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Interview

Mafia II Interview

With at least two people in the IncGamers office constantly extolling the virtues of open world crime title Mafia, we made it our mission to find out more about the upcoming sequel. We caught up with 2K’s Denby Grace to find out what makes Mafia II stand out from the sandbox competition and why “no other open world city comes close.”The open world genre has become a lot more crowded in recent times. What makes Mafia II different from the competition?

Denby Grace (right): Our game, quite simply, has a hugely engrossing story with believable characters. Your buddy Joe feels like a guy that you’ve known your whole life; you really connect with these characters and want to see their story through to the end.As well as the story, the level of detail and realization of the world really is an amazing technical achievement for the team here at 2K Czech.  No other open world city comes close with the texture quality, attention to detail and destructibility of our environments.On a gameplay level, Mafia II really pushes the envelope.  Usually in an open world game, the focus is on a really wide scope of delivering lots of stuff, more often than not to a lower quality than you’d expect in say a third-person action game. We have really honed our gun play mechanics against games such as GOW2 and Uncharted making them the benchmark we set for ourselves for our combat encounters and it shows; Mafia II really stands out in this area.

All too often in open world games, one aspect of gameplay is solid, while another may be lacking. For example, the shooting may be great, but the driving is poor and vice versa. How did you make sure that everything ‘works’ in Mafia II?
DG: It’s a good observation and one that we’ve noted as well when sitting down and evaluating all the games around us.  People seem to want to create a really wide scope of gameplay types; invariably the quality of the game seems to suffer.With Mafia II, we looked at the goals for the project and really identified what was important to the game. , So, we actually narrowed our scope where mechanics are concerned and picked our battles, driving and gunplay being on top on our priority list as far as the gameplay is concerned.Then, as for looking at them individually, we actually look outside the genre for reference for these very different mechanics. If we want our driving to be great then we take a look at the driving game genre. For the gunplay, we looked at third person shooters.  After we’ve laid these things down we could really start to see how they are working with one another, while also balancing them against each other to ensure that the whole package delivers on the goals we’ve set forth.{PAGE TITLE=Mafia II Interview Page 2}One thing we noticed from the E3 presentation this year, was the way in which the game switches cleverly between gameplay and cutscenes. How important is the narrative in Mafia II and how have you improved the cutscenes?DG: The narrative in Mafia II is very important to us. We have set ourselves really high goals for our story. We don’t compare our scene direction, VO performances or script writing to anyone in the games industry.  We look at movies and then, only the best movies. We’ve invested a huge amount of time in dialogue writing and recording. I think everything that has been seen in public to date really is some of the best VO we’re seeing in video games. Moreover,  the animators at 2K Czech have spent a long time creating motion capture, working on facial expressions etc. to really make the VO performances come alive.Can you tell us a little about the missions in the game? How important is variety? How do you keep the missions ‘fresh’ and avoid the standard ‘drive x to y and shoot everything’ formula? DG: The way the game is structured is that each mission is a day in Vito’s (our lead character’s) life. , So, sometimes mission X and mission Y happen on two days next to one another but in other missions there may be a three-month period between missions. So, from a story perspective, this allows us to easily switch it up and throw in variety as we feel it’s neededThat said, there is obviously a lot of shooting missions. The game is a third person action game about the Mafia; if there wasn’t you’d probably ask for your money back.  Nonetheless, we can frame these shooting missions differently; put you in a situation which is unwinnable forcing you into a retreat. Basically,we switch things up using the story as a means to turn the tables.You’ve said that the game will span ten years of Vito Scaletta’s life – how different will his life become in that period and, also, what will happen to the city itself?
DG: The game spans the best part of 10 years, starting out in 1943. Vito, at the start of our story, is a nobody with a poor upbringing in Empire Bay and together with his best friend Joe; they embark on the journey to find money and respect. Early on in the game, the motivations for Vito are very clear; to get his family out of debt. Later on, this is not so much the deal for after having had a taste of The Good Life they get greedy… Speaking more specifically about the city, we start out in the 40’s with a winter city backdrop and war raging in Europe. It’s a pretty bleak outlook for the people of Empire Bay and this mirrors Vito’s situation during this period.By the time we hit the 50’s the city has changed a lot.  Initially, it’s summer and the feeling is dramatically different as you walk around the city and you see all the cars, music, ads, buildings, clothing etc. everything is different. Remember, the 50’s was the birth of America as we know it today.{PAGE TITLE=Mafia II Interview Page 3}How important is realism in Mafia II and how do strike a balance between authenticity and fun?DG: Realism is very important and with the art, sound and music you don’t really have to sacrifice that much. When it comes to gameplay though, you have to find that balance and it’s a long and iterative process.To talk specifically about the gun fights, we have a goal; every minute to minute experience should feel like a real Mafia encounter. Meaning, you don’t see the player using bazookas and taking out wave after wave of enemies. The player uses realistic Mafia weapons and takes on a “realistic” number of baddies.Obviously, the gangster has long played a part in American popular culture but what did you use as inspiration for Mafia II? Were there any particular films or books that informed the game directly?DG: We used lots of different references for different parts of the game.  The dialogue is heavily influenced by the show, Sopranos, the story by Goodfellas, the art direction by, Road to Perdition, the period setting by The Godfather…loads and loads of stuff. We love these movies and shows internally here and we watch so many of them. That said, we also look at other stuff that may be loosely relevant, such as Mad Men for example; a great period setting piece of work that gets it spot on.One of the most noticeable aspects when looking at the screens is the sheer level of detail in the visuals. Did you have any trouble getting the game to run at a smooth framerate and did you have to sacrifice anything for it?DG: Like any game development where you are trying to raise the bar, it is always massively challenging.  The level of detail in the game really is a huge achievement by the team here, it really stands out as something not done in other open world games.How linear is the story in Mafia II? Will the player have to make any difficult decisions which will have ramifications later in the game?DG: The story in Mafia II is a linear experience, we wanted to control the narrative and make sure that it was strong as possible so, we focused in on one linear path to ensure this.How has the AI been tweaked in the sequel? What kind of behavior can we expect to see from the cops in the game?DG: The first game was known for being a challenging experience and we want Mafia II to be the same.  Not to say, that we are going to insert a racing mission like in Mafia 1, but it will be a good challenge when the cops want to arrest you.  We want the player to behave realistically in our city and not to go on gun crazy rampages (this is not mafia behavior) and as such we need something that will keep them in check and the police do that.

For more on Mafia II, check out the game page here.

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