Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
|Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines|
|Distribution||Optical disc, download|
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is a 2004 action role-playing game developed by Troika Games and released by Activision for Microsoft Windows. Based on White Wolf, Inc.'s role-playing game, Vampire: The Masquerade, the game follows a newly-created vampire who must seek to uncover the truth behind a recently discovered relic that heralds the end of all vampires. Set in White Wolf's World of Darkness, Bloodlines allows the player to assign their character to one of several different vampire clans, each granting unique powers, and customise their abilities from combat to dialog, allowing them to progress through the game using violent and non-violent methods.
The game is presented from the first-person and third-person perspective. Bloodlines offers an open world structure, allowing the player to complete side missions away from the primary storyline by moving freely between the available hubs: Santa Monica, Hollywood, Downtown Los Angeles, and Chinatown. Development of Bloodlines took place over three years beginning in 2001. The process was turbulent, with the 32-member team struggling to finalize the game's various aspects right up to its release in an unfinished state by Activision on November 16, 2004.
The game's relative failure in terms of sales, helped contribute to the eventual closure of Troika Games in early 2005, after they were unable to secure any further projects. Bloodlines divided critics at the time, who extolled the game's writing, full voice acting, and the scale of choice and influence on the game world, but criticized it for the frequent technical issues, bugs, and incomplete aspects. Since its release, Bloodlines has become considered to have a cult following, credited as an example of gameplay and narrative rarely replicated. As of 2014, Bloodlines had received ten years of further development by its fan community, who have provided fixes to the released game as well as restoring lost and deleted content.
Bloodlines is a role-playing game optionally presented from the first person and third-person perspectives. Before the game begins, players create a male or female vampire character; this can be done either by: directly selecting a vampire clan and configuring available points in three areas, Attributes, Abilities, and Disciplines (vampiric powers); or by answering a series of questions that build a character for the player, based on their responses. The player can select one of seven vampire clans: the physically-powerful Brujah, the decadent Toreador, the insane Malkavian, the aristocratic Ventrue, the monstrously-deformed Nosferatu, the blood-magic wielding Tremere, and the animalistic Gangrel.
The player further builds their character by spending acquired points to increase their ratings in the three available areas: Attributes consist of Physical (strength, dexterity, and stamina), Social (charisma, manipulation, and appearance), and Mental (perception, intelligence, and wits); Abilities are talents such as brawl and dodge, skills such as firearms, and melee, and knowledge, such as computers, and investigation. Attributes and Abilities are calculated for Feats, which determine a player's success or failure at certain tasks, such as using firearms, brawling, and lockpicking. The player is initially assigned a number of points to spend in the three available areas, with the amount they are allowed to spend determined by the selected clan; the Brujah can spend the most points in the physical Attributes and skills section of Attributes. During character creation, each upgrade costs only one point, with an increasing cost assigned once the game starts. Each ability can be raised from zero to a maximum of five, and it is impossible to accrue enough experience points to complete every skill, allowing the player to specialize in certain abilities or create a more balanced character. Experience points are gained through the completion of quests, finding certain items, or unlocking secret paths through areas, rather than the killing of enemies. These points are used to increase or unlock the character's various statistics and abilities.
The clan to which the player belongs also impacts their available skills and powers: the attractive Toreador's receive bonuses to seduction and persuasion opening new dialog options but are physically weak, while the Nosferatu are a walking masquerade violation that is forced to travel in the shadows or through sewers, but they receive bonuses to intelligence and computer skills that allow access to to more information. Malkavians meanwhile have entirely separate dialog options to reflect their inherent insanity. Other clans can have specific dialog options, with more attractive and charismatic characters using seduction to get their way, with aggressive characters issuing threats.
Firearms combat plays out in first-person perspective, with the character points committed to the firearms skill determining the accuracy of the shot, and how long it takes to target an opponent. Melee combat employs the third-person perspective. The player has access to various weapons such as a katana or sledgehammer for melee combat to pistols, crossbows, and flamethrowers for firearms. If the player sneaks up behind an enemy unaware of their presence, they can perform a stealth kill, instantly disabling the opponent; weapons provide their own unique stealth kill animations. The player can block attacks manually, or automatically by leaving their character idle. The player can use stealth to approach missions in different ways, by sneaking past guards and security cameras, picking locks and hacking computers to locate alternative routes through levels.
