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Monday, June 22, 2015

Why Can't We Have Good Vampire Games?

This is somewhat of a personal topic for me. Generally speaking, I love vampires. The whole mythology, the violence, the whole allegory of how man becomes or births it's own monsters. All of it is awesome. But what makes that such a difficult topic to transfer to video games? I know what you're saying: "But what about Vampire the Masquerade?" Yes. It is a good game. In fact, its the best vampire game we have. But that's inadmissible here. Just about everyone knows about that game, and even if you don't its sure to be brought up if talking about vampire games. Its basically the one exception to the rule so we're going to look at my personal points on why we haven't had a good game and possibly how to make a good vampire game.

1. Understanding what a vampire is.
"What is a man but a miserable pile of secrets?" Generally when adapting a famous character or a certain famous monster, the problem becomes in representing said monster well. Most people end up fantasizing the hell out of vampires. In terms of movies, Twilight being, "I know he's a horrible monster, but he's MY horrible monster!" or to Dracula Untold trying to make one of the most heinous and the first well known serial killer in all of history, Vlad the 3rd or Vlad the Impaler who is the real world inspiration for Dracula, and trying to make him a sympathetic character are both wrong. That's not to say a good film, game or any piece of media can't be made out of this but the ultimate problem comes from the crutch you've already made for yourself in which this thing has become more than its supposed to be. Vampires are at the same time blood sucking monsters who prey on the living while also being everything about men amplified. Greed, lust, hatred. All of these things make for a great vampire. From a gameplay standpoint, understanding that a vampire is basically a human but who has ultra awesome powers gives you a clear enough template for a good narrative and understanding how said character you're playing may act or what kind of abilities the player will have access to.

2. Picking the right genre.
Essentially, any game can be made into a vampire game. Slap a coat of paint on XCOM, change a few game mechanics and you've got a vampire strategy game... which sounds awesome. I would love to play that. Generally the best way to go is Action/Adventure and if you really want to make the player feel awesome and have as much control as they should, add a dash of RPG leveling/progression. Last vampire game I played was DARK (no, that's not a typo. The game is called Dark, but for some ungodly reason the developers felt like they needed to have the game's title in full caps) which was a very very bad game. It took my worst game of all time before I fell into a worse game. The game was a stealth action game. Loose on the action point. As annoying as some of the mechanics were, the fatal flaw became making you as a vampire a joke. You couldn't use guns at all and if you strayed from using stealth, you either had to use any one of the powers you got to kill them because the game was predicated on one hit stealth kills and if you tried attacking head on, all the enemies blocked your attacks. Not to mention that the game had blood points for each attack that made no sense. So the skill that makes the enemy look one way takes the same blood point for the skill that reaches across the room and kills an enemy instantly. While vampires are far from being invincible, they are extremely powerful. Anything that takes power away from you is going to be a negative in the sense that not only are you being unfair to the gamer but you're also not being sensible when it comes to being true to vampire mythology. Your character needs to be like Adam Jensen in Deus Ex. They're powerful and have a lot of skills focused on whatever they need to do. In stealth, they're a silent predator. In combat, they're their enemies worst nightmare.

3. The 'Superman' principle.
If you're unfamiliar with this its basically Superman can never have his own game that is good. Depowering Superman is a bad idea if you want to fit it into the plot to make everything seem less like a cake walk. If you give too much power, you'll be boring your audience. Force the audience into a structured narrative and you'll make it boring. RPGs have their own sense of progression. In Skyrim, I don't start out with all the best spells, armor that can't be penetrated by anything and a weapon that can kill anything with one shot and unlimited ammo/durability. I have to work my way to that point. Kill all the dragons, gain all of the shouts, craft and enchant the gear that suits me perfectly. Superman is very cut and dry. He can do basically anything and when he's faced with something that can kill him, he evolves in a contrived way or he absolutely crushes it. I shouldn't feel my vampire isn't 'vampire' enough. I should be able to explore different abilities that vampires may have, use strengths that seem plausible and be able to be my own character. Basically if I can't place myself in a character and get invested in them, why try at all?

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