'Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodhunt' Developer Addresses Battle Royale Controversy

Ever since it was announced back in November, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodhunt has been met with a heavy degree of scepticism.

For a start, it has the disadvantage of not being Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2, a title that hardcore RPG enthusiasts have been clamouring over for nearly 17 years. However, the bigger point of contention is that the game is aspiring to be yet another e-sport shooter - which many consider to be an unsuitable fit for this particular IP – geared towards the Fortnite and Call of Duty: Warzone crowd.

Since the genre's initial rise to prominence in 2017, players have seen countless imitators try to cash in on the battle royale craze. Only a handful of these have managed to establish themselves with any kind of lasting staying power though (such as Apex Legends and Fall Guys), with the rest just fizzling out after a couple of months.

As such, fans were quick to express their disappointment upon learning that Vampire: The Masquerade – a franchise primarily known for its complex storytelling, political intrigue and deep RPG elements – would also be throwing its hat in the ring. It seemed especially frustrating in this case, given that players have been waiting for well over a decade for a follow up to the cult classic Bloodlines, only to instead be treated to what is ostensibly PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) with vampires.

Speaking to Newsweek in an exclusive interview, the developers over at Sharkmob clarified exactly why they made this decision in the first place. They also described how they tried to retain the essence of the Vampire brand, while simultaneously taking it to new places with Bloodhunt.

Acquiring a Recognized IP

According to Martin Hultberg, IP Director and Co-Founder of Sharkmob, the origins of Bloodhunt can be traced all the way back to when the company was first starting up in 2017. The Malmö-based studio was formed by Hultberg and four other Ubisoft Massive alumni, who had all previously collaborated on multiplayer shooters like The Division.

Hultberg said: "After shipping [The Division], we felt like we wanted to try something different, with new projects, a new culture and a new workflow. We decided that the best way to do this was by starting our own studio. So that's what we did."

When it came to choosing what their first outing would be, the team agreed that the safest move would be to adapt a pre-established property. Hultberg continued: "You have five hungry developers sitting in a penthouse apartment trying to figure out what to do with their lives now that they have jeopardized their mortgages and families' futures by jumping ship [at Ubisoft Massive] to start their own thing.

"We always had the intention of working on original IPs. But we also knew that, in starting a new studio, there were going to be plenty of risks involved. So, it kind of made sense to go with a licensed title."

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodhunt Screenshot
"Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodhunt" adapts the popular tabletop RPG into a battle royale shooter. Tencent

To that end, the co-founders each reached out to their respective contacts in the industry, looking for any options that were available and financially viable. In the process, they entered negotiations with a representative of White Wolf Publishing (which was a subsidiary of at the time), who suggested that Vampire: The Masquerade was on the table.

Recounting this, Hultberg told Newsweek: "One of the things that [Paradox] were doing on their end was that they were trying to broaden the entire Vampire experience and reach outside of the RPG [realm]. That's why they wanted us, with our experience in multiplayer shooters, to create something for them".

This gelled nicely with Sharkmob's own plans, so the two companies decided to collaborate on what would eventually become the now-contentious Bloodhunt. The developer then expanded its workforce to over 250 employees (spread across two locations in Malmö and London), by recruiting alumni from other action-oriented studios like DICE, IO Interactive and Ubisoft.

Turning a Cult RPG Into a Mainstream Battle Royale

While Sharkmob's bid to secure the rights for a licenced property was mainly driven by necessity, they were still keen to do justice to Vampire: The Masquerade.

During our interview, every member of the team confessed to being a huge fan of the original tabletop RPG and affirmed that they wanted to replicate its world as faithfully as possible. At the same time, they also knew that they were inevitably going to have to make some big changes when translating the game into the battle royale format. Especially since it meant that the vampires would suddenly be armed to the teeth with firearms (which is not particularly in keeping with the canonized lore).

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodhunt Screenshot
Different vampire classes will have their own unique superpowers and traversal abilites. Tencent

Elaborating upon this, Hultberg said: "At the time, in 2017, the battle royale concept was just rising in popularity thanks to the modding scene and those initial games like PUBG. So, it wasn't really that established at that time, but it felt like a natural fit to us".

Craig Hubbard, the director of Bloodhunt, echoed these sentiments: "I played pen and paper version of Vampire: The Masquerade back in the day and there was always fighting. Vampire's very much a diplomacy-driven game but war is a failure of diplomacy, so we see this as in keeping with the lore. It makes sense that there would be flare-ups and violence in this fantasy world."

The Gun-Toting Vampire Controversy

While the notion of undead bloodsuckers (or "Kindred" as they are known in-universe) fighting amongst themselves is entirely consistent with the tabletop fiction, it is the prominence of gunplay that has rubbed fans the wrong way.

After all, it is easy to picture disparate vampire clans duking it out with their supernatural powers, but there is something rather odd about the image of Nosferatu running around with an AK-47.

Addressing the controversy, Hultberg said: "There's always been shooting in Bloodhunt, because it's what we know. Although we have gone back and forth on how much focus it should be given. We started out with a mix of melee and ranged combat, and we ended up with what we have right now, after several iterations."

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodhunt Screenshot
Some fans are concerned that "Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodhunt" is putting too much emphasis on gunplay. Tencent

When asked if placing a stronger emphasis on melee combat might have been more appropriate for the brand, Hubbard said: "We try to follow what players actually want to do. We have this salad bar of options that you can choose from in Bloodhunt, and players like the vampire powers and they like the melee weapons, but they always [gravitate] towards the guns in the end.

"We obviously want to ensure that the melee is as viable as possible, but it's always going to be a secondary element here. At one point we tried to incentivise the use of close-quarters weapons by making them super overpowered [but] it just wasn't fun anymore. You would go around a corner and be killed instantly by another player who just backstabbed you. You didn't even have a chance to fight back."

That being said, the team did emphasize that Bloodhunt is more than just a Fortnite clone that happens to have vampires in it. Players will have a choice of multiple different factions and kindred breeds to choose from, each with their own unique abilities. For instance, those in the Nosferatu clan have the power to turn invisible at will, while other classes can leap over tall buildings or teleport around the map in the blink of an eye.

Explaining how this differentiates the video game from the competition, Hubbard said: "What we have found is that players starting out in Bloodhunt always go for the guns first because it is a familiar part of the battle royale genre. Yet as they learn the ropes of our game, they realize that powers are much more important here.

"To really appreciate the nuances of what we have done, you have to be in combat against people who are dropping down from the sky and scrambling up buildings. Those traversal powers single us out from the crowd and make it more like a game of 3D chess."

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodhunt will be released on Steam, where it will be free to play, sometime in 2021.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodhunt Screenshot
Like 'Fortnite' and 'Apex Legends', 'Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodhunt' will be free to play. Tencent