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Ka'ai Cluney

Creative Director on Bloodlines 2
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Hello, everyone.

My name is Ka’ai Cluney. I’m the Creative Director at Hardsuit Labs – which means I’m responsible for the various design departments on all of our projects – and the Project Director on Bloodlines 2 (which I keep calling Project: Frasier, purely out of habit.) Tonight, I’d like to talk a bit about something we refer to as a game’s “Pillars”. It’s a big subject – covered by countless books spanning all types of businesses – but we’ll just focus on how we’ve used them in our decision-making process, and how they keep us honest in the face of updating such a beloved property.

Pillars are one way of focusing the entire team on what is important about a project; those elements that every person involved in that project needs to keep in mind. Pillars also play an important part through all phases of development, from the initial concept and pitch, through pre-production and production, and all the way into marketing and beyond.

In the initial concept and pitch phase, the development of the project’s Pillars themselves is a part of the process and serves as a way for us to distill a ton of ideas into a dram of information that best represents a project.

In pre-production and production – the bulk of the overall development effort – they serve as waypoints or beacons; if there are decisions that need to be made between two solid but contradictory design options, disagreements about priorities or direction, or any doubt as to whether we’re hitting the tone and feel that we’re aiming for, we evaluate them against our Pillars.

Pillars are also crucial for setting the right tone on the marketing campaign, and helping the marketing team to line up their messaging with our efforts.*

Now that we’ve touched on the ‘why’ and ‘how’, let’s get to the ‘what’. What are the Pillars of Bloodlines 2?

Be a Vampire: This sounds simple to the point of ridiculousness, but it goes deeper than feeding on humans and avoiding the sun. From the player’s perspective, there should always be a sense of supernatural power – even for a fledgling, or relatively weak vampire. Features and systems should always be evaluated against this; dialogue and interactions should always reflect this. The relationship between the player and citizens of Seattle should always be evaluated as a relationship between a hunter and prey, be it through feeding systems, combat, or dialogue. This also pertains to what might threaten a vampire. How do you scare a monster?

In a practical sense, “Be a Vampire” – among other things – guides our approach to how the player moves through the world, both in terms of player systems such as traversal, how we support those systems through level design, and how we communicate all of that to the player through other devices, such as Lighting or User Interface. A player that moves through the world unconventionally needs to learn how to read that world unconventionally, and a lot of effort is made to make sure the player really does start to think like, and be, a vampire.

Show the World of Darkness: The world of Bloodlines should always be informed by the nature of the World of Darkness – the hidden world that lurks under what most people consider the Real World. This should be reflected not only in the look and design of the environment, but in the personalities of its inhabitants, and in the nature and presentation of missions and events in the game. No one in the World of Darkness is interested in clearing a cellar of rats, or in collecting Werewolf pelts. There should be a constant and deepening sense of discovering more, of digging deeper.

A big part of this is visual, which I’ll leave to a later entry from Luke (Dodge, our Art Director,) because, trust me, I’m no artist. “Show the World of Darkness” goes much deeper than that, however, in a lot of ways that affect our approach to design. The foundation of the World of Darkness is Storytelling. A world that hits the mark visually needs to be filled with the characters, history, and small environmental touches that bring the World of Darkness to life, and those all need to reinforce the tone. Our Narrative Team, led by Brian, is constantly assessing and reevaluating everything from Character Design and Dialogue, to Quest Design, to the smallest details like shop signs, to make sure that we’re not just telling players about the World of Darkness – we’re filling it with as much Darkness as possible, and dropping them right in the middle of it to discover it themselves.

Reactivity and Player Choice: Players should always be faced with choices. Sometimes, they should be confronted with choices where there is no “right” thing to do, or times where they’re forced to choose between two equally unsavory options. As players make decisions, the world and gameplay experience must reflect these choices, be it through reactive dialogue, reactive story events, or even how players decide to build and grow their character. Players should never get the sense that they’re making a choice that will lessen the game experience, even if they made a “wrong” choice. Choice should always be acknowledged by the game, even if only in minor ways.

This applies directly to our decision-making process as well. For example, we decided early in development that every player build must have access to – though not necessarily equal ability in – powers that have applications for combat, dialogue, and traversal. This means that players who prefer combat characters can certainly build to their preference, but always have options as to how and when to deviate from that archetype. They may not be smooth talkers, but they can certainly try – and sometimes fail. There are often consequences for certain choices, and it’s not always obvious.

Be a True Descendent of Bloodlines: Bloodlines had its own voice – even within the overall World of Darkness. Players should immediately get the sense that they are re-entering that world, though in a different place and time. The tone of the narrative and dialogue, the balance between the familiar and the otherworldly, and the treatment of disturbing and mature subject matter (and the conscious decision to occasionally wink and nod at that subject matter,) are all crucial to maintaining that feel. Creative and aesthetic decisions should all be weighed against the question: “Is this Bloodlines?” We are exploring new territory outside of the original Bloodlines, but it must feel like an expansion of the original world.

