Paradox Interactive’s senior product manager Florian Schwarzer speaks with GamingBolt about the upcoming RPG.
2004’s Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines isn’t the most high profile RPG release of all time by any means, but in the years since its launch, it has accrued a massive fan following. More than a decade later, Paradox Interactive and Hardsuit Labs are returning to that universe with Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2, a game that seeks to replicate the strengths of its predecessor while improving upon its weaknesses as well. How well it manages to do that is something we’re all curious about (to say the least)- ourselves included. As such, not too long ago, we sent across some of our most burning questions about the game to the people responsible for it. The questions below were answered by Florian Schwarzer, Senior Product Manager for Bloodlines 2 at Paradox Interactive.
"When Paradox purchased White Wolf in 2015, we recognized that Bloodlines was the crown jewel among their IPs. We did not intend on making a sequel right away and wanted to wait until the time was right. The folks at Hardsuit Labs had other ideas and immediately started building a pitch for us before we even started looking for proposals."
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is a game that has, over the years, accrued a devoted and fierce cult following. How heavy is the burden of expectations for you as the people responsible for making a sequel to such a game?
It’s definitely something that keeps you honest. I don’t think either Hardsuit Labs or we at Paradox had fully realized it all when this began. You sign up to a three-, four-year project because something is personal to you — “I really want to go back to this world!” or “I really want to tell that story!” or, here in Stockholm, “We can make this work!”. The view outwards comes a bit later, when you try and flesh out what it means to make a successor to Bloodlines, beyond the parts that resonated with you. I think it hit both Hardsuit and us like a freight train.
I try to think of the Bloodlines fans I’ve met towards the end of each day. If I can still go to sleep afterwards, we’re on the right track.
What went on behind the scenes before you decided on making a sequel to a game that launched over a decade ago?
When Paradox purchased White Wolf in 2015, we recognized that Bloodlines was the crown jewel among their IPs. We did not intend on making a sequel right away and wanted to wait until the time was right.
The folks at Hardsuit Labs had other ideas and immediately started building a pitch for us before we even started looking for proposals. Putting in that much work was a huge risk for them — they even brought in Brian Mitsoda, the original lead writer from the first Bloodlines!
They really took a one-in-a-thousand kind of chance, but it worked out. After we heard their pitch, we couldn’t imagine a different Bloodlines 2.
How did you land on Seattle as a setting for the game?
One of the great strengths of Bloodlines 1 was that it felt so very ‘local’. Of course it wasn’t a scale-model recreation of early 2000’s Los Angeles, but that game with that story really couldn’t have taken place anywhere else. We all knew from the start that Bloodlines 2 needed to capture its city’s atmosphere the same way. Hardsuit Labs and Brian are based in Seattle — Brian especially has become a real local history buff. That familiarity with the city and its past and present hubs is an important part of Bloodlines 2.
The more you learn about Seattle’s dark past, the more you realize that it is a great place to be secretly run by vampires. A good example is the Great Seattle Fire of 1989, which burned down the city’s central business district. Instead of rebuilding, they paved over everything; giving Seattle a literal underground where the vampires in our story can secretly thrive. To us, things like this make Seattle an ideal setting for Bloodlines 2.
"Bloodlines 2 features a branching narrative that evolves as players make their way through the story. Seattle is a living, breathing world filled with characters that react to the choices players make in the game. Even the choices you make while creating your character can have an impact on how NPCs react to your character later in the game. "
Given the large gap of time between the release of the first game and the second one, how do you decide which elements or mechanics to keep, which ones to rework, and which ones to not use at all- especially in light of shifting tastes and preferences of the audiences?
When fans think of Bloodlines, they fondly remember an enthralling story, memorable characters, and that gloriously goth, noir-y version of Los Angeles. When they then go to re-install it, they’re also reminded of the technical challenges and some clunky combat mechanics.
Hardsuit Labs has worked tirelessly to build on the elements that made the first Bloodlines a cult classic; the story, the setting, the characters. Beyond that, the way we look at it is in 2004, it wasn’t possible yet to really capture what it means to be a vampire in a 3D game. That’s the other big challenge – from the way you move through and look at the world, to the way you fight and talk, to special systems like feeding, to the progression mechanics behind it all.
Something else that I’m sure must have been a conversation in light of the gap between the two games was how much of a narrative connection the two should share- is it more a case of the two games being set in the same universe but otherwise being separate stories, in case new and potential players haven’t played the first one? Or do the connections go deeper than that?
That brings us back to what we talked about above – how a Bloodlines game should feel rooted in the place it plays in. The narrative in Bloodlines 2 takes place after the events in Bloodlines 1, but it is a new story in a new city. While players won’t need to play Bloodlines 1 to understand the story in Bloodlines 2, players who are familiar with the first game will find echoes of what happened in L.A. in the early 2000’s, and maybe spot a few more concrete references, too. Fifteen years are more than enough time for someone to move north, after all…
Choice and consequence is something that has always been a major mechanic in RPGs, and has continued to grow in prominence in recent years as well. How much of an emphasis can we expect to see Bloodlines 2 put on the same?
Bloodlines 2 features a branching narrative that evolves as players make their way through the story. Seattle is a living, breathing world filled with characters that react to the choices players make in the game. Even the choices you make while creating your character can have an impact on how NPCs react to your character later in the game. For example, if you choose the Cop background, officers might recognize you and react differently than if you chose the Barista background.
How large of an environment can we expect Bloodlines 2’s Seattle to be?
We haven’t revealed the exact size of Bloodlines 2’s environments, but we can say that Seattle uses a “hub and Spoke” system. Each hub and spoke is set in recognizable parts of real-world Seattle that, as with Bloodlines 1’s L.A., are more about capturing the way you remember a place, than sticking 1:1 to the map. Of course, that means that all the major landmarks are there – apart from the one Hardsuit and most locals believe has been totally over-used…
"Bloodlines 2 will support mods with Steam Workshop integration and Paradox Mods, our independent modding platform that gives modders a direct multi-platform pipeline."
Will Bloodlines 2 let players play the majority of their playthroughs without getting into combat scenarios if they wish to do so?
Bloodlines 2 will not be a game you can finish without combat. After all, you play someone who just woke up a monster, in a society of monsters. You need to feed, you’re surrounded by people who’ve stopped being entirely human a long time ago. Sooner or later, the chips will come down.
That said, it will be possible to minimize the occasions where you have to resort to violence, often via diplomacy or superior intel. You are a social monster, after all. It’s a bit difficult to give you exact ratios, because this is the kind of thing that gets balanced until late in development. For now, the best I can say is that there are main quests that allow you to complete them without ever throwing a punch, and quite a few side-quests don’t contain any combat content at all.
Given how important support from the modding community was to the long life of the first game, can we expect to see the same support for mods and modders in Bloodlines 2 as well- on PC, but maybe on consoles, too?
Yes! Bloodlines 2 will support mods with Steam Workshop integration and Paradox Mods, our independent modding platform that gives modders a direct multi-platform pipeline. We’ll have more details about mod support later, so stay tuned!
Do you have any plans to offer Bloodlines 2 on Stadia at some point in the future as well?
Bloodlines 2 will be available on Steam, Paradox Store, GoG, Epic Games Store, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. We have no further information on platforms to share at this time.