To be able to play in a vampire game as a vampire, you need great writing.
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Why it sucks that there are so few vampire videogames

With the cancellation of World of Darkness, the chances of a second good vampire game seem small.

When CCP cancelled their World of Darkness game it became apparent that whatever slim hope there had been for a second good vampire video game was dead. Not the good kind of dead where it would still be running around after dark biting necks in a sharp suit, the bad kind of dead with sadness and regret and a period of reflection.

There has of course been only one good vampire game in the history of video games, this would be Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. There are games with vampires in, there are games where you play as them, but nothing has ever come close to Bloodlines. The fact that Bloodlines is an amazing game isn’t news, the game was released in 2004 and though its brilliance was not immediately apparent it grew on people. Fan made patches and mods transformed a buggy and technically troubled game into something working much closer to how it was supposed to and despite retaining some fairly serious flaws it remains unmatched in many areas. There have been other games based on Vampire: The Masquerade, but none of them came close.

Vampires have never lent themselves readily to video games. A vampire is supposed to be a manipulator and a thinker, but also a romantic, a rogue, a creature of passion and desire. Count Dracula didn’t walk through a series of corridors with ten different guns each more deadly than the last on his person, even if he did have regenerating health. Unlike zombies, who could have almost been invented to cater for the itchy trigger fingers of modern gamers, vampires are a more minimalist monster. Some RPGs such as Skyrim allow you to turn into a vampire but this is not fully realised in the way that it might be in a totally vampire centred game. Action games like the Castlevania and Bloodrayne series feature vampires heavily, but mostly in the capacity of bosses and neither features a vampire as protagonist.

In order to play a vampire as a vampire ought to be played in a game you need something that most video games can’t handle at the best of times, great writing. You need writing that ties the narrative into the systems of the game to allow you more ways to approach situations. Bloodlines has this level of writing and one of the many oft remarked upon features of the game is that you can play with a huge degree of freedom and in many different ways. Though the vampire clan system in the game looks at first like choosing a class in a traditional RPG it carries much more weight than merely choosing the manner in which you’ll be fighting your enemies, it is actually in a way choosing an entire approach to the game, and the differences between the clans can be extreme. It is fair to say that no game has ever allowed for such a radical change in play style as Bloodlines demands from those who play as a Nosferatu.

For that sort of diverse approach to work the systems of the game have to be backed up by the writing and it has to be done seamlessly, and this was something that Bloodlines did. Who your character was would affect reactions from other characters and what your character could say to them. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but what it means in effect is that every encounter with every character has different ways it can play out with different consequences based on who you are playing when it happens. Games these days will consider how different branches play out based on choices, but usually this is based on a fixed character and irrespective of their abilities. Writing a game that lets the players play as the sort of vampire they want to be is a huge undertaking.

With that in mind it is not hard to see why CCP’s take on the World Of Darkness ran into trouble. In electing to go for an MMO format with thousands of players in one city CCP picked the most difficult approach possible given the source material. With so many players, each one looking to find their own path through the game, development would have been mindboggling complex. With EVE Online this was easy, here’s a universe, here’s a spaceship, fill your boots. In a city of monsters the problems of finding things for players to do without compromising the tone of the game become that much larger. For one thing given the player numbers and the size of the game world there would have inevitably been a sense that the city was in the grip of a permanent Twilight convention. How to stop that huge mob of players simply turning their vampire powers loose and creating something more akin to a gothic City of Heroes than the brooding RPG at the root of it all must have been a very difficult question.

Past that you have the problem of how to integrate the game system into that kind of scale, and make it all look good, and make it all play well. The source material from which the game was derived depicts a world in which vampires are rare, living in tiny groups, a far cry from the huge numbers of them which would have to inhabit the same spaces in World of Darkness.

While we may never find out which hurdles brought down World of Darkness it is impossible not to admire the ambition. Will there ever be another great vampire game? It is impossible to say, but it is discouraging that so few people are even trying. In a world where zombie games have become so common that it’s not unreasonable to start stockpiling ammunition and canned goods it would have been brilliant to see another monster on the scene. Alas CCPs effort has failed, but with any luck somebody else will be along soon to take a bite at it.

