Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
|Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines|
|Producer(s)||Thomas R. Decker
|Engine||Source engine (modified alpha)|
|Release date(s)||NA November 16, 2004
EU November 19, 2004
|Distribution||CD-ROM, DVD, download|
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is an action role-playing game developed by Troika Games and released by Activision in 2004 for Windows. Like the earlier Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption, Bloodlines is set in White Wolf, Inc.'s Vampire: The Masquerade universe also known as the World of Darkness, but it is not a sequel to the earlier game. The game allows the player to choose one of several different vampire clans and progress through the game according to the different strengths and weaknesses of the player's character, as in its paper and pencil role-playing origins.
Although Bloodlines divided critics at the time of release, it has gained a popular cult following. It is also notable for being the first third-party game to use Valve's Source engine. The game can be played from either the first-person or third-person perspective. It is also Troika Games' third title and the last to be made before Troika closed down in February 2005.
Bloodlines is a role-playing game with the choice between first person and third-person perspectives. The player character's ability to overcome obstacles is in many cases a mixture of player and character abilities, with character stats determining the effectiveness of actions, and player abilities determining whether or not the actions succeed. For example, the ability to move silently and avoid being detected is heavily influenced by the character's Dexterity and Stealth ratings; however, if the player does not stay in the shadows while sneaking past enemies, the character can still be detected.
The player character increases in power dramatically during the course of the game through the expenditure of earned experience points on attributes, skills, and vampire abilities called "Disciplines". A multitude of items, weapons, and books can be found or purchased to make the player character even more powerful. Melee and ranged weapons exist in equal numbers, although only in the later stages of the game.
How the player interacts with the game world varies depending upon which clan the player character belongs to. Differences range from different dialogue options becoming available to certain quests becoming available or unavailable. The most notable gameplay differences are experienced by those who play as Malkavian (due to their insanity, dialogue options are often non sequiturs, making it difficult to conduct conversations and negotiations; Malkavians also encounter numerous bizarre moments during gameplay, such as television sets and stop signs speaking to them) and Nosferatu (who, in order to avoid Masquerade violations, are prohibited from speaking to humans and who do not have access to any gameplay options involving seduction).
Unlike most role-playing video games, the experience needed to increase stats and skills is not awarded for killing enemies. Experience points are awarded solely for completing quests, no matter how many creatures the player eliminates in the process (though the quest objective often involves killing). This encourages the player to complete quests in creative ways and significantly increases the game's replay value.
The game invokes two other unique penalties and rewards for certain behaviors in the game's non-quest (i.e. non-combat) areas. Players are penalized for exhibiting vampiric abilities in front of humans by the loss of Masquerade points, which can also be reinstated by performing actions to protect the Masquerade. If the player loses 5 Masquerade points, the game ends. Also, the player is able to gain and lose "humanity" points, which have an impact on how well the character can be controlled when his or her blood supply is low. This can potentially cause the character to go into a feeding frenzy at the wrong time which in turn can lead to Masquerade violations. Humanity points are awarded for acts of kindness, such as finding alternatives to killing certain non-player characters. They can be taken away if the player character kills a human outside a combat zone (or even sometimes within a combat zone if the human is a noncombatant), intentionally or not, or if the character commits an unethical deed such as stealing money from a charity. Unlike Masquerade points, the game does not end if the player humanity level drops to minimum (3 by default), but the player's character is almost certain to enter frenzy when it is this low (and they are hungry, or take damage), and some dialog options may change. Experience points can be used to purchase humanity points. Having a very high or very low humanity affects some conversation options.
The game begins with the player character's death and transformation into a vampire in late October 2004. The plot revolves around a mysterious archaeological artifact called the Ankaran Sarcophagus, believed to contain the body of an ancient vampire (Antediluvian) in torpor. As the various factions of Los Angeles conspire to obtain this artifact, or to foil each other's attempts to do so, the player must decide whom to trust: Prince Sebastian LaCroix, Regent Maximillian Strauss, the Anarchs, the Kuei-Jin, or only him/herself. However, the in-game storyline does not change regardless of what is done, and all the core missions still need to be completed. For example, if the player decides to side with the Anarchs, they will still need to obey Prince LaCroix, as they are told to act like they are still loyal. The only storyline-affecting choice is when the character chooses his or her allegiance near the end of the game, though prior choices can affect which of these allegiances are available.