Each clan has access to specific Disciplines which can be used in combat, and to create different approaches to quests, and while some powers may overlap between clans, no two clans share the exact same three Disciplines: more physical vampires can enhance themselves to become fast and lethal killers or summon spirit allies to attack their foes, others can mentally dominate their targets to force their cooperation or render themselves invisible to hide from detection, and others still can boil their opponent's blood from afar. Some Disciplines are common to all vampires, such as Auspex, which boosts perception, highlighting items, and the auras of other characters, even through walls, and Blood Buff, which temporarily upgrades strength, dexterity, and stamina, providing combat benefits such as increased damage, and non-combat benefits such as making the character better at lockpicking. Multiple abilities can be active at the same time. Blood is a primary currency in Bloodlines, used to activate Disciplines and abilities. Blood is drained with each usage, and can be replenished in various ways, such as drinking from rats, visiting blood banks, or drinking from humans by attacking or seducing them. The player can also feed on enemies during combat. Drinking from innocents for too long can result in their death, costing the character humanity points.
Players are penalized for using certain vampiric abilities in front of witnesses, or exposing the existence of vampires through the loss of masquerade points. Violating the masquerade five times draws the ire of vampire hunters and ends the game in failure, but additional masquerade points can be earned through the completion of quests and other in-game actions. The player additionally possesses humanity points, representing the humanity left within the vampire. Actions such as killing innocents costs humanity. A low humanity score affects gameplay by altering available dialog options to become more bestial, and increasing the chance of entering a frenzy state when the player's blood supply runs low, causing them to go on an uncontrollable killing spree; the frenzy can also be triggered when the player sustains large amounts of damage. Like masquerade points, losing all humanity points ends the game, with the player character becoming a mindless beast. Certain areas, called Elysium, prevent the use of Disciplines or weapons.
The player can optionally recruit a female ghoul named Heather who acts as their servant, providing them with blood, gifts, and money, as well as customizing their appearance on their master's whim.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines takes place in four hub areas within 21st-century Los Angeles: Santa Monica, Downtown, Hollywood, and Chinatown. Set within the World of Darkness, the game depicts a world where vampires, werewolves, demons, and other creatures are real, and responsible for shaping human history. The vampires are bound to a code to maintain the secrecy of their race, disallowing the use of vampiric abilities in front of humans, as well as discouraging unnecessary killing to preserve the last shreds of humanity in the vampire that prevent them becoming bestial. The vampires are separated into one of seven clans of the Camarilla-the vampire government-with their own respective traits and abilities: the Toreador are the closest to humanity with deep passions for culture; the Ventrue are regarded as nobility and powerful leaders; the Brujah are idealists who excel at fighting; the Malkavians are cursed with insanity (or blessed with insight); the Gangrel are loners most in-sync with the animalistic nature within; the secretive and untrustworthy Tremere wield blood magic; and the physically-monstrous Nosferatu are condemned to a life in the shadows to avoid all humans. The Anarchs represent idealist vampires opposed the political structure of the Camarilla, believing that power should be shared amongst all vampires. The clans are loosely unified by their belief in the Camarilla's goals, and their opposition to the Sabbat; vampires who revel in their nature and embrace the beast within.
The main character of Bloodlines, whom the player controls, is an unnamed male or female fledgling vampire, transformed at the start of a game and belonging to one of these clans. The fledgling is employed by the Sebastian LaCroix (Andy Milder), the prince of Los Angeles' vampires. The fledgling's travels through the vampire political world brings them into contact with other undead creatures, such as the deformed information broker Bertram Tung, the Anarch Smiling Jack (John DiMaggio), and the mentally unstable Voerman sisters, Jeanette and Therese. Chinatown is controlled by the Kuei-Jin, Asian vampires led by Ming-Xiao, who do not need to feed on blood and consider themselves above the other vampires.
In Los Angeles, the unnamed protagonist is killed and resurrected as a fledgling vampire. For this unauthorized act, the fledgling and their Sire are brought before the Camarilla; the Sire is executed on the order of the Prince, Sebastian LaCroix, while the fledgling is spared the same fate by the intervention of the Anarch, Nines Rodriguez, with the fledgling instead being employed by the Prince.
LaCroix sends the player to Santa Monica to aid his ghoul Mercurio in destroying a Sabbat warehouse. Following his success, the flegling travels to downtown Los Angeles, meeting separately with Nines, LaCroix, and Jack. LaCroix tasks the player with investigating the docked ship, the Elizabeth Dane for information about the Ankaran sarcophagus carried aboard; an ancient item rumored to contain the body of an Antediluvian, one of the eldest and most powerful vampires, whose arrival would herald the vampire apocalypse, Gehenna. The fledgling investigates the ship and discovers that the sarcophagus appears to have been opened from within.
The increased Sabbat activity coincides with the disappearance of the Malkavian primogen Alistair Grout. At Grout's mansion, the fledgling sees Nines leaving. The fledgling discovers Grout's remains in the mansion, and vampire hunter Grunfeld Bach who denies involvement in Grout's death. Learning of Nine's presence at the mansion, LaCroix calls on the other primogens to approve Nines' execution. Meanwhile, the fledgling is sent to the Museum of Natural History to recover the sarcophagus, but finds that it has already been stolen. Later, Jack suggests to the fledgling that LaCroix wants the sarcophagus so that he can drink the blood of the ancient within, gaining all of its power.
Believing that Gary, the Nosferatu primogen, has stolen the sarcophagus, the fledgling is sent to Hollywood to seek him out; after locating a captured Nosferatu for Gary, he reveals that the sarcophagus was stolen by the Giovanni vampire clan. The fledgling infiltrates the Giovanni mansion, and finds the sarcophagus guarded by the Kuei-Jin, who claim their leader Ming-Xiao has formed an alliance with LaCroix. The locked sarcophagus is returned to LaCroix's tower, and Beckett, a vampire historian, informs the fledgling that the only person who can open it has been abducted by Grunfeld to lure out LaCroix. The fledgling kills Grunfeld, and learns that the sarcophagus' key was also stolen.
The fledgling returns to LaCroix, finding that the Sabbat attempted to steal the sarcophagus to destroy it and prevent Gehenna. The fledgling hunts down and kills the Sabbat leader to scatter his followers. Afterwards, the fledgling is met by Ming-Xiao who offers an alliance. Ming-Xiao reveals that she has the key, and that LaCroix killed Grout to prevent his powerful insight from unveiling LaCroix's plans, while Ming-Xiao transformed into Nines at the mansion to frame him. Denying Ming-Xiao's claims, LaCroix rescinds the blood hunt on Nines and entrusts the fledgling with recruiting the Anarchs to help wage war on the Kuei-Jin for murdering Grout. The fledgling finds Nines hiding in the forest, but the pair are attacked by a werewolf, and Nines is left badly injured. The fledgling escapes with Jack; he reveals that LaCroix has placed an execution order on the fledgling, accusing them of framing Nines on the orders of Ming-Xiao.
The ending varies depending on whom, if anyone, the fledgling chooses to ally themselves with. If the fledgling supports either LaCroix or Ming-Xiao, each sends the fledgling to kill the other; LaCroix opens the sarcophagus only to be killed alongside the fledgling by explosives hidden within, while Ming-Xiao betrays the fledgling, chaining them to the sarcophagus and sinking it in the ocean. Supporting the Anarchs or no-one results in the fledgling killing Ming-Xiao and maiming LaCroix, who is killed after opening the sarcophagus; the fledgling can choose to open the sarcophagus, and dies in the explosion. If playing as a Tremere, the fledgling kills Ming-Xiao, and LaCroix is replaced by the Tremere leader Maximillian Strauss with the sarcophagus stored away. Each ending concludes with Jack sat watching from afar, alongside the mummy taken from the coffin, and the enigmatic taxi driver responsible for transporting the fledgling between locations, who states: "the blood of Caine controls our fate... farewell, vampire".
