Last week, I brought the key news that in Nighthawks, the vampire RPG from Richard Cobbett, has a scene where a rat can kill you. Important information, I’m sure you can all agree that shaped my massive preview. That though was just one part of an extensive conversation I had with Richard, one so extensive that I’ve split it into two parts. In this first part, Richard talks about the influences behind Nighthawks, the Kickstarter campaign the allowed him to focus his efforts on it, and of course we cover combat and the aforementioned rat. Hit the break and find out more.
Hi Richard, how are things going, are the cats helping out with work on Nighthawks?
My executive producer Humbug is a stalwart PA, reminding me of all the important events in my diary, such as when to put down kitty treats, the appropriate time to buy more kitty treats, and regular updates on the state of kitty treats in his bowl. He’s also my C# consultant.
The Kickstarter campaign completed successfully back in October 2018, how stressful was that whole process?
My hair was brown at the start of it… Kickstarter is super stressful, especially in the middle of a campaign. That’s when you’ve (hopefully) had the big flurry of excitement, and then have to maintain momentum. I said at the time that, while obviously we wanted to hit our goal, an ‘honourable failure’ would at least have some dignity. Of course, that’s easy to SAY…
You’ve recently had your Steam and GOG pages launch, have you seen an immediate increase to the buzz about Nighthawks?
People are happy about it! As far as buzz goes, I think that right now it’s more important that we don’t upstage any of those plucky Nighthawks tribute games. You know. Like Bloodlines 2.
In a recent Kickstarter update, you revealed that an Ouya release was off the table. But you didn’t mention OnLive, was that a conscious decision?
I don’t like to kick a dead horse while it’s a thin layer of jam.
More seriously, you’re talking about potential beta testing later this year, is that going to be fairly locked down or are you also going down the Early Access route?
It’s going to be pretty locked down. We’ll be inviting people to join the beta, but very much in a ‘You are going to be seeing the game at its worst so that we can make it its best’ kind of way. I think Early Access is great for systemic stuff, but a bad fit for narrative-driven things.
This is your first fully original project, after your work on Sunless Seas and Skies, what brought you to start working on Nighthawks?
Honestly, it was something of an accident. While working on the Sunless games, I started pondering how cool it would be to see that kind of style mixed with VTM: Bloodlines. Later, I got the urge to finally download and play around with Unity, and the idea was still in my mind. I wasn’t really intending it to be a thing, just a fun excuse to Make Something. 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.
Of course, this meant creating a new setting, and Nighthawks is a very different game to World of Darkness – in addition to the fact that vampires have been exposed and living amongst people for eight years at the start of the game, it’s generally a lot lighter, more about friendship than chains of blood and money, and with a running them that tonight might suck, but tomorrow has the potential to be better. Of course, that just makes the darker bits even more so…
Are we talking, Buffy or Angel levels of darkness?
In a couple of stories? Darker. Even vampires agree, many vampires are… not nice.
Vampire The Masquerade is clearly an influence on Nighthawks, but what else has informed the design of the game? Did you dust off some ancient texts to learn more about historic vampire mythology?
Nighthawks mostly uses the pop-culture versions of vampires – for instance, in the legends, there’s really nothing about turning to ash in the sun or anything of that ilk. That was very much a cinema invention – in particular, the movie Nosferatu. The main reason that I was interested in doing a vampire RPG in particular though is that the basic rules 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.
That said, it’s a world where people definitely are aware of the folklore. The five blood origins are based on worldwide vampire myths and associated themes – New World, Old Country, Continental, Imperial and Mandarin. Imperials, for instance, are primarily known as alchemists from the British Empire, but they really represent colonialism – heading out to the corners of the Empire to find and ‘recruit’ human resources, not caring about the blood in their wake. Old Country vampires meanwhile are believed – there’s no Big Book Of Vampires to say any of this for sure – to share the blood of monsters that once haunted the dark forests and similar. They’re not like V:TM’s clans or families or anything like that though, more national stereotypes that may or may not have a grain of truth to them depending on the individual vampire.
While the world of Nighthawks features vampires who have been exposed, but are there any other mythical creatures inhabiting the world?
Let’s just say, that’s definitely a question people in-game are asking! However, between you and me, Nighthawks is about vampires, because I wanted to drill deep into that, rather than it being a melting pot of monsters. There’s also the fact that if you’ve got werewolves and fae and whatever running around as well, being a vampire isn’t really that special any more.
Combat is going to be handled by playing cards, but Nighthawks doesn’t feel like a traditional collectible card game. How will you build your deck?
You don’t really build a deck as such. Your deck is generated at the start of combat based on your items, your companion, your vampire gifts and ‘sabotage’ cards – melee, ranged, outfit, gear, relics, companion and negative status effects,such as the shivers from drinking toxic blood, or ‘miss’ cards if you’re wielding a weapon that you’re not skilled enough to use properly. A sword for instance will still give the most amateur fighter the same damage card that a ninja master would get, but with a ton of miss cards to represent you just swinging wildly.
Mostly though, we’re trying to keep it simple, and allow players to choose a style of combat that they like, with easily understood restrictions. For instance, guns are powerful, but you’ll regularly lose entire turns having to reload. Simple armour like a trenchcoat offers less protection than body armour, such as one card that shields from minor damage, but the body armour stuffs your deck with cards, making you less capable of fighting back.
There will be an option to skip combat if you want, what was the driving force behind adding that option?
Mostly, “why not?” I think we’ve probably all played games like this where we’ve wanted to go ‘okay, your combat engine is lovely, but can I go back to the game I wanted to play now?’ So, I figured, let’s just do that. You can flip a switch in the options menu, and a ‘skip combat’ button appears on the UI. No mockery, no penalties, just “Okay, you win, moving on.” It’ll make a few scenes a bit ridiculous, like the fight club quest chain that’s intended to offer a bigger challenge to players who want it, but go ahead. It’s literally no skin off my nose if you skip it, and I’d rather people do that than either get fed up or find themselves unable to progress the story.
I’d say though that we’re doing a few things to hopefully make fighting more satisfying even if you’re not typically into it, including an item that makes it easier without turning it off (attained if you fall in battle too often), most of the fights not actually being lethal (if not fighting someone who wants you dead, you’ll usually just end up at the hospital until you take too many untreated Wounds), and winning fights against low level enemies like street thugs eventually reaches the point where your reputation precedes you and they won’t waste their time or yours. Of course, that growing reputation can also bring tougher enemies out of the shadows…
I’ve heard rumour that a rat can kill you, is this true? What happens if you fall at the feet of the rat?
If you didn’t do it deliberately… I don’t know what to say. There is exactly one point in the game where you fight a rat in a sewer, and it’s definitely one of those ‘things I’ve always wanted to see’ moments. It’s a small, angry rat. You’re a vampire. The fight goes about as well for the rat as you’d expect. It has one single solitary hitpoint, it attacks with the lowest damage attack in the game, and you have the first turn. If you lose, there’s a special secret death where your character is so ashamed that they leave the city entirely to contemplate their failure.
Will you be purchasing those powerful (but balanced) guns, and other assortments like armour with that fancy credit card your character has?
That and your ‘wealth’ stat. I wanted to do something a bit different than “You have $500”, so instead you level up your wealth from, say, Bankrupt to Rich, and it’s just treated as ‘okay, you can afford to buy this thing, let’s not worry about the details’. It’s not like money ever really matters in RPGs after the first hour or so anyway – may as well just abstract it all away.
That’s it for part one. Come back later this week for part two, where we dive into the companions, sex and the story of Nighthawks itself. For now though, you can find and wishlist the game on Steam.