I never finished Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, much to the chiding of my social circle. Despite this, it was still a very memorable and formative experience for me. When other ImmSims and RPGs were showing me fantastical realities I had difficulty relating to, Bloodlines was different: a painfully familiar drama, full of petty street politics and demographic struggle I recognized from day-to-day life.
Parasocial relationships are a hot topic right now, but something we don’t discuss is how we often form those relationships with some setting. We are very fond of taking a fetishistic snapshot of a city’s culture, gleaned through second-hand anecdotes or romantic portrayals in media. More than just a fan tribute to bloodlines, Santa Monica By Night, made by Outstar and 8bitmemories for the Vampire Jam, is a meditation on this concept.
The game opens with the protagonist explaining how they became a thin-blood vampire at the hands of their sire, but with a twist: Bloodlines as a game exists within the continuity of this narrative, with the main character having been an obsessive fan turned self-insert. It is through this lens that the player’s own nostalgic experiences of the original become folded into the story and imbue it with a certain discomfort: no matter how familiar you are with the world, you remain an interloper, a voyeur.
At the heart of Santa Monica By Night is a story about accelerated disillusionment, being abandoned by your role models and making a decision to integrate yourself into a new world by your own hand. It is a bittersweet love letter to the original, and to the idea of being a self-aware fan, someone who understands that even if given an Isekai-like opportunity to indulge in a power fantasy, it will ultimately never live up to the spectre of expectation. In this way, Santa Monica cleanses our palate of preconceptions about Bloodlines 2‘s unseen narrative, bracing us for the certain reality that some fans will never be happy or satisfied with what Paradox has in store for the audience.
After so many years of being exposed to Los Angeles through cultural osmosis, the main character finds themselves at ease with the foreseen disappointing reality, finally finding closure. The cast of characters perpetually offer commentary to this tune – the West Coast isn’t so good for vampires anymore, LA these days just isn’t what it used to be, etc. It is a theme many city dwellers will find relatable, owing to our own real-world era of rapid redevelopment and cultural displacement. Out with the old and in with the new, torchbearers mourning the loss of the city’s character and old ways of life, a thousand little untold stories extinguished and lost to time.
While the multiple endings of Santa Monica only affect one scene, it is, in any case, a pleasant sendoff for emotions built up over a decade toward the original game. Bloodlines 2 will never be the exact dream game many Vampire fans crave, but it doesn’t have to in order to be good in its own right. Santa Monica shows us that we don’t have to be haunted by nostalgia, and that it’s okay to let go and move forward into the unseen night.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice