Games come in all forms, and narrative led titles take on their own various guises. A modern title which combined roguelike elements with a healthy dose of narrative was Sunless Seas and follow up Sunless Skies. One of the lead writers on those titles was Richard Cobbett who is now busy working on Nighthawks, a narrative led vampire RPG which was successfully Kickstarted in 2018.
It’s a game that has been in Richard’s mind since his days working on the Sunless titles, a time when he pondered the chances of fusing the narrative led approach of those titles with the themes of Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines. After some doodling in Unity, Richard casually asked on Twitter whether such a fusion would be cool. Richard described to me how the head of IP owner White Wolf reached out to him;
Things escalated a bit when I tweeted about it in a joking ‘Hey, anyone think this would be cool?’ way, and… uh… was contacted by the head of White Wolf saying ‘Let’s see what you’ve got.’ This was before Bloodlines 2 was announced, of course. I pitched a V:TM game that they unfortunately didn’t go for, but by this point it was clear that there was some potential interest in the basic idea.
With the idea of blending vampire mythology and a narrative driven game firmly planted in his mind and an interest in such a game clear, he developed the world of Nighthawks, one where vampires have been living publicly amongst humans for eight years when you start of the game.
A Kickstarter campaign was launched with the support of David Gilbert at point-and-click adventure game specialists, Wadjet Eye Games. Despite the campaign giving Richard some grey hairs, Nigthawks was successfully kicked in 2018. While the planned release has slipped to early 2021, the recent launches of the Steam and GOG.com pages has instigated an extra bit buzz the game.
With the expansion of the White Wolf IP thanks to the support of Paradox Interactive and the upcoming Bloodlines 2, vampires are a hot property in the gaming world, but Richard doesn’t want to be seen to be too similar to the White Wolf IP. He told me how established vampire tropes from pop culture reference points ranging from Nosferatu to Buffy
offer some really interesting gameplay mechanics, like needing to get home before the sunrise, most of which we’ve not really seen. The standard vampire game is just perpetual night, etc. Of course, we’ve made some tweaks. For instance, in Nighthawks, vampires not having a reflection is extended to not having any recordable presence – no film, no phones, not even fingerprints can be read.
By riffing off the vampire norms, Richard is able to tailor Nighthawks to suit a narrative led game. Similar to the Sunless titles, you can expect lots of text to read to influence your decisions, but fear not, you will be able to listen to your companions to lighten the load on your eyes. Richard told me how voice acting became a must have aspect of Nighthawks:
Lux in particular was the first NPC I came up with, with Ivy Dupler’s voice performance in the original demo being one of the big reasons why voice acting went from a Kickstarter stretch goal ‘maybe’ to a ‘no, we need voice acting’.
So plenty to read and listen to as you make your way through the world Richard has been building, but why are you there in this world of vampires and who are you? Nighthawks is deliberately leaving the “who are you” up to the player in a refreshing take on character creation.
Rather than focusing on creating your own character in minute detail, you detail the blood line and archetype of your sire which will provide some steer to how other characters will interact with you, but nothing will be too prescriptive. Richard explained this ethos to me in more detail, revealing that he;
wanted everyone to be able to feel like they could be the star. Male, female, NB, trans, white, black, whatever. Everyone deserves to be a badass vampire, and working on the Sunless games really highlighted how important that is to so many people who aren’t often well represented. We ask for a name, but it’s explicitly stated that anything else – that’s your own business.
Again, we try not to lock anything down too much. What brought you to [your origin and archetype], is entirely up to you, so that you can either dream up a complex backstory, or just click the one that gives you the right stats.
It’s a really positive attitude towards character creation and will hopefully appeal to so many people who are immediately shut out of so many games when they are unable to feel like they are being represented.
In the game itself you take the role of a new arrival to the city, searching for a vassal of your Sire. Along the way, you take control of a nightclub owned by vampire gangster Tancredi. Pulling at the strings of your origin and Tancredi’s dealings in the world will be your main plot lines, while you will also be able to dig into the lives of your companions and explore your own relationship opportunities. But a key aspect for me is that nightclub.
Maybe it’s lockdown talking, but the idea of running a club and interacting with people night after night is eminently appealing. In Nighthawks you have a bar manager, Gideon, to handle the day-to-day chore, but you do have a certain level of control over your club, as Richard explains;
when you first take over your nightclub, you get to decide whether it continues as the 70s style retro place that you’ve been seeing, or completely overhaul it to be a super modern place full of lasers and smoke machines or a dark and moody goth club, as well as picking what uniforms your long-suffering bartenders Becca and Fabian have to wear. Each major act is a month long, with the overall game taking place over two years, and every click moves the clock forwards, so it’s fair to say that while there’s a lot to do, you won’t be able to do everything.
With six major acts in all, I’m hoping to spend a playthrough just focused on running the club, with other playthroughs spent wandering the city and finding out what secrets I can.
It’s still more than six months from seeing the light of day, but the more I learn about Nighthawks, the more excited I am. My discussions with Richard touched on a load more about the game, and they will be appearing in a two-part interview over the coming days. In the meantime, why not check out the Steam page for the game and add it to your wishlist.