Development on Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines began at Troika Games in November 2001. The team wanted to innovate the role-playing game by putting it in a first-person setting, believing that the genre had become stale. Troika approached publisher Activision with their idea, who suggested using the Vampire: The Masquerade license, previously used one year earlier in Nihilistic Software's Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption. Instead of developing a sequel to Redemption, the team began researching the White Wolf property including the rules of the game, and the various storylines. Troika Games was a small studio with only five developers and 32 staff in total, including lead writer Brian Mitsoda who joined the team just under a year after development began. Some preliminary design and levels had been completed, but much of this work was abandoned or redeveloped, with development effectively starting over again.
Troika knew they wanted to make a 3D game, but were unsure whether they should try to build a new game engine or license an existing one, and if the game should be first-person or third-person. At this time, the Source game engine was being concurrently built by Valve Corporation. Valve employee Scott Lynch approached Troika about using the engine, making Troika the first external team to use it. Troika opted to use Source based on its facial animation and lip-synching system, as they wanted players to speak to each character face to face. The engine was in development in tandem with Bloodlines and Valve's own Half-Life 2, which meant that Troika Games was working with brand new and unfamiliar code and tools, with only a single source that could provide any support to overcome obstacles, forcing Troika to write their own code to compensate for the unfinished engine. Among others, Troika developed their own lighting system to create a distinctive, moodier illumination for the nighttime setting, a particle system for special effects that accompany the vampire Disciplines, and a cloth system for flowing clothing. However, Source still lacked its eventual high-class Artificial intelligence (AI) coding, and Troika's own code failed to work well with the Source engine.
Activision revealed the game to the public in May 2003. In October of that year, Valve suffered a security breach in which hackers stole the source code for Half-Life 2. The breach required new security implementations for the engine, delaying both it and Bloodlines while the new featured were added, at the time pushing back Bloodlines release to spring 2005. Up to May 2004, Troika and Activision stated that the game would feature a multiplayer component with modes including a team of vampires against a team of vampire hunters, with the ability to upgrade characters between each round. The team were left without a producer by Activision for over a year before they assigned David Mullich to the project. Without producer oversight, Mullich found the game's design incomplete, game levels which had been created and then abandoned, and various technical issues including problems with code for the proposed multiplayer option. The Source multiplayer code was still in its early stages, making the multiplayer aspect require more development time than had been anticipated, so the idea was abandoned.
Alongside issues with the Source engine, the designers found that the scope of the game was exceeding their resources. Bloodlines offers multiple styles of gameplay, requiring different interfaces, animations, and artificial intelligence designs for both stealth and melee combat, as well as the ability to perform these actions from a third-person or first-person perspective. Compared to contemporary first-person shooters that may feature 10 to 20 different character models that required animating, Bloodlines featured over 150 with 3000 unique animations, not including boss characters who feature their own movement styles.  The designers underestimated the length of time required to both prototype and improve these systems. The scope also suffered from content not being excised from the development process when necessary, while other components were approached with a perfectionist attitude that meant they would be continuously refined instead of finalized to allow the developers to begin focusing on other parts of the game system. Additionally, all of the content had to be approved by both White Wolf and Activision.
After three years in development, these issues meant that the game was progressing slowly, and there was seemingly no guarantee of when it would be complete. In 2003, publisher Activision stepped in, ordering that the game be ready for release within the next few months, and even advanced more money to Troika so that they could complete their separate work on The Temple of Elemental Evil for Atari, and have the entire Troika team available to work on Bloodlines. Activision eventually issued an ultimatum, requiring that the project be complete in a matter of months. Troika continued with development but the game was still unfinished when Activision forced its release. Bloodlines' creative director, Jason Anderson, would blame Activision, saying that the publisher took the game from Troika without providing enough time to test and polish it. Throughout the nearly 4 years of development time, Anderson estimated that the team had only two months where they were not in crunch time (working in excess of the standard 40 hours per week).
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. 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. 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.
Many of the basic plot elements existed before Mitsoda's involvement such as the prince, the anarchs being upset, aspects of the Gehenna storyline, and Jack and the sarcophagus being a major plot point. The designers developed ways in which the overarching story could be tied broadly into each individual hub and level. Each designer retained a great deal of control over their assigned sections in the game, and working with such a small team meant that it did not take long to develop a consensus or keep the plot elements consistent. Mitsoda eventually became the primary writer for many of the characters and their quests, dialog, and side content in the game such as e-mails which further helped to retain a consistent narrative; he was given a lot of freedom in regards to his script without restrictions on the use of language or the content, and was able to even rewrite characters like Damsel after he deemed his initial draft to be weak. While the story was developed by Troika, it is inspired by White Wolf's "Time of Judgment" novels about the vampire apocalypse. Bloodlines' story was accepted as canon by White Wolf, with the game serving as a prequel to "Time of Judgment" and including some characters from the White Wolf game like Jack.
