Vampire: Bloodlines – Heather and Me

By Kieron Gillen on April 9th, 2008 at 8:21 am.

EMO!
[This is an extended version of something I wrote for PCG. Well... I didn't write it for PCG. I wrote it for myself after something had moved me in the flawed-but-oft-magnificent Vampire: Bloodlines and I sold a cut down version of it to PCG months later, as it's spoiler central. It's very much my personal experience with a memorable section...]

“Power Corrupts” has never been true. In my experience, Power Seduces. “Corrupt” implies it’s akin to sprinkling a little shit in an otherwise immaculate meal. The problem with power is that it just makes everything better. And when someone’s staring up at you, saying you’re the best person in the world and they’d do anything – anything – you ask, could you say no?

I thought I could. I was wrong.

I’ve been on adventures before, and I always lean towards the side of right. I tried to do that here too but since entering the World of Darkness, even best intentions twisted in my hand. Heather was the classic case. I found her, lying dying in the corner of a Santa Monica emergency ward. A college girl with market-bought Scarlet dyed hair and emo glasses, straight off an Oakland campus. Pity makes me choose to feed her a drop of my own Vampiric blood, gifting her a little of my own power – enough to save her. She becomes what we call a Ghoul. Coming to, she asks me what happened. In a moment of madness, I tell her the truth. She screams, calling for the police and I make with the disappearing into the night thing my brethren and I do so well.

I forget about her. So when, much later, she turns up outside the LA Camarilla’s headquarters it’s a surprise. She’d been looking for me everywhere since that night. She hasn’t been able to stop thinking about me. She just wants to be there for me, pay me back any way she can, whatever. I try and talk her out of it – she really doesn’t know what she’s getting into, but she’s so insistent. I think “why not”. I’ll treat her well and everything will be okay.

I take her back to my sanctuary and tell her what’s going on. She doesn’t believe me at first. “Vampire and Ghoul?” she asks, “Is that some kind of Fetish Slang?”. I persist and the stain of truth sinks into her. But when she recovers from the initial horror, she doesn’t care. She loves me in the way the flame loves the air or the arm loves the needle, except a thousand times worse. I know it’s fake and it’s only what I did to her that made her like this. But no matter how artificial the affection is, it’s still a tongue lapping my ego.

ALSO EMO!

She gives me a little of her money and offers up her neck for me to drink from. I try and treat her as politely as I can, but she’s so damn submissive, I find myself falling into the role of master. I’ve got a beautiful girl who’ll do anything I ask her too, quickly, obediently. Since she wants to serve so badly, I find myself giving her tasks and demands that I’d never make to anyone else. And, to my horror, I like it. I have to leave heading out for serious business, but I surprise even myself with my final command: Change your appearance. She went to the bathroom, a happy slave and I head out into the eternal night.

“Is that some Fetish slang?”. Heh. It may as well have been.

My work takes me into a hellish place, full of violence and madness, but it’s my internal turmoil that’s confusing me. This isn’t like me at all, but the opportunity was there and what was the real harm? She thinks she loves me. It makes her happy. And in a sordid kind of way, it makes me happy too. As I progress around the dilapidated mansion full of knives and the men who wield them, I start thinking that the insanity of the place as some kind of reflection of my inner turmoil… but then realise that’s yet more egotism. How did I find myself in this place? I think back to the chain terribly slutty, manipulative things I’ve done since being embraced, and I wonder if you’ve been falling long enough, you even notice anymore.

I deliberately put off returning home until I close all business, but the nagging questions haunts me. What’s going to happen when I walk through the door? How will she look? How will I feel? Will I like it? I step inside.

Heather’s changed. Bits of red hair show in scarlet slashes through the fresh black. Green eyes drowning in kohl, hair a halo and body wrapped in something tight, black and shiny. Her idea of what a Vampire’s servant should look like. She’s not far wrong.

YOU'RE SO EMO, GILLEN, IT MAKES ME SICK.

