Bloodlines 2 Studio The Chinese Room Is Ready To “Plant Our Flag In An RPG”

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When Paradox Interactive announced that it had parted ways with developer Hardsuit Labs in February 2021, fans of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines were understandably worried about the fate of the upcoming sequel. However, according to Sean Greaney, vice president of World of Darkness at Paradox, the split from Hardsuit Labs allowed the company to partner with a studio that it believed could better fulfill its vision for the game.


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“We got to a point in the project where we think that the initial developer did a lot of great foundational work, we just had a different vision. We couldn’t align on that,” Greaney tells me. “We always had the intention to complete the project, we had to go out, we had to find the right partner to do that with.” Greaney says Paradox approached a number of studios, looking for one with “great narrative chops,” and eventually decided on The Chinese Room. “They have this great narrative background, this great immersive background, and they were telling us about the ambition that they had to move into the action role playing adventure space as well,” Greaney says. The Chinese Room began working on Bloodlines 2 in January 2021.

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Alex Skidmore, creative director for Bloodlines 2, says the studio’s ambition to create an action RPG had already led to major changes internally, even before the opportunity to work on Bloodlines 2 came along. “When The Chinese Room joined Sumo Digital in 2018, part of that was to enable TCR to take on larger scale projects and gain credibility, not just for narrative but for action gameplay,” Skidmore says. TCR is well known for its immersive, atmospheric, and narrative driven games like Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, but it wanted to stretch in new directions.

While developing Little Orpheus with a team of 20, TCR began scaling up and working on concepts for its first big action game. When Paradox came to the Sumo Group with Bloodlines 2, TCR saw it as the perfect opportunity. “It was like, ‘well, we don’t need those other concepts, this is great! This fits our ambition perfectly’,” Skidmore says. “There’s a lot of VtM fans in the studio, the whole universe of VtM aligns very well with the kind of stories we like to tell: grounded, authentic, and, sure, dark. That is the IP.” Skidmore says working on Bloodlines 2 is a great opportunity that came at the perfect time. “We were going to do it anyway, so it’s like ‘Okay, that could be the first one, that can be the project where we go all in’.”

So why make such a bold leap into a new genre when The Chinese Room is well known for making a certain kind of game? Skidmore says that for them, it’s all about finding new ways to engage with narrative. “You can tell stories through gameplay,” he explains. “You can create very vivid fantasies through mechanics. Our vision that we pitched to Paradox focused on player fantasy, world, and story. The atmosphere and all the things we’re known for, we’re still applying those here.”

Bloodlines 2 is still set in Seattle, which Skidmore says is the perfect setting for the story TCR is telling. “Seattle is great,” he says. “Not too old, not too new, sort of mid-1800s is when it was established. For some of the vampires, it’s about as old as they are.” The story is set amidst a major upheaval in vampire society, as well as the worst winter storm Seattle has seen in 100 years. Skidmore says this gives the setting “a moody, beautiful tone,” and sets the stage for the awakening of Bloodlines 2’s player character, an elder vampire. “That has consequences,” Skidmore says. “That is the big gotcha that shakes everything up.”

That’s one of the big changes from the original Bloodlines, which followed a newly turned vampire discovering the underworld society for the first time. For Bloodlines 2, TCR wanted to give players a perspective they’ve never had before. “No other VtM product has offered that,” Skidmore explains. “That still allows a lot of roleplay. The fact that they have a long history means that the player isn’t just making decisions about the present, they can make decisions about the past as well.” Skidmore is tight-lipped on how exactly that will work, but it sounds like players may be able to experience moments in their character’s life prior to the start of the game, and make choices in the past that impact the present.

You’re still able to choose your clan when you create your character too, just as you could in the first game. Skidmore says that your clan has a big impact on the trajectory of the story, as well as your playstyle and abilities in combat. “They’re almost like a complete package, like Overwatch characters,” he says. “They play very differently to allow different gamer types to play their way, or ‘hunt their way’ as we call it.” Skidmore says the new trailer shows off a certain style of aggressive play (Skidmore says internally they call this “visceral immersive combat”) but characters from other clans can take a stealthier, more cautious approach to engaging enemies, which he refers to as “strategic stalkers.”

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While there’s a lot of room for player expression in the way you approach combat, and plenty of important decisions to make that will impact the direction of the story, Skidmore says he wouldn’t consider Bloodlines 2 to be an immersive sim in the way the original game was. Instead, he emphasizes how important your role within the narrative is and how much your choices will change the world around you. Greaney adds, “The Seattle that your character wakes up in is not going to be the Seattle that they leave behind.”

The Chinese Room may at first seem like a surprising choice to helm Bloodlines 2, but the connective tissue 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 you consider the original game’s most famous horror sequence: the Ocean House Hotel. The harrowing journey through the haunted seaside hotel is perhaps Bloodline’s most memorable sequence – a quality that The Chinese Room tries to inject into all of its games. “As a company, that is one of the main bars of success, for people to come away with memorable moments. When planning out the missions, that’s key.”

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