Earlier this week, we had a massive preview of Nighthawks, the vampire RPG with a narrative drive reminiscent of Sunless Seas and Skies. In the first part of our interview with creator Richard Cobbett, we covered Richard’s influences and the Kickstarter campaign. This time, we dive into the NPCs of the Nighthawks world, that crucial part of any vampire story…sex. We also cover life as a nightclub owner and talk more about the story of Nighthawks. Hit the break for all of part two.
You’ll be able to befriend a motley crew as companions for your journey. What role will they play in the protagonist’s story, and what role will you play in their tales?
The basic idea behind the quests in Nighthawks is that each one looks at a distinct part of vampire life/fiction, and the companion characters are very much part of that. Veronica Castigliano, for instance, represents the isolation of immortality, while con-artist Maze represents the more whimsical cruelty of human/vampire relationships. Your presence in their stories varies, but ultimately determines how they handle the pain of their nature.
Together, they’re also something of a family of outcasts. There’s a reason why Nighthawks uses a bar as its social hub – it’s a place to hang out, shoot the breeze, plan and scheme. They’re as much a part of your story as you want them to be, but there are definitely times when even a powerful and successful vampire needs to call on friends for assistance.
Do you have a favourite companion or other NPC?
Quite a few! It’s always fun writing for Monika Vail, the openly cruel ball of ego who acts as vampire society’s crisis PR agent. She’s the one who helps cover up little transgressions like waking up in an alleyway covered in blood, while taking payment in snark. I’m also very fond of Lux and Maze, two of our signature characters. 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’.
Vampire stories historically have strong elements of the erotic about them, how will the sexy content be handled in the game?
With consent, and hopefully, with care. While you can hunt, for instance, we don’t do that thing a lot of vampire games do, in considering sex workers to be guilt-free blood bags. I hate that trope. Likewise, all sexytimes are consensual. Your nightclub has a pretty bartender, for instance, Becca, and a few people have asked if you can romance her. The answer is no, because as your employee, there’s a power disparity there that just can’t be overlooked.
But like you say, vampires are sexy! On the player side, we mostly aim for playful naughtiness – probably best summed up by the fact that there’s no strip club in the game, but your magician companion Madame Lux works in a burlesque house. Most of the main cast, male and female, have a turn getting naked at some point, but you usually have to pursue those paths, there’s a comic element to most, and expect a lot of teasing with conveniently placed hands and hair and similar, instead of showing anything overly explicit. We think it’s a good balance, and much more fun than just doing a fade-to-black followed by “Well, sexytimes just happened.”
That sounds a really mature approach to handling that kind of content. But I have to ask, can your character lose their soul by having sex?
Most vampires agree, one of the few perks is being able to get groiny without having to worry about consequences. So, no, you can enjoy your moments of perfect happiness/fanservice.
One of the special aspects of Nighthawks is that you don’t create your character in the classical RPG sense, rather you establish your Blood Origin. What can you tell us about how that will work, and how your choices here will impact on the wider game?
There are mechanical reasons, but the main impetus for the character creation system being as it is, where you largely create your Sire rather than your own character, is that I 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.
As for how things work, the big choices you make are your blood origin (New World, Old Country, Continental, Imperial and Mandarin), and an archetype for your sire (The Scholar, The Hedonist, The Aristocrat, The Shadow, The Warrior). Again, we try not to lock anything down too much. What brought you to them and why you left them 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.
Overall, these aren’t super important for the game itself – a few characters will comment on your heritage, and it affects which character welcomes you to the city at the start, but I wanted to focus more on the player’s decisions and how they shape their destiny. The more important decisions are which vampire power or powers they gave you, and your personal sphere of knowledge (Culture, Technology, Academic, Street, Occult). These both give you special options, and slightly tweak how your character sees the world. A regular character for instance might see a computer as ‘an old computer’, while one with Technology will see ‘an ancient 8086 PC’. Just little things that you can easily do with text to add a little spice based on your choices.
The city you live in, and own a nightclub in is promising to be a living city, with others leading their own lives without everything revolving around you. How much variety will players experience in the living city with different playthroughs?
Hopefully a decent amount, especially in terms of callbacks to previous decisions! Just as a basic example, 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.
Being able to overhaul the decoration in your club sounds fantastic. How much can you do with the club if you invest your time and efforts in running it?
Each week you have a meeting with Gideon – your ‘vassal’, and the guy who handles the day-to-day management in exchange for your blood. I didn’t want things to get too bogged down in detail, but during those meetings you’re able to exert higher-level control, like, say, “we’re now profitable enough that we can hire a better DJ” or “I want an escape tunnel built into my basement Sanctuary in the event that an angry mob shows up with torches” or “Let’s let local drug queenpin Dahlia Riordan sell her product here in exchange for a cut of her profits.” Basically, you get to make the fun decisions, while Gideon does boring stuff like payroll.
You’ve previously talked about ripping out your original first act, and completely re-working it. What will the early game look like now, and is there one overarching goal for the character you create?
Act 1 always had the same basic idea – you come to the city, alone, broke and starving, before – for plot reasons – being in the right place at the right time to take over a nightclub currently owned by a vampire gangster, Tancredi. The problem with this was that the quests rather inevitably involved things like shaking down an NPC for money, with the result that you felt like a low level GTA player rather than, y’know, a vampire. It just wasn’t fitting the fantasy.
The way I fixed this is that now you’re partly in the city on your own specific quest, to track down a guy called Elijah Morrow – the former vassal of your Sire who for whatever reason has the last item connecting you to your mortal life, a ring, a locket or a wristwatch. This gives you more of a reason to poke and pry into Tancredi’s business and some of the dodgier things he’s up to, which gets us right into cool vampire stuff and turns the crapwork into a means to that end.
How much freedom will players have to do their own vampire thing without focusing on the main storyline?
The main story – I won’t get too into it, but essentially it’s about two things, your rise to (and perhaps fall from…) power, and the state of human/vampire society as we approach ten years of living side by side. It’s intentionally structured so that while there are important things to you, you get a ton of downtime for following companion stories that interest you, to encounter weird stuff on the streets, and to build up your nightclub empire. On the vampire specific side, becoming rich and successful means that you’re in a better place to buy blood rather than having to, ahem, ‘acquire’ it, but you’re always able to… shall we say… hunt fresh.
If you like what you’ve heard about Nighthawks, you can find and wishlist the game on Steam.