Jul 24

2021

Author Interview: Jim Dattilo, Vampire: The Masquerade—Out for Blood

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)


Gather your allies to hunt the vampires that terrorize your town! Study their ways and exploit their rivalries, or you’ll become a vampire yourself.

Vampire: The Masquerade — Out for Blood is an interactive horror novel by Jim Dattilo, based on Vampire: The Masquerade and set in the World of Darkness shared story universe. I sat down with Jim to talk about his experiences writing interactive fiction and the particulars of writing about the supernatural.

Vampire: The Masquerade — Out for Blood releases Thursday, July 29th. You can play the first three chapters of the game now.

You’re the only author to write for all three of our labels: A Wise Use of Time for Choice of Games, the Zombie Exodus series for Hosted Games, and All-World Pro Wrestling for Heart’s Choice. This is, however, your first time writing for a licensed property. Tell me about how your experience has varied writing for those different publishing labels.

Writing for Hosted Games is a far more open and unstructured approach to developing games. For the most part, you work directly with your beta testers or readers on an ongoing basis. You can make wild changes even after you start a project. Though I often outline scenes ahead of writing them, I can make changes based on feedback or scrap whole sections if I want to take the story in a different direction.

When writing for Choice of Games or Heart’s Choice you work directly with an editor and sometimes multiple editors that take a closer look at the game during the writing process. It’s more important to stick to the outline, since you’ve already spent time with your editor working out the entire story from start to finish. That’s not to say you can’t deviate from these plans, but you’ve already gone through rounds and rounds of discussion before you begin the first line of code.

That’s not to say one method of writing is better than another. Hosted Games allows you more freedom throughout the development process, but you can easily get derailed or sidetracked. You can second-guess yourself or allow feature creep, in which beta testers make suggestions and you keep adding to the project and push back your timeline farther and farther.

You’ve collaborated in the past with another author to write (for instance) All World Pro Wrestling. What was the “collaboration” of working in someone else’s story universe like for you?

Both challenging and rewarding! My friend, David, had a series of books all based in his wrestling universe but did not understand the program we use to develop choice-based stories. It took me a while to read through his series, learn all the characters, and understand what he hoped to achieve with the story. On the other hand, David had to change his mindset to creating choice out of a linear story. In the end, I believe the game is a success, and it’s given David the interest in learning how to code so that he can continue writing more stories for Heart’s Choice.

What surprised you about writing for a licensed IP?

I’ve been a fan of the World of Darkness for decades, all the way back to the first edition, so this was an exciting opportunity and I was completely freaked out from the start! I realized that the WoD team will provide consistent feedback on all of my writing which was both exhilarating and frightening. Even though I have played Vampire: the Masquerade for so long, I obviously don’t know the rules and setting as well as the people who developed the universe. I’m sure there are many fans who know more about the game than I do. So there’s always that worry that you’re going to write something that strays from the books. And as someone who has played for so long, you tend to homebrew and develop your own rules that fit your gaming crew. Often you don’t even remember you made those things up.

Having said all of that, I also had the benefit of hundreds of books for inspiration and access to the WoD team. To be able to bounce ideas off of them was invaluable. They provided feedback and made suggestions that made the game feel more authentic and real. It was incredibly fulfilling to receive notes on each of my chapters and at times even see their excitement in my choice to use certain lore of the game.

This is a really interesting cast of NPCs. What would you like players to know about the characters in Vampire: The Masquerade — Out for Blood?

Diversity was a key to the cast in a number of aspects. I wanted to show how a number of people from different walks of life could come together to battle a common foe. It can be a single mother who is vice principal of the middle school, or a young man who works for his family’s accounting firm. It can even be a teenager who realizes the supernatural threats in town. Jericho Heights is a small town, but it showcases exceptional people who step up to defend the place they call home.

It was also important for me to include a main character with a mobility impairment. As someone who has used a wheelchair for most of my life, I wanted to provide representation for a hero like me. I can’t share all the details about this character due to spoilers, but I wanted to explore a character that appears on the surface to be at a huge disadvantage fighting against vampires but in fact has adapted to be a major advantage to the rest of the group.

Vampire: The Masquerade — Out for Blood is also an interesting departure for our Vampire: The Masquerade games in that the PC is in fact, not a vampire. What was it about that side of the story that made you pitch this? I’m thinking of course, about your PCs’ relationship with the supernatural/monstrous in say, Zombie Exodus.

I’ve always been drawn to the concept of a normal person battling against the supernatural. I’ve been fascinated with the role of a hunter ever since reading books like Dracula and Salem’s Lot and movies like Fright Night. I love the setting of a small town stalked by a vampire and how a group of citizens join together to battle this supernatural foe. When you play as a vampire, you have clear power over mortals but you’re also a creature of ego, greed, and callousness. Mortals need to work together in a coordinated fashion, often selflessly, to battle the odds. Those are the stories I enjoy sharing with others.

Have you been a tabletop roleplayer or LARPer in the past? What do you think about the intersection of interactive fiction and roleplaying?

I have been playing TTRPGs for the past 30 years. I actually signed up for my first LARP just before COVID hit! I was excited to role play a live session as a Malkavian therapist to the Kindred, but all sessions were cancelled due to the pandemic. Since then, I’ve moved all of my games onto virtual tabletop. I’m excited to see Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition recently launching on Roll20. Playing online over Discord with dice rollers, maps, and images has made it so easy and immersive that I’m finding it difficult to fit all of the games I want to enjoy into my busy schedule.

One of my goals with writing interactive fiction is to allow players to role play their specific characters. The difficulty is always balancing how much choice to provide vs. the complexity of the game. I want to give a wide variety of options that pushes the boundaries of immersion despite the limitations of the medium. As game developers we can only code so much.

What are you working on next?

I’m going to spend most of my focus on Zombie Exodus: Safe Haven though I will be collaborating on several secret projects. Over the past five years I’ve worked on no less than two titles at one time and now I want to put the majority of my effort into the game I started with.

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