Genre: Open World
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Release Date: April 7, 2009
We continue our conversation with The Godfather II executive producer, Hunter Smith...
WP: What's the actual story behind the game?
HS: We built it on the film, "The Godfather: Part II." If you remember, the film has two halves; it has the Don Vito, 1920s half and the Michael era in the 1960s. We focused on the Michael era in the '60s. We also expand upon that because we didn't really want to make a game where the whole thing was about playing the story that you already know. Now, we do want you to see some of those familiar key moments and have your character partake in them, but there is a story that goes beyond that and is relevant to the game that they're playing.
It's the game of defeating those other five families, working for Michael Corleone, and very early on in the game, we show you why you become a don. In the first 20 minutes of the game, you become a don and then you hire your first guy. You do some things for the Corleones, they trust you a little bit. Then they say, "You're doing more things. Hire a second guy," and over time, you start to build out your family. The whole time, you're still interacting with the Corleone story line, so you do things with Fredo, you're not sure if you can trust Hyman Roth or not, you help out Frank Pentangeli. You see him get killed, you think, by Carmine Rosato.
You've got to get Senator Geary, you've got to be able to get him in situations so that he'll be blackmailable. Once he's blackmailable — and this is a really cool difference because in Godfather I, you got these cool scenes with your character sitting on the sideline like a coffee boy because you're just a lowly guy — this time, you're an important guy in the family, so in the film, when Tom's going in there and talks to Geary, who's sitting and crying on the bed and with a bloody hooker next to him, you're standing right next to him and you get to deliver half the lines.
It's cool and really makes you feel like the Corleones look at you differently, and Michael talks to you almost like a mentor or equal. He's teaching you how to be a don, but he's not just giving you orders; he's giving you strategic ways to think about how to be successful in the game.
It's based on the movie, so Michael has to deal with the FBI, who's coming after him, and that's why he actually puts you in charge. Eventually, he says, "Tom needs to be your consigliere because I need him off the payroll." All those are moments that are from "The Godfather: Part II" story.
WP: So The Godfather III game is going to be based on the third Godfather movie?
HS: I don't know about that! (laughs)
WP: Let's talk a little bit about the different weapons. There are shotguns, baseball bats and regular pistols. How many weapons are there? There are also upgrades for each weapon, so can you talk a little about the upgrades too?
HS: There are pistols, magnums, tommy guns, shotguns and sniper rifles. Each of them has three levels inside the single-player game that you can upgrade. You find them in the game to upgrade them. As you upgrade them, they have faster firepower, do more damage, but they also have accuracy adjustments as you get the higher-class weapons. On top of those, you have you own attributes — skills — that you expend your money on. So your skills can be the marksmanship skill and the faster reloading skill. You can have better ability in either handguns or bigger weapons, and when you spend money on those, they will also impact your ability and/or your AI's ability to use any one of those weapons, so they kind of multiply and make you become more and more powerful, both in your skill upgrades and the weapons themselves.
WP: How about vehicles? Are they upgradeable? Can you have a bulletproof car?
HS: There are cars, trucks, pick-up trucks and vans. We don't have helicopters or any of that other kind of stuff. Our focus was on you being with the Corleones, and you're working for the family. They weren't trying to do 65 things. They were really trying to figure out how they're going to fight these other families and how they're going to win. There is an armored car, but there's no car customization or anything. There are cars all over the world, and if you take over the chop shop crime ring, you can drive the armored cars that exist in the world. They'll take a ton more damage, so if you drive and you're going to assault another family and you want to have your three guys hanging out the window, firing as you're driving in, and you're just driving a regular car, it's going to take a lot of damage and it's going to blow up halfway into the battle. If you get the armored car, you're going to last a while, or you get the police on your tail and you get up to a Level 4, your chances of escaping without the armored car are a lot more difficult than if you had the armored car.
WP: What can you tell me about the "people of influence" in The Godfather II?
There are also people with influence in the game — the district attorney, the chief of police, the lieutenant governor, the union boss — there are 12 of these guys scattered throughout the world. If you remember the beginning of both films, there are parades of people coming into first Vito's office and then Michael's office saying, "Hey, can you do a favor for me?" If you do a favor for these guys in the game, you can kind of collect favors.
Let's take the union boss, for example. If you do a favor for him, he can do a favor for you, which means he can send guys to rebuild your place really fast. If you're playing the game, you've got the diamond-smuggling rackets and you've got the bulletproof vests, you guys feel really powerful whenever you're doing stuff in the game. Another family sends five guys to bomb your location, which defeats your guards. One of those three locations is now bombed, and instantly, your bulletproof vests vanish. You had already done a favor for the union boss, so you go into your Don's View, call in the union boss favor, and he will rebuild your place three times as fast so you can get your bulletproof vests back again.