Part of being a true descendent is – ideally – learning from the past, building on strengths and improving wherever possible. For us, it’s not enough to “do it like Bloodlines”. In some cases, we need to understand why it was done, and what was great about it, so that we can extrapolate that out to other systems and elements of the game. For example, alignment with various factions, loyalty, and betrayal played heavily into the ending of the original game. We wanted to go further, and make sure that those elements are pulled as far forward as possible, so that they figure more heavily into the early game. We then make a point of challenging those loyalties, and providing opportunities for betrayal as often as possible, which has even wider implications at the end.

Let’s be clear: Good Pillars don’t make a good game. They are one tool in a vast array of tools that all must be brought to bear on a game of this scope, with this much of a history, and with this fervent of a following. The important thing is that they act as a reliable foundation that guides the decision-making process, and gives us a better chance of delivering something that can stand up to the title “Bloodlines 2”

As for the other tools in the toolbox, we’ll be hearing from more of the development team about those.

Until then…

-K

---

* …or something, I guess. Marketing frightens and confuses me. Want to see a real World of Darkness? Sit in a marketing meeting – shudders up and down the spine, y’all.
 
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classl3ss

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This all sounds like a great set of principles to govern the development of the game.

I am especially interested in the possibility of expanded choice/influence over the plot entailed by what Ka'ai wrote here:

alignment with various factions, loyalty, and betrayal played heavily into the ending of the original game. We wanted to go further, and make sure that those elements are pulled as far forward as possible, so that they figure more heavily into the early game. We then make a point of challenging those loyalties, and providing opportunities for betrayal as often as possible, which has even wider implications at the end.
This was always one of my favorite parts of BL1, and I am glad that our choices will open up new possibilities that reflect our RP choices.
 

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This was a really interesting read. It's always fun to read about design philosophy.

When you talk about feeling like Bloodlines and an expansion of the World of Darkeness, how do you see vampires changing over the last 15 years?

I watched Only Lovers Left Alive recently and a major plot element was the vampires reaction to the world they found themselves in which was literally and figuratively poisonous and degraded. It reminded me a little of the bloodlines myth of Gehenna.
 

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Interesting stuff. Every point is looking in the right direction, imho, so I'm a happy tremere right now.

Keep'em coming, devs :)
 

RagnarokCzD

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Maybe its just mine english ... but i sence a tiny disturbance in here.
Betwenn first "be a Vampire" and second "be World of Darkness".

On the one side you say "dialogue and interactions should always reflect this." ... on the other side you say "the hidden world that lurks under what most people consider the Real World"
So ... everything should scream at me that i am a Vampire, but also no one else should notice.
Im certainly looking forward to experience this ballance. :p

And dont get me wrong, i dont say it is bad to feel like a Vampire ...
It just can be little bit contraproductive, if you wish to play as human-ish (Toreador for example) as possible. :)
 

Ka'ai Cluney

Creative Director on Bloodlines 2
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Maybe its just mine english ... but i sence a tiny disturbance in here.
Betwenn first "be a Vampire" and second "be World of Darkness".

On the one side you say "dialogue and interactions should always reflect this." ... on the other side you say "the hidden world that lurks under what most people consider the Real World"
So ... everything should scream at me that i am a Vampire, but also no one else should notice.
Im certainly looking forward to experience this ballance. :p

And dont get me wrong, i dont say it is bad to feel like a Vampire ...
It just can be little bit contraproductive, if you wish to play as human-ish (Toreador for example) as possible. :)
It's all about perspective, isn't it?

Let's say you have a secret -- in this case, that secret is that you're a vampire. You need to make an effort to keep that secret in a world and a society that is unaware. Every effort to do so only reminds you that you are a vampire. That's the "Be a Vampire" part.

Now imagine that ten percent of the people you come across have a very similar secret (vampires, werewolves, some random human who has their mom buried in their basement, someone who likes ketchup on hot dogs.). You don't know who they are, but you know they're there. That's the "World of Darkness" part.
 

RagnarokCzD

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Oh i get it ...
I just cant help remembering that sentence from demo:
"Here is the thing dude, i am a ducking Vampire." :D
 

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It's all about perspective, isn't it?

Let's say you have a secret -- in this case, that secret is that you're a vampire. You need to make an effort to keep that secret in a world and a society that is unaware. Every effort to do so only reminds you that you are a vampire. That's the "Be a Vampire" part.

