The number one thing that video games almost always get exactly wrong is translation from a tabletop game to a digital experience. The first Neverwinter Nights was good. Planescape: Torment is a recommendation post for a future day, the first Pool of Radiance collection was amazing (for its time, mind)… but if you leave TSR’s various D&D implementations, you find yourself more and more irritated the closer and closer you get to the modern day.

Sure, Shadowrun had an awesome RPG on the SNES and awesome combat on the Sega, but they didn’t have those things together (and the XBox 360 version of Shadowrun? It took a much-beloved cyber-hacking universe and turned it into a first-person shooter).

The games try to create some kind of immersive experience to match the games and universe you had around the table… but, for the most part, they know that they can’t and so they don’t even really try.

There is one *MAJOR* exception to this that I’ve found. In 2004, Troika Games (you know them from the original Fallout games and Arcanum) used the Source Engine (you know it from Half-Life 2) to make Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines.

This is not only a game that captured the atmosphere of Vampire, it captured the humor, the personalities, and the paranoia. The game starts out with you being turned by a date gone wrong… then being quickly found out by the Prince and his Sheriff. Your sire is efficiently executed and, when it is made clear to the assembly that you are also sentenced to death, the local Anarch community threatens revolt. Your life is spared by the Prince to keep peace… until he sends you on what he thinks is a suicide mission. That’s how the game starts. There are many, many missions to explore and many, many factions to consider joining before you fight to one of the game’s many, many endings.

You are allowed to play each of the seven (!) different Camarilla clans and each clan gives a very different gameplay experience. Some focus mostly on combat and very little on dialog, others focus primarily on dialog with little emphasis on combat. When you play as a Nosferatu, you are so twisted and deformed that you must play with a primary focus on stealth, lest you break the Masquerade.

That’s not the really awesome part, though. The really awesome part is that this game, a game released in 2004, still has patches being released and the folks who develop the patches are doing so with the help of folks who worked on the game back when they were being paid by Troika to do it. The developers are *STILL* trying to make it perfect. More than that, there are different patches to give different game experiences: one patch changes the game to make it as close to a perfect version of the game that was shipped way back when, another patch adds all kinds of little abilities and merits/flaws. Yet another allows you to play as a Sabbat (!).

There is still a healthy underground development team that is working on this game and making it better and better and better. Steam has it for twenty bucks (and I’m irritated that I didn’t recommend it to you a few short weeks ago because they had it for 75% off then). It’s worth every penny. Easily the best computer adaptation of a tabletop role playing game that I’ve ever experienced.

So that’s my recommendation for you this week.


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


  1. You ought to check out Thief’s Fan Missions [regularly done by bored professionals]. In fact, people like the game so much, that they modded the new Doom engine to play Thief on (with help from the original developers) — the Dark Mod.

    Bear in mind the original game was out around ten years ago.

    In something more relevant, I always liked ADOM — for what it is, it’s amazingly complicated.

    • I’ve a friend who plays Nethack religiously. I’ve tried… but I am too old to need an open manual in front of me when I’m playing a game.

      • Try ADOM. it’s much better, with a much more complicated plot.

  2. I think many RPG companies are afriad to make the game too much like the real thing, because they think this cannibalizes their customers. Or maybe that is only Games Workshop. They refuse to put out a game that matches their rule set for that reason.

    • The irony is that after playing Bloodlines, I dropped maybe a hundred bucks at my local gaming store on Vampire books and started the gaming group that evolved into my regular one.

      These games ease people into the universe. They bring folks in. They don’t cannibalize it.

      • … there’s no longer any money in good, intelligent video games. Civilization and the other big names have about ten years in them, if they don’t break themselves with bad games (like the last Civilization, which was mathematically impossible to fix.)

        Instead, the money is in “casual” games (read brainless), either time management games, or hunt-and-find games. Because they are cheap, and easy to make, and people will buy them continuously.

        It takes a lot of people to fund a big videogame — and this is even with outsourcing the engine to the Doom folks. (ADOM takes a different model, by reducing art costs).

        • This is the common wisdom.

          I think it’s largely self-defeating. If you only make widget-casual-interest games, you’re in an entirely different market, and that market cares little for branding, or customer continuity, or sustainability.

          It eats itself, continuously. And there is no viable strategy for long term success, because what makes Angry Birds popular enough to make money with its charge model is the network effect.

          And you can’t plan for the network effect. The failures in this market will outnumber the successes ten thousand to one. And the one… it might be a company which tries to focus on this market, and it might just be a dude in his garage.

          • If you don’t have enough people willing to pay $50 for a videogame, you don’t have enough people willing to pay $50 for a videogame. So you need to investigate other methods of payment.
            But to make a good videogame, it takes a decent designer, top-notch programmers, and fairly good artists. All of which cost money.
            Can you tell that I know someone who used to program videogames?

            Most of the people churning out casual games aren’t in America, and they barely hire people literate in English.

          • I think there’s plenty of money in good, big games. The problem is largely that they were pursued to the exclusion of others for a while during the console revolution because none of the major players wanted to get into the market for games under $20 much less any alternative revenue models.
            At the same time, the market for such games is massive, so the first few folks to put out something good in that space have made a killing.
            But, like Groupon, there are almost no barriers to entry for competition. Once its hundreds of companies vying for that same audience, profits will plummet and it will stop being the Next Big Thing, it will just be a market segment.

      • Even if they don’t want to play the tabletop game, there’s sales of fiction, t-shirts, knick-knacks and figures to make money on from those that enjoy the video game enough to want the merchandise.

        I personally thought Dawn of War was an incredible achievement of making 40k playable as an RTS, a direct port of the game would have to be a turn-based strategy game and I think it’s more that there’s less money in that.
        I have friends that play the Magic: The Gathering games for PC online all the time, they say it’s an incredibly faithful version, but it doesn’t appeal to me so I’ve not tried it (still smarting from selling off my cards for $150 in college after spending thousands acquiring them).

        • The problem for GW is they are afraid they will loose miniature asles if a computer game does the same thing as the table top game. DoW was a great game and it probably brought people into the table top game, but it was far enough removed that it cannot take the table top game’s place.

          • What is the margin on miniatures compared to the margin on computer games?

            Of course, you don’t need to sink any cash into AI if you focus on tabletop…

          • Good question. No clue.

            It would be funny to find out that GW could make more money by having their game go computerized instead of by miniature.

          • I think there’s a plausible model for GW to significant money with an online game based on a lot of f2p/social game models or even (maybe especially!) the MannCo. catalog + drop/craft/trade system that TF2 has.
            If people love your game, they will spend copious amounts of money on things for them. I personally have spent well at least $300 at the MannCo. store on a game I bought four years ago.

            I mean, the possibilities are endless since GW miniatures games are already a bastion of customization for both gameplay and cosmetics. I could see people buying model weapon and model upgrades/sidegrades/costmetics, access to special units/heroes, paint colors or effects.

  3. You know, I recall thinking that Vampire: The Masquerade (the HL1 mod) was really not all that good, and I thought Bloodlines was just a port. Would you call this one noticeably better than Masquerade?
    If so, I’ll have to add this to my wishlist and check it out next time they decide to run it on sale via Steam.

    • There is a small category of games where, after I beat it, I go to the character creation screen and start a new character without getting up to pee.

      This game is in that category.

  4. Morrowind: The Elder Scrolls is sort of like this (not so much the new one, to the best of my knowledge).

    You can still find add-on packs and maps and building out on the net.

    The smartest thing you can do with RPG games on computers is give away your construction set.

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