Hard Project: World of Darkness
For the handful of people who haven’t heard yet, CCP Games killed World of Darkness, because apparently a better use of the company’s funding was delivering a PC version of their failed console shooter? I don’t follow CCP’s business procedures too closely, I just know that they’re awful. Yes, part of the reason I’m saying that is because I knew people directly affected by this loss, but this is also the company responsible for the deep dark pit that is EVE Online, and it’s also a company that apparently doesn’t realize what it has.
Not that a lot of other companies seem to know, either. The World of Darkness setting is tailor-made for games, honestly; the fact that we haven’t had a Grand Theft Auto clone wherein everyone’s a supernatural creature is a crime. The only games we have gotten are a trio of Gautlet clones based on the one line that everyone tries to forget and two Vampire RPGs, both of which had major issues with bugs and a lack of polish. Without falling back on the obvious fact that the rights are owned by a company more concerned with promoting jerks with spreadsheets than any other game, why are games so difficult to develop for this property?
Morality’s a bitch, child
The World of Darkness got its start with Vampire, and that’s a game that makes no bones about what you’re playing: a monster. You are a monster. If you are at any point inclined to think of your character as something other than a monster, there are plenty of reminders that you are a blood-sucking parasite in a culture of blood-sucking parasites who regard humans as nothing more than cattle. What lives aren’t specifically ended by vampires are frequently ruined by them, because vampires give no fucks and aren’t expected to. There’s a reason the game’s central stat is Humanity.
It’s hard to really convey that if you’re playing a game in which your vampire can legit ramp a car off a truck and into a building before shooting like seven dudes.
I mentioned a Grand Theft Auto clone in the WoD universe, and I won’t lie and say that’s not a game I have literally dreamed about. But the only way you could make that sort of game work at all from a narrative perspective is by going for Saints Row IV-style refuge in audacity, a goal contradicted by the nature of the setting. The fact of the matter is that the World of Darkness is screwed up partly because of all these selfish supernatural critters, that they’re part of the problem, not the solution. GTA antics are not exactly in keeping with the setting or the atmosphere.
This shuts down a lot of the things you could do with superhuman characters in a contemporary setting. But there are other problems on top of that, because you have to figure out which characters you’re bringing in first.
There are too many supernatural beasties
Back in the larval days of the Internet, there was a great site devoted to all of the various fan add-ons that people had developed for the World of Darkness, including a number of joke types. My favorite was the Actual Mortal – a normal human who didn’t work for a vampire, wasn’t kin of werewolves, didn’t have true seeing, never dealt with demons, didn’t know any mages, had never seen a mummy, had never been with changelings, and so on. The gag, obviously, was that the world was lousy with supernatural creatures.
Even if you ignored World of Darkness: Gypsy.
This is where fans start getting insufferable. Sure, most of the world won’t give a single coiled crap if this game features vampires but no kuei-jin, werewolves, wraiths, or risen, largely because most of the world doesn’t know what half of those things are and wouldn’t care much if they did. But the people who know the setting are going to start asking why this game has Giovanni without unquiet dead, or Settites with no mummies flouncing around, or Ravnos without… actually, they’re probably just going to be wondering why in the world the Ravnos are there at all. Or they’re going to start wondering if a werewolf game will let you play as one of the other changing breeds, because I know that my first question when it comes to a game based on Werewolf is whether or not I can play a kitsune.
To say this would be a nightmare of work is severely underestimating most nightmares. The obvious response, of course, is to say that the fans can eat it and that you’ll make the game that you want to make, which by necessity means leaving out the weird corner cases. But there’s a problem there, too.
That IP song and dance
White Wolf’s World of Darkness is hugely influential. The problem is that a lot of that influence is impossible to even try and copyright. You can copyright things like clans and specific setting details, but you can’t copyright the idea of mages and vampires and werewolves all coexisting in modern cities. What’s kept the World of Darkness moving in the tabletop space was how well these ideas were put together, with an emphasis on narrative and richness of setting.
But as I just mentioned, this can become problematic in a hurry when dealing with the expectations of fans for a video game. I’m not leaving myself out here; when I first heard that World of Darkness would only feature vampires in its online incarnation, I was crestfallen, because I had really wanted to be That Guy who whips out a Changeling or a Demon just to be contrary. These are the people that you are marketing toward, and they’re going to make developing any game a lot harder with a lot of superfluous requests.
Or you could just come up with your own setting for a vampiric Grand Theft Auto and save some money. The ideas aren’t copyrighted, after all, and it’s not hard to think up interesting variants on this premise with minimal effort, since I’ve thought of several right now. Paying for an IP when you don’t need the IP for the central concepts is an odd proposition, and it means you’re mostly trying to attract fans that won’t be happy with what you’re doing in the first place.
Add all of that to the fact that you’re talking about an IP currently owned by a company whose main goals are sinking money into projects with tiny market share and promoting its game about staring at spreadsheets and being a dick to everyone, and you can see why we haven’t gotten a decent game out of this premise before. Which is a shame, because as much as I want that vampire GTA game, I really want some Assamites in there as well.
Then again, maybe that’s why I can’t have one.