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“They were tired of America”: Why ex-Division devs chose Prague for Vampire Bloodhunt’s classy backdrop

With Bloodhunt releasing today, we sit down with art director Erik Nilsson on Prague and bringing Vampires to the modern day.

Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodhunt is out today, bringing with it an updated look at the dark and mysterious world the franchise is set in. With this instalment, not only are we getting an updated look at vampire society almost twenty years after Bloodlines, but we’re seeing them in a largely unrepresented part of the world in Prague.

To dig into both this setting, as well as how the series has been adapted to fit a modern setting, I sat down with art director Erik Nilssonto discuss inspiration, what’s changed and remained the same, and what went into transforming real world Prague into a battle royale arena.

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VG247: You’re making a vampire the masquerade in 2022, so how do you modernise the style and presentation for a modern audience?

Erik: The funny thing is that it’s coming out in 2022, but we started this almost five years ago. So back then Apex Legends wasn’t out and Fortnite was out – but it wasn't massive yet. There was no Bloodlines 2, either. No one had actually done anything with the IP for PC for a while.

So, for us, it was like looking at whether it was even viable to do vampires? Would people care? And what we decided was that ‘yes, we think they do’. There's a few of those fictions that can come around again and again; vampires is one of them, pirates is another. There's a few of those tropes that people like, and that resonates with society. We can definitely do a modern version of [vampire fiction] while still maintaining the things that are cool about the classic game.

VG247: Could you give me an example of some of those ‘cool things’?

Erik: What we decided to do was essentially just to build a few core pillars. For example, we wanted characters to feel quite relatable. One of the strong things about the VTM and about vampires is that you're not born with powers. Anyone can become a vampire. There's a vampire for everyone, there's a clan for everyone.

And then another thing is this contrast of vampires are old, but they're living in the modern-day age: how do they survive with cell phones and things like that? So finding those pillars and building things around that was really important for us. The style we wanted to go for needed looking at too because Bloodlines is based a lot on LA, and the movies and the cinema that came out around that time.

So we wanted to look a little bit at how the media looks today. For example, HBO has done a lot of really good, kind-of slick-looking TV shows and takes some inspiration from that. So that was something we did for sure.

A vampire opening fire on another in the rain-slicked rooftops of Prague.

VG247: Since you said that LA at the time Bloodlines released inspired a lot of the visuals with that title, how much of modern day Prague bleeds into the vampires we see in Bloodhunt?

Erik: In Vampire Masquerade lore, there are quite a lot of events happening in Europe. Vienna, for example, played a big part. Plus, there was Vampire Masquerade Redemption – I think it's called – which is a fairly old game. Now that takes place in Prague, and there's a history of vampires Prague, and there was a Tremere Chantry in Prague alongside other stuff.

So there is a lot of history both in real-life Prague and in lore that we could draw upon. But I think the reason we picked Prague originally was partly because the founders had just kind of come from The Division, and they were really tired of America – but also because Prague is a very interesting city.

VG247: In a class based multiplayer title, how do you represent the different clans in a way that leads to clearly identifiable enemies on the map? How do you tell two classes from the Nosferatu apart?

Erik: So I’ll use the Prowler and the Saboteur from the Nosferatu clans as examples, because I think they answer this question well. Yeah. We used those classes as a base from which we created outfits for the game. So the Saboteur is the more hacker type of Nosferatu, so we created a few outfit designs focused on that, while the Prowler is more of a sewer rat so we kept that in mind when designing outfits that would fit that style.

VG247: What were some of the main inspirations for this game visually, outside of the pre-existing Vampire franchise?

Erik: It was a lot of looking at a lot of modern movies for reference, for sure. I mean, the reference comes in many shapes and sizes. Like a lot of it came from when we did the tour over to Prague where we took photos, and we also looked at real life events too.

So It really depends a lot on what aspect of the game you're talking about, right? Because if you're going to talk about the entity then there's obviously some distinct inspirations we had in mind. If you're talking about the city itself, then Prague obviously was the biggest inspiration, but in general for the vampires it comes down to the brand and it comes down to cinema.

I would say I think like John Wick is a good movie example of how you can take this kind of secret society type of deal with this kind of historical aspect like when they're in Rome, for example. But that is just one movie like, we've looked at a lot of stuff.

Three vampires walking down the streets of Prague towards a burning church.

VG247: I’ve been dying to ask you about the Entity, that take the place of an antagonistic force (aside from players). Where does that modern day crusader look come from?

Erik: The general idea with them is that we wanted them to feel obviously very knight-like, yeah, to show that they have the old history of like, a templar order, but also with the modern day equipment. Like they have exoskeletons for example, to combat the vampires superpowers and they do have these glowing eyes. We wanted them to feel almost like a demon, like a balrog. We wanted you to think ‘s**t, they’re out to kill me’ when you saw them.

VG247: Typically with Battle Royale maps there are these massive landmarks that really stand out. While Bloodhunt does have distinct locations, how do you take a realistic city and apply that BR map design over it?

Erik: It's definitely hard. It's a challenge because on one side you have a very realistic map or world you're trying to represent. And not just in Prague, but also the IP obviously. Now, on the other hand, you have an extremely fast-paced arcade game. Yeah. How do you merge those two? I think a lot of it comes down to having a few really clear kinds of stand out locations like the burning church or the graveyard or you know, a few of those that really stick out.

In addition, having a good kind of colour grading makes you think “I’m in the blue area, I’m in the green area”. So that was an important part of it. I think if we do future maps we'll definitely have learnt a lot from this, and hopefully the future ones will be even more interesting.

VG247: Playing the game, one of the aspects of the map that really stands out is the detail in tiny areas. You can see inside rooms, you can find small drinking gardens and distinct buildings that aren’t these big landmarks. How much work goes into adding intricate details like that?

Erik: A lot. I mean yeah, like at least three, four years of hard work and research trips and and things.But I would say that it's always a struggle like between, what you want to do artistically and what you can do, technically so so you know artistically there's so many things we would love to do that we just couldn't do. And then you just have to look at you know, what's feasible performance wise, what's feasible to do depending on the size of the team we have?

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