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Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, abbreviated as Bloodlines or VTMB, is a computer role-playing game for Windows developed by Troika Games in 2004. Like Activision's Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption, Bloodlines is set in White Wolf, Inc.'s pen-and-paper roleplaying game Vampire: The Masquerade inside his universe known as the World of Darkness (WoD), 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 retains a popular cult following.[1] It is also notable for being the first game along with Half-Life 2 to use Valve's Source engine, which allows the game to be played from either the first-person or third-person shooter perspective. It is also Troika Games' third title and the last to be made before Troika closed down in February 2005.

Introduction

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 stats, 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 his or her 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.

Gameplay

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 CRPGs, 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 NPCs. 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 zero, but the player's character is almost certain to enter frenzy when it is this low, 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.

Storyline

The storyline of the game is dynamic. This comes not only from the presence of numerous optional quests, but also from the existence of several different endings, see below. 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 L.A. conspire to obtain this artifact, or to foil each others' attempts to do so, the player must decide whom to trust: Prince LaCroix, Regent 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.

Ankaran Sarcophagus

A sarcophagus that was previously discovered an untold number of 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.

Endings

Camarilla

In the Camarilla ending, which can be followed through with the Tremere primogen, the character destroys both Ming Xiao and the Sheriff of LaCroix, and La Croix is presumably sentenced to death. 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 players clan and certain side quests.

Kuei-jin

Choosing this path means that the player character doesn't have to fight Ming Xiao. Instead, he heads directly to Ventrue Tower to fight the sheriff and confront 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 himself.

LaCroix

Allying with LaCroix, the player character convinces him that he did not sabotage his alliance, and he sends him 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 to open the sarcophagus. Inside is a large quantity of C4, and a farewell note from Jack, the anarch from the beginning of the game. La Croix screams in rage 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 that "the blood of Caine controls our destiny..."

Anarchs

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 bomb inside (with a note reading "BOOM! Love, Jack") detonates. On a hill overlooking the city, 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 that "the blood of Caine controls our destiny..."

Personal

This path causes the character to side with no one. With the cab driver taking them to where they want to go, the character kills Ming Xiao and retrieves the key to the sarcophagus, returning to Venture Tower to fight LaCroix. Upon killing the Sheriff, the player and LaCroix confront each other, leading to the player slashing LaCroix's throat and leaving him. The prince is left with the key as the player leaves the tower, and as soon as LaCroix opens the sarcophagus, the bomb inside (with a note reading "BOOM! Love, Jack") explodes, presumably killing him. As the player walks down the streets of Downtown L.A. away from the tower, Nines and a couple more anarchs show up to congratulate and thank the player, but the player simply gives them the finger and continues on his way. 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. On a hill overlooking the city, 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 that "the blood of Caine controls our destiny..."

Characters

Locations

While the areas found in Bloodlines are based on real places, they do not completely resemble their real-world counterparts. Based in the World of Darkness, the locales are significantly darker and more run-down than their real-life Los Angeles counterparts. There are however many landmarks, such as the Santa Monica Pier and a Chinese Theater which complement the feel of each locale. Initially, the player is confined to the Santa Monica area until several early quest are completed, at which point the player is given access to a taxi cab that provides access to other areas.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica is the starting area and is considerably run down. Thin Bloods are present at the beach and law enforcement is poor, among other things. It is home to the Asylum nightclub, the Santa Monica Medical Clinic and its blood bank, a local diner, several businesses including a bail bond agency the player can work for, the haunted Ocean House Hotel, and several residences including the player's initial home base or "haven".

Elizabeth Dane

A small-scale cargo ship, the Elizabeth Dane was discovered by fishermen who received no replies to their radio hails. Maritime law enforcement agencies subsequently discovered signs of an incredibly violent struggle on board, but they were unable to locate any remaining signs of the crew. Aside from a cracked container holding the Ankaran Sarcophagus and a stolen package, the police were unable to locate anything else of note. The name of the Elizabeth Dane is a reference to a ship with the same name in the 1980 horror film The Fog.

Downtown

Downtown L.A. is home to the local Camarilla, based in the Venture Tower, and street side Anarch movement, based in the pub The Last Round. The area is also the location of Club Confession, the Empire Hotel, the Nocturne Theatre, Skyeline Apartments, the local Tremere chantry, among other areas of secondary interest, like the condemned hospital. Depending on choices made by the player he or she may be given a haven "upgrade", receiving access to either an apartment in the Skyeline building, the Chantry (Tremere), or in the sewers (Nosferatu), depending on the clan being played.

Grout's Mansion

Grout's mansion on the outskirts of L.A. Inside is housed by mentally disturbed people who attack on sight. Various personal monologues on dictation machines are strewn about his mansion. After the player finds out that Grout is dead, the place is set on fire by the vampire hunter Bach.

