E3 2003: The RPGs

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Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

Just before this year's E3, Activision and Troika announced that they would be creating a new RPG that will be based on White Wolf's PnP game, Vampire: The Masquerade. This game, entitled Bloodlines, is being developed using Valve Software's Source engine and is the second game created using the Vampire setting (Nihilistic's Redemption being the first).

On the second day of E3, I had the chance to sit down with one of the developers for a lengthy demonstration of the game. During character creation, you are given the choice of seven different clans for your character to join (Nosferatu, Malkavian, and Ventrue to name a few), with this decision drastically affecting many aspects of the game, including which skills and abilities you can acquire. The statistics screen is filled with your different attributes, abilities, disciplines, and feats, each with its own set of five "dots" to show where you stand with each. As you advance in the game, you will be able to allocate points to any of these areas in order to further develop your character.

The first setting I was shown was a run-down strip club, where we spoke with a shady bartender. Since I haven't followed Valve's new engine whatsoever, I was quite amazed at just how powerful it is. As we went through dialogue with the bartender, his mouth and other facial expressions mimicked his words exactly. The demonstrator explained that the Source technology allows characters to lip-synch all of their dialogue dynamically, which will definitely raise the realism notch a level or two for even the most seasoned gamers.

After we were finished in the strip club, we hit the streets of a very dark and gloomy Los Angeles. Here, we were shown some of the different clothes you can don your vampire with, ranging from almost naked to a large white fur coat and a crazy-looking tophat. The engine allows you to change your viewpoint at any time, so we would usually switch to a third-person view to get a good look at our character's appearance. All of the garb is very realistic and fluidly moves with your body as you run around the city.

Heading down a desolate alleyway, our demonstrator showed how you can manipulate some of the surrounding environment. Using the mouse, he grabbed a large pallet and barrel against a wall and moved them out of the way to reveal a previously hidden area of the city. Through this opening, we proceeded down into the sewers. Deep within the sewers, we encountered a "Vozhd", which resembled a female human with spider-like legs. She made quick work of us by hurling various corpses that were strewn about the floor, which demonstrated the unbelievable physics of the engine. As the bodies hit the walls or floor, they would bounce and flail realistically, knocking over any obstacles in their way.

An interesting aspect of Bloodlines is that you gain no experience points for defeating an opponent. Instead, Troika is designing the game to only give you experience for completing particular missions. This will allow for an open game experience and give players the choice of either bluffing their way through via dialogue, using their character's skills to sneak through, or simply killing all resistance in their way.

Troika is looking to provide about eighty hours of gameplay with Bloodlines, and has set the release date to "some time in 2004". If the E3 demonstration was any indication, RPG and action fans alike should find the final product to be well worth their time and money.

World of Warcraft

Blizzard is set to become a serious contender in the MMORPG department by bringing its well-known world of Azeroth to life in World of Warcraft. Unfortunately, they aren't really giving a good indication of when the game will be ready for release (although a public beta is scheduled for fall), but let me assure you that it is already looking extremely polished. Who would expect anything less from Blizzard?