The game begins with the creation of a male or female vampire character of one of seven Camarilla clans. Players can choose to manually pick the clan their character will join and their character's statistics, or they can answer a series of questions to be assigned stats. Once a character has been created, the introductory sequence begins with an in-game cinematic of a lascivious vampire Sire 'embracing' the player's character; draining the character of blood, and beginning the player's transformation into a vampire. Shortly after the Embrace, both the player and their Sire are captured by the Los Angeles Camarilla for what is revealed to have been an unauthorized act, violating the organization's strict rules on vampire creation. The player's Sire is executed at the order of the Prince, Sebastian LaCroix, who is the leader of the Camarilla in Los Angeles. The player is spared a similar fate when Nines Rodriguez, a Brujah who was in the audience as a representative of the Anarch community, jumps up and calls out the Prince, who then relents.
A sarcophagus that was previously discovered about a thousand years ago by Church authorities and subsequently re-buried, it was rediscovered by the Norwegian archaeologist Dr. Johansen, and was on its way to an American museum for examination. Bloody handprints on its surface found while on board the Elizabeth Dane indicate it may have been opened from the inside. The Vampires of Los Angeles circulate rumors that the sarcophagus held an Antediluvian, a third-generation vampire, one of the eldest and most powerful in existence, and also a sign of Gehenna, the Vampire "end of days" scenario. The vast majority of them believe that it should never be opened, or destroyed entirely. Beckett believes it to hold nothing more sinister than the mummy of an Assyrian king, a hypothesis confirmed by Dr. Johansen, who however brings to note that this king was attributed with 250 years worth of achievements. While he notes that previous royal names were probably just erased, or that the name was passed onto subsequent generations, he chuckles at the idea that the king could have lived to 250 years of age. The surface murals depict figures drinking bowls of blood, which Dr. Johansen stipulates was more of a result of rituals or simply the royalty's way of dealing with porphyric disorders, rather than any proof that whatever lies inside is a vampire.
- In the Camarilla ending, which can be followed through with the Tremere primogen, the character destroys both Ming-Xiao and LaCroix's sheriff, and Prince LaCroix is presumably sentenced to death, while Maximillian Strauss assumes the post as the new prince and names the player his second-in-command. The Sarcophagus is stored away in a warehouse in a very similar fashion to the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The dialogue for this changes slightly, depending on the player's clan and certain side quests.
- Choosing Kuei-Jin path means that the player character doesn't have to fight Ming-Xiao. Instead, he heads directly to Venture Tower to fight the Sheriff and confront Prince LaCroix. However, after besting them and seizing the sarcophagus for the Kuei-Jin, he is betrayed. To stop any of Caine's descendants from gaining whatever power is hidden in the sarcophagus, Ming-Xiao dumps it into the Pacific Ocean with the player strapped onto it, unable to free him/herself.
- Allying with Prince LaCroix, the player character convinces him that he/she did not sabotage his alliance, and he sends him/her to kill Ming-Xiao and retrieve the key of the sarcophagus. Upon doing so, the Prince, elated, names him his right hand man, and asks him/her to open the sarcophagus. Inside is a large quantity of C-4, and a farewell note from Smiling Jack, the Anarch from the beginning of the game. LaCroix descends into mania as the penthouse explodes. Far off, Jack, along with Messerach, a normal mummy that had been inside the sarcophagus, watch the explosion, and the cab-driver, standing in the shadow, reiterates to the player as he walks off into the night that "the blood of Caine controls our fate... farewell, vampire".
- If the player character chooses to side with the Anarchs, he briefly reunites with Nines Rodriguez before going off to the Kuei-Jin stronghold to kill Ming Xiao and retrieve the key to the sarcophagus. Then he makes a final assault on LaCroix's tower, killing the sheriff and confronting LaCroix himself. After confronting him, he slashes his throat and promptly leaves. Shortly afterwards, LaCroix opens the sarcophagus, and the ending proceeds as for the LaCroix ending. Alternatively, the player can choose to open the sarcophagus personally, hoping to gain the power themselves; however, they make the same discovery and are subsequently killed with LaCroix in the explosion.
- The personal path causes the character to side with no one. Other than omitting the meeting with Nines Rodriguez, this ending is mostly the same as the Anarch ending.
Troika Games officially began work on the game in November 2001, but the nearly three-year-long production cycle was plagued by many problems. Because Valve's work on opponent AI was not completed in time for Troika to show Bloodlines at a press event, Troika wrote their own AI routines, which never worked as well as the code that Valve eventually developed. Early attempts by Troika to create a multiplayer mode and levels working were unsuccessful and eventually the feature was abandoned. The original writing team was replaced midway through the project, causing most game levels and dialogs to be completely revised.
