Written by Will Moczarski
Well, hello again! I have neither forgotten you nor the blog nor the final rating post about Simon the Sorcerer BUT October was a pretty tough month for me and my loved ones so I had to involuntarily take a break. But that’s all over now and here’s BloodNet, “The Cyberpunk Vampire Adventure Game.” Time to get excited! I’ve heard a LOT of … well, miscellaneous things about this game and have been wanting to play it for quite some time. Some people seem to love it while others despise it, yet again others are left unmoved by the experience. A game with such an effect may be perfect for some simul-blogging, don’t you think? Oh yes, you do. Which is why I got in touch with “Chet” of The CRPG Addict fame when I saw that BloodNet was coming up on his master list. And because he would get there much earlier than us if we just stuck to our regular schedule we decided to play BloodNet earlier than intended (for our blog, that is) and thus present you with a thrilling CRPG Adventure Guild Addict double feature! Like I said: time to get excited!
Our introductory posts will be released simultaneously, after that we’ll be alternating posts about BloodNet on a weekly basis (every Thursday) so you sort of get to read two blogs for the price of one.
So, about BloodNet. The game is set in Manhattan in the year 2094. An ad which was published in several PC magazines in 1994 describes the setting as “[a]n urban high-tech future, ruled by computer networks, oppressive global mega-corporations and cybernetics” which sounds like typical Cyberpunk fare to me. I like it already. The big cheese among the mega-corporations is called TransTechnicals Inc but the real control of this dystopia lies in the hands of vampires. That...I could do without.
You play a previously extant character (within the suggested gameworld) called Ransom Stark (of House Stark, surely?) who works as a freelance investigator, meaning he’s a snoop. Ransom was recently bitten by a vampire which, I reckon, might affect you in more than one way if you’re just a down-to-earth, honest, hard-working brother Shamus. But read for yourself, the blurb is quite entertaining: “Struggling against the effects of a vampire’s bite, you travel the city’s subway recruiting cyberpunk gangs, mercenaries and computer hackers; exploring the far reaches of Cyberspace virtual reality, fighting against the insiduous influence of TransTechnicals and trying to restore your humanity. But time is running out and you’re beginning to feel thirsty...for blood.”
Here’s my predictions: there’ll be more coincidental Muse lyrics than “time is running out” in my posts before I get to pen the final rating. And “exploring the far reaches of Cyberspace” will surely be a chore. I can’t think of one single game (let alone book) that handled the whole Cyberspace fad well. Some film directors have made it work but I’m still on the lookout for a ludic representation of the Cyberspace which is not hopelessly broken. (And yes, please do come up with counterexamples in the comments!)
BloodNet was released in 1993 – right on time for Christmas, it seems, as most of the reviews are in the 1/94 and 2/94 issues of the major game mags. It was subsequently ported to the Amiga in 1994 by a different company (Catfish and Teeny Weeny Games) – the original DOS version of the game was developed and published by MicroProse. We have seen three MicroProse adventure games on this blog already, namely Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender (1992, 45 points), The Legacy: Realm of Terror (1993, 24 points) and Return of the Phantom (1993, 41 points). The average score of 37 points is admittedly a bit disheartening.
We have not yet played their first adventure game The President Is Missing from 1988. It may be the subject of a Missed Classic someday.
Before I took a first look at the game manual I decided to browse through the previews courtesy of a humongous collection of magazine ads, previews and reviews which The Trickster recently compiled for The Adventurers Guild. Yes, you got that right: The Trickster, only founding member of this blog, recently came back to aid us in our quest that he had incited by giving us lots of source material, compiled and sorted by game! We are currently trying to figure out ways to implement this treasure into our reviews and this is one of them. I’ll try a different approach for a special post about Simon the Sorcerer so please let me know what you think.
