“Maintaining the Masquerade is a huge part, obviously, of the IP,” Craig Hubbard, game director of Bloodhunt, the Vampire: The Masquerade battle royale spin-off, tells me. “So the central premise of the game is you’re trying to eliminate anarchs to restore the masquerade. It’s built into the lore and the storytelling, although we’re not a story game. We had a much more elaborate masquerade system at one point, but it was just confusing. And so what we’ve done is we’ve tried to adapt it to ‘How do you actually play the game? What do you need to do? Where are the things where the Masquerade would make the most sense?’, and then we just try to experiment with those and get them to feel appropriate for the pace. So killing a civilian or being seen feeding by another mortal will both Bloodhunt you [meaning you’ll show up on everyone’s map]. If you even use your abilities in front of a mortal, you’ll show up on the mini map.”
Vampire: The Masquerade began life as a tabletop RPG in 1991, and thanks to cult classic Bloodlines, has been in the video game sphere since 2004 – but still, moving from a slow-paced thriller focused on intrigue into an all guns blazing battle royale is a big leap. The team at Sharkmob are keenly aware of that, and they’re prepared for the knee-jerk reaction. “I think anytime you make a PvP game, you face that kind of, ‘Oh, we don’t need another Team Deathmatch game, we don’t need another multiplayer game’,” Hubbard says. “But if you can find something that you can’t get in other games, and I think for us the traversal and freedom of movement offers that, then you have a chance. It’s not a guarantee, but you have a chance. It’s something that we really love playing, and so we hope that other players will love playing and working together with the community, we can grow it in a way that makes it even more interesting and diverse and go in unexpected directions.”
Going in unexpected directions is the name of the game in Bloodhunt. I got the chance to play two rounds of Trios – it will launch with Trios and Solos – in a pre-alpha state last week, and the traversal is completely open. Everything is climbable, and with no fall damage, there’s a huge emphasis on verticality. Most skirmishes took place on rooftops, with the higher ground becoming a constant advantage. At one point, my team and I clambered up a crane in the middle of the map, surveyed an ongoing gunfight, then swept in silently to pick off the injured survivors.
This system of movement introduces new challenges to players, which Hubbard hopes will offer that unique angle Bloodhunt needs to survive. “We had a conversation with a player who had tried the game, and was saying, ‘How do you deal with the fact that you can’t hide?’,” he says. “We were like, ‘Oh, you can hide, you just have to know how enemies look for you’. You have to learn how to use the environment in a way that’s different from how you use it in more traditional 2D combat.”
All this means it’s less restrictive when it comes to players desperate to get a slice of the action too. “I think the experience where I feel it most keenly is when I go and I play another game that doesn’t allow me to go over obstacles,” Hubbard says. “I come to a corner right here, and there’s a firefight. And I know it’s just over there, but I have to go all the way around, so I just feel like it was too slow, and I’m stuck. [In Bloodhunt] if you’re in a firefight, and somebody hears it, they’re gonna come and try to butcher you. Whoever wins the fight, they’re going to try and just wait till you are vulnerable and then pick you off. But that’s also super exciting. The threats can come from anywhere, there’s no like threat zones because everything is a threat zone. So that makes you really stressed in a way, but at the same time, once you start to get used to it, it’s really exciting. It’s very empowering.”
Sharkmob initially set out to make an entirely original game, but decided to stick with an established IP to help grow the fledgling studio. After reaching out to friends at Paradox, it was offered Vampire: The Masquerade, and the two studios worked together on writing lore that supported the outbreak of violence found in Bloodhunt while maintaining the secrecy and subtlety of the Masquerade itself.
That’s all well and good, but it still begs the question as to how well Vampire: The Masquerade suits the battle royale genre at all, especially when these sleek creatures of the night are hopping up and down while blasting enemies away with a shotgun. Certainly, in my own experience in the pre-alpha, I felt more connected to the game when I had twin blades over a tommy gun. Still, Hubbard sees the Bloodhunt as a natural evolution for vampire storytelling.
“The combat in the Vampire: The Masquerade’s rules is very grounded in reality,” he says. “It’s not like Castlevania, where you’ve got crazy weapons. I think that a lot of the big vampire properties that have been inspired by Vampire: The Masquerade, like Blade and Underworld – especially Underworld – are very clearly inspired by Vampire: The Masquerade, and they have really embraced that sort of Matrix, double fisted gun thing. So it felt like it was a pretty natural connection for where vampires have gone in pop culture lately. At least that’s the way we see it.”
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