EXCLUSIVE: Florian Schwarzer Bloodlines 2 Interview for WoD News
Florian Schwarzer, Senior Product Manager at Paradox Interactive was kind enough to spend some time answering our art and design philosophy questions for us in a exclusive WoD News interview. We will be having another down the road, if you have a specific topic or question you'd like us to ask please post it in the comments below. We thank Florian for his time. With that said the interview;
WoD News: First off, I need to ask, who came up with and developed the whole Tender meta ad campaign? Personally, I thought it was brilliant. Could you talk about how that all come about and did it play out as you expected, anything unexpected come of it?
Florian Schwarzer: We knew we wanted to do something crazy to announce Bloodlines 2 from the beginning, but we also wanted whatever we did to make sense for fans of the IP. The idea that there’s this hidden world of darkness lurking behind our reality was the perfect angle for an ARG and really resonated with our team. Paula Thelin, Paradox’ event manager, spearheaded the concept. She worked with Alice & Smith, a game developer and ARG designer based in Montreal, and they did an incredible job masterminding the story of the campaign and Tender. The community’s reaction to the Tender ARG surpassed our expectations. We anticipated press to pick up on what we were hinting at; we were blown away by the community’s dedication and commitment to solving the mystery. I’m thrilled with the way everything turned out and it wouldn’t have been possible without the geniuses at Alice and Smith and the passion of our fans.
WoD News: I'd really like to dive into art direction, atmosphere. Aside from BL1 what are the main sources of inspiration for the overall artistic tone the visual artists are drawing from?
Florian Schwarzer: The city of Seattle is a huge source of inspiration for the art direction and atmosphere of Bloodlines 2. Hardsuit Labs, the developers of the game, are based in Seattle and setting the game in their home city was central to their design and narrative. They know Seattle and the issues the city faces today intimately and this has definitely been core to their efforts.
When it comes to translating that atmosphere into the game’s visuals, Hardsuit’s art director quickly settled on the NeoNoir style of shows like Hannibal or Nightcrawler. The high-contrast style, with its love for neon, stark silhouettes and imposing architecture, hits many of the same notes as Vampire’s gothic-punk aesthetic. At the same time, it fits Bloodlines’ noir-ish roots. As you may know, the original game was heavily inspired by the Maltese Falcon. The team very much wants to carry that forward.
WoD News: One of the most atmospheric parts of BL1, for me, was how everything was varying degrees of gritty, dirty, in disrepair combined with the Gothic stone and iron architecture. Everything flowed, visually, flawlessly on that level. Is the art team mindful of that vibe and are they going more for their own take, interpretation on those concepts or will it be like an updated BL1 feel?
Florian Schwarzer: The atmosphere of Bloodlines 1 was very much derived from Los Angeles in the 90s, and Bloodlines 2 is all about modern-day Seattle. The city has a great mix of old and new - architecture from the mid-19th century when the city was founded as well as modern infrastructure that has recently been built up from the technology industry boom the city has been experiencing. Bloodlines 2 also draws on the incredible, and oftentimes dark, history of the city. For instance, a fire destroyed much of Seattle’s central business district in 1889, and the city was rebuilt on top of the ruins. To this day there is a literal underground which, along with Seattle’s other turn-of-the-century locations like Pioneer Square, play into our setting and narrative substantially.
WoD News: The video Platige made while not game play was impressive. Artistically how close will the in game atmosphere be to what we saw in the video, giant blood tidal wave aside ;) ?
Florian Schwarzer: While our reveal trailer did not feature gameplay, what you’ve seen is certainly close to the game itself in terms of atmosphere. The idea was very much to show how playing the game feels. Please stay tuned over the next few months as we get closer to revealing gameplay.
WoD News: Gothic-Punk has been both the artistic style and attitude of the game world of Vampire since its inception. However, with V5 some have expressed concerns that has been "toned down" to varying degrees, especially the artistic Gothic elements. What is your take on this and can we expect the full Gothic-Punk world in all its glory in BL2?
Florian Schwarzer: There are Vampires in Bloodlines 2 who enjoy the unvarnished Gothic-Punk style. However, the vampire factions that control Seattle reflect both the historical vampire society as well as the social structure of modern-day Seattle, and those varied origins very much affect how and where they appear. In fact, you can find glimpses of this in the people you meet in the trailer.
This breadth of style is central to the story Brian, Ka’ai and Cara want to tell; it illustrates the tension in the city. It also helps us immerse players in to the world and capture the feeling of a plausible modern city that is secretly controlled by vampires.
WoD News: How is the "punk" going to be represented in game? Is that going to me more attitude of NPCs, some kind of visual or both? What kind of details on this level can you give us?
Florian Schwarzer: The easy answer would be about studded leather and snarky characters in run-down places, and we have both. But I don’t think that’s really where punk lives.
To me, the central punk idea of V:tM has always been the conflict between the young and the elders. There are very few settings where the very concept of entrenched privilege and power walks around in a sleek jacket, and you can punch it in the face (if you dare).