The first preview is from the 12/93 issue of Computer Gaming World but it’s actually a short review if I’m not mistaken. Completely spoiler-free, though, and with some real gems. Take the first two sentences: “The Prince of Darkness is back and, of course, he wants your blood. But he wouldn’t mind sucking your data, too.” Cyber-vampirism as a premonition of present-day data mining? But I’m confused, isn’t Satan the Prince of Darkness? Is he a vampire now? And who had the ius primi morsi?
But it gets better. “Two literary genres, gothic vampire tales and cyberpunk, collide against the dark and surreal backdrop of 21st Century New York.” Sounds amazing! “Players of this role-playing adventure…” Wait a minute! Role-playing adventure? Ah yes, full disclosure. You must have guessed it but the reason for the Addict’s and my simultaneous blogging are the extensive discussions about whether BloodNet qualifies as an adventure game or an RPG. We won’t know before we play it, right?
The mini-review is rather positive: “The graphics […] are wonderfully bizarre, and the fiction has a very hard edge.” In other places it engages a bit too much in post-Neuromancer lingo. Buying BloodNet apparently set you back $ 69.95 which is $ 140.09 in 2022 dollars.
The second preview is from the 12/93 issue of PC Gamer. Interestingly, the final snippet shows us how the numbering of the issues clashes with the months they were actually released in by quite a bit: “Bloodnet […] will be released in the UK in mid to late November.” Thus the 1/94 issue deals with games released in November 1993 and so on. Interestingly, this preview casts (the) BloodNet not as a role-playing game but as a “distinctly cyberpunk graphic adventure”. PC Gamer at least agrees with CGW about the game’s inspiration: “Neuromancer meets Blade Runner meets Interview With A Vampire”. I’ve learned from this preview that the vampire who bit Ransom Stark is “a relative of Dracula’s old enemy Van Helsing” and that “thanks to an implant in [Stark’s] neck, he still has time to save himself from becoming a bloodsucking fiend.” Furthermore, Van Helsing himself is still around attempting to upload Dracula’s evil consciousness into the Cybernet.
In the same preview the game is called a “very Sierra/LucasArts-esque graphic adventure” with non-linear gameplay. I wonder what that even means. Will it be Sierra-esque or LucasArts-esque? I’d rather skip the reviews for now lest they contain spoilers. I will get back to them after finishing the game.
Although BloodNet was released in late 1993 (according to many sources) the manual suggests a 1994 release date: the copyright for the manual and the game program are both dated 1994, the story is set “one hundred years from now […] Manhattan 2094.” Some sources state that the floppy disk version of the game was released in 1993, followed up by a CD version in 1994. That would explain the copyright stamp because the manual is for the CD version of the game. It’s neither here nor there but as the game is widely regarded as a 1993 game I feel comfortable enough playing it for the blog at this point. I will first play through the floppy disk version and get a feel for the CD version afterwards. There is no doubt about the design and writing credits, however: BloodNet was written and designed by John Antinori and Laura Kampo and produced by Mark Seremet and Lawrence Schick. Antinori and Kampo later went on to work on Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller (1994) for Take-Two Interactive. If I remember correctly that was another unusual adventure game. They also did editing work on another Take-Two adventure game called Bureau 13 (1995) which I had never heard of before looking up its creators on the internet.
The backstory provided by the manual is quite similar to the one in the previews. We learn a bit more about the concept of cyberspace implemented in the game. The shady global corporation TransTechnicals designed and programmed cyberspace and controls access to and use of it. There is, however, an ongoing war for access between TransTechnicals and an “unaffiliated mix of isolated hackers, data angels, anarchists, street gangs, and tech gangs […] collectively known as the underground.”
My own character, Ransom Stark, is either a freelance mercenary, decker, or scrounger. Apparently I will be able to choose between the three in a process of character creation. Regardless of the outcome, though, Ransom is always an ex-employee of TransTechnicals who had to interface with cyberspace a lot. Professionally, you know. The concomitant over-exposure to virtual reality resulted in his contracting “Hopkins-Brie Ontology Syndrome.” Ransom has had trouble distinguishing between real and virtual reality ever since. When all was lost a woman named Deirdre Tackett turned out to be his saviour – she hired him for a sort-of underground movement against TransTechnicals and inserted a neural implant in his brain which enabled him to modulate his perceptions. And now that he finally got his shit back together he fell prey to a vampire. But what do you expect when your actual given name is Ransom?
