We've been covering any and all news about Troika's Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines going back to 2003, and that includes every single release of Werner Spahl's (Wesp5) unofficial patches going back to the earliest mentions of what became a v1.3/v1.4 patch in 2005 after Troika released the final v1.2 official patch. It's hard to believe that the unofficial patch has reached version 9.9 in the latest update, but to help make us all realize how long we've been enthralled with the game, PCGamesN has spoken with Werner about this 12+ year "quest" and the people who have helped him along the way:
A good enough justification, then, to spend over a decade working on it, although Spahl downplays his commitment. “It’s not as big a chunk of my life as it may seem,” he says. “Sometimes I work maybe an hour a day if something new can be restored, but then days or weeks may go by without me doing anything much.”
That comment - ‘something new can be restored’ - is oxymoronic, but it captures the tension at the heart of this project. ‘Restoration’ suggests that Spahl and the community are working towards some version of the game as it once was, or at least that they are adding elements that the developers intended to include in the original game, but didn’t due to the fact that it was rushed to release. The reality is that Troika’s intentions were never made entirely clear to Spahl, who reached out to the developers but only gained scarce details about the cut content (it is understandable that they weren’t particularly eager to reminisce about the game that led to the dissolution of their studio a few months after release). So, with little concrete information to go on, Spahl and the community got creative, embellishing and tweaking the existing Bloodlines world with speculative but meticulously thought-out details, and patching it to a healthy, playable state.
One former Troika member who did play a role in the patch was composer Rik Schaffer, who gave Spahl a list of unreleased tracks for the game that he considered to be his finest work. These tracks were not connected to any in-game locations, so it was up to Spahl to add them where he saw fit. Did Troika want these tracks in the original game? Is this now the composer Schaffer imbuing a bit of his personal vision about how he wanted Bloodlines to sound? How much does Spahl’s personal taste - deciding which track to put in which location - dictate the path of the game? The lines between restoration, modding, and patching become increasingly blurred.
Not that Spahl has any qualms about calling the unofficial patch more of a fan project than some noble quest to finish what Troika started. “Of course I’m aware that a lot of our bigger restorations, especially the new maps or quests, are /our/ vision and not that of Troika, if they ever came to a concrete version for those things at all,” he says.
The all-new Library level, for example, is based on a few assets in the game files. Bloodlines designer Brian Mitsoda told Spahl that “it was somehow connected to a main character and a Sabbat boss, and was meant to look like the real-world LA library.” On this scant information, one of the community members drove to the LA library, took notes on its layout, and co-designed the new level with Spahl, complete with a lore-friendly quest and a large ritual chamber (another unused asset floating around in the game files). Even the vaguest ideas became a polished, painstakingly created reality in the unofficial patch.
Amidst the thousands of fixes in the patch that have made Bloodlines more palatable, Spahl admits that some tweaks have been a little less graceful. Using concept art for reference he added a rotating turnstile to the entrance of a bar, for example, which many players then struggled to walk through (as, in some cases, did Patty, a quest NPC who is supposed to leave the club in one of her quest endings). His solution was to create a dialogue option with the bartender, asking her to remove the turnstile, which means that players can now choose whether to have it or not; an awkward workaround to a problem that did not need to exist in the first place.