Discussing the process of designing characters, Mitsoda said that he tried to put effort into disguising the necessity of characters that serve simply as a means of pointing the player in the appropriate direction. He said:
"You need a character to pose a problem or give out a quest or be a barrier of some kind. I don’t like to make the [character] outright say 'I need you to do X, then I’ll give you Y' because I see it all the time in games and it shows the writer’s hand – it makes the character into an automated quest kiosk. I like the characters to come off like people actually do – they don’t say 'hi' when strangers come knocking, they say 'who the hell are you?' or they’re expecting you and know more then they let on, or they don’t care. I don’t like my [characters] to be standing around as if their lives begin when the character starts talking to them and end when the player leaves.
Single-use characters that the character may only talk to once needed a unique personality trait to quickly establish them with the player, rather than serving as a disposable item, while major characters that the player speaks to on multiple occasions need to reflect the actions and progression the player as made in the game. Mitsoda wrote the characters by thinking about who each character was, assigning them individual motivations that would determine why they are where they are, what they think of the player, and what they want from them. On the suggestion of fellow writer Chad Moore, the Malkavian player character features a unique dialog script to the other eight playable races, but Mitsoda noted it was one of the less difficult aspects of the development cycle. Mitsoda wrote the Malkavian last, with time running out on development, which saw a lack of sleep and being overworked help contribute to what Mitsoda considered an unhealthy state-of-mind ideal to writing their insane dialog. He wanted to highlight their madness without it becoming comical. As the story is set during the Camarilla's recent take over of Los Angeles, it was deemed appropriate to allow the player to only choose to be one of its respective clans, which was also considered to help simplify the complex plot.
Troika co-founder Jason Anderson's research into the Vampire: The Masquerade source material and online fan-sites found that character interaction and involvement in the vampire societies was the primary draw in the game, rather than statistics and powers. Troika tried to stay true to the pen-and-paper role-playing game, hoping to avoid alienating the game's fans who would initially buy the game, but the rules designed for a multiple-person experience did not translate well to computer game design based around a single player. The team attempted to find which elements could work equally well in both pen-and-paper and computer games. Much of the character system translated over, as did character attributes, however not all of the attributes made sense within the game context, such as "knowledge of law". Overall, of the 30 pen-and-paper abilities, only 15 made it into the final design.
Another difficult area was feats, as while commonly used feats worked well with random chance of success or failure, lesser used ones would seem broken as they would appear to fail more often. To avoid this, randomization was removed and replaced with a level of difficulty in accomplishing the feat instead. Similarly, pen-and-paper falling damage is random, but the computer game instead bases damage purely on the height and velocity of the fall. The team's biggest challenge was adapting Disciplines, which in the pen-and-paper version may require a little blood but take a long time to use, or require no blood-cost at all and be used at will, and upgraded Disciplines held additional requirements, which was considered too confusing for a streamlined computer game. Troika attempted to equalize the Disciplines, keeping the effect as intact as possible, but normalizing the cost, so that a first-level power requires 1 blood point, a second-level requires 2 blood points, and so on. Among actions to balance the different clans, the aristocratic Ventrue were only allowed to feed on noble blood, but this was changed to allow them to also feed on lower-class humans, while receiving less blood. During character creation, the game featured an optionally chosen character biography that provides a unique bonus and negative to the character, such as boosting a specific ability, while limiting another. This was removed from the released game as Activision deemed that there was not sufficient time left before release to test them, and considered it a more stable option to simply remove them.