Now imagine that ten percent of the people you come across have a very similar secret (vampires, werewolves, some random human who has their mom buried in their basement, someone who likes ketchup on hot dogs.). You don't know who they are, but you know they're there. That's the "World of Darkness" part.
Ey, hi Mr Cluney, great to read you around :)

The Diary entry was a great way to break the radio silence after the E3. Hope everything is running smoothly in the Ivory Tower towards the ParadoxCon Demo :)

Can you tell us if do you plan to release anything for us during august (maybe in the bloodlines web, or another Dev Diary) or we should enter into torpor until the Con?

Hope all of you have a great weekend :)
 

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This applies directly to our decision-making process as well. For example, we decided early in development that every player build must have access to – though not necessarily equal ability in – powers that have applications for combat, dialogue, and traversal.
I get it, everyone(tm) does it these days anyway, and I suppose it ultimately depends on how much of a difference "not necessarily equal ability" does make, but to me that it's the opposite of having meaningful choices. Gameplay decisions also should force me to decide what I want.
 

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Show the World of Darkness: The world of Bloodlines should always be informed by the nature of the World of Darkness – the hidden world that lurks under what most people consider the Real World. [...] No one in the World of Darkness is interested in clearing a cellar of rats, or in collecting Werewolf pelts.
Having spent yesterday cleaning out a Ratkin den after having fought off a bunch of Skindancers, I feel called out!
 

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Hello, everyone.

My name is Ka’ai Cluney. I’m the Creative Director at Hardsuit Labs – which means I’m responsible for the various design departments on all of our projects – and the Project Director on Bloodlines 2 (which I keep calling Project: Frasier, purely out of habit.) Tonight, I’d like to talk a bit about something we refer to as a game’s “Pillars”. It’s a big subject – covered by countless books spanning all types of businesses – but we’ll just focus on how we’ve used them in our decision-making process, and how they keep us honest in the face of updating such a beloved property.

Pillars are one way of focusing the entire team on what is important about a project; those elements that every person involved in that project needs to keep in mind. Pillars also play an important part through all phases of development, from the initial concept and pitch, through pre-production and production, and all the way into marketing and beyond.

In the initial concept and pitch phase, the development of the project’s Pillars themselves is a part of the process and serves as a way for us to distill a ton of ideas into a dram of information that best represents a project.

In pre-production and production – the bulk of the overall development effort – they serve as waypoints or beacons; if there are decisions that need to be made between two solid but contradictory design options, disagreements about priorities or direction, or any doubt as to whether we’re hitting the tone and feel that we’re aiming for, we evaluate them against our Pillars.

Pillars are also crucial for setting the right tone on the marketing campaign, and helping the marketing team to line up their messaging with our efforts.*

Now that we’ve touched on the ‘why’ and ‘how’, let’s get to the ‘what’. What are the Pillars of Bloodlines 2?

Be a Vampire: This sounds simple to the point of ridiculousness, but it goes deeper than feeding on humans and avoiding the sun. From the player’s perspective, there should always be a sense of supernatural power – even for a fledgling, or relatively weak vampire. Features and systems should always be evaluated against this; dialogue and interactions should always reflect this. The relationship between the player and citizens of Seattle should always be evaluated as a relationship between a hunter and prey, be it through feeding systems, combat, or dialogue. This also pertains to what might threaten a vampire. How do you scare a monster?

In a practical sense, “Be a Vampire” – among other things – guides our approach to how the player moves through the world, both in terms of player systems such as traversal, how we support those systems through level design, and how we communicate all of that to the player through other devices, such as Lighting or User Interface. A player that moves through the world unconventionally needs to learn how to read that world unconventionally, and a lot of effort is made to make sure the player really does start to think like, and be, a vampire.

Show the World of Darkness: The world of Bloodlines should always be informed by the nature of the World of Darkness – the hidden world that lurks under what most people consider the Real World. This should be reflected not only in the look and design of the environment, but in the personalities of its inhabitants, and in the nature and presentation of missions and events in the game. No one in the World of Darkness is interested in clearing a cellar of rats, or in collecting Werewolf pelts. There should be a constant and deepening sense of discovering more, of digging deeper.

A big part of this is visual, which I’ll leave to a later entry from Luke (Dodge, our Art Director,) because, trust me, I’m no artist. “Show the World of Darkness” goes much deeper than that, however, in a lot of ways that affect our approach to design. The foundation of the World of Darkness is Storytelling. A world that hits the mark visually needs to be filled with the characters, history, and small environmental touches that bring the World of Darkness to life, and those all need to reinforce the tone. Our Narrative Team, led by Brian, is constantly assessing and reevaluating everything from Character Design and Dialogue, to Quest Design, to the smallest details like shop signs, to make sure that we’re not just telling players about the World of Darkness – we’re filling it with as much Darkness as possible, and dropping them right in the middle of it to discover it themselves.

