The new studio, The Chinese Room, for VtM Bloodlines 2 is ready to "fly our flag in an RPG." | GAME3A

The new studio, The Chinese Room, for VtM Bloodlines 2 is ready to "fly our flag in an RPG."

When Paradox Interactive announced in February 2021 that it was parting ways with developer Hardsuit Labs, fans of Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodline...

Phil Helsel Sept 10, 2023
The new studio, The Chinese Room, for VtM Bloodlines 2 is ready to "fly our flag in an RPG."

When Paradox Interactive announced in February 2021 that it was parting ways with developer Hardsuit Labs, fans of Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines understandably expressed concern about the fate of the upcoming sequel. However, according to Sean Greaney, Vice President of World of Darkness at Paradox, the separation from Hardsuit Labs allowed the company to collaborate with a studio it believed could better realize its vision for the game.

"In the project, we reached a point where we believed the original developer had laid a solid foundation, but we had a divergent vision. We couldn't come to an agreement," Greaney narrates. "Our objective has always been to complete the project, and for that, we needed to find a suitable partner." Greaney reports that Paradox reached out to several studios in search of one with exceptional narrative capabilities, ultimately selecting The Chinese Room. "They have an impressive track record in storytelling and immersion, and they shared their ambition to venture into the realm of action-packed role-playing adventures," Greaney adds. The Chinese Room commenced work on Bloodlines 2 in January 2021.

Alex Skidmore, the Creative Director of Bloodlines 2, explains that the studio's ambitions to create an action RPG have already led to significant internal changes even before the opportunity to work on Bloodlines 2 arose. "When The Chinese Room joined Sumo Digital in 2018, it was also intended to enable TCR to take on larger projects and gain credibility, not only in terms of storytelling but also in the realm of action gameplay," Skidmore states. TCR is renowned for its immersive, atmospheric, and narrative-driven games such as Dear Esther and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, but it sought to evolve in new directions.

During the development of Little Orpheus with a team of 20 people, TCR began to expand and develop concepts for its first major action game. When Paradox approached the Sumo Group with Bloodlines 2, TCR saw it as the perfect opportunity. "It was like, 'Well, we don't need those other concepts anymore, this is great! It aligns perfectly with our ambitions,'" says Skidmore. "Within the studio, there are many fans of VtM, and the entire VtM universe fits very well with the stories we like to tell: grounded, authentic, and naturally dark. That is the intellectual property." Skidmore states that working on Bloodlines 2 is a fantastic opportunity that has come at the perfect time. "We would have done it anyway, so it's like, 'Okay, this could be the first one, the project where we give it our all'."

So why take such a bold leap into a new genre when The Chinese Room is known for producing a specific type of game? Skidmore explains that it's about finding new ways to engage with storytelling. "You can tell stories through gameplay," he elucidates. "You can create vivid fantasies through mechanics. Our vision, which we presented to Paradox, focused on player imagination, the world, and the story. We continue to apply the atmosphere and all the things we are known for here."

Bloodlines 2 still takes place in Seattle, which according to Skidmore, is the perfect setting for the story that TCR is telling. "Seattle is fantastic," he says. "Not too old, not too new, it was founded in the mid-19th century, so to speak. For some of the vampires, it's as old as they are." The story unfolds against the backdrop of a significant upheaval in vampire society and the worst winter storm Seattle has experienced in 100 years. Skidmore states that this gives the setting "an evocative, exquisite tone" and sets the stage for the awakening of the player character in Bloodlines 2, an older vampire. "It has consequences," says Skidmore. "It's the big shock that disrupts everything."

That is one of the major changes compared to the original Bloodlines, which followed a newly embraced vampire discovering the underworld society for the first time. With Bloodlines 2, TCR wanted to offer players a perspective they had never experienced before. "No other VtM product has offered that," explains Skidmore. "It still allows for a lot of role-playing. The fact that they have a long history means that the player is not only making decisions about the present but also about the past." Skidmore remains discreet about how exactly this will work, but it sounds as though players will be able to experience moments in their character's life before the start of the game and make decisions in the past that impact the present.

In character creation, you can still choose your clan, just like in the first game. Skidmore mentions that your clan has a significant influence on the game's plot, as well as your playstyle and combat abilities. "They are almost like a complete package, like characters in Overwatch," he says. "They play very differently to allow different types of players to have their own game or, as we call it, 'their own hunting style'." Skidmore states that the new trailer showcases a specific aggressive playstyle (internally referred to as "visceral immersive combat"), but characters from other clans can opt for a stealthy and cautious approach to combat, which he describes as "strategic hunters".

New VtM Bloodlines 2 Studio The Chinese Room Is Ready To "Plant Our Flag In An RPG"

While there is plenty of room for player expression in how you approach combat and many important decisions to be made that will influence the direction of the story, Skidmore says he wouldn't consider Bloodlines 2 as an immersive simulation game in the sense of the original game. Instead, he emphasizes the importance of your role within the narrative and how much your decisions will impact the world around you. Greaney adds, "The Seattle your character wakes up to won't be the Seattle they left behind."

At first glance, it may be surprising that The Chinese Room is taking over the helm of Bloodlines 2, but the connection between the Bloodlines franchise and the developer of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and the upcoming Still Wakes The Deep is easy to see when considering the most famous horror sequence of the original game: the Ocean House Hotel. The harrowing journey through the cursed seaside hotel is perhaps the most memorable sequence of Bloodlines - a quality that The Chinese Room strives to convey in all of its games. "As a company, one of the main measures of success is that people are left with memorable moments. It's crucial in the planning of missions."