The Legacy of Troika Games

If Troika Games LLC somehow turned into your uncle, he would probably have thrown himself off a bridge after yet another lousy sales report hit his desk. His will would be written in crayon, leaving you nothing but a series of half-built tree-houses in the backyard and a string of apologies.

The tree-houses in question would be Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines and Temple of Elemental Evil. All three were inspired works that ultimately failed because they were unfinished, buggy and, in many ways, reaching too far. It wasn’t until the mod community raised their collective hammers and went to work finishing what Troika had started that we came to understand just how cool uncle Troika was.

Today we honor them with a list of some essential mods for each game and reasons why you should give them a second look—now that they actually work.

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

Arcanum was Troika’s first game, and it immediately challenged the D&D foundation the games before it built on. Tossing aside the high-fantasy work that members of Troika did at Black Isle, Arcanum took place in a world of steam technology and magic. In a way it was a graphical step down from the Infinity Engine games, but it made up for it with a story that came close to rivaling Planescape Torment. It was varied, complex and most definitely wordy.

This first game from Troika was a harbinger of things to come. It was never complete, yet it still garnered good reviews for the sheer chutzpa of releasing an isometric RPG that had nothing to do with Bioware. It tried for complexity that defied the game’s budget and deadlines. In the end, it was a worthy successor to the Black Isle games, only with enough bugs to condemn an apartment block.

The mod community came to the rescue. Even as late as 2009, fan patches were released, fixing bugs, adding widescreen support and generally bringing the game up to a state that Troika could only dream about.

Buy at GoG for $5.99! (Also supports GWJ)

The latest fan patch

More bug fixes and additional content from the Forgotten Places of Arcanum.

Better town maps, level-cap removers and more!

Temple of Elemental Evil

The first game to use the D&D 3.5 rule set, Temple of Elemental Evil (ToEE) was the most faithful translation of pen and paper rules to computers ever made. Every rule seemed to be crammed into the game, no matter how obscure. With an interface and game engine that felt like the natural next step after the Infinity engine games, ToEE was all set. Instead, once again, Troika released a product that was unfinished, buggy and generally broken. Something must have been in the water at Black Isle, because to this day, Obsidian is plagued by the same problems from the same place.

Like sponsors for alcoholics, the mod community stepped up and helped ToEE limp through the door long after Troika had closed shop. Fixed quests, widescreen patches, and added stability and content all make ToEE a game that plays great and conveys the vibe of playing the tabletop game—all with a clarity that no other game could match. You can make your entire party from scratch and play the classic Greyhawk D&D campaign. Just remember, this game keeps it real, so Wizards die if you sneeze on them at first level, and you should save a lot. A LOT.

Buy at GoG. $4.99!

The Circle of Eight Fan Patch

Vampire: The Masquerade

Even before Half-Life 2 was released, we knew Vampire would be the first game to use Valve’s new graphics engine. The scuttlebutt before release was that the game was done, but because Half-Life 2 had to come out first, Vampire: The Masquerade had plenty of time for polish. It was a pleasant fiction, but reality was a harsh mistress for Troika and its fans. Vampire was an incomplete mess, flashing small glimmers of brilliance under the trash. A mix of vampires, Deus Ex and the hottest graphical engine of its time should have catapulted Troika to new heights. Instead, it was the death knell of the company.

It wasn’t until fans stepped in and picked through the wreckage that we discovered just what a game Troika had made. Branching paths, an action RPG system that worked and decisions that had real impact hours into the game: All of it was there. It took years for modders to finish what Troika started.

If you’ve never played it before, you can consider yourself lucky. The game is only $19.99 on Steam and it holds up incredibly well, even by modern standards.

All you really need is the unofficial fan patch, which you can find right here.

Troika burned out quickly, but to this day their influence is felt—thanks to their dedicated community. All three games are worthy of your time and work great on modern machines with very little tweaking. It’s a bit sad to think of where they might have gone with a little more time and a bit more discipline, but we’ll never know.

Comments

Vampire Bloodlines is by far my favorite RPG of all time, probably because it's a hybrid FPS/RPG. But the setting is darkly funny and engaging in a way that the bog-standard fantasy settings of other RPGs are not (at least to me).

That fan patches have taken it and actually made it a game that can be played even now, instead of a buggy pile that would probably have faded from memory by now, just makes me glad that Vampire: Bloodlines came out in the internet era and that fans are willing to do the work to make it a game that lasts.

Oh, I may just have to go dig out Arcanum. I remember enjoying it around the time I was loving Icewind Dale, but for the life of me, I can't remember what it was about.

Oh God. This means I'm going to give Arcanum another try. I bought and sold that game 3 times. Le sigh.

Ghostship wrote:

Oh, I may just have to go dig out Arcanum. I remember enjoying it around the time I was loving Icewind Dale, but for the life of me, I can't remember what it was about.