With the team having previously worked on turn-based combat games, the designers struggled with developing a real-time combat system that was still affected by the various customizable attributes and abilities, and provided feedback to the player on how those things were affecting the battle. They initially found that by adhering too closely to the White Wolf source material rules for guns, where the effectiveness of a shot is determined by a contest between the player's skill and the opponents defense, the firearms seemed broken as the player would not hit where they were aiming. Troika found it difficult to convey the interaction of all the different factors available in the real-time setting. Additionally, melee combat had to compensate for the variety of melee weapons and possible animations, as well as being tuned for melee-on-melee combat and melee-on-ranged combat.
Troika chose to use the first-person perspective because they believed it would help immerse the player in the setting, with the benefit of interacting face-to-face with the various characters and their facial reactions to the player. Additionally, Troika opted to follow a single-character instead of allowing the player to create a party of characters to further aid the immersion, creating the isolation of being a vampire who is unable to trust any other character. This aided the story as well as compensating for the technical issues presented by allowing more than one player character. A significant aspect of the game is choice, requiring a non-linear design capable of accommodating the various customized characters. Level design began with a list of things that needed to be considered such as Disciplines, stealth, and feats, as each area needed to be viable for a character who uses firearms (making sure enough ammunition was present to prevent), or focused on Disciplines (providing enough blood sources to keep the powers fueled), melee specialists (making sure it is possible to reach certain enemies without being killed), as well as stealth options, and combinations of any of these options. Level design typically started with a focus on stealth, taking into consideration the positioning of guards and the potential stealth capabilities of the character. Then more direct, combat-heavy paths were added, as well as dialog-paths where applicable. The Santa Monica pier area was to feature Arcade games with playable Activision titles like Pitfall!, using an emulator, but the idea was abandoned due to time constraints.
Boyarsky considered the animation system to be an important aspect in choosing to use the Source engine. The integrated "faceposer" tool allowed Troika to customize facial animations, expressions, gestures, and lip-synching, eliminating the need to explain what a character was doing simply through text. This also meant that every non-player character required voiceovers, although it helped Troika define their characters more quickly through their voice. The engine also provided a physics system that allowed for new features like monsters hurling corpses at the player, or dying characters crumbling into their component parts realistically instead of using pre-built animations. Troika had previously ignored first-person engines due to technical limitations such as low-polygon counts and limited texture memory, but as technology improved, they considered that they could create a real-time action game without sacrificing the immersion and story of a role-playing game.
Describing developing a game based on the existing White Wolf property over creating their own, Boyarsky said that although an original property lacked the constraints of working within an existing one, the downside to developing an original property was that it had not been tested and could be rejected by its potential audience, while the existing property was already proven. Troika tried to stay as close as possible to the White Wolf rules, while reducing the number of abilities and disciplines to those relevant to Bloodlines gameplay.
Original instrumental music for the game was produced by Rik Schaffer. Troika licensed many songs for the game, and posters for real bands are featured on the walls of the game's clubs. The soundtrack was released as a limited-edition CD to customers who pre-ordered the game through the Best Buy retail store chain. It features 9 tracks by artists including Daniel Ash, Chiasm, Tiamat, Darling Violetta, Genitorturers, and Lacuna Coil. The song "Bloodlines" performed by Al Jourgensen and Ministry was composed and performed specifically for the game. The licensed tracks were chosen by Activision without input from Troika.
|2.||"Come Alive"||Daniel Ash||5:55|
|6.||"Needle's Eye"||Die My Darling||3:55|
|9.||"Smaller God"||Darling Violetta||4:25|
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines was released on November 16, 2004, in direct competition with Half-Life 2, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and Halo 2, among several other titles. Valve's contract for Troika use of the Source engine guaranteed that Bloodlines could not be released before Half-Life 2. Similarly, Bloodlines could not be revealed to the public until after the announcement of Half-Life 2, over eighteen months after development began. In February 2004, the game had originally been scheduled for release in spring 2005, in part intentionally to avoid competing with Half-Life 2 and the competitive Christmas period.
In a 2013 interview, Mitsoda remarked that it was released at "the worst possible time - most people didn't even know we were out... fans and the Troika [developers] are always going to wonder what the game could have been like with another six months." Activision contracted model Erin Layne to portray the character of Jeanette in promotional material for the game. Layne worked with Bloodlines' artist Tim Bradstreet over the course of a day, to provide the poses chosen by Activision to represent Jeanette in the game's posters, clothing, and other items.
