There are very few names in PC gaming with pedigree like Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. This RPG and dark soap opera about a fledgling bloodsucker in LA was so freeform and ambitious that it finished off its creator, Troika Games. But its reputation has given it a long unlife, both as a touchpoint for great game writing and player choice, and as a focal point for modding – continuous community bug fixing makes Bloodlines more playable today than ever.
When Paradox bought White Wolf and Vampire’s World of Darkness universe in 2015, the opportunity seemed obvious. The purchase freed up the licence for new developers just as the publisher pursued a new interest in RPGs with Obsidian. And yet: still no Bloodlines 2.
The original game ranks among the best RPGs on PC, even now.
If you ask Paradox what kind of games it makes and publishes, you will get three answers: strategy, management, and RPGs. And at PDXCON this year, the first two parts of that triumvirate were well-represented by Imperator: Rome, Age of Wonders: Planetfall, and a new expansion for Cities: Skylines. But something was missing. Conspicuously so.
“We’ve been dabbling around with RPGs, with Pillars of Eternity and a couple of other things,” Paradox CEO Fred Wester tells us. “Obviously the White Wolf catalogue opens up a lot of new doors for us. We are experimenting with a couple of the White Wolf brands right now, but we also know that we can’t create a Skyrim day-one.”
What becomes clear while talking to Wester is that Paradox no longer does anything without a long-term plan. Setting that first foot into the World of Darkness is taking time because the company wants to know where it’ll plant the next foot, and the one after that, so that it can see exactly where it’ll be standing several years into the future. Preferably with a well-established series of Vampire RPGs in its hands.
“We’ve owned White Wolf for two and a half years now and people are like, ‘Where is my Bloodlines 2?’,” Wester laughs. “It’s an obvious choice, but it needs to feel right. It needs to be the right team and visionary for the game. Once that’s set in place, nothing keeps us away from, maybe not Bloodlines 2, but something Vampire RPG.”
When the publisher cancelled its only internally developed RPG to date, Runemaster, it acknowledged that the move from grand strategy to a new genre had been a struggle. Instead, it’s been approaching outside developers it thinks would be a good fit for the universe.
“We’re looking at different studios to help us out on the RPG side, we’re not hiring any people here locally,” Wester says. “We hope to do something, it’s just that RPG to us is not anything that comes naturally.”
Finding the right studio for a Bloodlines follow-up isn’t easy – and whichever studio is given the offer, accepting the challenge is intimidating.
“Bloodlines has a lot of fans still, 14 years after release,” Wester says. “It was a great game in many ways. It was really buggy on release but it still carries a weight in the industry. It has to be the right people.”
That’s one part of the story. But there’s a quirk to Paradox’s purchase of World of Darkness, too, which allows White Wolf an unusual degree of autonomy – and might have important implications for a Bloodlines sequel.
“We made a separate sister company to Paradox,” White Wolf CEO Tobias Sjögren tells us, “because we want to do the games that are right for the IP, and not just the games that a particular publisher could publish. Our independence from Paradox means we do deals with whichever company is the right one.”
This arrangement isn’t just hypothetical. Early last year, Focus Home announced an adaptation of White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse, a game which Paradox has no involvement in. White Wolf learned an important lesson during its time under the ownership of CCP, who developed the ill-fated World of Darkness MMO: it’s better not to try and represent the entire World of Darkness universe in one vast game, but to channel its disparate parts into the right projects.
In the years since it joined Paradox, White Wolf has been touring shows like D.I.C.E. Summit and E3, attempting to match properties like Vampire with the right developers.
“We like games that are driven by story, games that have a more adult market, because World of Darkness is for grown-ups,” White Wolf lead storyteller Martin Ericsson says. “It’s not Twilight – this is for Twilight graduates, the people who have fallen in love with the idea of vampires. Studios with a bit more focus on that would be obvious.”
As for a Bloodlines 2, White Wolf is open to reviving the series.
“From our standpoint at a licence owner, it was be stupid not to use such a name because the brand recognition is so strong,” Sjögren says.
“If people can pull it off,” Ericsson adds.
“It needs to live up to the name,” Sjögren agrees. “We’re not in the business of licensing to fill a quarterly goal of minimum guarantees.”
Any Bloodlines sequel White Wolf greenlights will have to fit the style of the new fifth edition of World of Darkness, take place in a modern setting, and handle the overall design differently to its predecessor.
“First of all, when it shipped, it was a mess,” Sjögren says. “So releasing a quality product to begin with, that means it takes some time to develop. You just have to let the publisher and the developer take the time they need to get the product out. And the other thing, a big lesson learned is supporting the community with modding tools.”
“We don’t always have a German dentist who can save the day,” Ericsson interjects. He’s referring to Werner Spahl, or Wesp5, actually an analytical chemist at the University of Munich at the time of Bloodlines’s release, who has lovingly restored and improved the game in a modding capacity over the years since. In many ways, Spahl and his shrinelike treatment of Bloodlines are symbolic of the reverence in which the game is held. It bodes well for any future the series might have that White Wolf seem to share his sentiment.
“Bloodlines is worshipped for its story and its dialogue, and those are things we value very highly,” Ericsson says. “Maybe it wasn’t the best shooter in the universe, but the dialogue is amazing, and it captures an irreverent, dark, critical view of the underbelly of society. And that aspect is surely exactly where we want to go.”