One of the main ways the game industry continues to be fresh is through the creation of new IPs. Rather than making sequels to old games or taking a world already established in other media, these nascent creations allow for a unique experience to be crafted from the ground up. In some cases, taking a world that exists in written form and turning that text into a visual, interactive experience can be a blend of both approaches. Such is the case for the World of Darkness IP, chiefly a tabletop series of supernatural, Gothic-atmosphere campaigns developed by White Wolf Entertainment, which was acquired from CCP in October 2015 and became sister company with video game publisher Paradox Interactive while retaining the rights to license its titles to other companies. With Vampire: The Masquerade and Hunter: The Reckoning having already seen video game iterations, the new titles will start with Werewolf: The Apocalypse (published by Focus Home Interactive) before branching into other monsters. Focusing on the most well-known stories within White Wolf’s repertoire, the ability of Paradox to also aid in bringing these beloved creatures to gamers with the studio’s unique interpretation is an exciting possibility. This partnership offers an enticing prospect for a world beloved by tabletop and live-action role-players alike to resonate with gamers on console or PC.
Beginning in 1991 with the release of Vampire: The Masquerade and continuing until 2004, the ‘original’ set of tabletop books and games in the World of Darkness has been dubbed One World of Darkness. This version is the focus of the partnership with Paradox, while a newer mythos, the Chronicles of Darkness, has taken over White Wolf’s designs for the tabletop books and LARP events with a new ruleset and a bigger role for humanity. Dubbing the genre as “Gothic-Punk,” White Wolf sought to use familiar monsters—vampires, werewolves, and more—to reflect on human society in dark, yet illuminating ways. Beyond the tabletop books, the series also includes card games, a TV show in the ‘90s, and computer games, including 2004’s popular Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. With over 850 books and five computer games already released, the rich history of the franchise shows a longstanding ability for the setting to grip audiences. Having access to such a behemoth of a transmedia production allows the story to exist in many new and exciting iterations.
A large part of what makes White Wolf’s approach to the World of Darkness IP so strong is that the company embraces many mediums in telling this story. Tabletop games are engaging because they give players more freedom than any video game ever could while bringing players together to explore established worlds. Without Dungeons and Dragons, modern RPGs would not be what they are, and the fact that a majority of this IP has been, and continues to be, written books for tabletop and LARP consumption shows that a single player can have an impact and enjoy the world, even if their experience is not seen through a screen. The self-operating partnership with Paradox gives White Wolf access to more resources, but keeps the freedom to create its own content, allowing it to reach the end goal of “delivering World of Darkness in different medias… to develop [a] plan of having several video games released in the years to come.” By embracing this variety in medium and talent, the studio shows a desire to have its titles reach a diverse range of audiences and, in doing so, allow the themes that drive the series to have a wider appeal. This proliferation of modern monster myths can influence the rich and diverse understanding of the Gothic in contemporary times and speak to humanity in a unique way.
The themes and politics of the World of Darkness series ring true now more than ever. The struggle of the Garou to hold onto a natural world consumed by industry and the Kindred’s rigid and conflicting religious dogmas clashing against the backdrop of an increasingly agnostic world speak to issues society currently faces. The Hunters who pursue these monsters must also face that they are heinous in their methods and mission—a duality ripe for exploration in this world. A good game that forces players to question who the real monsters are, even while playing as one, is emblematic of the best series from which players can choose. While CCP’s failed World of Darkness MMO lies in the wake of this new era for the IP, the success of the Vampire CRPGs and the Hunter: The Reckoning titles prove that gamers respond to this world and the various creatures that inhabit the shadows. While those outings could have been stronger gameplay-wise, the sharp writing coming from the large history of written media in the series seems to indicate that all the ingredients are present for a recipe of success.
Paradox is a seasoned developer and publisher with a large portfolio of games that could conceivably take the World of Darkness IP in many exciting directions with the guiding hand of White Wolf. A proven master of grand strategy with titles such as Crusader Kings, Hearts of Iron, and Stellaris, Paradox could take the struggle between sects of the Kindred vampire society or the lycanthropic Garou’s struggle to save the world from the apocalypse and give players tactical control of those scenarios. Having worked with Obsidian on Tyranny, Paradox could also help craft a morally-challenging and tactically-engaging RPG, allowing players a choice of race and motive as they navigate the complicated and intriguing politics of the hidden world of magic and monsters. Cyanide Studio (in partnership with Focus Home Interactive) has been tasked with producing the first major video game in this new endeavor, based on the Werewolf: The Apocalypse world. Though little is known about the game’s direction, the idea of pitting the deeply tribal and old-world Garou against modern civilization with an apocalyptic background seems like soil fit for sowing both engaging commentary on contemporary issues, as well as strong visual gameplay to boot. The recently released Vampire the Masquerade: We Eat Blood and Mage the Ascension: Refuge are brief pieces of interactive fiction, following in the same vein as Choice of Games’s portfolio, offering tantalizing pieces of this IP and whetting the appetite until fuller titles arrive. While these are not the first video game adaptions of the World of Darkness IP, the advances in technology and the state of the industry are ripe for the return of this world to gamers’ hands.
The challenge in continuing to work in an already-established universe is to keep things fresh while respecting the legacy. Video games can do that, especially when the titles exist solely in that medium, even if spread through multiple games. Transmedia productions can run the risk of their games not measuring up to the written or live-action work of the rest of the IP; both White Wolf Publishing and Paradox Interactive stand to gain from their mutual designs for World of Darkness, however, with the former’s talent and the latter’s skill. A relevant, vibrant Gothic-punk world that has already seen many stories, told both within and without the game industry, can use the monstrous themes and beings to craft a title gamers want to play no matter the genre, relying on history to know what worked and what did not. In the end, the future seems bright for World of Darkness, with the many books and games in development sure to delight the single player and multiplayer alike. With Paradox’s experience in crafting and publishing well-loved titles in several genres and White Wolf’s proven success in telling gripping stories in this monstrous reflection of reality, a light can once again shine on World of Darkness and bring Gothic horror back into players’ hands.