The relative failure of Bloodlines' release contributed to the eventual demise of Troika Games. Shortly after the game's debut, most of the development staff were made redundant, while the remaining staff alternated between attempting to patch the released version of Bloodlines and developing new game concepts to help secure funding to keep Troika in business. Troika was unable to obtain further funding, and gradually released its employees in two waves, the first in November 2004, followed by the remaining staff in December, except for its three founders: Anderson, Boyarsky, and Tim Cain. Some employees had continued to work unpaid to continue fixing the game. By the time the company finally closed in February 2005, it had secured no other game development deals. In the same month, Boyarsky confirmed that Troika had not been working on a patch for the game, having been without most of its staff since December 2004. In a November 2004 interview, Boyarsky stated that the team would like to pursue a Bloodlines sequel, but that ultimately the decision fell to Activision.
Unofficial patches have since been created by the game's fan community to further develop Bloodlines. After experiencing some issues with the first versions of the Unoffial Patch created by Dan Upright, analytical chemist Werner Spahl continued patching the game from version 1.2 on, getting the permission and information on how to do so. The community around the game served as testers for Spahl's patches, providing reports on bugs, spelling errors and more. The complexity of the game system often meant that repairing one aspect broke another, but as work on the patches progressed, Spahl moved beyond simply fixing issues with the base game and began restoring removed and incomplete content which still remained within the game files, like adding new quests, items, weapons and characters while using fans to provide voice acting, new models, to even reinstating entire levels. The changes altered the original game so much that Spahl was criticized by some of the game's community, resulting in the release of separate patch versions: a basic one that fixes the technical issues of the game, and a plus version which installs the additional content too. As of April 2014, the game has received almost 10 years of post-release support with the release of version 9 of the patch.
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. 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.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines received a generally mixed response, with reviewers praising the writing and presentation, while criticizing the various technical issues present throughout the game. Aggregating review websites GameRankings and Metacritic, respectively, provide a score of 81% based on 68 reviews, and 80 based on 61 reviews.
The game was frequently cited as a flawed masterpiece. The scale and variety of choice and effect was highlighted by reviewers as Bloodlines's greatest success, including the variety of clans with specific dialog options, and the specific reactions from other characters each carrying their own clan alignments and prejudice. GameSpy said that taken purely as a role-playing game, it is nearly flawless classic, and the New York Times calling it brilliant but unfinished. Eurogamer complimented the "effortlessly intelligent" script, claiming that "no other game has come close. Nothing's even tried," and VideoGamer.com said that at its best, Bloodlines stands among the greatest RPGs of the preceding five years, though its technical issues should not be forgiven. HonestGamers stated 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." Reviewers compared the game to other successful role-playing games, including the Fallout, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Planescape: Torment, Baldur's Gate II, and Deus Ex, with EuroGamer describing Bloodlines as Deus Ex with vampires.
IGN appreciated that Bloodlines rewards exploration outside of the main story, and the New York Times and GameSpy praised the "wonderfully imaginative missions". Reviewers noted however that the later parts of the game were disappointing, delivering repetitive combat-focused missions with respawning enemies, that abandoned the other options such as dialog and stealth, punishing players who build characters with more social skills that combat abilities. GameSpy noted that they had never seen a role-playing game so affected by player actions, with everything from clan choice and character build, to actions in missions influencing future options and dialog.
The writing received consistent praise from reviewers. The narrative was considered to be deep, offering a successful use of White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade content. EuroGamer said it featured the best script they had ever seen in a video game, while others considered it to be a superbly crafted tale of conspiracies, underworld subterfuge, fun, and intrigue. Reviewers appreciated the use of adult themes like sex and death in the story in a contemporary video game, that no other games had tackled with similar effectiveness. The mature themes succeeded while never being gratuitous or exploitative, or existing purely to shock, and instead being dealt with in honest and truthful ways by a writer who is knowledgable about the topics. The characters were well received for their memorable, well-developed personalities, with most major characters featuring their own intriguing backstory, that are presented as living people instead of ciphers delivering the next mission. The ending received a mixed response, with reviewers appreciating the ability to influence which of the game's four endings were received which added incentive to replay the game, and others considering the ending anti-climatic.