She’s made the effort so, it seems, should I. I let her suckle some more of my blood from an opened wrist, cementing our relationship a drop at a time. I’ve been told that three feedings lead to a bond of an intensity unknown in all other life, and this is one more step towards that. At that second, I don’t really care. She’s my ghoul. I’m her Vampire. She lives for me and I take what I desire. It’s the natural order, for my kind, and I’m almost exulting in it.

At which point, she throws down a pile of greasy notes in my lap. Her college fund, she announces, and she wants me to have it. After all, she doesn’t need it anymore. She’s going to drop out of school so she could look after me properly, like she knows she really should. It’s like a slap to the face. I wake up.

Sure, I was a vampire, but there was no need to be one I was slouching towards. I told her she had to go. She screamed denial. I insisted, saying that this was to be my last order to her. Distraught, she’s begs for another chance. And even there, there was some part of me that was thinking “Go on: You deserve to be worshipped, and you can spend the money on especially Bloody Marys and shotgun rounds”. But I gritted my teeth, rammed a stake through that part of my heart and hoped it stayed lodged there long enough to do what I had to do. Eventually, she left. I breathed a sigh. Or regret or relief, I really couldn’t tell.

I may be a Vampire. I don’t have to suck.

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97 Comments »

  1. Matt Dovey says:

    Bloodlines may have had flawed combat, clunky controls and the pants-crappingest-scariest-hardest ending that I’ve still never quite got round to finishing, but it was moments like these that still pull me back to it. Seeing all your best intentions turn to dust like this, being turn between duty and decency with your beach friends who find themselves strangers in a lost land, coming across stories like the model-turned-Nosferatu… nobody ended up happy in this game. Thinking back, it’s possibly the most nihilistic game I’ve ever played, as factions tore each other apart and existences spiralled down out of sight.

    Great stuff, wasn’t it? CCP would do well to tap into that vein of story for World of Darkness.

  2. Okami says:

    Great write up, Kieron. If I remember correctly I turned her away at some point too. But not at first. Just like you, I liked the idea of having a submissive slave who loved me unconditionally. Of course I never stooped as low as you, telling her to dress like a Goth. I do have morals, you know.
    (Also there was a certain phase in my life, when I dressed all black and read Moorcock and Anne Rice by candlelight while listening to Sisters of Mercy. I’d never send another one down that particular path, even if it was just a scripted bunch of polygons.)

    I think I’ve read that you can get the best body armor in the game if you don’t turn her down and that.. ahh, well… here there be spoilers, I guess…

  3. Matt says:

    I remember playing as a Malkavian, and she became tainted with madness and the ability to prophesise too, she even foresaw her own fate if she was to remain with you, forcing me to cut her loose. It was so great the amount of different dialogue options and choices they included in that game. Despite its flaws I got the impression the developers made a genuine effort to instill a sense of character into the game.

  4. Okami says:

    I’d take a massively flawed game like Bloodlines, that’s just overflowing with character and personality over any hyper polished soulless cookie cutter game any day.

    Though I still remember a conversation I had with a friend of mine upon first hearing about Bloodlines:

    “The new Vampire RPG is beeing done by Troika and they’re using the new Source engine.”
    “Troika? Weren’t those the guys who did Arkanum?”
    “Yup.”
    “And they’re giving them the Half Life 2 engine? I don’t know if that’s such a good idea…”

    As it turned out, it was a bit too much for them to handle..

    Still: Beautifull game, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore..

  5. Phil says:

    Bloodlines was a massively frustrating product – it had moments like this, the ghost house, the twins, the option to spout meth-addict levels of nosense, the chance to wield a human arm as a melee weapon and the general sense campy adult fun BUT it was sluggish, buggy and frequently broken.

    In terms of abusive relationships I think your relationship with the burning man in Planescape Torment is equally unnerving – your character tortures him as child and makes him the monster he becomes. He appreciates it and repays you by ripping bits off your already threadbare corpse, which actually makes you stronger.

  6. Jim Rossignol says:

    I’ve been playing through recently with the up-to-date community patch and most of the genuine bugs have been fixed.

