The World of Darkness (WoD) IP has a curious history in video games. After quickly garnering a cult following in the early 2000s with the Vampire: The Masquerade and Hunter: The Reckoning series, the property was purchased by EVE Online developer CCP Games, and the company began work on an ambitious MMO. However, that project was cancelled after seven years of development, with CCP seemingly abandoning further development of the IP.
Thankfully, such a rich universe could not languish forever, and, in 2015, Cities: Skylines and Tyranny publisher Paradox Interactive announced that it had purchased the WoD brand and re-established the setting’s original owner, White Wolf Publishing. Since then, White Wolf has been working to make the property into a household name, with the first major attempt being Focus Home Interactive and Cyanide Studio’s upcoming action RPG Werewolf: The Apocalypse.
To find out more about the unique partnership between Paradox and White Wolf and how the latter company aims to shake off its chequered history and re-emerge as a transmedia powerhouse, OnlySP spoke to CEO Tobias Sjögren and Lead Storyteller Martin Ericsson.
With CCP garnering a huge amount of goodwill with EVE Online, the WoD MMO became a hotly-anticipated piece of software at the moment of its announcement. Expectations were high, and the company was laser-focused on the single project, according to Sjögren. “During the seven years of development [CCP] more or less stopped all other business and licensing of WoD to focus only on this one big game.”
As successful as the MMO might have been, the approach was fundamentally at odds with White Wolf’s principles as “a transmedia company, where worlds and stories move over a range of different media.” Although that philosophical divide did not in any way impact the game’s production, the developer was unable to bring the game to fruition “and had to close the project before it was released and let go of the White Wolf team.”
Recognising the “golden opportunity” offered by the inactivity of the IP, Paradox Interactive “simply knocked on CCP’s door and asked to buy all of the White Wolf rights… eventually got a deal together and announced [the] purchase in October 2015.” Despite being so closely linked, Paradox and White Wolf share what Sjögren describes as “‘a sister-company relationship,’” giving both autonomy. This set-up ensures that White Wolf is “free to act in the best interests of the World of Darkness,” which includes partnering with external developers and publishers, including Cyanide.
Perhaps best known for the Styx series of stealth games, Cyanide has a reputation for great ideas but flawed execution, leading some to question its suitability for such a high-profile project, however, Sjögren waves away any such concerns.“I think, at this time in the industry, it’s all about what your next game is and to identify the teams and publishers with the passion and drive to make that next great product. Looking at [Cyanide’s] experience with mixing heavy visual action with the RPG genre and the learnings they have made along the way is one thing that convinced us. But most importantly their awesome passion for Werewolf and its environmental themes… What we’ve seen from the game so far blows our mind and we feel absolutely certain that they will do a product not only represents Werewolf but is also a great visceral games experience.”
Sjögren’s confidence in the team stems not only from the work he has already seen on Werewolf, but also a philosophy built up over his 21 years in the gaming industry. “From my personal experience, I can say giving a dev with a less than perfect record a chance is sometimes a great idea. If the team I worked on in the past had been judged on the ratings and sales of their game Codename Eagle, the game Battlefield 1942 and its sequels would never gotten made and the world would be a less fun place. The very wise Tom Frisina was the one at EA who signed DICE at that time. He told me that ‘you are never better than your next game’ and that is something that stuck with me. What you need is a talented team with a vision and passion and absolutely magic products can be produced, and that is very much our feeling about all the partners we work with today.”
While Sjögren could not be persuaded to list any further collaborations with publishers, he did subtly hint that others are currently in the works as he outlined White Wolf’s plans for a vast transmedia universe. “We believe that a living fiction universe is best constructed from many different products interacting with each other. This is what we have been working toward for the last 1.5 years and it’s our continuing vision. Products like the Storytellersvault.com, www.worldofdarkness.com, the 5th edition of the tabletop RPG Vampire the Masquerade, the award-winning live action event ‘End of the Line,’ and the first announced video game based on Werewolf are just the tip of an iceberg of interconnected products coming in the next years.”
Although similarly refusing to comment on the other WoD games in production, Ericsson was more explicit in hinting at their existence. “World of Darkness is just what the world of games needs right now. A setting that boldly tackles difficult political and social issues, set in our own world, as seen through the eyes of dark reflections of ourselves. It features incredibly well thought-out interpretations of the creatures of gothic literature and global folklore and their hidden societies. No other brand in gaming comes close to its balance between mature storytelling and stomach-dropping personal horror.”
The setting is grounded in the fantastic, yet its individual properties have always reflected social themes of perpetual importance. From the explorations of morality in Vampire: The Masquerade to the idea of balance in Mummy: The Resurrection, the World of Darkness is ripe with opportunities to engage with real-world issues. For the revitalisation of the IP, White Wolf decided to lean on this fact, rather than the brand recognition of Vampire: The Masquerade. As such, when Cyanide pitched a vision for Werewolf: The Apocalypse that homed in on the environmental themes and questioning of violence, White Wolf leapt at the idea.
“Not saying that Vampire can’t address burning contemporary issues, but holy s**t does Werewolf feel like the right story for our strange times,” Ericsson said. “The tagline for Werewolf is ‘When Will You Rage?’ It’s essentially a radical revenge fantasy where you become a savage warrior of nature, ripping oil-pipelines, corporate boardrooms and narrow-minded bigots to shreds. I think a large percentage of the world can relate to the anger and frustration the Garou feel as they watch us humans f**k up the planet. And on the flip side it asks the question ‘what’s the price of using violence to change the world’.”
Although Cyanide’s initial pitch was spot-on, White Wolf is heavily involved in the game’s production, frequently checking in and approving “every part of the game, every piece of concept art, as a part of [the] licensing process.” The close collaboration ensures that Werewolf: The Apocalypse adheres to the rules and ideas of the original RPG, with Ericsson saying that “the mechanics of Rage and Gnosis (spiritual wisdom) and interaction with the Umbra, the world of spirits both pure and corrupted… will be central to the game’s systems. And yes, you will almost certainly come face to face with the twisted corporate employees at Pentex subsidiaries like Endron Oil and fight next to some of the tragic heroes of the Garou!”
The interconnected nature of WoD is only beginning to emerge, with characters and powers being shared across both Cyanide’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and the upcoming fifth edition of the pen-and-paper RPG, as well as certain crossovers between Vampire: Prelude and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. Nevertheless, Sjögren emphasises that the vast universe is coming together behind the scenes. “We intend to and indeed feel we are making great progress towards making the World of Darkness something that’s going to be on everyone’s mind. But it takes time. Putting deals together and especially to produce all of these entertainment products is a time consuming business for sure. But yes it’s easier for us to be cool about it when we know what’s coming in the dark pipeline than it is for fans craving content now to stay cool.”
For those fans, both old and new, Sjögren promises that big things—and more WoD monsters—are on the horizon: “Keep your eyes peeled. Because they’re still here, hiding in the shadows of our troubled present, waiting to be unleashed on the world and make their mark on gaming once more.”
“It may seem funny to say it this way, but… ‘the future of World of Darkness is very bright’.”