The Nerd Remembers.
It turns out that Deirdre saved Ransom twice in the end: that neural implant prevents him from becoming a vampire right away. He still has some time to purge himself of his vampiric nature. The bite does have an effect on the gameplay: Ransom feels the need to bite victims and feed on their blood every once in a while – but being only half a vampire he can’t turn his victims into vampires which is a shame as it seems like the best perk of being a vampire.
There are two types of character generation – manual generation takes you through the default process making you answer a sequence of twelve questions while quick generation creates a character for you. The first four questions will determine if Ransom becomes a mercenary, a scrounger, or a cyberpunk while the other eight questions determine his skills. It’s also possible to choose Ransom’s appearance from a selection of different faces.
Counting all of the skills I come up with a whopping 25 of them! They are all either physical, mental, personality, combat or cyber skills which sounds a lot like the traditional skills of strength, intelligence, charisma, dexterity, and wisdom to me. The actual skills are:
Personal: strength, endurance, agility, stealth, pickpocket, lockpick
Mental: intelligence, observation, fast-talk, bargaining, jury-rig, medicinal
Personality: leadership, innocence, faith, courage, will
Cyberskills: hacking, decking integrity, cybercloaking
Combat: melee, firearms, high-tech, bio-tech, explosives
It is possible to improve your skills by actively training them but at this point there is no way of knowing for me which will come in handy and which will prove to be useless. If I base my judgment on the manual at this point I’m quite convinced that BloodNet is definitely a role-playing game but I’ll just start playing it and relate what it feels like after the first hour of gameplay.
Also, a large portion of the manual is dedicated to the interface, jury-rigs (this game’s version of magic, I think?) and gameplay. I’ll talk about that when describing the gameplay as it may be a bit boring to just read an abridged version of the manual if you could just read it yourself. It’s surprisingly well-written for a 1993 game.
The First Hour of Gameplay
The same goes for the game itself. BloodNet begins with a long intro comprised of intertitles and cutscenes using the game engine. Ransom relaxes in his favourite bar, the Abyss, when a damsel in distress (or rather femme fatale) approaches him. Her name is, tellingly, Melissa Van Helsing, so I know immediately that she’s bad news. Ransom is too busy dropping cheesy pickup lines so he doesn’t. Melissa offers me fifty grand to wipe some records for her. Ransom agrees to do it and the game cuts to her apartment in 666 West 125th Street (she’s bad news, I tell you!) where Ransom congratulates himself on a job well done. Just as he turns to leave, Melissa’s father Abraham Van Helsing comes along and bites Ransom in the neck. Ransom experiences some sort of fever dream and Van Helsing reveals that he merely used Ransom to get to Deirdre Tackett, the woman who had saved his life. He will proceed to use him to do his bidding now that he’s his vampire subordinate but Deirdre’s implant ironically saves Ransom from turning into a vampire right away. Ransom rushes off to Deirdre’s lab which is located close to Washington Square.
This must be some terrible misunderstanding...
But he’s too late. Deirdre is gone and the words “YOU’RE NEXT, STARK” are painted on the floor with what seems to be blood. The game proper starts here but only after the character creation process. I take the long way and answer the twelve questions honestly and properly. The resulting character looks like this:
I pick up several items in Deirdre’s lab and get accustomed to the wacky controls. When I move the cursor toward the top of the screen a Sierra-esque menu becomes visible. It consists of a combat icon, a view icon, a party icon, a cyberspace icon, some other icon I’ve forgotten about right now and a disk icon that lets me save the game.
When I move the cursor toward the bottom of the screen and right-click a picture of Ransom appears. I can then click on it to find the equipment, weaponry and inventory screens. It’s a bit complicated but you get used to it fairly quickly. The view menu includes a relic from the era of the text adventure called “location” which, when selected, gives you some information about the place you are in.
