Homelessness in Seattle as nearly tripled since 2010. Thanks to skyrocketing rents driven by an influx of tech company employees, thousands of people have been priced out of the city and even forced onto the streets. The city has changed dramatically over the last decade, and Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines 2 developer Hardsuit Labs have taken notice.
The second title in the Bloodlines series will see players prowling the streets of the Seattle as one of the legendary bloodsucking predators. And while the developers are keenly aware of the pressure to live up to the cult classic, they also feel a responsibility to the city as well. That means more than simply getting the street names right and the landmarks down. It means moving past the stock images of the city — coffee, rain, the Space Needle — and taking on Seattle as it is today.
“The city is basically a character in the game so it’s really important that we have that accurate representation,” Brian Mitsoda, Bloodlines 2‘s Narrative Director tells me. “We need to make sure it feels like you’re there, and it feels like you’re dealing with people who live there. So of course there will be political aspects of the game, and one of the biggest issues the city is facing right now is homelessness.”
According the city government’s website, a lack of affordable housing is one of the main contributors to homelessness in Seattle, with rents having increased 57% over the last six years. And Bloodlines 2 isn’t going to shy away from this issue.
“Homelessness is an issue that the city needs to deal with,” Mitsoda asserts. “It’s now more expensive to live in Seattle which is going to affect people and that’s going to increase homelessness. And it affects the geography of the city, and that’s one of the ways you’ll see it in Bloodlines 2.“
What does that look in in-game? Mitsoda explains: “If you go to the Downtown Area of Seattle where Amazon is at night, it’s going to be very quiet and very safe, where vampires might hide. But it won’t be where they hunt. If you go to pockets of downtown it’s going to be busier and maybe not everyone is going to get a home they can go to at night.”
To some extent, this variation in urban geography is a normal part of city life. But for Seattle, differences between neighborhoods are stark. Getting from King Street Station to the Space Needle is a short trip, but you’ll travel through one of the more poverty-stricken areas and into one of the most affluent on the way.
“This is one of the ways you’ll see how the tech hub has changed the city, how the city is trying to adapt to it, and the consequences of housing becoming more expensive,” Mitsoda says. “As you travel between areas you’ll see things change. And wherever you stop, you’ll get a sense of the atmosphere of that place in Bloodlines 2, through looking at the streets or the landmarks.”
A City is Made of More Than Bricks
Of course, Bloodlines 2 doesn’t feature a one-to-one recreation of Seattle. You won’t find the cavernous Seattle Underground presented in the game’s opening moments in real life, nor the Jungle surrounding King Street Station. But if anything, these locations are exaggerations of the real world that enhance rather than detract from the distinct urban atmosphere the game aims to create.
And besides, it’s not just how the city looks that matters — it’s how the city affects its residents. Mitsoda says that the characters in Bloodlines 2 will be “informed by the world,” adding that “They’re going to be dealing the situations affecting the city and you’ll see that in everything from the way they present themselves to who they trust.”
As you’re travelling through Seattle and its dark underbelly, you’ll not only encounter the landmarks and the vistas, or signs of the growing class divide, but also people from all walks of life and the environments they live in. Bloodlines 2’s trailers have shown off a few different aspects of city, from the seedy nightclubs to back alley crimes, sprawling industrial wastes, and quaint town squares, each populated by intermingling but distinct groups of people.
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Tale As Old As Time
Weaving the complex social and economic conditions of a real-life city into a game isn’t an easy task. And while Bloodlines 2’s developers are keenly aware of the pushback against “politics in games,” they’re confident in their approach.
“There are politics in Bloodlines, so including some social commentary in the sequel shouldn’t surprise anyone,” Mitsoda says. “I think what people get worried about when there’s politics in games is that it’s going to be very on the nose and ham fisted. But what we’re doing is making those politics part of the background radiation of the game. We may not go into every detail that makes up a city, but we do exist in the city, so we have to represent the big things that are happening there. That is part of the experience.”
But there’s another reason why Mitsoda and Hardsuit Labs are so keen to include some social commentary in Bloodlines 2, and that’s the source material. Bloodlines 2 is a game about vampires, creatures who have long represented all kinds of real-life issues in literature. To ignore that would be to ignore the richness of the vampire mythos.
“Vampires in the lore are always entrenched in money, and politics, and business,” Mitsoda reminds me. “So all those things are going to be represented in the game. You can’t ignore the politics in a game set in the modern times, especially when you play as a creature that has to adapt, hide in plain sight, and manipulate people from every part of society — from the politicians and billionaires, to the minimum wage workers and the homeless.”