The World of Darkness lost its MMO, and this upsets me.
That CCP not only cited that it did not live up to their standards, but also laid off the entire team working on it, is probably the worst outcome. It’s been years since they purchased publishing company White Wolf, home of the World of Darkness (WoD), and we’ve heard nearly nothing about the game. While terms like ‘development hell’ cropped up, that it’s been so decisively pronounced dead dispels the faint light of hope many fans might have held.
I’m a rather large fan of the WoD series – Mage: The Ascension was my first positive pen-and-paper role-play experience, and the more-well-known Vampire: The Masquerade soon after. I’m also a tremendous fan of some of the video games produced in the universe – Bloodlines is one of my favourite games of all time, and I enjoyed Redemption for its beat-em’-up fun. I was sceptical of the MMO’s viability and CCP’s ability to provide it given that their experience lay in larger-scale space-ship games with low hardware requirements.
CCP’s purchase of White Wolf signalled the beginning of the end for the company and its line. Its new World of Darkness reboot petered out, picked up by a collection of White Wolf writers called the Onyx Path and fueled by the Kickstarter prayers of eager game fans, along with other games like Exalted (one of my favoured games, despite its absurd rules issues and controversies regarding its subject matter). All of this, presumably, so CCP could have the rights to make an online game of vampires ruling the world from the shadows.
World of Darkness video game adaptations have had a rocky history. The Werewolf video game died in development, after being advertised in the backs of magazines. Even Bloodlines is a buggy, unfinished game with a lot of issues that still manages to be amazing in spite of its flaws. The Hunter console games weren’t well-received, either. It’s always been trouble, despite the success they were able to produce.
The rumours were enticing, too. The idea of vampire seniority being modelled in game – with the older player-characters holding more power and having other players as subordinates, playing missions to destabilize the power of their rivals – seems like it would be something CCP would be good at, with its dog-eat-cruiser philosophy to community management.
Would it have worked? I think it would have overall. Vampire mechanics lend themselves well to the requirements of MMO culture – they can recover from ‘death’ provided it’s not one of their major weaknesses, they go into ‘torpor’, a sleep-state, for long periods of time, and their powers all have direct applications that can be translated into hard videogame effects. We’ve had games like The Secret World with modern supernatural settings, and without the social PvP element you’ve got a culture and back-story that motivates players to progress and explore. There’s a wide variety of ‘clans’ to choose from, which could fit the role of the class, but allowing for multiple builds within that. I’d have liked an open development progression where players could build their character roll within classes with recommendations, giving more versatility.
What worries me, however, is the future of World of Darkness in the videogame industry, and of White Wolf properties in general. There’s fertile ground for multiplayer experiences and for compelling stories, and it’s been proven to work before. Whether or not another company can get the rights for another game is uncertain, but the fanbase is there, and they’ll certainly give it a chance and support.
Personally, I’d like to see an Exalted RPG, with the players taking on the role of one of the divinely-imbued humans. There’s lots of potential for mythical adventure in the setting and a variety of compelling abilities. You could even use it to re-imagine the factions without some of the rule issues and conflicting writing – one kind of Exalted, the shape-shifting Lunars, suffered considerably from conflicting visions and balance issues. Giving the players the chance to play in a sweeping fantasy setting, playing returning legendary beings in a world ravaged by divine mismanagement and long-dead primordial beings would have appeal beyond just the initial players.