Bloodlines, where you’re the Fledgling and slowly rise in profile until you can challenge the powers of the city, jumped into that feet-first. Bloodlines 2 definitely plays with the same idea of growth as rebellion. I imagine that some of your readers may have strong opinions about the decision to start the first part of the story as Thinblood. To me, that was a very punk idea from the first time Brian presented it: You start at the bottom. What better place to make enemies from?
WoD News: In BL1 the "Gothic" aspect was highly represented in the aforementioned architecture but also clothing. Many of the NPCs, both major and minor (such as those just walking the street) had a in your face goth aesthetic apparel wise. Will that still be present in BL2, can you give any examples?
Florian Schwarzer: It’s a bit difficult for me to answer this one without spoiling characters you’re going to meet over the next months...
As mentioned above, there are definitely people in the game who’d be at home in a 2004-era goth club. This time around, they’re joined by others who go in for styles like 19th century pioneer chique, for example. In the end, it all comes back to the idea of presenting a dark mirror image of the city.
WoD News: Speaking of apparel, when Paradox bought the World of Darkness property from CCP it was reported they also got all the cancelled MMO assets a well. During the development of the MMO they hired a fashion designer to make a lot of in game clothing, curious if any of that, in concept art or otherwise, was used for BL2?
Florian Schwarzer: The CCP design team really did an excellent job. So good in fact, that some of the styles they dreamed up have come in and out of fashion since then. Such limitations aside, the concept art definitely made it into Hardsuit Labs’ process.
WoD News: Changing gears, what contributed to the decision to only have contextual 3rd person view? Was it simply only so much time, resources or was it a deeper concern?
Florian Schwarzer: This was a design decision made to immerse players in the world and make combat feel as immediate as possible. We want players to truly feel like a vampire, like the powerful monster they have become.
WoD News: Music wise, I won't ask you to name names, but in general should we expect any licensed real-life goth, industrial band music as we had in BL1?
Florian Schwarzer: I can confirm that Rik Schaffer, composer on Bloodlines 1, has led the composition of an all new soundtrack for Bloodlines 2.
WoD News: Can you give us a general overview of what kind of character customization we will have? Will it be set 'faces' (as in XCOM) or full customization (like The Sims)?
Florian Schwarzer: Bloodlines 2 will feature a deep character creation system with a high level of customization. You may have noticed that over the last years, slider-based character creators have become more and more the purview of games with stylized (e.g., comic) art styles, while most high-definition titles opt to let you compose yourself from ranges of options. We’re no different from most high-definition titles of late.
In addition to the character customization options, players can pick their pronoun regardless of their sex or appearance. Players can also pick their background, ranging from things like police officer to barista, and these choices affect the way some NPCs will interact with them.
WoD News: It was reported in other interviews that BL2 and V5 was being developed 'in conjunction' with each other. How much of the new game mechanics in V5 did HSL actually contribute? Can you give us an example or two of changes you added to V5 and your reasoning for those changes?
Florian Schwarzer: Bloodlines 2 and V5 of the tabletop RPG were developed at the same time, but “in conjunction” is not entirely accurate. The video game and the tabletop RPG are separate products with completely separate design and development teams. With that said, these teams did collaborate to ensure that Bloodlines 2 is lore accurate. Also, some of the great ideas that Hardsuit Labs came up with while developing the video game ended up being adopted into the tabletop - some of our Thinblood powers will be familiar to V5 players, for example. Also interesting is that Tender is now canon and is referenced in V5.
WoD News: While not trying to go into any 'red zone' questions while on this topic I'll be remiss if I don't at least ask this, the impression some folks are getting is, like LARP, you are developing your own set of game mechanics from V5 or/and V20 and we should expect a loose translation of the V5 rule set. Is that an accurate assessment of previous interview comments or will it be closer to the pen and paper then we think?
Florian Schwarzer: Yes and no.
A computer game can be closer to a pen and paper experience than LARP: Supernatural effects aren’t constrained by that pesky real world, skill check resolution can be exactly what we want it to be, and so on. In Bloodlines 2, your characters will have a spread of attributes, skills and feats that’ll feel very familiar to any pen and paper player, for example. So will Humanity, Willpower, and such.
On the other hand, there are things that work much better in P&P than in a 3D action RPG. My favorite example is that if I spend my XP on another dot of Larceny and get to roll one more die on my lockpicking check, that feels great. If, in an ARPG, those same XP buy me a +10% chance to pick that lock, I’ll be vastly less excited. That’s why our designers try to fill those attributes and skills with active abilities and noticeable bonuses to unlock.
Similarly, as a P&P player, I adore V5’s hunger mechanic: It helps me inform my roleplaying. In Bloodlines 2, its randomization would be quite frustrating. That’s why our designers opted to stick with blood points.
In short; it’s still an interpretation - but one that’s more similar to P&P than any LARP system I’m aware of.
WoD News: Lastly, please tell me everything about the story... No? Damn. Well if you REALLY want to give me some exclusive crumb of info, I suppose I wouldn't mind. Seriously however, thank you very much for this deep dive, any last words for the readers?
Florian Schwarzer: Good try!
What I’d like your readers to take away from this is that we have a bunch of Vampire nerds in Seattle and Stockholm who are really trying to make this a true successor to the original Bloodlines. Please wish us luck!