It is my favourite CRPG of all time, besides BGII. The setting is fantastic, the writing is funny and engaging, and the amount of choice is brilliant. Looking at the old Troika games makes me sad for what CRPGs have become. We've moved away from these big games that give players a lot of options to smaller in scope games that try more to be like hollywood movies than games. I blame Bioware for screwing it all up.

PyromanFO wrote:

Vampire Bloodlines is by far my favorite RPG of all time, probably because it's a hybrid FPS/RPG. But the setting is darkly funny and engaging in a way that the bog-standard fantasy settings of other RPGs are not (at least to me).

That fan patches have taken it and actually made it a game that can be played even now, instead of a buggy pile that would probably have faded from memory by now, just makes me glad that Vampire: Bloodlines came out in the internet era and that fans are willing to do the work to make it a game that lasts.

You're my new favorite person! I second this motion. I feel about VTM Bloodlines the same way that other people feel about Deus Ex. It's that good...better, in my opinion, once patched.

Another Fan-Patch that makes a game playable (in multiplayer, that is) is for Titan Quest. The game basically broke the quests when more than one person was playing until you applied the fan patch.

Dysplastic wrote:
PyromanFO wrote:

Vampire Bloodlines is by far my favorite RPG of all time, probably because it's a hybrid FPS/RPG. But the setting is darkly funny and engaging in a way that the bog-standard fantasy settings of other RPGs are not (at least to me).

That fan patches have taken it and actually made it a game that can be played even now, instead of a buggy pile that would probably have faded from memory by now, just makes me glad that Vampire: Bloodlines came out in the internet era and that fans are willing to do the work to make it a game that lasts.

You're my new favorite person! I second this motion. I feel about VTM Bloodlines the same way that other people feel about Deus Ex. It's that good...better, in my opinion, once patched.

I know I've made it much further in Bloodlines than I ever have in Deus Ex, even without the fan patch. I really should give it another go again, patched up.

I picked up Bloodlines for $5.00 about 2 years ago in a direct2drive sale. I really should install it and give it a go. This will be the year as I'm working through my pile, as long as LoL doesn't stop me.

So apart from reminiscing on the games of a defunct developer, what *is* the legacy of Troika?

I can only say I've played all the way through one of their games (Bloodlines), but I can't say I see any aspects of it in games since, and a quick look on mobygames shows that many of the developers haven't gone onto better things.

Played through Vampire twice. Between the excellent setting details and the in-depth paths that you can take, its about as impressive as it gets for RPG style gaming on a computer. If for nothing else, everyone really should experience this game for the haunted hotel, the malkavian's lair, and the tzimise's house are all just so very... impressive with the impact that the scenes convey upon the person playing. And those are just my favorites, but there were certainly others. Add that to the endings you get and that just makes this game A+ and one of my all time favs. Might start reloading it soon and patching it back up.

So apart from reminiscing on the games of a defunct developer, what *is* the legacy of Troika?

I think it's pretty much just their games and the passionate community they left behind. Troika's designs leaned heavily on what came before, they just gave it a unique spin. I guess you could say they're the end of the line for isometric RPGs and part of the lineage that grew from games like Deus Ex.

The haunted hotel is one of the very few frightening game levels I have ever played.

Damnit! You're going to make me load up Bloodlines again!

I have Pile games to finish people, sheesh!

In addition to the patches there are a huge number of mods for Vampire including lots of side missions, expanded plot missions, reskins and a humanity system that actually has some impact on the player. You'll find most of these in the Camarilla Edition.

NathanialG wrote:

The haunted hotel is one of the very few frightening game levels I have ever played.

Edge of the seat stuff. Amnesia: The Dark Descent does a very good job at creating a frightening atmosphere too. Doing as they asked, lights off and headset on make the game pretty anxiety filled, especially with how your vision in the game goes out of focus when you're in complete darkness for a moment and then you can see just slight outlines. Makes you a little scared that you're going to have a bad monster outline waiting for you.

NathanialG wrote:

The haunted hotel is one of the very few frightening game levels I have ever played.

If I had more time, I'd play through Vampire again and dedicate a game diary to it. Such an amazing, varied experience with some fascinating branching paths. There was a time when Warren Spector was thinking out loud about doing a game that did nothing but render one city street in excruciating detail and have the entire game revolve around it. Vampire actually came close, even though the area was a bit bigger and not quite so detailed as all that.

Certis wrote:
NathanialG wrote:

The haunted hotel is one of the very few frightening game levels I have ever played.

If I had more time, I'd play through Vampire again and dedicate a game diary to it. Such an amazing, varied experience with some fascinating branching paths. There was a time when Warren Spector was thinking out loud about doing a game that did nothing but render one city street in excruciating detail and have the entire game revolve around it. Vampire actually came close, even though the area was a bit bigger and not quite so detailed as all that.