I examine some of the objects – among them are a case for my deck, a 4TB memory stick that seems better than the 1TB memory stick I currently have plugged into my deck but I can’t figure out how to replace it, some items I can’t really figure out (a “dermal filament”?!) and a disc (I think?) with the plans for Deirdre’s implant. After a while of no progress I get frustrated and enter cyberspace on a whim. I like the design but it’s also quite confusing.
‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky.
My character is the silver figurine close to the top of the screen. The other figurine with the yellow ring is a FATS (File Access Table System) terminal which I can ostensibly use to navigate through cyberspace more efficiently. I don’t know any FATS addresses yet, though, so it’s no use at this point. The other weird geometrical forms are bouncing about happily and they won’t hurt me but I also can’t interact with them. If you do decide to play along bear in mind that in order to exit cyberspace you need to move the cursor to the top of the screen and right-click to open a menu. It took me a while to figure this out.
Cyberspace is fun but also weird and pointless, at least for now. After some more exploration I jack out and have some more fun attempting to leave Deirdre’s lab. Then I discover the map of New York which enables me to visit a LOT of locations right at the beginning. As I have no clue where I should go next I head to TransTechnicals HQ but get kicked out because I don’t have the necessary security clearance. Then I enter Trinity Church Cemetery and get my behind kicked by a bunch of undead in my first attempt at combat. Maybe five zombies were a bit of a tough fight to pick but at least I got to take a look at the stylish death screen.
If I saw this in a record store I’d pick it up.
I hadn’t saved my game yet at this point so I decided to try out the quick character generation for my second Ransom. First I looted Deirdre’s lab again and then I went to a bar called Café Voltaire where I met a bunch of rather interesting chaps. Duchamp Pynchon is posh but welcoming, Ultra Violet presents me with a rather long cyberpunk poem (the work they put into this is nothing short of baffling) and Xandro wants to sell me some drugs but I decline. Lenora Major doesn’t want to talk to me because I’m not well-known enough. Maybe I’ll be able to recruit her for my party later.
Next I got to a place called Houston Matrix Rovers. This is basically a bunch of hackers lounging in a big hall of dubious architecture. Ransom knows all of them by name and asks very specific questions when I talk to them. Only the new guy, Hakim Maghsoudi, is unknown to him and he’s a very guarded fellow, declining to chat with me. Most of the hackers are quite friendly, telling me “Ransom, if you ever need my help…” or other. There’s also one item here. I have to say that, especially coming from Simon the Sorcerer, visibility of items is very good in this game. There is no pixel hunting involved so far and I was able to discern things I can pick up from the background quite easily. The item is some cord that can be used to connect various people if they want to enter the cyberspace together. Maybe it will come in handy later.
A guy called Rags Trammell gives me the latest talk about Van Helsing: Apparently, he’s outfitting several sites in the city with force field emitters and holograph projectors to whatever purpose.
I check out one final location which is a backstreet where “Auntie Personnel” is sitting on a parked car selling weapons. I’m not in the market for a gun right now so I decline which always makes NPCs mad. Auntie Personnel is no exception. The clock runs out on me and one hour is already over. What a fun hour it was but also quite a confusing one! Now it’s your turn to read the CRPG Addict’s coverage of his first impressions as well as guess the score for the PISSED rating. Because this is a special occasion I’d also like to encourage you to guess the Addict’s GIMLET score for some extra CAPs. And do play along if you feel like it, this seems like an interesting ride and the game can easily be purchased over at GOG.com for Windows as well as Linux.
My next post on BloodNet will be up on November 10. I’ll try to squeeze in the final rating of Simon the Sorcerer on November 7. Then you’ll have another post on BloodNet every 3 or 4 days by either the CRPG Addict or me so be sure to check out both blogs regularly. And in between there’ll be lots of posts about our (and his) other games, too, so expect some busy times over here!
Session time: 1 hr
Total time: 1 hr
Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with X CAPs in return. It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.