undead hierarchy (called the Camarilla) above them. Elders demand obedience and dole out power to their favorites. The transition from mortal to fledgling vampire can mean the transition from a life of relative freedom to a life of servitude and obeisance.
You’re going to be playing a thin blood, which means that your immediate antagonists are probably going to be vampire elders. You can’t exactly posit yourself as morally superior – you’re a bloodsucker just like them. But here they are, telling you what to do.
It’s easy to make an unsympathetic vampiric antagonist. He’s fat on the blood of the innocent, reflexively vicious, and unrepentantly cruel to those beneath him. Blade’s been killing vampires like this since 1998. Instead, I’d love to see vampire elders that yes, have their long cons and vicious plans and immoral peccadilloes. But their politicking holds vampire society together, and stops other powerful vampires from tearing each other apart. Maybe you hate this guy. Maybe he threatened your mortal family. But is Seattle really better without him?
As you play through the game, I’d love to see more of the elders’ point of view. Without a steady hand on the tiller, vampiric society can quickly spiral out of control. Too many vampires, not enough blood to go around, and everything explodes. Given that your character is the product of a rebellious mass Embrace, Seattle will probably have a nasty overpopulation problem at the beginning of the game.
You can try to start a vampiric revolution, but upheaval means conflict and conflict requires blood, which means more people get hurt. Are you willing to make the hard calls and lead? Can you live with the consequences?
A lot of games put these calls in during the last few hours, but I’d love to see a few major decision points come early and impact the rest of the game. Bioware was great at creating these sorts of fraught decisions, but lousy at making them matter in-game. Hardsuit is promising that early game decisions will impact you throughout the game. I hope they follow through on that.
People, not power ups
The original VTM tabletop RPG is meant as an exploration of evil, and it goes there. Canonically, the core experience of drinking human blood is a sexual one for vampires, and rarely one that involves obtaining prior consent. You’re usually assaulting the homeless, seducing the unaware, preying on the sleeping, or some combination thereof.
Let that sink in for a minute. If it feels uncomfortable, it should. One of my issues with the original Bloodlines was that feeding on human beings was mostly a mechanical exercise to refill your blood pool. This, to me, is a narrative concession to mechanics that damages the core premise of the Vampire game. When you reduce human beings to the status of power ups, you remove much of the narrative, moral, and emotional heft of VTM.
Blood shouldn’t just be a meter you need to maintain to use your cool powers. It should be central to your character’s existence. When we play Bloodlines 2, we should be constantly thinking about how much blood we have, how hungry our characters are, and how it impacts all of our interactions with the NPCs we meet.
When you’re hungry, perhaps new dialogue options open up and others can’t be selected. Elements of the game change depending on how hungry you are. You hear human heartbeats. Everything looks just a tiny bit red. If you’re dealing with a Touchstone, they start to get freaked out at how you’re looking at them.
It’s a nasty reminder that you aren’t human anymore, as much as you pretend to be. Enemies shouldn’t be cannon fodder, and your victims certainly shouldn’t be either. If you kill someone, there should be in-game consequences, and you should be able to examine a set of items and meet characters related to this person you just killed.
You should also get a repentance quest. Did you kill an art student? Maybe now you can try to find a way to get her paintings a showing at a major gallery in the city. Did you kill someone’s parent? Maybe you can find a way to give their surviving family some money so they can avoid losing their apartment. Vampire is a moral journey, and by creating poignant feeding scenes, Hardsuit can drive that point home.
Not everyone needs to be sexy
I love a sexy vampire as much as you do. It’s part of the canon (both of pop culture vampires in general and VTM in particular), but it would be really great if we could get some unsexy vampires who aren’t Nosferatu (the clan of vampires cursed to look monstrous). One of the horrifying parts of VTM is that anyone can be a vampire, even the people you’d least suspect.
Lady Sexypants Blackcorset languidly arching her back on a chaise longue in a goth club is less scary to me than a vampire parent who moves to the basement of their suburban house, takes on the night shift at the 24 hour grocery store, and feeds on the customers and other staff members in the back. They use their vampiric powers to erase memories and ensure that people don’t ask any uncomfortable questions, but everyone in town is getting paler and sicker.
From the outside perspective, they’re corrupting everything they touch, warping their community to secure their undead existence. From their perspective, she has to stay fed or she’s going to snap and hurt her husband or her kids. And she can’t let them grow up without a mother! But what happens when another vampire comes across this racket she’s running, and wants a piece of the action? Nothing good, I’ll tell you that. That’s my VTM, and it’s the one I want to see in Bloodlines 2.
I’m certain we’ll still get Lady Sexypants Blackcorset (and Biceps McDeadDude – if we get cheesecake we should get beefcake as well). And I welcome them. But I’d also like to see Wanda Jenkins, vampire mom.
On that note, I hope that we get a full custom character generator. Let me make a weird looking, ugly, fat vampire, and I’ll love you forever, Hardsuit Labs.
Easy modding from day 1
The Bloodlines mod community is nothing short of incredible. Thanks to their efforts, you can purchase the original game on Steam today, apply a massive fan-created patch that restores lost content and fixes a ton of bugs, and play the whole thing in widescreen 4K.
That’s even more impressive when you consider that it was originally released back when 1024 x 768 was considered high res. Bloodlines has definitely aged, but, like a millennia-old vampire elder, it looks better than it has any right to.
Bloodlines’ rabid fan community is one of the things that led to a sequel 15 years after its release. That’s why Bloodlines 2 should have easy mod support from day one. Make it easy for people to create their own content and tweak what’s already there.
I know every single player experience these days is an open world romp, but it’s really hard to create a convincing open urban area. Spider-Man pulled it off mostly because you saw the world from above, not at street level. When you let me wander a theoretically open world urban area, all I end up seeing are the borders you’ve thrown up to constrain me.
Smaller areas with a clear tasks, vibrant environments full of personality, and memorable characters will feel more alive than a million impenetrable procedurally generated storefronts and apartment buildings.
What do you want to see in Bloodlines 2? Let us know in the comments!