Hollywood

Hollywood is Anarch territory, claimed by the Baron Isaac. It houses the Asp Hole and club Vesuvius, both owned by vampires. The Chinese Theatre and cemetery are local landmarks, although the Theatre is currently abandoned (apart from a stone Gargoyle which the player may choose to kill or assist during a quest), and there is a serious cemetery problem—overseen by Isaac's ghoul, Romero—which the player can resolve in a number of ways. The Nosferatu are also headquartered here, though no one knows exactly where.

Chinatown

Chinatown is Kuei-Jin territory. Almost universally avoided by the native western vampires, Chinatown is the headquarters for eastern vampire holdings in L.A. and the surrounding areas. The head of the local Mandarinate is Ming Xiao, a shapeshifter who rules from the Golden Temple. The area includes a number of businesses the player can utilize depending on game-play choices.

Organizations

Camarilla

The Camarilla claims that all vampires are its members, regardless of their actual affiliation. They are the enforcers of the Masquerade—rules all vampires must abide by in order to keep their existence safe and hidden from mortals. Beaten out of Los Angeles through brute force by the Anarchs 60 years ago, the Camarilla have recently returned to the city, with LaCroix leading the effort to establish a new presence. Headquartered in the downtown area, they are having trouble consolidating power due to opposition from the Anarchs. A Camarilla member who claims domain over a city is called a prince. LaCroix is the prince of L.A. during the course of the game.

Under the Camarilla, each clan is led by a primogen, usually the eldest representative in the city. Three are named in the game: Maximillian Strauss (Tremere), Gary Golden (Nosferatu) and Dr. Aleister Grout (Malkavian).

Anarchs

The Anarchs maintain a steadfast belief that the authoritarian control proposed by the Camarilla is unnecessary. The majority of Anarchs are Brujah, due to their idealistic tendencies. An Anarch who claims and keeps domain over an area is called a Baron. The only in-game Baron encountered is Isaac Abrams of Hollywood. Isaac, a Toreador, is far more civil than the typical Anarch, but nonetheless hates the Camarilla just as much. Therese Voerman, a Malkavian, however, is not so loyal to the Anarchs and fancies herself the Camarilla Prince of Santa Monica. However, her 'sister' Jeanette, also a Malkavian, works alongside a Camarilla Nosferatu, Bertram Tung, to undermine Therese's attempts at becoming Prince of Santa Monica.

While Anarchs can be found in many North American cities, they are largely regarded as immature and foolish, unable to achieve anything on their own. However, an Anarch revolt in 1944 led to the slaying of Don Sebastian, the Toreador Prince of Los Angeles, and the establishment of the "Anarch Free States"—a zone on the West Coast where several large cities were put under Anarch control. This changed in the early 2000s, as a Kuei-Jin attack on L.A. weakened the Anarchs enough for Sebastian LaCroix to step in on behalf of the Camarilla. The fate of most of the previous Anarch leaders is unclear, but it is stated that the previous "leader" of the movement was slain by the Kuei-Jin.

The Last Round is a bar in downtown where the Anarchs Nines Rodriguez, Smiling Jack, Damsel, and Skelter gather.

Sabbat

Disliked by just about every sect, the Sabbat relies heavily on overwhelming force to achieve its goals. This unsophisticated tactic garners Sabbat members a reputation as brutish idiots, but their willingness to abandon what remains of their humanity for bestial fury and their strong blood ties to their packmates make them feared by all opponents. The Sabbat push into L.A. is part of a larger effort to encroach on Anarch and Camarilla holdings close to the West Coast and the Mexican border. The leader of the L.A. Sabbat is a Tzimisce named Andrei, who occupies the Hollowbrook Hotel in downtown. While the Camarilla and Anarchs agree, in principle, that kindred should keep a low profile, Sabbat members flaunt their supernatural power for all to see. The Sabbat also perform diablerie, a highly illegal act among kindred that consists of draining a fellow vampire to death and taking on the victim's power.

Kuei-jin

Vampires native to Asia, the Kuei-Jin] (also known as Cathayans) have gained a foothold in Los Angeles as part of a larger globalization drive spearheaded by their home authorities, and have taken the local vampiric population largely by surprise. The Kuei-jin do not consider themselves kindred in the Western sense, they consider themselves to be reborn for a purpose, but because of their similarities, they are referred to as Asian vampires. The locals look upon them as demons due to their wildly powerful abilities and differing worldview. Based in Chinatown, they are seen as dangerous invaders. The local leader, Ming Xiao, resides in the Golden Temple.

Development and sales

Troika Games officially began work on the game in November 2001, but the nearly three-year-long production cycle was plagued by many problems.[2] 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.