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture

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The Autumn Statement proved it – we need a real alternative to austerity, now

Theresa May’s Tories have missed their chance to rescue the British economy.

After six wasted years of failed Conservative austerity measures, Philip Hammond had the opportunity last month in the Autumn Statement to change course and put in place the economic policies that would deliver greater prosperity, and make sure it was fairly shared.

Instead, he chose to continue with cuts to public services and in-work benefits while failing to deliver the scale of investment needed to secure future prosperity. The sense of betrayal is palpable.

The headline figures are grim. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that real wages will not recover their 2008 levels even after 2020. The Tories are overseeing a lost decade in earnings that is, in the words Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, “dreadful” and unprecedented in modern British history.

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s own analysis shows the cuts falling hardest on the poorest 30 per cent of the population. The Office for Budget Responsibility has reported that it expects a £122bn worsening in the public finances over the next five years. Of this, less than half – £59bn – is due to the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit. Most of the rest is thanks to their mishandling of the domestic economy.

 

Time to invest

The Tories may think that those people who are “just about managing” are an electoral demographic, but for Labour they are our friends, neighbours and the people we represent. People in all walks of life needed something better from this government, but the Autumn Statement was a betrayal of the hopes that they tried to raise beforehand.

Because the Tories cut when they should have invested, we now have a fundamentally weak economy that is unprepared for the challenges of Brexit. Low investment has meant that instead of installing new machinery, or building the new infrastructure that would support productive high-wage jobs, we have an economy that is more and more dependent on low-productivity, low-paid work. Every hour worked in the US, Germany or France produces on average a third more than an hour of work here.

Labour has different priorities. We will deliver the necessary investment in infrastructure and research funding, and back it up with an industrial strategy that can sustain well-paid, secure jobs in the industries of the future such as renewables. We will fight for Britain’s continued tariff-free access to the single market. We will reverse the tax giveaways to the mega-rich and the giant companies, instead using the money to make sure the NHS and our education system are properly funded. In 2020 we will introduce a real living wage, expected to be £10 an hour, to make sure every job pays a wage you can actually live on. And we will rebuild and transform our economy so no one and no community is left behind.

 

May’s missing alternative

This week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, gave an important speech in which he hit the proverbial nail on the head. He was completely right to point out that societies need to redistribute the gains from trade and technology, and to educate and empower their citizens. We are going through a lost decade of earnings growth, as Carney highlights, and the crisis of productivity will not be solved without major government investment, backed up by an industrial strategy that can deliver growth.

Labour in government is committed to tackling the challenges of rising inequality, low wage growth, and driving up Britain’s productivity growth. But it is becoming clearer each day since Theresa May became Prime Minister that she, like her predecessor, has no credible solutions to the challenges our economy faces.

 

Crisis in Italy

The Italian people have decisively rejected the changes to their constitution proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with nearly 60 per cent voting No. The Italian economy has not grown for close to two decades. A succession of governments has attempted to introduce free-market policies, including slashing pensions and undermining rights at work, but these have had little impact.

Renzi wanted extra powers to push through more free-market reforms, but he has now resigned after encountering opposition from across the Italian political spectrum. The absence of growth has left Italian banks with €360bn of loans that are not being repaid. Usually, these debts would be written off, but Italian banks lack the reserves to be able to absorb the losses. They need outside assistance to survive.

 

Bail in or bail out

The oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs €5bn before the end of the year if it is to avoid collapse. Renzi had arranged a financing deal but this is now under threat. Under new EU rules, governments are not allowed to bail out banks, like in the 2008 crisis. This is intended to protect taxpayers. Instead, bank investors are supposed to take a loss through a “bail-in”.

Unusually, however, Italian bank investors are not only big financial institutions such as insurance companies, but ordinary households. One-third of all Italian bank bonds are held by households, so a bail-in would hit them hard. And should Italy’s banks fail, the danger is that investors will pull money out of banks across Europe, causing further failures. British banks have been reducing their investments in Italy, but concerned UK regulators have asked recently for details of their exposure.

John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor


John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and has been shadow chancellor since September 2015. 

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump