Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines 2 is set to finally release sometime in 2021. It’s already been 16 years since the release of the original Bloodlines, so World of Darkness fans are no strangers to waiting, but with the new game so tantalizingly close, it begs the question; what can fans of the series do to sate their thirst for Vampire content? Well, fret not, as September 24th will see the release of the first in a trio of text-based adventure games set in the World of Darkness, all published by Choice of Games LLC, an established and well-respected name in the interactive fiction genre. The game, Vampire: The Masquerade-Night Road, is a gargantuan original tale, clocking in at over 600,000 words. I was fortunate enough to get in touch with the author of Night Road, the spectacular Kyle Marquis, to discuss not only this incredible project, but also his many other works and upcoming projects, all of which will surely interest any fans of great fiction writing.
1. How would you describe the style of games made by Choice of Games, for someone who wasn’t familiar?
Choice of Games creates branching, interactive stories. You may remember these from various choose-your-path books, but a full programming language lets us do things a Choose Your Own Adventure book or even a book-and-dice game like Fighting Fantasy can’t. Night Road features multiple playable vampire clans and supernatural powers that will be familiar to any Vampire: The Masquerade player, and the game engine tracks multiple “ending variables” like your popularity with different factions, your resources, and how well you’ve preserved the Masquerade (the iron law of secrecy that prevails in undead society). Your choices throughout the game test various stats, and how well you do influences those ending variables. This neatly solves the problem of branching plotlines that early choose-your-path books suffered from. How do you introduce real choices if every choice creates a new chapter? Well, rather than creating a new chapter, Night Road tracks those ending variables to determine how well you’re doing. It also means that Night Road has not just multiple endings, but multiple, overlapping kinds of endings based on different measures of success. You might end up respected by your fellow undead but broke, or on the run but backed up by your closest friends…or just a greasy pile of ash. It’s a dangerous world for a vampire.
2. Your longest game, Silverworld, clocks in at 560,000 words. Can you describe the process of creating something of that magnitude?
I wish there were more of a process to it—these games have a habit of growing if you’re not careful, and it’s never easy! I know because Night Road is even longer than Silverworld, at least 600k. Both games have something else in common, too: both have a “home base” that you can build up and develop to your satisfaction. Silverworld is a time travel adventure in which you can shape a Stone Age village in between going on journeys to repair your time machine. Night Road is even more complex: between courier runs, you can buy and upgrade cars, acquire property, learn new disciplines (vampire powers; everything from super-strength to mind control to turning into a coyote), and even go on mini-missions. The result is a massive and complex game.
3. You’ve stated before that Night Road was inspired partly by the works of Jack Kerouac and Richard Kadrey. Is there anything that’s influenced your overall style of writing?
A lot of urban fantasy (of which Vampire: The Masquerade is a part) emerged in the wake of the cyberpunk movement, and many authors I first encountered in science fiction eventually made the jump to urban fantasy. Richard Kadrey is one: his early work, Metrophage, is a defining cyberpunk novel, but his big project now is the tough-guy demon hunter of the Sandman Slim series. I mostly write fantasy and pulp, so I’ve consciously tried to avoid the noir-ish tone of cyberpunk, but with Night Road I’ve let myself embrace that style. There’s a lot of William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer in Night Road, partly because we’re very consciously living in an 80s future here in 2020—even the vampires—and partly because it’s a story about manipulating things. In Night Road you use cars to make your courier runs, you use people to get the blood you need to survive, you use other vampires before they can use you. You even use your own body, piloting that walking corpse around, ignoring superficial injuries to the dead meat in order to accomplish your goals. Depending on how you play it, Night Road can be a deeply cynical game about treating everyone and everything around you as an object, and the superficial flash and obsessive branding of early cyberpunk (adapted to our modern world) helps capture that.
4. On the topic of Night Road, can you go into any detail on how the project began?
My editor emailed me all excited and told me they had landed the World of Darkness IP and asked me to write something. I wrote up three or four Vampire story ideas—there was one where you were an elder in the back woods of Maine, trying to hold your sprawling domain together against werewolves and ambitious developers, another about an occult treasure hunter—but the higher-ups really liked the courier idea; the core concept even influenced the developers’ in-house Vampire chronicle, Vein Pursuit. Also, Night Road was different from the other ideas in development. Choice of Games alone is putting out two other Vampire: The Masquerade interactive novels, Jim Dattilo’s vampire hunter game Out for Blood and Jeffrey Dean’s political thriller Parliament of Knives, plus there are the visual novels, major releases like Earthblood (the Werewolf game); we’re all trying not to step on each other’s toes. That’s actually been one of the most interesting parts of Night Road: sharing a universe with so many other people!
5. You’ve talked about how Night Road is more akin to the Vampire tabletop game than to a traditional Choice of Games game. Was there anything specifically about this universe that influenced the decision to go that direction?
The main reason is I spent almost every weekend in high school playing Vampire: The Masquerade or related games, and I wanted to share that experience with new players—especially now, when no one is sitting together in the basement rolling dice. A lot of my stories sort of “hint at” another kind of game; like, Silverworld is a time travel adventure but its village-building rules hint at the strategy computer games I played as a kid. And I wanted Night Road to hint at the tabletop experience, to feel like you could be playing a really intense one-on-one chronicle of Vampire: The Masquerade.
6. After Night Road, what’s next? You’ve got a sequel for a Pon Para and The Great Southern Labyrinth, and a new story called Kid Stochastic, both on the way. Can you tell us anything about those projects?
I’m about three-quarters done with Pon Para and the Unconquerable Scorpion, a Bronze Age mythological fantasy which picks up where you left off, after you used the secret lore you uncovered in the Labyrinth to save the city of Mytele. (Or, um, failed to save it. I hear a lot of you barely survived the last game and had to escape the burning palace, hunted by the Stormraider army.) And poor Kid Stochastic! That was one of my first ideas for Choice of Games, and it keeps getting sidelined. Kid Stochastic is Jorge Luis Borges’ unwritten Mega Man fanfiction. One day I will finish it, and it will be the best robot story since Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
7. I have to ask about Hex a Day. Where did the idea to set that up come from?
My @Hexaday Twitter account tweets adventure location ideas for fantasy RPGs. A few years ago people tried to unearth what the original D&D played in the 70s was “really like”; this ludoarchaeology led to the “Old School Renaissance,” a flowering of creativity that went in a different direction from the design assumptions adopted by mainstream 3rd/4th/5th edition Dungeons & Dragons and its descendants, like Pathfinder. This included a special focus on location-based adventures (rather than more-or-less linear “story paths”). I decided to try my hand at it, and I’ve now produced two complete settings (one day and one “hex” at a time), and I’m almost done with a third.
8. Finally, where can our readers find you and your works online?
I’m at https://www.kylemarquis.net/, but most of my work is on the Choice of Games site, including my dieselpunk flying-ace tale Empyrean, my time travel adventure Silverworld, and my fantasy stories Tower Behind the Moon and Pon Para and the Great Southern Labyrinth. There are quite a few other games there too, in all kinds of genres.
A lot of really exciting information! Many thanks once again to Kyle Marquis for talking to me. Be sure to check out all of his amazing stories at the locations listed above! Vampire: The Masquerade-Night Road releases on September 24th, 2020 on Steam for PC, so go ahead and wishlist it right now, and on Android and iOS for mobile gamers.