That idea of using your currency of favors was a layer that existed in the universe and we made that into a game mechanic. It leverages the action experiences that we're doing but also has that layer of making sure you've got the right people in your pocket. You're going to be more successful with them, or else you're going to be fighting against them. We tried to add that into everything that we did.
WP: As for the locations in The Godfather II, you have New York, Florida and Cuba. How different are the locations, and do you have missions that are unique to each location?
HS: There are kind of two layers to that. There are the organized crime rings and rackets, and they are in all three cities. The first mission, the training experience, you're in Cuba and it's the night of New Year's Eve, and then you go to New York and start proving yourself and building your family. Hyman Roth invites you into Miami to help him out and see if you're somebody he can trust, so all of a sudden, Miami is open, but New York is still open and available.
Once you leave New York to open up Miami, other families are going to start attacking and taking over things in New York. So you've got to decide, "What am I going to do? Am I going to send my guys, or am I going to the airport and head over there myself?" You can do it by an action result decision or a strategic decision by sending guys. You can send those guys, and you'll get updates about how successful they are. And if you send two guys and one of them dies, you get to decide if you're going to see if the other guy's odds are going to work or if you go and help him out yourself.
A big difference is in how we built the world. In Godfather I, the first time making this kind of space, we did a lot of research on where things were organized in New York in the 1940s and tried to be authentic. We sort of built that as we were building each of our mechanics. What it meant to fight, what it meant to shoot, how do you drive — all of these components. There are some parts of the design that were somewhat frustrating when they were implemented in the sense of just the space in which things related to one another. It really sounded cool on our design idea, but to be sitting there in Brooklyn, doing some deal and then you get a phone call that tells you to come over to Jersey so you can deal with an issue, the game got dry for 10 minutes. That wasn't fun.
What we tried to do this time around was to design our world around maximum fun and try to organize our spaces relative to one another so that the AI of the other families is close enough but far enough. If they're too close, they'll be fighting each other constantly, and there are a bunch of things that we had to organize around. We tried to design our worlds around the maximum fun.
Also, in Godfather I, things were very canyon-oriented, whereas in Godfather II, you can climb up, around, on top of buildings, come through a lot of backyards, and that kind of stuff to really make it open, and then we added the layer on top that makes New York feel like New York, but older and more dense. You've got overpasses, buildings are taller, and you just get a New York feel. Now we're not trying to be as accurate as we tried to be in Godfather I because we wanted to make the space more relevant to gameplay, with the right feel for the space. We weren't trying to make a sim of what it means to be in New York.
Miami's got lots of water, lots of lower buildings, things are more spread out, and Cuba has this old world feel to it. Lots of columns, and the architecture feels really different, so there are a lot more stairs, there are lots of more ways around things, lots of little nooks and crannies. Each of them is designed differently to make those places, and they also have a gameplay impact because of that.
The story missions are fairly one-off experiences. Some of the story intersects with the game of organized crime, but the part of the story is that you need to spend some time weakening the other family by taking out a couple of their main men. You get to decide which ones, you figure out who those guys are and have to do that, which is an important part of the game, but that's sort of a choice. Some of them are very specific things, and they'll only take place in that location.
WP: Did the lawsuit by the Puzo family against Paramount have any effect on the game development?
WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
HS: I think really the most important thing to us, and what we tried to do, is what you brought up at the very beginning. There's GTA and Saints Row, so how are you different? Really, that's what we tried to focus on. There are certain things that Saints Row does great. There are certain things that GTA does really well. We really wanted to make our own thing, and our customers had expectations. They thing about The Godfather, but they don't think about it just being a guy in the mob. They think about it just being the Godfather. It's about running your own family, and it's about making those decisions.
When we finished the last game and thought of all the things that we wanted to make better or different in the game, we talked to a lot of gamers. We read a lot of reviews. We read all the blogs. There was something that kind of felt like it was missing, and really it's what's at the heart of The Godfather IP: being the Godfather. It's not called "The Soldier," right? It's called "Make the guy make the calls."
That's really what we focused our energy on this time around, and it's what we're most proud of. We were really able to take this model of organized crime, running a mob family, being the guy making the decisions, without giving up the action that we thought was fun. You get the feeling of being on the streets with the guys surrounding you who get your back. What's really cool is you're walking through the world, and all of a sudden, you hear, "Sniper!" and one of your guys takes the guy out before you even know it.