GameSpot and GameSpy said the dialog was sharply written, featuring many memorable lines and phrases. Eurogamer noted that the characters frequent use of vulgar language made sense because they are written like real people and such language fit their character, rather than simply having them swear to make the game seem more adult. They also appreciated that the breadth of dialog options was immensely rewarding in allowing the player greater control over personalizing how they play their character. Conversely, PC Zone said that the quantity of well-written dialog did not necessitate quality, considering that too many player choices appeared to have little effect on the outcome of a conversation, and the best response often being the most obvious. The voice acting was repeatedly singled out for praise, both for the quality of the actors, and the amount of voice work present due to the amount of available dialog options.
Much of Bloodlines' criticism focused on the it's technical failings upon release that undermined the experience or made the game unplayable. Reviewers noted as well as errors that closed the game, Bloodlines featured several typographical errors in on-screen text. Others highlighted frequent and sometimes lengthy loading times encounted while moving between hubs and entering or exiting buildings and separate areas. GameSpot said that the game's Artificial Intelligence (AI) was poor, causing enemies to often rush at an armed player, fire at them from too great a distance to be effective, or become immobilized while waiting for the player's next attack. IGN noted that stealth also broke the AI, allowing traps to be triggered, but leaving the assailants standing still, unable to locate a hidden player. GameSpy said that the Source engine was Bloodlines greatest weakness, reasoning that the RPG aspects are the game's strongest aspects, while the features of the Source engine such as first-person shooting, are where the game stumbled.
Combat also received criticism, with reviewers labeling it poor, clumsy, and unsatisfactory. Reviewers complained that Bloodlines favors melee combat, with firearms being weak, unwieldy, and slow, even for characters that specialized in guns. However, PC Zone said that the first-person shooting was entertaining and challenging. While melee combat was criticized as sluggish and difficult due to enemy attacks interrupting the player's, reviewers still considered that melee combat was overpowered, with GameSpot stating that a boss character was killed with melee weapons the first time after repeated failures attempting to accomplish the same with a gun. The New York Times said that the final part of the game featured unavoidable combat so difficult that they had to cheat to succeed. Stealth was also criticized with IGN noting that even with low stealth skill, it was possible to sneak around many enemies, and even feed from a guard without altering another guard stood immediately next to them. However, GameSpot said that some of the best missions were stealth-based, with combat being more straight forward.
Despite the generally favorable reviews, Bloodlines's initial release sold only 72,000 copies (earning approximately $3.4 million) which was considered a poor response and helped contribute to Troika's shutdown shortly after the game's release. In comparison, its release competitor Half-Life 2 had sold 6.5 million units by 2008.
In 2004, IGN named it the Best PC RPG of that year, and GameSpy named the "Ocean House Hotel" quest, as the Level of the Year. In 2006, PC Zone listed Bloodlines as the seventh-best PC game that people were unlikely to have played, saying it was the "best buggy game ever released". In 2007, the game appeared at number 80, on PC Gamer's list of its top 100 games, and in 2013, PCGamesN listed as the seventh best PC role-playing game. In 2011, Rock Paper Shotgun listed Bloodlines as one of the most important PC games of all time, saying "it signposts a direction to a future of games that we were denied". Rock Paper Shotgun also named it as one of the 122 Best PC Games Ever. Cinema Blend named it one of the most underappreciated games of the decade. In 2011, Official Xbox Magazine named it one of the ten PC franchises it wanted to appear on the Xbox 360 console. In 2014, Empire's reader-voted list of the 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time, listed Bloodlines at number 90.
Retrospective critiques of the game have continued to praise the narrative and degree of choice. In 2009, Rock Paper Shotgun said "the sense of sorrow comes from the realisation that there’s nothing like [Bloodlines] on the horizon... why should there be so few games like this? Oh right, because it’s so very hard to do... the lack of games comparable to Bloodlines is one of the great tragedies of our time." Eurogamer called the game inspirational, with a level of narrative detail that remained unmatched. In 2010, The Escapist said that Bloodlines was a flawed masterpiece that could have been a genuine masterpiece with more time, money, and staff, but that while great games may inspire awe, the game instead created a devoted fan base that continued to develop the game. The game is considered a cult classic.
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