Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
~ with ~
Leonard Boyarsky, Joint CEO/Producer/Art Director, Troika Games LLC
"War. War never changes."
Those immortal words uttered by Ron Perlman are remembered by fans of a game called Fallout. A game that in 1997 was widely claimed as hailing the return of the "True RPG". A game where you really could start again with a different character and be met with a different experience. Why am I mentioning that here? Simply because Fallout was the creation of three key people: Tim Cain, Jason Anderson and Leonard Boyarsky.
Released by Interplay Entertainment in 1997, Fallout went on to become a classic. After starting some initial work on it's sequel, aptly named Fallout 2, it's three key creators left Interplay to start their own company. Now 7 years later, Interplay is defunct and struggling to pay off debt (they've even pulled their website offline), while Troika Games are on the verge of releasing their third role-playing game.
It looks like Tim, Jason and Leonard made the right move. After releasing their first RPG, Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura which went on to become critically acclaimed (despite some of the more apparent flaws), their second release faltered to what some saw as the disappointing Temple of Elemental Evil. Put bluntly, it seemed to have more flaws than good bits.
So, will their third release make up for the mistakes of the past? Troika certainly hope so. In this interview we have a chat with Leonard Boyarsky, the man Troika hope can lead them to victory with their third role-playing game: Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines.
Leonard Boyarsky in a video interview with GameSpot.
On Getting Started
Terra-Arcanum: In one of the developer diaries on GameSpot you say you approached Scott Lynch of Valve and decided to use their Source Technology after seeing a demonstration of the engine. Why Valve? What advantages did you see in working with Valve and the Source Engine as opposed to say, id Software's Doom 3 Engine, or why not create your own first person game engine?
Leonard Boyarsky: Well, first off, Scott approached us and asked us to take a look at their engine. We had known him and kept in contact with him since he worked at Sierra. As I've said numerous times, the main thing that really got us excited about the Valve engine (apart from just the overall beauty of it) was the facial animation technology that they had incorporated into it. Another factor in our choosing the Source Technology was the fact that we were all fans of the storytelling in the original Half-Life game, in that it seemed to be more than just a shooter, so we felt this would be a great engine to push further and build an RPG around.
Terra-Arcanum: About what date did production of Bloodlines officially start? Was it hard to convince the rest of Troika to work on such a game, or was everyone already behind the idea?
Leonard Boyarsky: We started production sometime around October of 2001. When we proposed the idea of doing Vampire with the Source Technology, everyone at Troika was very excited about not only taking the step into full 3D, but also using White Wolf's Vampire World of Darkness, which we all felt would be great for us to set a game in.
Terra-Arcanum: What stage of production is the game at now? The expected release date currently is Fall 2004 (around November). Are you still aiming for that date? More importantly, do you think you'll make it?
Leonard Boyarsky: Well, obviously I can't disclose too much in the way of details, but we're moving heavily into the balancing/polishing/"shoving the last few features in" stage. We're still planning to ship in the Fall of 2004 (no month has been disclosed yet), and we're doing everything within our power to make sure we hit that.
Terra-Arcanum: How big is the team currently working on Bloodlines? (If it's not too much of a hassle, can you give us a brief [name] - [position] list of who you've got currently working on it?)
Leonard Boyarsky: We have 32 people working on Bloodlines right now. I'll skip identifying each one's specific job, as a lot of people here wear more than one hat.
Art: Daniel Alpert, Jason Anderson, Brian Bode, Nate Brown, Mark Bremerkamp, Ross Cangelosi, Justin Cherry, Jaime Guthrie, Sean Keegan, David Marsh, Craig Matchett, Long Nguyen, Bryan Warmack, Aaron Weldon
Design: Chad Moore, Brian Mitsoda, TJ Perillo
Programming: Tim Cain, Brock Heinz, Andrew Meggs, Steve Moret, Jesse Reynolds, Steve Shimizu, Dennis Taylor, Nate Trost
Scripting: Jocelyn Chew, Steve Rhoades, Dave Webb
Production: Leonard Boyarsky, Tom Decker, Scott Jacobson
Terra-Arcanum: We understand that there's swearing in the game. Now I'm all for freedom of speech, and the extra expletive or two can be fun in context. However, some games seem to develop a habit of taking it overboard and using it excessively (just because we can swear, we will). They seem to have some need to meet their expletive quota. Is there any of that in Bloodlines or have you managed to restrain yourselves, fuckin' aye?
Leonard Boyarsky: As hard as it has been, we've managed to restrain ourselves. We didn't set out to make some great statement about freedom of speech and swearing in our game, we just decided to not restrict ourselves when developing the dialogs, as we were already pretty assured of receiving a Mature rating. Basically, we just want to have believable, interesting characters that talk like real people - so if we're creating a character in the World of Darkness that would swear, then they will swear.
Terra-Arcanum: Do you consider Bloodlines to be more First-Person Shooter (FPS) than Role-Playing Game (RPG) or more RPG than FPS? My experience has been that RPG players generally dislike FPS games that are "twitch based". Will those who lack the precise hand-eye co-ordination of a 12 year old still be able to play Bloodlines or is the game more skewed towards those with FPS skills?
Leonard Boyarsky: Bloodlines is definitely more RPG than FPS. We've included everything people expect from a great RPG: an in depth storyline, rich character development, different solutions to quests, etc.
Though we've done everything we can to level the playing field between twitch based gamers and those over the age of eighteen (by having your stats affect combat, etc), people who are good at twitched based games will have an advantage. I'd like to point out that I'm terrible at twitched based games, so I'm making sure the game is fun for the FPS challenged.
Terra-Arcanum: The Internet abounds with rumors of Half-Life 2 delays. Allegedly, there is a clause in the contract that Bloodlines can only be released after HL2. Is this true? Does it mean you will have to delay the release of Bloodlines if HL-2 is delayed? If so, how long after HL2's release will we have to wait?
Leonard Boyarsky: We aren't at liberty to reveal details of Activision's contract with Valve. All we are saying is that Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is planned to ship in Fall 2004.
Terra-Arcanum: Originally planned for a September 30, 2003 release, Half-Life 2 is yet to see the light of day and according to some sources, content has had to be cut from the game in order for it to ship sooner. As Bloodlines is based on the same Source Engine, how has this affected you? Have you had to cut content too or forgo promised features from Valve's engine?
Leonard Boyarsky: I obviously can't comment on what Valve has done or is doing with HL-2, but I can tell you that we've not had to cut anything because of the engine. We've had to cut a few things due to time restraints, but nothing major that anyone will miss.
Terra-Arcanum: What kind of support has Valve been able to provide for Bloodlines? Have they been there for you when you needed them or is it a more hands-off relationship? Also, you've said that Troika developed a cloth system in the Source Engine for flowing cloaks. Does your relationship with Valve allow technology like this to go back to them, so they can use it in HL-2 or is this something HL-2 fans will have to miss out on?
Leonard Boyarsky: We have a great relationship with Valve, and they've always been very supportive of us. As I said above, the details of Activision's deal with Valve are between them, so it's not something I can really talk about.
Terra-Arcanum: What do you find are the challenges of leading such a project and what do you personally believe is the most difficult challenge you've had to face so far? Have you pulled much of your hair out or has it all been relatively easy?
Leonard Boyarsky: I think the most challenging part of leading a project of this complexity is making sure all the different "teams" communicate with each other. It can be quite a challenge to get artists and programmers to speak the same language. Because the scripting of levels is so much more intricate than it was in our previous games, making sure everyone is on the same page is extremely important.
I think the most difficult part of this project has been the detail level needed in a full 3d, first person game. In a 2d isometric game, you can get away with a lot more shorthand, or implying things with more generic animations, or through text. This becomes extremely apparent when dealing with the dialogs - all of our dialogs in this game have recorded voices, so there's no text "directions" involved. If an NPC needs a specific gesture, it needs to be hand animated.
I don't want to get too specific about how easy or difficult this game has been, but I'm now bald.
Terra-Arcanum: Is the team supportive of your leadership efforts and is leading the project something you enjoy doing and something that you'd like to do again?
Leonard Boyarsky: When they're not planning ways to end my evil, despotic reign, they support me wholeheartedly. Or else!!!
Seriously, though, the team has been great to work with and "lead", though I don't know how much actual leading I actually do. I've been very fortunate in that I've had a lot of help from both Jason and Tom in terms of running the team. I'd have to say leading a project is all fine and well, but every once in a while I think I'd like to just be an artist again (like that's ever going to happen). As far as what position I'll be filling on future projects, we'll just have to wait and see.
Terra-Arcanum: What are your plans when Bloodlines is completed? Is Bloodlines the type of game you see yourself (or Troika) doing again in the future, or will you return to the standard isometric RPGs you've done in the past? Having worked on an RPG game with FPS components (or an FPS game with RPG elements, depending on how you look at it) do you see yourself wanting to try a fully-fledged FPS? Or even something different like an RTS or some other combination of letters, which is an abbreviation for a game genre? MMORPG? SFMMORPGRTSFPS? Perhaps a MUD?
Leonard Boyarsky: Right now we're just concentrating on finishing Vampire, but we have thought down the road about a lot of these issues. As far as the type of RPG we want to make in the future, we're not set on one style (first person vs isometric), it's more about the gameplay and what type of game we're trying to make. I've enjoyed working on a first person game, with its higher detail (it can be a bit frustrating always making isometric characters), but there are a lot of things I still love about isometric games as well. Though we have no definite plans for branching out to different genres, it's always been something that we've been open to.
With a change of focus from just Arcanum and onto all of Troika, it's been a while since this site has put up some new content. With a few new staff on the team (and a major site overhaul which is hopefully coming out later this year), I hope you enjoyed our interview. It's good to see that Troika are in the "shoving last features in" stage with Bloodlines. Hopefully it means they're doing a good 'bout of bug-testing. One of the problems I personally found with the Temple of Elemental Evil was the sheer number of "obvious" bugs still present in the game. Bloodlines should have a good chance at avoiding that.
An interesting quirk I found from Leon's answers were the number of people working on Bloodlines at the moment. Either 32 people is the entire team at Troika or they've grown quite a bit since last I heard. In fact, if you check the team page of their web-site, you'll notice there are 12 names on that page that aren't mentioned in Leon's list (Chris Ashton, Aaron Bruntstetter, Sean Craig, Peter Delgado, Lucas Feld, Chris Glenn, Mike McCarthy, Lee Needham, Huy Nguyen, Nivbed(?), Corey Pelton, Jaime Sue).
You'll also note there are 14 people on Leon's list that aren't mentioned on the team page (Daniel Alpert, Nate Brown, Ross Cangelosi, Justin Cherry, Jaime Guthrie, Sean Keegan, Long Nguyen, Bryan Warmack, Aaron Weldon, Steve Shimizu, Nate Trost, Jocelyn Chew, Steve Rhoades, Dave Webb). It could be extra contract workers brought in specifically for Bloodlines or it could be (as is quite possible) that they simply haven't updated their team page for a while. It would seem though, that Troika are putting in an all-out effort to make sure Bloodlines doesn't have the same problems as its two predecessors.
You'll note the two "No Comments" regarding Valve. Admittedly, we didn't really expect an answer, but you don't know until you ask. While we haven't been able to confirm it, we're fairly certain a clause similar to what we expect is in the contract. After-all, why would Valve allow somebody else to release a game built off of their engine, before they released their own game? It'd sure make Valve look dumb. Mean-while, Half-Life 2 itself is still a mystery. Will it be released on time? Various sites still report that HL2 might be delayed, some even expressed concern that there wasn't a more playable version of the game displayed at this year's E3. Will Troika's efforts to make Bloodlines a great game be ruined by circumstances with Valve? Let's hope not.
I'm just a wee bit concerned about the more "fleshy aspects" of the game. True, the setting is one of seduction. Hopefully Troika can pull this off though without making Vampire feel like some cheesy soft-core porn (or even worse, some kind of Hentai game). Overall, the screenshots are showing Bloodlines to be a good looking game. Unfortunately, ToEE is also a very good looking game, it's just as buggy as hell and lacks any semblance of story. Will there be bugs and what will the story in Bloodlines be like? What will the combat in Vampire be like? I can't say. But if Troika can manage to finally make a game that not only has a great story (as Arcanum did) but also combines that with great combat (which ToEE had) AND manage to avoid all the bugs, perhaps it truly is a matter of third time lucky?
By the way guys - Flash web-sites - not a good thing. At least a nice HTML option for those who don't want to sit through loading the bloat would be nice. All-in-all though, I look forward to Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines and hope Troika can pull off something marvellous with it.
You can bitch and moan or heap praise on us for this interview in our Bloodlines Forum.
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