VTM: Bloodlines 2 – Dev Diary, Commentary, and Factions
Hoo boy, the news has been piling up fast for Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines 2 — and we’re gonna try to cover it all in one fell swoop post! So first things first, creative director Ka’ai Cluney of developer Hardsuit Labs got a chance to give some commentary over the E3 demo. This is the same pre-alpha demo we’ve been seeing since June, but having some of our questions answered in tandem with the footage is nice to see (especially over top of some gameplay that isn’t being played by an exhausted E3 representative). Some of it we’ve already heard about (like the Mass Embrace, where you were turned into a kindred), and some of it we haven’t (providing more context about Alief, the woman who gives you the quest at the start of the demo). Give it a little of the ol’ look-see:
Next up, another Dev Diary has been released — this time about writing the game. Senior Narrative Designer Cara Ellison sheds some light on the story of Bloodlines 2, and what to expect from it. I greatly appreciate the descriptors in regards to how to ‘fuck’ with others in the game:
1. You are locked in the game with them
What is compelling about the original Bloodlines is that it is very interested in power relations encroaching on your ‘territory’ in a way that most RPGs are not. Most RPGs try to present you with systems that soup you up like a tanked-up space marine and expel you out into space to explode things and mess with civilizations and make your spaceship very shiny. Like a kind of settler model.
Bloodlines 1 and 2 are games that are much more interested in how its NPCs might fuck with you than how you might fuck with them. It is claustrophobic. As Watchmen’s Rorschach might say, you are locked in the game with them. You start the game already a political pawn in other people’s chess. Vampire relations in Santa Monica in Bloodlines 1, for example, were already a tense and volatile political mess before you started the game.
In Bloodlines 1 as well as in Bloodlines 2, every vampire you encounter in the game has been a vampire for longer than you. You are in their realm. You are not the hero of the tale, and neither are they. You are merely trying to make a mark on a world that got fucked up without you. And for characters that are weaker than you – mortals, for example – you have the ability to rope them into your nightmare, but what is certain is that there will be very little good outcome for anyone involved with a monster. Try to be ‘nice’, and it will backfire. Try to be ‘kind’, and you might have to be cruel. Try to help out, and you might help out the worst of the World Of Darkness. But what is certain is that this neo-noir set of characters is not going to give you a bunch of vampire powers and then let you do whatever you like. Someone created you for a reason; The Masquerade is all-encompassing. The characters in this neo-noir world are there to be a big, entertaining pain in your ass at every step. The original game – Bloodlines 1 – was the same way.
2. Choose Who You Hurt
In Bloodlines 1, and therefore Bloodlines 2, you cannot achieve anything without hurting people or making them angry. You can only choose who you hurt. You can choose between one vampire political reality, or another. Everything is seen through vampire eyes – when you’re immortal, you do not work on mortal time. The politics is long-term. You have to stay undead and stay powerful. And in order to do that, you have to start manipulating.
For example, if humans are dying out en masse, how will you feed? If the humans stop free movement from happening, where will you live, will your reality become more difficult? How do vampires use technology to manipulate their food supply? What’s the lowest effort way you can stay alive as a vampire? How can you stop humans from knowing that you exist… and yet keep them sweet on you so that you can feed on them easily? How do mortal politics interfere with your unlife? When the city bans sex work… is that good or bad for you and those you know? Does perpetuating mortal trauma make an undead existence easier… or harder to deal with? If you suck blood at a particular bloodshop, what happens when another vampire takes it over? Does what you were doing before the Embrace impact how people react to you now? Is there anything that…scares you as a vampire? And …can you make mortals more likely to turn up when you want by getting really good in bed?
3. Navigating the World of Darkness
We ask ourselves a lot of questions while writing and we try to give you a reactive world where you can figure out some of the answers to these questions. This means that whatever difficult choices we force you to make, the world will give you consequences that are always as equally interesting as each other. We try to open up every conversation so that you have a number of ways you can get through it – by negotiating, coercing, or seducing, for example. We also make bribery an option – even starting a fight or finding a way to avoid people is a viable way to get by. If you are a Malkavian, perhaps your options are more terrifying than usual. Or, you can merely ask a bunch of questions until you are forced to choose what to do.
