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‘Vampires, Werewolves, and Mummies, Oh My’: White Wolf Publishing on Bringing the World of Darkness Back to Video Games

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World of Darkness Future

The World of Darkness (WoD) IP has a curious history in video games. After quickly garnering a cult following in the early 2000s with the Vampire: The Masquerade and Hunter: The Reckoning series, the property was purchased by EVE Online developer CCP Games, and the company began work on an ambitious MMO. However, that project was cancelled after seven years of development, with CCP seemingly abandoning further development of the IP.

Thankfully, such a rich universe could not languish forever, and, in 2015, Cities: Skylines and Tyranny publisher Paradox Interactive announced that it had purchased the WoD brand and re-established the setting’s original owner, White Wolf Publishing. Since then, White Wolf has been working to make the property into a household name, with the first major attempt being Focus Home Interactive and Cyanide Studio’s upcoming action RPG Werewolf: The Apocalypse.

To find out more about the unique partnership between Paradox and White Wolf and how the latter company aims to shake off its chequered history and re-emerge as a transmedia powerhouse, OnlySP spoke to CEO Tobias Sjögren and Lead Storyteller Martin Ericsson.

With CCP garnering a huge amount of goodwill with EVE Online, the WoD MMO became a hotly-anticipated piece of software at the moment of its announcement. Expectations were high, and the company was laser-focused on the single project, according to Sjögren. “During the seven years of development [CCP] more or less stopped all other business and licensing of WoD to focus only on this one big game.”

As successful as the MMO might have been, the approach was fundamentally at odds with White Wolf’s principles as “a transmedia company, where worlds and stories move over a range of different media.” Although that philosophical divide did not in any way impact the game’s production, the developer was unable to bring the game to fruition “and had to close the project before it was released and let go of the White Wolf team.”

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Tobias Sjögren is the CEO of White Wolf Publishing.

Recognising the “golden opportunity” offered by the inactivity of the IP, Paradox Interactive “simply knocked on CCP’s door and asked to buy all of the White Wolf rights… eventually got a deal together and announced [the] purchase in October 2015.” Despite being so closely linked, Paradox and White Wolf share what Sjögren describes as “‘a sister-company relationship,’” giving both autonomy. This set-up ensures that White Wolf is “free to act in the best interests of the World of Darkness,” which includes partnering with external developers and publishers, including Cyanide.

Perhaps best known for the Styx series of stealth games, Cyanide has a reputation for great ideas but flawed execution, leading some to question its suitability for such a high-profile project, however, Sjögren waves away any such concerns.“I think, at this time in the industry, it’s all about what your next game is and to identify the teams and publishers with the passion and drive to make that next great product. Looking at [Cyanide’s] experience with mixing heavy visual action with the RPG genre and the learnings they have made along the way is one thing that convinced us. But most importantly their awesome passion for Werewolf and its environmental themes… What we’ve seen from the game so far blows our mind and we feel absolutely certain that they will do a product not only represents Werewolf but is also a great visceral games experience.”

Sjögren’s confidence in the team stems not only from the work he has already seen on Werewolf, but also a philosophy built up over his 21 years in the gaming industry. “From my personal experience, I can say giving a dev with a less than perfect record a chance is sometimes a great idea. If the team I worked on in the past had been judged on the ratings and sales of their game Codename Eagle, the game Battlefield 1942 and its sequels would never gotten made and the world would be a less fun place. The very wise Tom Frisina was the one at EA who signed DICE at that time. He told me that ‘you are never better than your next game’ and that is something that stuck with me.  What you need is a talented team with a vision and passion and absolutely magic products can be produced, and that is very much our feeling about all the partners we work with today.”

While Sjögren could not be persuaded to list any further collaborations with publishers, he did subtly hint that others are currently in the works as he outlined White Wolf’s plans for a vast transmedia universe. “We believe that a living fiction universe is best constructed from many different products interacting with each other. This is what we have been working toward for the last 1.5 years and it’s our continuing vision. Products like the Storytellersvault.comwww.worldofdarkness.com, the 5th edition of the tabletop RPG Vampire the Masquerade, the award-winning live action event ‘End of the Line,’ and the first announced video game based on Werewolf are just the tip of an iceberg of interconnected products coming in the next years.”

Although similarly refusing to comment on the other WoD games in production, Ericsson was more explicit in hinting at their existence. “World of Darkness is just what the world of games needs right now. A setting that boldly tackles difficult political and social issues, set in our own world, as seen through the eyes of dark reflections of ourselves. It features incredibly well thought-out interpretations of the creatures of gothic literature and global folklore and their hidden societies. No other brand in gaming comes close to its balance between mature storytelling and stomach-dropping personal horror.”

Ericsson

Martin Ericsson is the Lead Storyteller for the entire World of Darkness franchise.