  7. Ian says:

    I’ve not played Bloodlines but my friend did. He said to me about the bugginess of it so I decided to wait. I have more PC games than I have time to play anyway but once I’ve cleared the backlog I’ll look into buying it now there patches to help sort much of it out.

  8. Stick says:

    And the great thing about Bloodlines: it was full of essay-worthy situations like this.

    (I don’t know about nihilistic, but I love a game where your choice isn’t lightside/darkside but rather “exactly what flavour of complete bastard are you going to be?”)

  9. Matt Dovey says:

    I didn’t realise there was a patch being maintained – I did install the game again a couple of months back but gave up because of the bugginess. I may have to revise that now…

    As I’ve been wandering the corridors of my workplace I’ve been stewing this over, and have come to the conclusion that the (spoilers!) “twins” were the highlight for me – having to decide which personality you would keep, which was the truer person or the more desirable ally, having no right choice to make… feeling like a god has never been so agonising and terrible.

    I agree with the other Matt as well – the choice of dialogue in this game really made it shine. It instilled a wonderful sense of character and really drove me to play the game multiple times just to see how each bloodline reacted to situations. Even though it was essentially the same story, the colour between the sketched lines was so vivid and unique for each group as to keep it enticing and pull you on. The powers on offer for each genuinely made you play a different way as well, out of necessity – I’ve still not had the guts to play as a Nosferatu, restricted to the shadows and sewers of the world.

  10. Jim Rossignol says:

    I’d say that with the community patch installed the first 10-15 hours of Bloodlines are pretty much essential gaming. It goes very shit beyond that, and there are still come problems throughout, but… I wish there were more games like this. Even *one* more.

  11. Schadenfreude says:

    As I’ve been wandering the corridors of my workplace I’ve been stewing this over, and have come to the conclusion that the (spoilers!) “twins” were the highlight for me – having to decide which personality you would keep, which was the truer person or the more desirable ally, having no right choice to make… feeling like a god has never been so agonising and terrible.

    Get your persuade high enough and you can keep ‘em both; no naughty vampire sex though.

  12. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    [Warning, there's spoilers here. Obviously, I'm a victim of them.]

    Good move, Mr. Gillen. I heard that if you hadn’t chosen to let her go, she would’ve eventually suffer a sad fate indeed, though apparently you would’ve gotten more stuff from her. Not surprising that more Vampire fans seemed bothered by this moral choice than by the “Little Sister question,” which is precisely why I know this scenario despite not having actually played the game.

    And Mr. Rossignol, you say there’s a community patch out? Might get the game off of Steam, then. People have been telling me that it’s a more dramatically and emotionally engrossing experience than actually playing a World of Darkness pen-and-paper game.

    And given my experiences with playing in d10-based games involving somehow-machiavellian Malkavians, ecofriendly werewolves, and magical reality-altering peyote smoking kung fu dance hippies, I don’t find that statement hard to believe in the least.

  13. Grill says:

    Great bits in bloodlines: The Cradle-crushing haunted house, the manikin guy attacking you with a plastic arm, all of the Malkavian dialogue, the new Histories introduced by the 2.3 patch, that dancing increases your humanity, Jeanette, the bounty-hunter quests and…

    The Werewolf. The motherfunting werewolf.

  14. Phil says:

    @Jim

    Pathologic? Though for disclosures sake – I’ve only played the demo and it’s more adventure than RPG. Also, it’s considerable less ‘fun,’ more Camus than Anne Rice.

  15. Jim Rossignol says:

    Pathologic is great in its own way, but it’s not quite down the avenue of RPGFPS that I want.

  16. The Fanciest Of Pants says:

    Brilliant write-up.
    Me and my wife both eagerly awaited bloodlines, and we both played through it. We both took heather in, though only I ended up telling her to leave, much later in the game.

    For all it’s faults it still brings back tons of awesome memories.

    @Grill: The werewolf indeed. Did anyone else just run the fuck away? I didn’t even know you could kill the bastard till a mate of mine did it.

  17. drunkymonkey says:

    And to think, I turned her down because she irritated me.

  18. Lou says:

    Great article.

    As flawed as the game was, it didn’t really matter much in the end. Though I really wish someone would combine Bioware’s production values and marketing with the quality of writing (and, well, role-playing) of Vampire.

    Wishful thinking of course, when not even a flawed game of this calibre is anywhere in sight.

  19. Iain says:

    I agree with Jim: Playing Vampire Bloodlines as a Malkavian is one of the essential gaming experiences.

    “I don’t like dramas, please change your channel to a comedy.”

    It’s unfortunate that the game’s all downhill once you get to Chinatown (and arguably, a fair bit before that as well, but Chinatown is where it really begins to fall apart), but on the strength of those first 15 hours alone, it’s a must play game.

    I’ve not played it with the latest fan-patch, though, so I could be tempted into digging out the disks for this again.

  20. C0nt1nu1ty says:

    I read this article when it was in PC gamer not knowing that she was even there. It took me a while to find her, there’s only a specific time that she appears in the Clinic, after that its just a blood stain there. So I tried to see how far I could take it. I diddnt like the way the game went with her, she was kidnapped, I tried to save her, she was murdered, I tried five or six times, each time killed just at the last minute. I know it was part of the whole “your on your own” story arch but they could have made it less frustrating.

  21. Chris Evans says:

    I remember playing this game and really quite enjoying it, at least up to a point anyway. Can’t remember this part though :(

    Great write up Kieron!

    Do the community patches work with the Steam version?

  22. Nny says:

    Great game, great company. I wish they were still around.

  23. Kangarootoo says:

    Bloodlines was indeed flawed majesty. And I never realised she changed in response to your interaction with her. I should really pick this up again one day (for a 3rd playthrough).

  24. Slappeh says:

    Unfortunately I lost me damn disks for this game, really want to play it again.

  25. Uriel says:

    Bloodlines is stunning. Certainly the most memorable and emotional gaming experience of my life: an utter triumph of content over game mechanics. It’s one of two games I’ve completed and promptly started again. Troika didn’t really have a handle on the technology but it was analogous to reading an imperfect translation of a brilliant novel.

    I relied almost completely on my Toreador’s Celerity for the final battle. With a different set of disciplines or a lack of blood I’m sure that the game could potentially be impossible to complete without replaying several hours. Even with the game-breaking bugs, that was surely its greatest flaw.

    Edit: Lost your disks? It was very cheap on Steam last time I checked. Amazingly I got this for £10 from a bargain bin within a couple of months of its release. Best £10 I’ve ever spent.

  26. H says:

    I think now I’m going to have to find a copy of this game; tales of woe and suicide from bug-induced insanity always put me off. Ebay? Taxi!

  27. Phil says:

    Would this be the right time and place to suggest Bloodline’s stable mate Arcanum was better than Baldur’s Gate?

    Clockwork elephant guns vs a Big Bad psychotically terrified of death plus the chance to select a sheep in the brothel – good times.

  28. Willem says:

    @Okami: Arcanum was brilliant! BRILLIANT.

  29. Pete says:

    I love a game where your choice isn’t lightside/darkside but rather “exactly what flavour of complete bastard are you going to be?”

    Very nice. You’re certainly not the only one with that thought.

    I played this one through as a Gangrel and got the shit kicked out of me but enjoyed every moment. Once patched it was a fine game indeed. There’s no question it’ll be one of the few games I replay one day, and as a Malk for certain.

    I remember reading an interview with the writer who did most of the Malkavian dialogue – given that it was all totally different to the other clans, it was a monumental task on a brutal deadline that (fittingly) nearly drove him up the wall. I wonder where that talented chap ended up?

    Also, does anyone else still feel there’s a chance Obsidian will produce real greatness, given their Black Isle Troika roots, once finally given a proper length of time to make a game? Both NWN2 and KOTOR 2 were deeply flawed but with some moments of real brilliance.