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.[3] The original Half-Life had itself sold 12 million units by then.[3] 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.[4]

Bloodlines sales underperformed in the first few weeks, selling 72,000 units ($3.4 million)[5] despite generally favorable reviews.[6]

After Troika's disestablishment, Bloodlines became available from online distribution systems like GameTap, Direct2Drive and later Steam.

Patches

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.[4]

Unable to find additional work, Troika disestablished itself in February 2005.[7] As a result, direct support for the game ended. Community patches have been released as add-ons to the game, 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.[8][9]

Reception

Tom McNamara of IGN gave the game 8.4 out of 10, saying 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".[10]

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. They named it "the best buggy game ever".[11]

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 criticised the game for becoming repetitive in its final third, and for sporting a large amount of bugs on release, settling for a 7 out of 10 score.[12]

But Lewis Denby of Honest Gamers 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." He awarded the game 9 out of 10.[13]

In the early months of 2009, the game experienced a significant revitalization, thanks in particular to its re-release on the Steam development service.[14] Multiple sites (including Rock Paper Shotgun and Eurogamer) have done retrospectives praising the title as "a clever, multi-faceted RPG,"[15] and declaring that "it bristles with life and character."[16] Writer Brian Mitsoda spoke with Rock, Paper, Shotgun regarding his work on the game, and his feelings regarding its rushed production and reception.[17]

Soundtrack

A number of songs were licensed for the game. The song "Bloodlines" performed by Ministry had lyrics written specifically for the game, it is a revised version of the song "So What". Some of the music in the game is not credited, including the main menu music. Various reviewers have noted this sounds like a dub of the song "Angel" by Massive Attack.

The official soundtrack was released through Best Buy stores for customers who pre-ordered the game. The tracks are as follows:

Music Track TitleWritten byPerformed byRecord companyPlays in game location:
"Swamped" Marco Coti Zelati, Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro Lacuna Coil Century Media Records In the Asp Hole and at the end credits
"Cain" Johan Edlund Tiamat Century Media Records In Asp Hole (Hollywood)
"Bloodlines" Al Jourgensen Al Jourgensen / Ministry Megaforce Records In Club Confession (Downtown)
"Needles Eye" Written by F.G. Reiche Die My Darling
"Come Alive" Daniel Ash Daniel Ash In Glaze (Chinatown)
"Pound" J. Blackwell, H. Cummings, S. Smith, C. McCall and M. Wolfe AERIAL2012
"Isolated" Emileigh Rohn Chiasm COP International (License) In The Asylum (Santa Monica)
"Lecher Bitch" Jennifer Vincent, David Vincent and Vincent Saletto Genitorturers In The Last Round (Downtown)
"Smaller God" C. Elen, J. Thomas, and S. McManus Darling Violetta Opaline Records In the Empire Hotel (Downtown) by a human singer, and on the Thin Bloods' radio at the Santa Monica Pier

In addition to the above, a full soundtrack was leaked through BitTorrent trackers. This soundtrack includes all the music from the game, including multiple tracks cut from it.

References

  1. http://www.giantbomb.com/vampire-the-masquerade-bloodlines/61-16426/
  2. David Mullich: The Interview. TeaLeaves. Retrieved on August 24, 2004.
  3. 3.0 3.1 First In Half-Life Episodic Trilogy Debuts At Number 1. Valve Corporation (2006-06-09). Retrieved on 2008-09-22.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Vampire Bloodlines delayed. Eurogamer. Retrieved on February 4, 2004.
  5. Troika Games Officially Closed. Retrieved on December 24, 2006.
  6. Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines reviews: metascore 80. metacritic.com. Retrieved on June 12, 2006.
  7. Troika closes. GameSpot. Retrieved on February 24, 2005.
  8. Barter, Pavel PC Zone, page 16, 2009
  9. PC Gamer UK, page 105, 2008
  10. Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines Review. IGN (November 17, 2004). Retrieved on 2008-07-04.
  11. The Greatest PC Games That You've (Probably) Never Played. Computer and Video Games (November 3, 2006). Retrieved on 2008-06-21.
  12. Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines Review. EuroGamer (November 24, 2004). Retrieved on 2008-09-24.
  13. Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines Review. Honest Gamers (July 18, 2008). Retrieved on 2008-09-24.
  14. Steam Puts Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines on Sale This Weekend. BigDownload.com (October 31, 2008). Retrieved on 2009-07-31.
  15. Forever Young, The Tragedy Of Bloodlines. Rock Paper Shotgun (February 11, 2009). Retrieved on 2009-07-31.
  16. Retrospective: Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines Article. EuroGamer (July 4, 2009). Retrieved on 2009-07-31.
  17. Interview Without a Vampire: Bloodlines' B Mitsoda. Rock Paper Shotgun (April 6, 2009). Retrieved on 2009-07-31.

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