By John Gaudiosi
Back when video games were still in their infancy, and 20 years after TSR launched the pen-and-paper role-playing game (RPG) phenomenon Dungeons & Dragons; White Wolf Publishing unleashed Vampire: The Masquerade in 1991. That gothic pen-and-paper game has evolved over the years, expanding out into a plethora of different entertainment mediums including a pair of Activision video games by developer Nihilistic and Troika with Vampire: The Masquerade –Redemption in 2000 and Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines in 2004. While the focus remains on the pen-and-paper game, CCP Games, which merged with White Wolf Publishing in 2006, is developing a massively-multiplayer online (MMO) game, World of Darkness, primarily based on the macabre worlds of Vampire: The Masquerade with additional elements from their other game lines Vampire: Requiem, Werewolf: The Apocalypse (which debuted in 1992), and Mage: The Ascension (which launched in 1993).
During the 20th Anniversary celebration with fans and gamers at The Grand Masquerade in New Orleans’ French Quarter this September 15-18, CCP Games will celebrate their significant contribution to the evolution of the vampire myth in modern popular culture which can be clearly evidenced with the success of hit films like The Twilight Saga and TV shows like “True Blood,” the latter of which regularly draws considerable comparison to the original Vampire: The Masquerade game. The publisher will also look ahead by revealing the next layer of information about the much-anticipated MMO game, which is still likely a few years away.
Mark Rein*Hagen, Joshua Timbrook, and a host of talented developers over the years crafted Vampire: The Masquerade to embrace various aspects of pop culture in the ‘90s, including The Lost Boys, the Gothic music scene, Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula and undeniably Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. As vampires have seen a pop culture resurgence over the past few years, the original pen-and-paper game has retained a devoted following and attracted new fans into the fold by way of a number of gaming mediums. Over 3 million enthusiasts have experienced the franchise over the past 20 years, including but not limited to the original pen-and-paper game, Live Action (LARP) games, trading card games, comic books, novels, two award winning video games, and even a TV series.
“The audience who plays these games are extremely diverse and range from theater kids to artists to musicians,” said Shane DeFreest, Community Developer for World of Darkness. “A lot of women play the game and it’s popular with the alternative culture scene, and the gay community to name a few. And that’s just scratching the surface.”
Last year, CCP Games/White Wolf held the first-ever Grand Masquerade at the Roosevelt Hotel, one of the oldest and most haunted buildings in New Orleans. Over 1,300 people attended the event, which included live action role-playing sessions where costumed players roamed the ballrooms and hallways of the hotel in character. Every inch of these rooms was meticulously designed to recreate Victorian, Renaissance and Gothic locales.
“Our various fan clubs have been holding their own smaller scale community events independently for years, and we wanted to find a reason to bring them all together and celebrate with them as one large community,” said DeFreest. “We turn the ballrooms and event space into a living, breathing historical palace. You feel like these are real locations that you’d see in movies or read about in books.”
CCP Games is expecting a larger gathering this year, so they’ve rented out two luxurious French Quarter hotels. The fact that they’re historical and haunted is a bonus. Activities run throughout the day and long into the night for attendees. Last year in the evenings, three-quarters of attendees played tabletop gaming or dressed in costume to take part in live role playing games in one of the various ballrooms or special event locales.
“The Grand Masquerade is fantastic, I was really blown away by the size of it and the number of different fan groups that got involved last year,” said Russell Bailey, Developer for White Wolf Publishing. “We had The Camarilla Fan Club, One World by Night, The Garou Nation, The Wrecking Crew and The Elder Kindred Network all there together. The size and scope was amazing. I’m looking forward to it this year.”
CCP Games expects over 1,500 people to attend this year’s anniversary celebration and has rented out two of the finest hotels the French Quarter has to offer, the Hotel Monteleone and the Royal Sonesta, for the festivities. DeFreest called it the World of Darkness come to life.
This year’s attendees will be getting access to an exclusive Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition book that serves as a massive “ultimate edition” for the pen-and-paper franchise. The 528 page book featuring all new full color art by fan favorite Tim Bradstreet and other classic “Masquerade” artists will include an exclusive Grand Masquerade unique cover treatment only available to convention attendees. People who can’t attend the event or did not pre-order the deluxe Edition prior to the deadline will be able to aquire the book by way of PDF or digital print version in the future.
“This book is something that’s very much a labor of love,” said White Wolf Publishing Creative Director Richard Thomas. “It’s been cool creating this project because we’ve done it in a much more open way than before. We reached out to fans through our blog to have them offer immediate responses to sketches that we were exploring for the book. Fans gave us great ideas and the entire process was enriching for artists, who came up with better pieces because we had that feedback.”
Bailey said that the book chronicles how Vampire has evolved over the past 20 years.
“Although the first book I saw was the first edition, I actually got into Masquerade a few years later in the second edition era,” said Bailey. “It’s been very much informed by things like The Dracula Tape and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles…I saw a lot of strong parallels there. Over the years it’s evolved into more than interpretation of a literary genre into a mythology all its own. Things like the Clans have become these dynasties of vampiric intrigue. An endless numbers of books can be written about just that.”
There are enough stories to create an endless MMO game experience, as well. A team of 120 are working on the World of Darkness MMO game. Last year, CCP Games used its Grand Masquerade to reveal the first tease for the game. This year, DeFreest said that fans should expecte the next layer of the veil of intrigue and mystery surrounding the MMO to be pulled back just a bit further in regards to the game.
The World of Darkness MMO will focus on player politics and social interaction amongst the thousands of online players. The game is set in a world run by immortal vampires who live amongst humans, controlling everything, even if mortals aren’t aware of their secret wars and their boundless appetites.
“The MMO will get players even closer to that shared experience of the pen-and-paper game,” said Thomas. “But as beautiful as the 3D rendered spaces are and as amazing as the music is, you still don’t have that same freedom to interject yourself into the game world as you do sitting around the table. The gap is closing, but there will always be something special about the table top experience.”
Bailey believes fans will continue to play the pen-and-paper game even after the MMO is released.
“We’re not always competing with video games,” explained Bailey. “Pen-and-paper is a face-to-face hobby that occupies a different niche in a person’s life than digital gaming. As we’ve seen digital gaming take off, a lot of things have been beneficial to tabletop gaming. We’ve seen an era of electronic docs, mechanical concepts have gone back and forth between digital and tabletop games. I don’t see it as direct competition, although tabletop is smaller than it used to be and gaming is larger than used to be.”
One thing will remain constant across the traditional pen-and-paper and MMO worlds.
“Vampires have been popular for the last 100 years and will remain popular for another hundred years,” said DeFreest.
If you don’t take his word for it, just ask the legion of fans who will be dressed in character in New Orleans this September for The Grand Masquerade.