Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 Interview — Developers Talk Immersive Sims, Seattle, and More
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 was announced last week, and DualShockers was able to learn more about it from several developers.
During GDC 2019 I was given the opportunity to speak with some developers at Hardsuit Labs as well as publisher Paradox Interactive about the upcoming Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2, which was a big surprise for myself as I hadn’t been following the developments of the Tender ARG that was ongoing at the time. Following a hands-off demo I had some time to talk to the following developers about their new game:
- Rachel Leiker, UI/UX Lead at Hardsuit Labs
- Nikhat Ali, Producer at Paradox
- Florian Schwarzer, Senior Product Manager at Paradox
- Luke Dodge, Art Director at Hardsuit Labs
- Martin Ka’ai Cluney, Creative Director at Hardsuit Labs
Steven: This is a big surprise, I never imagined we would get another Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. Is Hardsuit Labs a new studio created for this?
Martin Cluney: Hardsuit was not created to create this project specifically but Hardsuit was created to make games like this. Our two owners worked together quite a lot at a previous studio [Zombie Studios] and some of us worked there too. It was very much ‘let’s quit fucking around, let’s put something together that can actually make a dent.’ We’ve been building this team pretty steadily and pretty deliberately just to do things like this. As soon as the opportunity came up, we just dove on it. Mauled it to death.
S: How many are working at the studio right now?
MC: 80-something I think?
Rachel Leiker: 82 right now.
Florian Schwarzer: I don’t think it can be overstated how much of a chance these guys took. You basically started as soon as you heard we had acquired World of Darkness. We had not actually asked for submissions, we had not asked for pitches. It is very rare that an independent studio takes a risk going to a publisher with a pitch that hasn’t been requested that can only be pitched to one publisher.
I was number four on Paradox’s side that got to see it and I went into that first meeting with these guys and gals kind of going, very possibly I’m watching the funeral of a studio just because of the level of investment that is necessary to get to that point. One hour later I message up our chief business developer who had organized all this to say I want to work with these people, I love their ideas for this game, and here are fifteen different things we need to make sure happen during pre-production. It was very much a vague jump that we just went, yeah that works.
SS: Who owns the rights to Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines as a series?
FS: [Vampire: The Masquerade] was purchased by Paradox Interactive from CCP in 2015. Activision published the first one, they continue to publish [the original] Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines but we own Vampire: The Masquerade the IP.
SS: You mentioned Cara Ellison is involved as a writer, did you approach her? How did that come about?
MC: Brian can probably help you out with more of the specifics but we did approach her. Brian’s always really liked her work but mainly we wanted her to handle what we call the “U7”. The unsanctioned vampires that were created at the beginning of the game. We felt like her tone matches really well with the plight of vampires who are completely out on their own. They’re, ironically, very human stories, and that matched up with her style really well.
SS: Immersive sim RPGs haven’t done very well in the past few years so why make another entry in that genre?
MC: It was wanting to move things back towards that RPG and storytelling side. Those types of games, immersive sims, action RPGs, and things that give a lot of player agency and choice are awesome. I also wanted to push it, along with Brian, mainly Brian, I should say Brian wanted to push it [laughs] more into the RPG space. There’s been kind of a dearth of really good games that aren’t ashamed to call themselves RPGs. You have a lot of RPG elements in those games. Brian wants to make RPGs, I want to make RPGs, Hardsuit wants to make RPGs. I can’t say what we will be doing ten years in the future but that is what we wanted to move towards.
SS: What would you say to those who believe that the removal of applied points with different types of skill is a sort of dumbing down of gameplay?
MC: We’re taking the specialization of pistol v rifle v shotgun v knife and we’re pulling that back into the player. It all goes into that vampire power fantasy. Whatever kind of vampire you want to be you can specialize that kind of way. We’re not going into detail on what kind of clans you can be from the very start but it is about what kind of player are you and can you build towards that. Rather than specialize in equipment and gear and loot, its very much a customization and personalization of the player and how they affect the world.
FS: That particular charge, for anyone looking at the attribute skill and progression system, there are a lot of options, especially active options. You get to outfit yourself with lots of toys. I sat down and tried to figure out how many viable build combinations there were, I gave up when the number didn’t fit into my brain anymore.
SS: Do you have plans to announce the full voice cast?