  30. Sören Höglund says:

    Arcanum had a better setting than Baldur’s Gate, and I really like it, but it’s no BG. The combat is a bit crap and it’s terribly unbalanced. Maybe if they’d gotten around to a sequel with the problems ironed out.

    And I took the money. I hated myself all the way, but I wanted that shiny auto-shotgun. I’m *such* a bastard, which is unusual in a game. It’s a credit to Bloodlines that it manages to make being evil so tempting, instead of the ludicrous options most games give you.

  31. brainwashed says:

    I remember this game for the progress bar labeled “BRAAIIINNNSSSS!!!!!!!!!” while one’s head was being devoured by zombies.

    That and one of the unpatched levels being impossible to complete without using a console hack.

  32. Stick says:

    Do the community patches work with the Steam version?

    @Chris Evans: Yes. I played through with the tweak/patch fairly recently. Nothing weird about Steam version’s folder structure or anything.

  33. Okami says:

    @WilleM: Yeah, I know. It was an incredibly complex and brilliant beast of a game. And it was done using the Fallout2 engine.

    That dialogue didn’t imply that Troika was bad at making games.

    It was just meant to illustrate that it’s a bad idea to give the (back then) most advanced FPS engine on the market (which was till in development at this point) to a studio which has little to no 3D development experience in order to create an incredibly complex and mature RPG with it.

    That’s just a recipe for disaster.

    The result was to be expected. A brilliant and complex RPG that was buggy as hell, had flawed game systems and was nowhere near from completed when it was finally released.

  34. Zeno, Internetographer says:

    I stopped playing Bloodlines once I realized that the storyline was the exact same no matter what “choices” you made.

    The only thing worse than a lack of control is the illusion of control.

  35. Uriel says:

    Eh? Characters reacted differently, some disappeared from the plot altogether, lots of missions were optional and there were several different endings.

    You can experience a substantially different story by playing differently. What more do you want?

  36. Lukasz says:

    malks, nossies, and others.
    Three completely different gameplays.

    Other group:
    Different dialogs playing as bloodmages (Tesomething) or ventrue.

    and how many endings? four?

    what are you talking about zeno?

  37. Matt says:

    @Pete

    I am hoping that the new game Obsidian are working on (Alpha Protocol) will be something worthwhile.

    Usually they are limited by having a pre-existing setting, KotOR 2 had its problems but there were some great ideas in there hopefully with their own setting and a bit more creative freedom they will produce something really good.

    I enjoyed the NWN2 games but I really felt they were hampered by the restrictions of the D&D setting and the fact that really they were working with a lot of recycled ideas they had used in games like the BG series and to some extent Planescape Torment. I hope they take advantage of the freedoms a new setting can provide and actually have the right amount of development time this time.

    It is also going to be interesting to see what CCP do with the world of darkness setting, it seems such a difficult project for an mmo. I don’t know how the setting will work with so many playable characters.

  38. Joe Martin says:

    Pfft. I kept her. You should see her other outfit!

    Strange how much I developed an attachment to her – I too actually liked abusing her a little, so when she gets taken away in the endgame it’s a real sucker punch. You keep her in a cage so long that when the predators get in too she just can’t survive.

  39. kadayi says:

    Great game (and up for a replay later this year). I recall the Hotel section creeped me out big time, as did the zombie section. I thought Toika made good use of Valves Source Engine in bringing a sense of life to their NPCs (the vampire girl on the beach was particularly standout), it’s a real shame other developers didn’t adopt it tbh.

  40. Mike says:

    Just to bring the twins back into this, I remember being a bit dissatisfied that once you’d made ‘the decision’, their plot arc came to an abrupt end.

    Given how important they are to the first quarter of the game, it’s a shame you didn’t run into them later on. I kept popping back to the Asylum to say hello, but there was never anything new to find out.

    Brilliant game, though. One of my absolute favourites.

  41. lungfish says:

    Brilliant game, can’t say i disagree with the above, when it worked it was absolutely, spiffingly perfect. It’s just unfortunate that it descended into almost nothing but combat (easily the worst part of the game).