The setting is grounded in the fantastic, yet its individual properties have always reflected social themes of perpetual importance. From the explorations of morality in Vampire: The Masquerade to the idea of balance in Mummy: The Resurrection, the World of Darkness is ripe with opportunities to engage with real-world issues. For the revitalisation of the IP, White Wolf decided to lean on this fact, rather than the brand recognition of Vampire: The Masquerade. As such, when Cyanide pitched a vision for Werewolf: The Apocalypse that homed in on the environmental themes and questioning of violence, White Wolf leapt at the idea.

“Not saying that Vampire can’t address burning contemporary issues, but holy s**t does Werewolf feel like the right story for our strange times,” Ericsson said. “The tagline for Werewolf is ‘When Will You Rage?’ It’s essentially a radical revenge fantasy where you become a savage warrior of nature, ripping oil-pipelines, corporate boardrooms and narrow-minded bigots to shreds. I think a large percentage of the world can relate to the anger and frustration the Garou feel as they watch us humans f**k up the planet. And on the flip side it asks the question ‘what’s the price of using violence to change the world’.”

Although Cyanide’s initial pitch was spot-on, White Wolf is heavily involved in the game’s production, frequently checking in and approving “every part of the game, every piece of concept art, as a part of [the] licensing process.” The close collaboration ensures that Werewolf: The Apocalypse adheres to the rules and ideas of the original RPG, with Ericsson saying that “the mechanics of Rage and Gnosis (spiritual wisdom) and interaction with the Umbra, the world of spirits both pure and corrupted… will be central to the game’s systems. And yes, you will almost certainly come face to face with the twisted corporate employees at Pentex subsidiaries like Endron Oil and fight next to some of the tragic heroes of the Garou!”

The interconnected nature of WoD is only beginning to emerge, with characters and powers being shared across both Cyanide’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and the upcoming fifth edition of the pen-and-paper RPG, as well as certain crossovers between Vampire: Prelude and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. Nevertheless, Sjögren emphasises that the vast universe is coming together behind the scenes. “We intend to and indeed feel we are making great progress towards making the World of Darkness something that’s going to be on everyone’s mind. But it takes time. Putting deals together and especially to produce all of these entertainment products is a time consuming business for sure. But yes it’s easier for us to be cool about it when we know what’s coming in the dark pipeline than it is for fans craving content now to stay cool.”

For those fans, both old and new, Sjögren promises that big things—and more WoD monsters—are on the horizon: “Keep your eyes peeled. Because they’re still here, hiding in the shadows of our troubled present, waiting to be unleashed on the world and make their mark on gaming once more.”

“It may seem funny to say it this way, but… ‘the future of World of Darkness is very bright’.”

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

E3 2019

How Final Fantasy XV’s Lead Game Designer is Making a Rhythm Game — An Interview With No Straight Roads Developer Metronomik

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No Straight Roads game art 5

Wan Hazmer’s journey is an interesting one. Having worked at Square Enix on games such as Final Fantasy Type-0 and Final Fantasy XV, Hazmer left the studio in 2017 to start his own development studio, Metronomik. The studio’s first game, No Straight Roads, is a music-based action-adventure game where players must fight the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) empire as an independent rock band.

OnlySP had the opportunity to speak with Hazmer about the game’s inspiration, gameplay, and art design.

OnlySP: What inspired you to make No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: I am a big rhythm gamer. I used to be really good since Beatmania 1 so that’s more than 15 years of experience playing rhythm games. I used to go to the arcades every week and spend like $50 just to play music games. (Laughs) Whenever I invited my friends to play rhythm games with me, they always said “I’ll just watch you play.” It baffles me because everyone loves music; I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love music. I think the problem is the way [music] participates in gameplay. Music is only used in two ways in games: soundtrack or rhythm games. I think everyone has rhythm sense. If I were to give you a guitar, and you didn’t know how to play the guitar, of course you’d admit you’d have no rhythm sense.

I feel like, when you listen to a song maybe five times, then you’ll know when the chorus is supposed to come even before it comes. I want everyone to use that musical instinct to play the game and that’s why we have the enemies follow the music. The input, the participation that you have in the game isn’t a pure action game. Other inspirations also include other rhythm games. Rhythm games’ stories are something I like as well, like Space Channel 5, Guitaroo Man and even games that put a lot of emphasis on music. I think you noticed that the outer stars remind me of Jet Set Radio. The word ‘radio’ is in Jet Set Radio despite it not being a rhythm game. [Jet Set Radio] was such an influence and I still have the soundtrack.

No Straight Roads game art 2

OnlySP: How would you say your experience on other games contributed to No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: Back when I was working on Final Fantasy XV, one of the biggest things about the game was that we had to make sure that Final Fantasy becomes relevant again. [Part of that] falls into how you travel in the world so we thought “What is one of the most current way of travelling romantically?” and we thought “road trip” and it’s the core experience in Final Fantasy XV. We spent a lot of cost and effort into making sure that that core UX does its job. We had to photograph an AI, Prompto, and that was actually very difficult to pull off. Can you imagine an AI taking a photograph of you? He’s a very bad photographer at first, but he gets better and better. The user experience is an emotional connection to the game.

I also wanted to make sure that [No Straight Roads] has a UX that everyone can adhere to and that’s something that is very relevant. With relevance, we talk about rock vs EDM. It’s a classic tale of “my taste is better than yours.” And another is “your music can change the world” is our big core UX. We have the transformation of the props into weapons. We also have three channels of music: backing, melody, and rhythm. We multiply that by that by three genres of music rock, EDM, and a boss specific genre [for the demo, it was disco]. Depending on the situation, depending on the story, depending on how you perform, we actually switch one of the channels to EDM, one channel to bass, and one channel to rock. There’s a lot of music going on in the game and we only do it if we know that it is going to sell something for the UX. That’s something I got from my Final Fantasy XV experience.

OnlySP: How was it like creating the music and implementing it in the game?

Hazmer: I am very lucky to have four composers who are very talented. One of them is Falk [Au Yeong]; he’s the music director. He actually used to work with me on Final Fantasy XV where he was a mixing engineer for the music. When you travel to Hammerhead, for example, a gas station in Final Fantasy XV, when you enter a diner the music starts changing a bit. We were discussing dynamic music for a long time. We also have James Landino who is working on the EDM tracks—he [worked on] Cytus [2], Kingdom Hearts, and Final Fantasy as well. We have Pejman [Roozbeh] who is more of a funk/disco kind of guy, and Andy [Tunstall] who worked on rock.

What I love about working with these four composers is that they know the technicalities involved with implementing music in games. What we do is we come up with the concept for the boss first. We have a DJ who thinks he’s the center of the universe and he’s going to spin some planets. After that, we pass it to the musicians. They compose really great music and they pass it back to us and they understand that there are three channels and the programming involved. There are a lot of times when you make a video game, you outsource the music in the last minute. I really wanted the musicians to be involved from very early on so they are actually involved in the game design process as well.

OnlySP: In the demo, I noticed I got to play as two characters. Are there only going to be those two characters?

Hazmer: Yes. The concept seems like there could fit another person here. (Laughs) You can only control two characters, but there’ll be a bunch of bosses. You can actually play couch co-op as well, so one person can be Mayday and the other Zuke.

OnlySP: About how long would you say the game would be?

Hazmer: 10–15 hours. When you defeat a boss, although there are some RPG elements in it (like giving buffs to your weapons), but I don’t want to go with the New Game Plus route, so I’m [following] more of a Sonic or racing game [style] where once you complete a particular level, you can actually challenge the level again in a different difficulty. So there will be difficulties where you’ll have to parry almost everything in order to survive. For example, when you’re playing the game you only hear rock when you’re almost defeating a boss, you can play an entire boss fight in rock.

No Straight Roads gameplay screenshot 1

OnlySP: How did you go about selecting the genres of music for No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: First of all, we came up with interesting bosses in the game. My co-founder, Daim [Dziauddin], he’s really big into storytelling and he always wonders why people play music. We didn’t want this game to be a game about a bunch of bosses, who are awesome and big and that’s about it. Every single one of these artists has a reason to play music. From there, we see what kind of genre fits them very well. For example, we came up with a DJ who is egocentric and he thinks that he’s the center of the universe and, bam, the sub theme is space. From there, we figured we can do some disco and some Flash Gordon kind of things, and that’s how the genres came about.

OnlySP: Are there any plans to add in some post launch content?

Hazmer: Definitely. This is still all in talks, so it is not confirmed at all. I would love to collaborate with other games or different artists so that we can get their branding into the game [such as a being a boss in the game]. That’s one of the dreams for this game. Once we finish the game, I really want to collaborate, organically, with many different musicians.

OnlySP: Of the genres of music that are not in the game, what would you say would be the first one you’d want to put in post launch?

Hazmer: Oh wow. That’s quite difficult. I kind of like jazz in a way so jazz would be nice. Jazz and EDM would be really cool. (Laughs) I really like jazz, so I think a jazz boss would be really cool.

No Straight Roads game art 3

OnlySP: What influenced the art style for No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: I made a lot of realistic games and wanted to run away from realism. We thought that the characters in the game [don’t] have to be a human skin color. So we were looking at a lot of American cartoons like Steven Universe. The other thing is the funky art style of games that don’t take themselves too seriously like Tim Schafer games like Psychonauts. Sometimes ugliness is beautiful and beauty is ugly. In terms of the poses for the characters, we love ourselves some Jojo. (Laughs) Poses for us are very very important.


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