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Bloodlines 2 Dev Diary #6: Environment Design

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Bloodlines 2 Dev Diary #6: Environment Design

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Sat 5 October 2019, 21:41:11

Tags: Hardsuit Labs; Paradox Interactive; Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2

In the month since the previous Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 dev diary, Hardsuit have revealed two more of the game's factions. There's the underground network of criminals led by the mysterious vampire known only as the Baron, and a group of recently arrived Tremere scholars called the Newcomers led by one Viktor Goga who have settled in Seattle's university district. Elif from the E3 demo is a senior member of the latter faction. What we didn't get last month was another dev diary. Maybe that has something to do with why the new dev diary was initially labelled as the seventh instead of the sixth? It's a pretty decent one this time, written by Bloodlines 2 lead environment artist Thanh Pham. In describing various aspects of the game's environment design, he reveals a few interesting tidbits about the setting. Here's an excerpt:

New Powers Lead to New Areas to Explore
In Bloodlines 2, we are pushing the idea of vampire powers used towards vertical traversal. If a skilled parkour practitioner can scale up a building wall, so can a thinblood vampire. Vampires inhabit spaces in the shadows and areas least traveled by normal humans. Barely lit rooftops of buildings are great areas for the vampire to dwell in, but trying to set dress an area to show what a vampire leaves behind is difficult. Since they don’t eat or drink, they don’t leave food garbage lying around. Other than wet footsteps and other small clues, there is not much to go by. Instead, we decided to use other gameplay methods that enabled the use of heightened senses to find symbolic tags that vampires leave behind. These tags are similar to gangs marking out their territory with spray paint, and since Vampires are very territorial, this route of set dressing we are taking can help fill out that aspect of the narrative.

The storyline of this game takes place during the most festive season of all in Seattle - Christmas! Christmas trees, tinsel, ornaments, stringed colored lights, stockings, salvation army donation boxes that the player can steal from, reefs, and joy for all. It is imperative that we drive the mood of this game towards a holiday theme and that it is clearly evident to the player. Not everything that happens during Christmas is all cheery and joyful. We have some goodies in store!

Blind spots
A major aspect of this game is that breaking the masquerade has severe consequences. Causing havoc and trouble in a well-lit open area will alert the police and be a detriment to your health as a vampire. Where can you be free and enjoy your new vampire superpowers? Where is the “dark web” of these city environments where the lawless can run to? We are introducing areas in the game called blind spots that will allow the player to escape to when they need to run from the police after a dirty deed has been done. Blind spots are alleyways, dimly lit back parking lot areas, or even rooftops. To the normal eye, these areas feel dangerous and unsafe. You definitely notice that the blind spot areas will feel unkempt. Garbage might be piling up, rats are scattered about, and the walls are tagged with graffiti. The casual human would generally avoid these areas, but to the vampire these areas are freeing and feel like home.

A major misconception about Seattle, is that it is always raining. It might not always be raining in Seattle during the winter months, but it is always drearily wet and misty. If one were to stand outside in December, they would notice the ground is always damp and it seems to stay that way for vast amounts of time. We decided to have the exterior environments in Bloodlines 2 to always be wet to be faithful to the weather in Seattle during the winter months.

An aspect of vampires in the World of Darkness compared to the current climate view of them is that they are monsters. There is no teenage vampire angst happening here or a coming of age scenario. They are monsters and shall remain monsters. Without giving away too much, if there are scenes of death and dismay, there will be quite a bit of blood and horror. We want to set the narrative mood of this game to be dark and disturbing. To attain that through environment art, we tend to stick to colors that are neutral and not overwhelming. Allow the lighting team to set the mood of the given scene and allow the colors and hues of death to dominate the space. The more realistic Environment Art can make a space look and feel, the more unnerving it will be when death and horror present themselves.

New World vs Old World
In Bloodlines 2, a major storyline is that there is a power struggle between the Old World vampires and the newer generation of vampires. I won’t go into much detail about this since it might reveal too much of the story, but the current reality in Seattle is that there is an economic and cultural shift happening with the massive rise of tech companies and an influx of new people moving to the city looking for job opportunities. We have included aspects of this dynamic into our game. One way is through the set dressing of cranes dotting the Seattle skyline to help denote new construction happening next to older architecture. Different neighborhoods with drastically different looks and feel in this game assist with the story of change in Seattle.

I hope this environment art dev diary helps give some insight on how we approach the Bloodlines 2 story through set dressing and environment cues. We often ask ourselves what would someone working in the field of Crime Scene decipher from our set dressing and choice of materials and colors in a given space. Could they guess the narrative of the scene from the story we tell with the environment? The World of Darkness is hidden in an underlying area of reality. Things are not always what they seem and we have tried to push that narrative through various locations in the game. The hope is that the players can see some of those underlying themes through Environment Art when they get a chance to play the game.

Of all the new facts I have learned about vampires in the World of Darkness, the one opinion I have about Vampires is that they care so much about how they are portrayed by others. Image is everything it seems. I stated earlier that vampires don’t breathe air, but quite a few of them still smoke!? You might notice quite a few cigarette trays in this game. The older more refined vampires prefer to drink blood straight from a victim’s warm neck. Anything else is considered vulgar in the vampire community. If you see a glass of blood in this game, it is just for show for the player’s eye. Lou really take the whole idea about image to a new level. She is shown smoking and drinking in her mansion when the player shows up, and we know she doesn’t really care about either.
It seems the faction updates are being published on a bi-weekly basis now, so the last one should be revealed right before PDXCon on October 18th. Paradox recently announced that Bloodlines 2 would not be playable there, but I'm sure they'll have something new to reveal.

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