The Return of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines

The Return of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines

October 9, 2019 63 By William Hollis


(mellow music) – Vampire the Masquerade:
Bloodlines 2 was announced at GDC this year, a game
that either makes you incredibly excited or, more likely, a sequel to a game you
never actually played but sort of remember
because the box art had like a kinky vampire schoolgirl on it. But there’s a reason why
Bloodlines is such a cult classic. A first person role-playing
game with open-world elements, packed full of interesting
characters, created in The Source Engine by a
team of 17 developers who didn’t really get
along with their publishers at the time, Activision. It sold very poorly,
perhaps because of the bugs, or perhaps because it was
released on the same day as, arguably the best first
person shooter ever made. Yeah, I know, literally the same day. But there is a lot to love about Vampire the Masquerade:
Bloodlines, and with the announcement of its
sequel, it’s probably time you got up to speed on this fan favorite. So, we sat down with Brian Mitsoda, the writer of the original game and Christian Schlutter, producer at the games publisher, Paradox Interactive. To find out how this
dark marriage came to be. How a relatively small dev team in Seattle is tackling
an RPG of this scale and why the publishers
in Sweden decided to make a sequel to a 15
year-old vampire game that a lot of us had
kind of forgotten about. (mellow funk music) – I’m Brian Mitsoda,
I’m the narrative lead at Hardsuit Labs. – And I’m Christian Schlutter,
I’m the lead producer on Bloodlines 2 over
at Paradox Interactive. – [Danny] Thanks so much for
coming in, you’re twelve hours I think from announcing the game. How are the heads this morning? – We’ll power through it. (mellow funk music) – So obviously in 2015, Paradox bought The World of Darkness IP, which of course is a big portfolio of IPs. There’s Vampire in there,
there’s Werewolf in there, there’s Mummy in there. Us being a video game company we knew we want to do a Bloodlines
2 at some point. But honestly, at the
beginning, we thought that that’s going to be way down the line. Because we knew that if we do it, we need to do it right. So we expected that to be a bit later and that we would do some
other games before that. Well, but then, these guys come along. – Yeah, the day that they
announced that they had the IP, Ka’ai Cluney, who is the creative director at Hardsuit, he’s a good friend of mine and he just texted me
with the, “What would you think about working on Bloodlines 2?” And I’m like, what? What are you talking about? And then he basically sent the link, the IP had been acquired by Paradox and so, I know we’re kind of texting back and forth ideas about the setting, things we would want to do with the game. We started working on the story and the look and feel and
like a few months later, in February at DICE we
pitched it to Paradox. – [Danny] Right. – Yeah. – [Danny] You pitched a game for the IP that they owned? – Yeah. – [Danny] That they could presumably, or maybe were already making? – Yeah, yeah, it was pretty ballsy. (laughter) – Yeah, if you know how any studios work, it’s probably a death move. (laughter) – You put a lot of time, effort and in turn, also money
into creating a pitch that you can pitch to exactly one partner. And if they already have something, or they’re actually not
looking for something, or they don’t take it,
then you have wasted all of your efforts,
so it was a ballsy move but it paid off. – Yeah, definitely a moon shot. (laughter) – Bloodlines One famously was
just a slog to get through. From when I came on, we
had about a year and a half to go from we barely
have anything to release. It’s debatable whether we
actually finished the game. (laughter) But yeah, it was really
one of those things that was a bunch of young developers really passionate about the
game they were working on and in the young developer
way just killing themselves to get it done, doing whatever they can to just get the game that
they’re all excited about out. It was a little bit different,
the publisher relationship, it was definitely an us vs. them mentality a lot of times
with Troika and Activision. It was one of those things that we all knew it was a special
thing that we were working on. I think it was something
that when we were done, the sad part was that we felt like we’ll never get to do
something like that again. – Nothing, nothing, just
waiting for a friend to get off work, he’s a police officer. Old army buddy, he should
be bringing his dog as well, it’s a Rottweiler, wonderful
attack dogs they are. – I’m originally from Germany, so it was very big at the time, and it was kind of that
RPG that all your friends had their own own opinion about, and where everyone says, okay, you need to get through the bugs and
then it’s an awesome experience. The thing with Bloodlines One is just that it can speak to everyone because the characters that
Brian created at the time just have such a universal appeal to them. – Then I suggest you
order something healthy like the cheese omelet
surprise, inspector. If the cook doesn’t spit in it, surprise! – I think the popularity
in Europe is probably, and the press over there are kind of what made it into a cult hit. Bloodlines One kind of came and went and the sales were not
very good when it released. – [Danny] Famously released
next to another big game. – Yeah, famously next to Half-Life 2 and a bunch of other games
that went on to sell millions. But it was really when the European press started writing about Bloodlines that people started revisiting
it and picking it up and then over time we’ve just seen it… Every time it goes on sale
people start talking about it, and then we have all these new players and it’s just in this perpetual fan base that grows every time. I meet fans that were obviously not playing it when it was released because they’re tiny babs. (laughter) And it’s so weird, but it’s also cool because you don’t really
work on many games where people are coming
up to you 15 years later. (unintelligible muttering) (acoustic guitar music) It is a lot front-loaded
for the narrative side. We kind of have to
define what the story is, what the locations are,
who the characters are, how many characters, how many
quests are we looking at? So the production can
help coordinate all that with the other departments,
and then we have to go in the main story first,
and we did a lot of iteration in the pre-production part of things. And the first thing that was hooked up was the story, the main story path, and then we were fleshing
out things around that. We then made a proof-of-concept. One of the things that the
proof-of-concept had to do was go, is this a Bloodlines game? Is it like, did we nail the look and feel? Our production staff is just on point. They are amazing, they kind
of make us more efficient by being great at organizing everything, and making sure that the
departments talk to each other. You really can’t make a lot of mistakes when you’ve got this small of a crew and you’re doing a game this big. You have to get things right as much as you can the first time. – [Christian] You guys are over 50 people? – [Brian] Mm hm. – [Christian] Right
now, working on the game so of course there’s lots of
departments working on it, there’s lots of intertwining disciplines that need to work with each other so producing and
organizing the whole thing becomes much much more important. – You kind of lose
efficiency when you start going over a certain size, you have communication breakdown, and then you just lose a lot of time to
that, so actually I think keeping it on the smaller size kind of allows us to have a lot more open communication about stuff, and the leads knowing what
everyone else is doing, and talking about it, and running over and grabbing people that they need. For me, I actually like that a lot more. It’s a little bit more
efficient, more hands-on. I think one thing that it had going for it and still does, is that it’s an RPG set in contemporary times,
so it was a mature game and not just playing up the violence, but actually dealing
with some other themes that were bigger than the classic dwarves and elves hate each other, which was almost every game at that time. So that’s something
that, we still don’t have a lot of RPGs that deal with these themes and are set in modern times and there aren’t many games that let you… Generally when you’re playing
an RPG, you’re the hero. In Bloodlines you’re the monster. And I think that’s one
of those things that, especially being a Vampire game, people can imagine themselves as any type of monster, and
Vampire lets them do that. And I think that’s part
of the widespread appeal.