  42. Okami says:

    @Mike: I was a bit dissapointed about that to. But to be fair, most RPG NPCs, no matter how well thought out and detailed they are , tend to become lifeless and boring once the quests they are associated with are completed.

    There’s a pretty good reason for that as well: time and budget constraints. I’m currently working on my second commercial RPG and have written dialogues, quests and story archs for dozens and dozens of characters during the last few years. Once you’re done with one particular NPC you’re happy to move on to the next, to implement the next quest and the next piece of actual gameplay.

    There are loads of NPCs, that I’d love to revisit at some point, to give them new dialogue options once you’ve completed certain things later on. But that’s just fluff. Nice to have.

    They’ve served their gameplay purpose (moving on the plot) and now it’s time to script the next part of the story. It’s actually easier to fully script a whole dungeon of intricate combat encounters than write and update the dialog of just a single story NPC.

    And that dungeon full of combat encounters is what 90% of your paying audience will play and remember and enjoy. And you have to cater to this audience and not to the people who run back to the bar after every major plot point to meet up with old friends and have a nice chat with them.

    EDIT: Just checked my project folder. I haven’t actually written dialogues for more than a hundred characters. Though it often feels this way..

  43. Dave N-P says:

    Glancing at wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vampire_bloodlines#Unofficial_Patches) it seems like there are two sets of community patches…any recommendations as to which is better?

  44. wcaypahwat says:

    the planetvampire one seems to be the one people are talking about. i only picked up bloodlines about a year back, an ex-rental copy, for a fiver. was so dissapointed when i hit a part i could not get past, whatsoever, without the patch. and no internet connection :( im thinking i might jump right into a game once i get back home. once i clear kanes wrath.

    Someone mentioned obsidian being constrained in the D&D universe etc, with their work. maybe so, but they do a damn good job while they’re in there. MOTB is absolute brilliance, more so for BG veterans, bringing us all into the wonderful world of Minsc, Dynaheir, and of course, Boo.

  45. dhex says:

    it is amazing how troika would do 3/4ths of a brilliant game – utterly brilliant, like arcanum or bloodlines – and then just splat into a wall of nothingness.

    the end of bloodlines cracked me up. another point in their favor is that troika always seemed to be able to pick up pretty good voice actors, especially in such a voice-heavy game like bloodlines. very little cringeworthy acting, which is a remarkable feat for any game.

  46. Chris Evans says:

    Just read this little Eurogamer piece (via the Wiki article on the game) which says that the game was being pushed back to Spring 05.

    Shame it wasn’t pushed back til then, it really could have done with the extra work and avoiding being released at the same time as HL2

  47. PleasingFungus says:

    I loved Arcanum, but never finished it – got pretty far, sweating my way through bugs and the complete inferiority of the tech tree to the magic tree, and stopped when a vital plot NPC (in the elven city) vanished. Very frustrating. (My brother finished the game – thus the comment about magic.)

    I DID beat Kotor II, while we’re talking about Obsidian, but I wasn’t too big a fan of it until I read this. Then I retroactively loved it.

  48. Phil says:

    @dhex

    Gotta say, the end of Arcanum, with the castle, the uber optional henchmen, the wonderfully memorable, bizarrely metaphysical and open ended conversation/confrontation in the throne room and the ‘where are they now’ style resolution was one of the best things in the game (or any game.)

  49. Mike says:

    @Okami

    I can see your point, but ultimately I wanted to see really stand out characters appear later in the plot – it was their story I was interested in, rather than ticking a box in my quest log.

    The twins’ quest may have been over, but as far as I was concerned their story wasn’t quite at a satisfying conclusion. The ramifications of your decision were undermined by the fact that you never saw how the characters developed (or failed to develop) beyond that cutscene.

    I don’t necessarily mean you should have had to traipse back to The Asylum again to find out what was going on, but further interaction later in the plot wouldn’t have been too tough.

    Perhaps it’s another on the list of things Troika would have addressed had they had more time.

  50. YogSo says:

    Repeated post. Please delete