MC: I think there’s no plan to announce the cast this Thursday, but I know there are a few people who are going to put two and two together on a few things. It’s something we’ll want to get into later but I can’t say enough that our cast is so fucking badass. [laughs]
SS: Will there be a day/night cycle or will events trigger moving time forward?
MC: In terms of day/night cycle we didn’t want to get into it. We didn’t feel there was enough benefit to support it, you’re always there at night you can’t do anything during the day. Effectively it’s always 1:30 in the morning. Everyone is in bed, bars are open, it’s too late for anyone to really do much. We do have ways to push you through the story, you can go to sleep like Dale [an in-game character] was telling you. Sometimes things will happen while you’re sleeping. Other times you’ll need to sleep, vampires need rest to, just to recover. There is no day/night cycle but we are very much pushing you through time even if we are not always pushing you through the story.
FS: In terms of the explorative or more free form gameplay that you saw in the hub. If you want to do that you can do it whenever you like in any of the hub spaces. We also talked about this early in development, where Bloodlines came from an older tradition of video games put this up very sequentially you went from one area of LA to the next. This time around you will be able to travel through Seattle from a much earlier point and will be able to make your choice about where in the city you want to spend more of your time to a certain extent.
SS: Does that mean there are different hubs or is it more one center hub?
MC: There is definitely more than one hub. It is definitely more free form than the original, we don’t go from hub to hub to hub to do the sequences. They are all available from the beginning. We are also blurring the lines between what happens in hubs and what happens in bespoke a little bit. It’s fifteen years later, we can do a lot more things in different spaces. It blurs the lines but there is very much, this is the hub, this is where you go do the stuff.
SS: Is there any continuity with the original?
MC: It takes place 15 years later, it is in the same world, it is in a different city. The events of LA did happen.
FS: One of the nice things to me about honestly all World of Darkness is that it is in many ways so incredibly local. The character of the place, if you catch that and I think Brian’s doing an excellent job there as he did in Bloodlines, that it informs so much of what is going on. There are connections but one of the big things about that is that Seattle has to stand on its own, Seattle cannot be LA’s suburb so to speak.
SS: Will there be the usual assortment of logs to flesh out the world?
MC: There definitely is and that comes down, we do have the typical things like logs. A lot of it also is environmental storytelling.
FS: That is something you guys brought up and excited everyone on our side is the fact of matters that you have a whole society of people that see and hear and smell things that the rest of the mortal world doesn’t. So environmental storytelling and showing that hidden society that is overlaid over what is happening normally becomes a very different and very interesting thing to me.
SS: What is something in terms of themes that you want players to take away?
MC: There’s layers to it. In terms of themes its fifteen years after the first one the world is a different place and Seattle is a different place. As far as the themes we wanted everything to feel uniquely Seattle just because it adds more depth to the world if the themes are reinforced in the world itself. Seattle has been having this struggle over the last few years, last decade, between what the tradition of the city is and its roots versus whats been coming in lately with tech and money and everything else. Both sides very much are pushing against each other. Right at this point right now they’re not coexisting.
Then if you look back over history, Seattle is very much a boom and bust town, this isn’t the first time its happened. That’s what the themes of the story are rooted in, there’s a lot to tie into there, even down to the personal level. At its core it is a very personal game. There is one district and the player is thrown into this world and is not entirely sure what is going on. The player is learning at the same time the character is learning as this mystery unfolds. It touches the whole city and all of that stuff but it still comes down to a very personal conflict. The character figuring out where they are at and how they can not only survive but thrive.
FS: Is it fair to also call out the noir part of it. The very classical thing of in an amoral world will you try for something better? To me at least that is something that has been very strong from the very beginning. What will that mean, what compromise do you have to make?
MC: It does come down to there not always being a good call. We are very much putting you between a rock and many hard places. And that does speak to that very noir stranger in a strange land field. It is something that is really being sold in the world.
SS: Have you gone on the underground tours of Seattle and how is it?
Luke Dodge: It was not as cool as our version [laughs] I enjoyed it because I like history and it is a fun glimpse into the way things were. You learn a lot of things you didn’t know about the city. It is also very touristy frankly.
MC: A lot of it is closed off. So the stuff you can go into is here’s a tunnel, here’s a basement, those are some shoes.
Nikhat Ali: Thematically it really fits well with vampires, you’re walking under this cool, darkly lit dungeon-place.
LD: Our version is quite a bit more extensive and dangerous.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 will release for PC, PS4, and Xbox One in Q1 2020. You can expect a full preview of the game from DualShockers later this week.