Everyone I know is excited that Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 is finally a thing, and a thing that’ll be coming out pretty soon, in fact. The first game is not only a cult classic, after all, but essentially one of the best RPGs the West has ever churned out. The original title is filled with atmosphere, a rich plot, and gameplay mechanics that make every encounter memorable and decision absolutely matter.
But what a lot of people forget is that’s not actually the reality for the first Bloodlines. Not really. The strengths of the 2004 title were obfuscated by bad AI, frame-rate issues, instability, and a general lack of polish that hampered review scores back in the day. And this makes perfect sense when you realise that Bloodlines was never fully completed.
The developer, Troika Games, had experience with some well regarded niche titles, such as Arcanum – Of Steamworks and Magic Obscura, so their attempt at taking on White Wolf’s pen and paper series made total sense. Bloodlines could absolutely be the Vampire: The Masquerade RPG realised on the PC. But soon after accepting to work on Bloodlines, the studio realised it was dying; although every Troika title had turned a profit at that point, ultimately it was not enough to keep the studio afloat and get the contracts staff desired to work on.
Staff did their best to complete the title before the studio went under, and they worked hard to bring their vision to life as best they could, but time won in the end – the version that shipped was not what the developers had hoped. And shortly after, the studio closed – The final nail in the coffin being losing the pitch for Fallout 3 to Bethesda.
Even though the studio was no more, the developers knew the game still had issues: some staff admirably stayed behind without pay to patch the game to a more functional state. But even so, many game-breakers remained, and would do so for some time. At least, until Wesp5 came along.
Wesp5 – Also known as Dr. Werner Spahl, from Germany – played the title soon after its initial release, and fell in love with the game, considering it to be one of the best he had ever played. Seeing potential in it, and possessing a great deal of passion, the analytical chemist took it upon himself to learn how to code just so he could improve upon the game’s experience. No easy task by itself, let alone the fact the game was made using an Alpha version of the Source Engine, and thus had no SDK to utilise.
Still, Wesp5 persisted, and refined the title – restoring lost content, adding some new maps, and his own little flourishes that fit in with the world Troika had encapsulated. And although work began on the Unofficial Patch back in 2004, Wesp5 is still working on, and refining the patch to this very day – Infact, Patch 10.4 dropped just last week.
The title remained popular and viable due to Wesp5’s work, and desires for a sequel soon took root. But White Wolf – the developer of the World of Darkness tabletop RPG on which Vampire was based – had been acquired by CCP Games soon after Troika’s death. CCP Games, the creators of space sim MMO EVE Online, gave White Wolf’s properties little attention – they claimed a desire to create an MMORPG out of the property (The trailer of which you can see below), but that ambition never went anywhere. It wasn’t until CCP Games sold White Wolf off to Paradox that thoughts of a return to video games would be taken more seriously.*
Today, the legacy of Bloodlines is a lot brighter than anyone could have expected back in 2004. A masterful, but incomplete creation, further refined by the community, managed to stay popular enough in times of neglect that it would finally see the successor that was always meant to be. Bloodlines 2 has a lot to live up to, because Bloodlines is very much a game of passion for a great many people. I think everyone would prefer a return to form, ala Deus Ex’s Human Revolution as opposed to its Invisible War, but regardless of what the sequel actually turns out to be, I think the original will stand strong for years to come.
*Just a little aside that doesn’t really fit anywhere, but I recall actually sending a thank you message to CCP Games for selling White Wolf to someone that wouldn’t stifle them. I may have been partially motivated by the pettiness of being told not to persist in a Bloodlines Let’s Play by said company.Become a Patron!