Sunday, February 19, 2017

V:tM - Bloodlines ! Plot Diagram

As this series of posts runs through the entire length of the classic computer role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, assume spoilers.

If Santa Monica's an extended exposition, the Downtown area filled the role of rising action in Bloodlines' plot diagram. The major players show up, combat ramps up, missions crop up left and right and you start getting enough experience points to really skill up your character. Everything is up, up up!
You're a rising star. You may still have quite a bit to learn, neonate, but you're in the thick of things now. Where in Santa Monica you mostly interacted with humans, your adventures Downtown become ever more vampiric. Instead of using your superhuman abilities on mere kine, you now begin to run into the intrigue and brutality of others like yourself. You discover one of those random news stories you've been listening to in Santa Monica now growing into your tale's main conflict.
Of course, even for a story-based game the old theories about proper narrative form must give way to the demands of an interactive medium. Downtown is where most quest threads come together. It's Bloodlines' Neverwinter, its Imperial City, and it's likely the first place you picture when remembering the game. Skyeline Apartments on the left houses one step each of three different quests, knotting together a masterful impression of how the fringes of the World of Darkness intersect daily life in the city. The Confession, a night club just down the block, is where your character routinely picks up some cash for your day job... so to speak. You meander between your scheming Camarilla contacts and the rowdy Anarchs at The Last Round. You learn to play the game, not just its mechanics.
Your actions Downtown, while no longer as mundane as in Santa Monica, still waver between human and vampiric concerns.

By the time you reach Hollywood, you're a force to be reckoned with, and the question of proper application of that force comes to the forefront.
Hollywood is schizophrenic: half weepy self-indulgence, half voracious stalker in the dark. Half pretty, half ugly.
Hollywood is conflict. Split between the most and least human of the playable clans, the Toreador and Nosferatu, it's where you begin to see the greatest effect of roleplyaing choices. VV's ever-changing moods, Imalia's fit of rage if you insult her, the choice of whether to make Strauss a laughing stock by revealing the origin of Isaac's gargoyle, the possibility of masquerade violations in the "old friend" encounter and the zombie quest, all mean your gameplay can diverge here more than anywhere else in the game. To really drive the point home, add to all this the start of quests hearkening back to your first few Santa Monica and Downtown nights (the playwright, the southland slasher, pin-up girls, Mitnick's break-ins) for extra contrast.
Hollywood's where it becomes clear you've left behind the human condition for good. You no longer put up any pretense of fighting for the meek and downtrodden. If nothing else, chasing a poor helpless stuttering, whimpering, crying fool around the beach and slowly beating him to death to uphold an arbitrary rule drives home the point of just how far down the rabbit hole you've fallen.

Chinatown's falling action. You've hit your stride, and little of the vampiric world seems new.
You're a true terror of the night and are offered more than one opportunity to beat your chest as you shatter your foes' opposition. Though certainly... colorful, your available options here decline steeply. Whether by conscious design or lack of funding (keep in mind Troika bankrupted itself finishing this game) Chinatown's quests do not diverge, offer no alternate paths of completion, no poignant tales of horror or woe, but merely open ample grounds on which to unleash your supernatural abilities. In places it's painfully aware it may be jumping the shark (demon) but it doesn't dwell on it, focusing instead on keeping the action going. Most of your time here will actually be spent in isolated combat zones. It's streamlined, wrapping up the little left to wrap up before your final choice of denouement.

Bloodlines was served very well indeed by its pacing and sense of contrast. Though plenty of games are arranged in acts, either explicitly or implicitly, few manage to make this feel like a natural progression instead of a harsh limit splintering the overall experience into minigames. It helps a great deal that Bloodlines' side quests can as a rule be completed at any time, without the transition to new "acts" rendering them unavailable or automatically killing off key NPCs. For its time, this made the game feel very, very fluid and free despite the linear, story-based nature of much of its content. Nevertheless the acts are there, each zone and its associated quests following a specific narrative function, allowing you to feel not only your growing power but also your increasing alienation from the mundane human life still tangible along that first sleepy street in Santa Monica.

No comments:

Post a Comment