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Hardsuit Labs' lead UI/UX designer Rachel Leiker brings us a new developer diary for Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2, where she talks about the intricate process of adapting the pen and paper ruleset of Vampire: the Masquerade for a video game. She talks about the new Resonance and Hunger systems, discusses some of the vampire disciplines you'll have at your disposal in Bloodlines 2, and stresses the importance of player choice for the game.
She also directs us to this recent IGN interview that focuses on Bloodlines 2's tabletop origins and features a fairly lengthy tabletop session. Check it out:
And here's the diary itself:
Rachel Leiker from Hardsuit Labs here to bring you some tasty treats about the development of Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2! Today I’d like to speak to something we get asked quite frequently – How do you translate a tabletop RPG into a first-person video game? Well, it takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Mostly blood. Actually, it’s pretty much all blood.
When we first began work on Bloodlines 2, Vampire: the Masquerade Edition 5th (V5), the latest tabletop version of the game, was also in development. We were able to work closely with the V5 team to co-develop a lot of the systems you see in both games. The process was very interesting from a developer perspective because we wanted to maintain the tone and freeform nature of the TTRPG (tabletop RPG), but there were many challenges to get it to work on a digital platform.
The first Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines was a very true and accurate representation of the pen and paper version at that time. Many of the systems and designs were direct translations pulled from the core rulebook. For Bloodlines 2 we were less interested in a one-to-one implementation of systems in the tabletop version and more interested in what lies at the core of those mechanics – Being a Vampire.
Ka’ai outlined it perfectly in his previous post about the design pillars - there should always be a sense of supernatural power. How this is expressed mechanically is up for interpretation. We worked on really getting down to the nitty gritty of what that means and then set out to build it in a digital format.
One of the first things we worked on with the V5 team was Resonance, created to emphasize the “you are what you eat” part of feeding. Blood is great as a resource, but Resonance incentivizes feeding as more than just Hunger management and makes it more strategic.
Certain types of Resonance give certain benefits and buffs in both games and is a huge part of the hunting and feeding cycle. But finding and feeding on specific Resonances in V5 is a fundamentally different experience than in Bloodlines 2, and for very good reasons.
In the tabletop game, Resonance type can be determined by a skill check against a character Advantage or by physically tasting the blood. There are 4 types of Resonance (for humans...) and 3 levels of strength depending on the victim’s emotional state (Temperament). An amount of Resonance may be gained via feeding, in the cases where there is an extreme amount of Resonance, a Dyscrasia, or clot, is formed. This Dyscrasia acts as an immediate buff to the Vampire and is determined by the storyteller to serve specific needs (I’m simplifying a lot here, if you’d like more information, check out p.227 in the V5 corebook). There is a lot of flexibility and on-the-fly numbers rolling for the tabletop version, which works well for that format, but can be cumbersome when applied to a video game.
In Bloodlines 2, our Resonance system is expanded to 5 types and several different levels of strength. Delirium, Desire, Fear, Pain, and Rage are all emotions that can be discovered and devoured in the game and act as a secondary XP to unlock and activate Resonance-specific buffs, or Merits. The Resonance and Merits in Bloodlines 2 are more rigid in their implementation, but they allow players to quickly hunt for and manage the resource throughout the game.
Another example of applying tabletop systems in a video game world are the Thinblood disciplines developed for Bloodlines 2. We chose the playable Clans in the game because they most closely resembled typical player archetypes – Brujah = Fighter, Tremere = Warlock, Malkavian = Paladin (just kidding, Bard) - they are familiar enough that most players will immediately identify with one Clan based on their playstyle even if they are not familiar with Vampire: The Masquerade. Thinbloods were something of a challenge because at the beginning of the game players don’t choose to become a Thinblood, it is foisted upon them and discovering why is the crux of the story. We had to somehow give players some say in their situation in the form of Thinblood Disciplines.
The three Thinblood Disciplines – Chiropteran (Affinity to Bats), Nebulation (Mist Form), and Mentalism (Telekinesis) have mostly traversal and defensive applications. Thinblood Alchemy in V5 is much the same way – Thinbloods are at the very very bottom of the food chain, so survival is the number one priority. We maintain the core feeling of what it means to be a Thinblood and use those powers but make it more video game friendly by expressing it in familiar ways. Who doesn’t want to glide across the Seattle skyline, travel as mist with the wind, and move objects without touching them?
There are more things in common between V5 and Bloodlines 2 than we can talk about here, but perhaps the biggest component we wanted to maintain throughout development was players’ choice. In tabletop games, freeform gameplay is the secret sauce to making it work. Anything can happen, any choice is valid, and the players are in full control of their actions. In Bloodlines 2, you make choices, and the game reacts to reflect those choices. Whether you choose to end a conversation violently, break the Masquerade by feeding in a public space, kill everyone on sight or attempt to not kill anyone, you get to decide what kind of monster you want to be, and the game will react accordingly.
For Vampire: the Masquerade tabletop fans, Bloodlines 2 offers a new story, a new setting, and the same Vampire shenanigans. The things they enjoy about the tabletop version are present in the video game – choice, reactivity, consequences – brought to life by an amazing voice cast. The core of Vampire: The Masquerade is also about allowing players to explore the World of Darkness and themselves in profound and interesting ways, and Bloodlines 2 keeps that legacy going.
Making games isn’t easy. Especially interpreting a beloved IP from an analog platform to a digital platform. With new expressions of an experience come challenges but focusing on the core components – what is at the heart (beating or otherwise) of the system will help keep it familiar and fun for players. Whether it’s tabletop or digital or anything in between, creating something that is meaningful to players is often difficult, but always extremely rewarding.
Thanks for letting me talk shop for a while, as always, if you have any questions let us know!
Lead UI/UX Designer