When Troika had not completed a playable Santa Monica hub with combat and discipline usage that met Activision's satisfaction after more than two years of development time, the publisher took several steps to bring closure to the troubled project. First, Activision increased the budget to add Troika's second development team to the project in March 2004, after they had completed work on The Temple of Elemental Evil. Next, it sent the game's Activision producer and two testers to work on-site at Troika's offices until the game was completed. Finally, it set a deadline of September 15 for Troika to produce a Code Release Candidate.
Original instrumental music for the game was written by Rik Schaffer. A number of songs were licensed for the game. The song "Bloodlines" performed by Ministry had lyrics written specifically for the game, and is a revised version of the song "So What". The official soundtrack was released through Best Buy stores for customers who pre-ordered the game.
|Music track title||Written by||Performed by||Record company|
|"Swamped"||Marco Coti Zelati, Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro||Lacuna Coil||Century Media Records|
|"Cain"||Johan Edlund||Tiamat||Century Media Records|
|"Bloodlines"||Al Jourgensen||Al Jourgensen / Ministry||Megaforce Records|
|"Needle's Eye"||F.G. Reiche||Die My Darling|
|"Come Alive"||Daniel Ash||Daniel Ash|
|"Pound"||J. Blackwell, H. Cummings, S. Smith, C. McCall and M. Wolfe||AERIAL2012|
|"Isolated"||Emileigh Rohn||Chiasm||COP International (license)|
|"Lecher Bitch"||Jennifer Vincent, David Vincent and Vincent Saletto||Genitorturers|
|"Smaller God"||C. Elen, J. Thomas, and S. McManus||Darling Violetta||Opaline Records|
Troika delivered the Code Release Candidate on the required date, though it left the development team in low morale. Due to the game's size and complexity, the Code Release Candidate took three weeks to test, but on October 4, 2004, Bloodlines went Gold as Version 1.0. Since contractual obligations with Valve would interdict Bloodlines to be released before Valve's debut of the Source engine in Half-Life 2, Activision did not publicly announce that the game had gone Gold and instead gave Troika an additional week to polish the game, after which Bloodlines Version 1.1 underwent another three weeks of testing.
The second version of Bloodlines shipped on November 16, 2004, the same day that Half-Life 2 was released. Valve's first-person shooter, a hugely successful sequel, sold four million units by 2006. The original Half-Life had itself sold 12 million units by then. Earlier release plans were to postpone until Spring 2005 so that Bloodlines would not compete against a sequel to a blockbuster, with a large advertising budget and ready made loyal following during the already competitive Christmas season.
There were still many technical and playability bugs in the released version of Bloodlines, but none were judged to be serious enough to further delay shipping the game. After Bloodlines was released to the public, Activision compiled a list of problems customers were reporting to its customer service department and on various Vampire websites. It then authorized Troika to spend a week creating a patch to address the most serious issues. However, Troika's inability to find revenue from another project had already forced the developer to lay off all its employees in two waves, except for the three owners: Jason Anderson, Leonard Boyarsky and Tim Cain. Despite this, several employees continued to work without pay on the Version 1.2 patch, which after three weeks was released on December 22, 2004.
Unable to find additional work, Troika disestablished itself in February 2005. As a result, direct support for the game ended. Several community patches have been since then released, in order to fix errors and bugs that were not corrected by Troika due to the scope of the game and the subsequent closing of the developer, as well as to restore unreleased additional content found in the game files.
|This section requires expansion. (July 2013)|
Tom McNamara of IGN opined that the visuals and in-depth RPG elements were of high quality but the combat and especially the AI were lacking, and called it a "grand RPG but a flawed gem of a game". Computer and Video Games praised the game for its execution and flair, but resented it (and Activision) for the number of bugs and the discontinuation of technical support immediately after the game's release, calling it "the best buggy game ever". Kieron Gillen of Eurogamer admired the accomplished and "effortlessly intelligent" script, claiming that "no other game has come close. Nothing's even tried." However, he criticized the game for becoming repetitive in its final third, and for sporting a large amount of bugs on release. Lewis Denby of HonestGamers overlooked these flaws, stating that the game "may not be polished and may end with a sigh instead of a shout, but for its ambition alone it deserves stream after stream of compliments."
Despite generally favorable reviews, Bloodlines sales underperformed in the first few weeks, selling 72,000 units ($3.4 million). In early 2009, the game experienced a significant revitalization, thanks in particular to its re-release on the Steam development service. Retrospective articles by Rock Paper Shotgun and Eurogamer praised the title as "a clever, multi-faceted RPG," and declaring that "it bristles with life and character."
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