A lot of our characters are assholes. A lot of people who exist in the real world are assholes. But just like in the real world, the way that characters in Bloodlines 2 talk about others provides a social fabric that gives you a better context and understanding of what that does to the world, what the consequences are, and how characters are affected by those attitudes and actions. No one character will be ‘just’ a category of person. If you laugh at a joke an asshole makes, it doesn’t make them any less a bad person who will screw you over at a moment’s notice. For example, in HBO’s Veep, we know that the characters are all some of the worst people we’ve ever seen. But what makes you understand that they are doing or saying something bad is that other people react to them in the way that they do. In our game, if you keep one asshole alive, maybe some other bad people will be really mad about it. I mean in the first Bloodlines, did you really, completely like Damsel? Or was there something naive about her? Was she just necessary for the fireworks to happen? Depending on who you hung out with, maybe you’d have a different perspective on her. Or maybe you’d be more impressed with what she does than what she says.
4. Unsanctioned Vampires
At the forefront of my mind in Bloodlines 2 is the crossover from being mortal to being a vampire. Around the time your character was created in an event called the Mass Embrace, a small number of other vampires were also created. Unlike you, they were abandoned and they did not get to choose who they were when they were Embraced. There was no character creator for them. Their lives were interrupted and they were made immortal, and all their relationships with the world were frozen in time. They are your brothers and sisters, in a way. And perhaps they are not having as privileged a time as you are. They had no guidance on the crossover. They had no support as to what was happening to them. They have to deal with their unlives as is. If you suddenly got thirsty for human blood and couldn’t stand sunlight, what exactly would you tell the people you know? How would you get through vampire puberty? And uh… what are the rules?
We let you figure out what to do with the messiest vampires. But I am not going to make it easy on you.
So I’m more or less pretty stoked by all that. One of the most interesting things about the original game was how you and the world bounced off of each other. While most western RPGs just sort of dump lore on you, a character who is almost always a destined hero (or villain, given the choices — although sometimes it’s destined hero who’s just an asshole about it), Bloodlines went for a different approach. The Kindred you play does play a major role in the story of course, but you are no chosen one. The world requires you to make your own name for yourself, and even then you’re trapped in the wrappings of whichever clan you chose. Not all of the clans play nice with each other, and it informs how others treat you. Even then, most of the time you’re still just doing the bidding of some powerful asshole at the top of the food chain. It very much feels like that mentality is still in place here. The Thinblood is in no way some great chosen hero — you’re a speck of dust on the plate of much more powerful vampires with tangled webs linking to every pocket of the city. Of course, that’s a speck of dust for now.
The last thing we have to talk about is the reveal of Factions. These are different from Clans — Clans denote your skillset, and who will be likeliest to welcome you with open arms (or turn you away from the door). Factions, however, have more to do with power. There are five factions in Bloodlines 2 (at least in the base game — we’ll see if we get more in the expansions), and they’ve just revealed the first — The Pioneers. The information this time is included in a fun, click-able poster of sorts, so we’ll show you what the art looks like and tell you what the clickable bullet-points say. Hopefully they actually release the artwork as a poster at some point, but for now you can probably use it as a wallpaper for your phone.
“WE MADE THIS CITY AND WE WILL NEVER LET ANYONE FORGET THAT.”
– Lou Grand
While Seattle is a young city, the vampires of The Pioneers were among the first to settle here and rule. Led by Lou Grand, the longest-reigning Prince of the area, they have seen control slip away over the years and are increasingly unhappy with the amount of outsiders that have come in and carved out territory.
There’s a lot of wealth in ruling a city for more than a century. The money of the Pioneers would earn a lot of influence almost anywhere in the world. In the modern boomtown of Seattle, though, all it seems to afford is a more comfortable slide into irrelevance.
While they have dreams of once more ruling the city, they have since been forced to accept the rules of another. In exchange, they have been allowed to “save face” by keeping control over some minor parts of the city.
THE INSIDER’S CLUB
A collection of individuals from different clans, unified by their idealistic and romantic notion of Seattle as the last frontier – The Pioneers held Seattle for the biggest part of the city’s existence. Having lost so much in the last twenty years, they have become quite skeptical of the changing world, including any fledgling looking to join.
The vampires in Lou’s group include loggers, fishermen, bootleggers, old money families, musicians and artists, and many other long-time Puget Sound inhabitants – and they fight tooth and nail to preserve whatever remains of their old world – and of one another.
That’s all for now, but we’ll keep you updated on all things Kindred. Vampire – The Masquerade: Bloodlines 2 releases March 2020 across PC, Xbox One, and PS4.