Vampire was laid out almost like a movie. You kind of moved from scene to scene and everything else was there mostly for the perceptive need for the player to visualize distance (and to occasionally feed and resupply). I think as far as modeling Spector's 'street' you're pretty apt with your description of the game; it does model the World of Darkness quite nicely and in a very tabletop RPG feel to it, where those games tend to jump from place to place without the interconnectivity of real-time play-it-out travel.

On another note, I even particularly liked how absolutely different my two characters, a gangrel and a toreador, played out.

NathanialG wrote:

The haunted hotel is one of the very few frightening game levels I have ever played.

I think it was the first time a video game scared me in a non-monster-closet way.

The hotel remains a brilliant horror level. The build up around it's past, how it was under renovation and the builders abandoned it, and your progress through the level discovering the story of what went on. A little like The Shalebridge Cradle level from Thief 3.

Damnit, the Deus Ex Rule is in full effect here. Definitely going to have to run back through Arcanum and VtM:B. I never got around to Temple of Elemental Evil, so I may have to give that a spin, too. But when?

Scratched wrote:

The hotel remains a brilliant horror level. The build up around it's past, how it was under renovation and the builders abandoned it, and your progress through the level discovering the story of what went on. A little like The Shalebridge Cradle level from Thief 3.

God, the part where

Spoiler:

You read the story about the person being decapitated and them finding the head in the dryer - and then you hear a dryer starting up in the next room....

I had to play through that level on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Vampire is an incredibly good game, all patched up. Be warned, however, that it is very, very difficult, and you will want to be building your character for combat. The docs and backstory make it sound like you want to focus on melee weapons, but this is not the case... develop your firearms skill to a high level and the late game becomes enormously easier. Sword and claws are useful early, but don't over-specialize.

Don't play Malkavian the first time through; it would be endlessly confusing. (Malkavians, you see, are all as mad as the Hatter). However, once you've completed it once, replaying as Malkavian is like experiencing the game all over again. In their madness, they see more than others, and expose interesting subplots and character details you have no clue about as a normal character. But without having played through it normally, you'd have a hard time figuring out what was going on.

Thanks for the great post - and the ongoing topic of the week.

I didn't know about the unofficial patch for Arcanum, I just installed the game not so long ago but have yet to start it. Perfect timing!

Vampire was indeed awesome. Something about first-person worlds for me...

Arcanum is a great game and one of my all-time favorites (just look at my avatar - Half-Ogre FTW!). There is still nothing like it, nothing that comes close even, to the setting. You want consequences in-game? This had them all over the place.

TOEE was a re-telling of the first module I ever played in D&D; it holds a special place in my heart. Of the three games, it is probably the least fun though, because for this game (with apologies to Mr. Spector) when D&D gets in the way of fun, D&D wins. It is perhaps too literal in its interpretation of the 3.5 rule-set without an human DM to file off the edges a bit here and there.

Put Vampire on my Steam wishlist at least. With the current backlog I can't justify full price to put it on the pile, but it does sound intriguing.

I have only ever played Bloodlines as a Malkavian. I knew it was all crazy and whatnot, but that is what the little gypsy wagon sequence picked out for me and I decided to go with it. The game isn't impossible to understand; indeed, after a while your dialog starts to make sense.

Also, um, what exactly is ToEE? Is it a traditional RPG with branching dialog and subquests and looting and selling and all that (a Baldur's Gate-ish affair), or is it more of a dungeon crawler a la Icewind Dale?

4xis.black wrote:

that is what the little gypsy wagon sequence picked out for me

Bloodlines has an Ultima gypsy?

Also, um, what exactly is ToEE? Is it a traditional RPG with branching dialog and subquests and looting and selling and all that (a Baldur's Gate-ish affair), or is it more of a dungeon crawler a la Icewind Dale?

Definitely a dungeon crawler with light story.

I don't really like the fantasy, vampire, dungeon, or goth type settings. I really liked Fallout 1 and Fallout 2. Should I try Arcanum?

edit: oh well, I bought it.

Malor wrote:

Vampire is an incredibly good game, all patched up. Be warned, however, that it is very, very difficult, and you will want to be building your character for combat. The docs and backstory make it sound like you want to focus on melee weapons, but this is not the case... develop your firearms skill to a high level and the late game becomes enormously easier. Sword and claws are useful early, but don't over-specialize.

Luckily the little PnP I've done was Vampire the Masquerade and we'd always played the game with a focus on firearms so that came naturally. Very true though, despite the fantasy elements it's a modern setting and modern tools make the game easier.

And

stevenmack wrote:

Damnit! You're going to make me load up Bloodlines again!

I have Pile games to finish people, sheesh!

QFMFT