When you're playing the game, you could go in and some venues have a lot of guards or a small number of guards. There's an actual physical limit that we designed into the different venues to make it make sense based on the size. A really big one could have 30, 35 guys. The other family has to pay for that. The other family, depending on how well they're doing in the game, is going to staff each one of those places differently, so each time you go in, it's going to feel differently depending on how many guys they put there. Your family is looking around and they're using their AI, making decisions, and it's really cool to be walking and have your ass saved by one of the guys in your family when you weren't even quite sure what was happening yet because you were just walking. It really feels like these guys have your back.
In a sense, all of a sudden, the game gets busy. You're pretty far in the game, you've got a pretty big family, you've got three guys with you, and you're going after this harbor venue. You get a message that two guys at one of your places is getting attacked. You go to your family tree, you send two guys to attack, and you get pissed that that family just did this. At the same time, you say, "You two guys, I want you to go over there and take out their other location." All of a sudden, you realize that not only are you playing the actual game here, but you're also playing it at this other level and you're really leveraging your different guys and sending them to different places on the map.
It's a really powerful sensation, and I think that's really what's unique. With the other games, you're getting phone calls and you're taking orders and you're going through your thing, but you're not really feeling like you're a don and making decisions for your family. Everything we did, we tried to tie it back to this one game goal.
One of the things that's different about open-world games is that the design is always about how many different things can you spend your time doing that are interesting and fill up your gameplay space to make your world feel richer and real. We kind of went against that grain, and everything that we want to do is about being in the world of organized crime. In Godfather I, for example, we had hits, and you could go do contract hits on different guys in the world to make some cash, and it had a fun component where all of them had a special way to kill that guy, and if you did it in that special way, you earned the bonus. It was really fun to figure out which thing to do and actually do the hit in that way. Sometimes you wouldn't succeed and you keep redoing it because you want to get the maximum payout.
It was a fun system, and people really liked that, so for Godfather II, we said, let's design unique spaces in the world that have cool ways to take guys out, but instead of just making those be random guys, those guys are the Made Men for the other families. Just like I get guys in my family, well, they have guys in their families too, and when they attack me, they don't with their soldiers, they attack me with their Made Men. Their Made Men are mini-bosses, so each level, the guards that they put in their locations, they're at X strength, my soldiers are five times more powerful than them. My capos are five times more powerful than that. My underbosses are five times more powerful than the layer below. The guys who they send out to attack my locations when I'm off doing something, they send their Made Men.
If I'm battling a location and one of their guys sees me and can run to the phone and make a phone call, which is actually something that you can prevent in the game if you see it as you're playing, they'll send backup. If their other guys aren't already busy, they can send backup, who are their Made Men. So our contract hits in the game are the Made Men of the other families.
You have to do favors for other individuals on the street to get information about who that guy is and where he is. You have to find them, and you can find them hanging out at their location. You don't have to kill him at his location, but you kill him in a specific way. His location is made so that you have a reasonable opportunity to do that, but you can find him somewhere else. He could just show up in a battle because he's coming in as backup when you're trying to take over a location. If you already have his kill condition, you could look that up really quick and execute him in that way. Most of the time, if you kill a guy in the game, he goes to the hospital and comes back into the family after a period of time, but if you kill a guy in a specific way, you can actually eliminate him from the game.
So all of a sudden, that family that was really strong and had nine or 10 guys, you could whittle them down, and if you don't whittle them down, the final thing to do once you got rid of all their rackets and fronts, you have to blow up their compound, and that means fight your way through, get to the gas main, blow it up and escape. If you don't, you have a bunch of Made Men who you have to fight your way through, which is going to make it more difficult.
The hardest balancing part of the game was that you get richer as a player and we had to make sure that it still feels competitive as you're playing. All of a sudden, you've got a lot of guys, you've got to start upgrading your things, so the last two families have higher-level weapons, their guys are a lot tougher, and just sort of finding that right balance.
But that's really the heart of it. We wanted the player to feel like he's the don and in charge of his family. We didn't want to be Michael because Michael is smart as hell, but he's kind of an unhappy guy. The don's kind of old, but he had a good life. Sonny has a hell of a lot of fun, and you know, he got all the girls and had a good time, but he dies early. We wanted to take the best of all three — be smart, kick ass, make the right decisions, figure out who's the right guys for my family, and be strategic — and roll them all up in one, and that's the fantasy that we wanted the player to have.
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