Reactivity and Player Choice: Players should always be faced with choices. Sometimes, they should be confronted with choices where there is no “right” thing to do, or times where they’re forced to choose between two equally unsavory options. As players make decisions, the world and gameplay experience must reflect these choices, be it through reactive dialogue, reactive story events, or even how players decide to build and grow their character. Players should never get the sense that they’re making a choice that will lessen the game experience, even if they made a “wrong” choice. Choice should always be acknowledged by the game, even if only in minor ways.

This applies directly to our decision-making process as well. For example, we decided early in development that every player build must have access to – though not necessarily equal ability in – powers that have applications for combat, dialogue, and traversal. This means that players who prefer combat characters can certainly build to their preference, but always have options as to how and when to deviate from that archetype. They may not be smooth talkers, but they can certainly try – and sometimes fail. There are often consequences for certain choices, and it’s not always obvious.

Be a True Descendent of Bloodlines: Bloodlines had its own voice – even within the overall World of Darkness. Players should immediately get the sense that they are re-entering that world, though in a different place and time. The tone of the narrative and dialogue, the balance between the familiar and the otherworldly, and the treatment of disturbing and mature subject matter (and the conscious decision to occasionally wink and nod at that subject matter,) are all crucial to maintaining that feel. Creative and aesthetic decisions should all be weighed against the question: “Is this Bloodlines?” We are exploring new territory outside of the original Bloodlines, but it must feel like an expansion of the original world.

Part of being a true descendent is – ideally – learning from the past, building on strengths and improving wherever possible. For us, it’s not enough to “do it like Bloodlines”. In some cases, we need to understand why it was done, and what was great about it, so that we can extrapolate that out to other systems and elements of the game. For example, alignment with various factions, loyalty, and betrayal played heavily into the ending of the original game. We wanted to go further, and make sure that those elements are pulled as far forward as possible, so that they figure more heavily into the early game. We then make a point of challenging those loyalties, and providing opportunities for betrayal as often as possible, which has even wider implications at the end.

Let’s be clear: Good Pillars don’t make a good game. They are one tool in a vast array of tools that all must be brought to bear on a game of this scope, with this much of a history, and with this fervent of a following. The important thing is that they act as a reliable foundation that guides the decision-making process, and gives us a better chance of delivering something that can stand up to the title “Bloodlines 2”

As for the other tools in the toolbox, we’ll be hearing from more of the development team about those.

Until then…

-K

---

* …or something, I guess. Marketing frightens and confuses me. Want to see a real World of Darkness? Sit in a marketing meeting – shudders up and down the spine, y’all.
Interesting that you mention choices that have no good outcome, as I experienced such a thing in a game myself-very recently.

I only recently got into The Witcher 3, & was recently faced with releasing a Malevolent Entity in order to save some orphans from a horrible fate, or destroying the entity & letting the orphans die. Little did I know that my choice would result in the deaths of so many other people....
 

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I get it, everyone(tm) does it these days anyway, and I suppose it ultimately depends on how much of a difference "not necessarily equal ability" does make, but to me that it's the opposite of having meaningful choices. Gameplay decisions also should force me to decide what I want.
If they are following in the footsteps of the previous Bloodlines, then your Attribute choices (Physical, Social, Mental), Ability Choices (Talents, Skills, Knowledges) & the Vampiric Powers of your chosen clan will have a huge impact on the best choices for your players. A Brujah Bruiser with zero etiquette is probably going to punch their way through much of the game, whilst a Toreador Socialite will probably go the dialogue route. However, you might have a highly sociable Brujah character......so they will have many more options for how they deal with the problems that crop up in-game. At least, that is how I read this.
 

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  • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
  • Tyranny: Archon Edition
  • Stellaris
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If they are following in the footsteps of the previous Bloodlines, then your Attribute choices (Physical, Social, Mental), Ability Choices (Talents, Skills, Knowledges) & the Vampiric Powers of your chosen clan will have a huge impact on the best choices for your players. A Brujah Bruiser with zero etiquette is probably going to punch their way through much of the game, whilst a Toreador Socialite will probably go the dialogue route. However, you might have a highly sociable Brujah character......so they will have many more options for how they deal with the problems that crop up in-game. At least, that is how I read this.
Indeed. And I think how much different kinds of conflict (social, and not only physical) are emphasized in the most recent pen and paper, there is likely to a be a lot of social and manipulation options available in BL2.
 

Weyird

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Sep 27, 2017
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  • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
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  • Europa Universalis IV: Rule Britannia
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Are dev diaries going to be posted on the main page? Because I only just fou d this; I don't recall it popping up on the main page.