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Mafia II

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: 2K Czech
Release Date: Aug. 24, 2010 (US), Aug. 27, 2010 (EU)

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'Mafia II' (ALL) Developer Interview with Jack Scalici

by Adam Pavlacka on Aug. 17, 2010 @ 1:55 a.m. PDT

Mafia II immerses players in the mob underworld of a fictitious late 1940s-early 1950s scenario by fusing high-octane gunplay with white-knuckle driving and an engaging narrative. Players will easily become engaged in the game's cinematic Hollywood movie experience with strong, believable characters in a living, breathing city.

Like the original Mafia title, Mafia 2 immerses players in the mob underworld of a fictitious late 1940s-early 1950s scenario. By fusing high octane gunplay with white knuckle driving and an engaging narrative, players will easily become engaged in the game's cinematic Hollywood movie experience with strong, believable characters in a living, breathing city.

In Mafia II players will experience the true evolution of the Mob game that defined a genre. Gunfights, hand-to-hand combat and vehicular exploration feature new depth and dimension that allow players to experience the world of Mafia II in a way that will keep them coming back for more.

Born the son of a poor immigrant, Vito is a beaten down Italian American who is trying to secure his piece of the American Dream. Looking to escape the life of poverty that consumed his childhood, Vito is soon swayed by the lure of power and wealth that a life of Organized Crime can bring.

A petty criminal his whole life, Vito, along with his childhood friend, Joe, will descend into the world of Organized Crime. Together, they will work to prove themselves to the Mob as they try to make their names on the streets of a cold and unforgiving city.

WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!

I'm Jack Scalici, and I'm Director of Creative Production at 2K Games. On Mafia II, I function as the lead writer, casting director, host director and music supervisor over the course of development.

WP: Now, you had no involvement with the original Mafia game. You came in for this project, correct?

JS: Correct. I enjoyed it as a consumer, and during the job interview, they mentioned the sequel as one of the jobs that I would be doing, and I said, "Sure!" Then when the game came around and the script landed on my desk, I was like, "F*** it."

WP: What did you like about the original Mafia that you tried to bring over to the sequel and make it bigger and better?

JS: Probably the best thing that everyone remembers — I mean, it's eight years later, and everyone still talks about the story, the storytelling, the atmosphere. Those things were something that we said we needed to bring to Mafia II and do it even better. You've played it. We did it.

WP: What were some of the things that the original game did that you thought could be improved upon?

JS: It was very polarizing. It was two things: the police and the driving. You either really loved it, or you really hated it. For me, I liked the cars at first. Eventually I wanted to go fast, but I liked the period feel of the cars. That was solved by the setting. Cars in the 1940s went a lot faster than the cars in the 1920s, and the 1950s was the birth of the car culture and everything. They flew, so we didn't have to worry about that.

The police system was something that I felt was a little too punishing in the first game. When I got a ticket, I thought it was great. I was like, "Look at the attention to detail these guys have put into the game." Then I kept getting tickets, and it was like, "Oh, my God!"  Revamping the police system was something that was always a goal, and we did.

WP: How did you develop the story? In doing so, how did you ensure that it felt true to form and you didn't get any weird anachronisms?

JS: Well, the script was originally written by the guy who wrote the script for the first game, and then he and I worked on it together to make sure that these characters behaved as expected, that wiseguys behaved like wiseguys, pedestrians behaved like they did in the 1950s: nice, adorable people. We did a lot of research and read a lot of books. Wikipedia's always a nice tool to have these days; we didn't have that available 10 years ago. All four of my grandparents are still with me, so I heard this type of dialogue and slang — not the bad words, of course! — when I was growing up. My mother was born in the '50s, and my father was born in the '50s, and both of my grandpas were cops in New York City.

WP: Cool. Given the setting of the game and today's politically correct atmosphere, was there ever any worry or pushback in the ethnic stereotypes that the game portrays?

JS: Yeah, where I grew up, that's the way it still is. If someone is black, you say black. You don't say African-American. I don't have any African-American friends; I have black friends. You know what I mean? So there is no PC bullsh** where I'm from. When I was writing the dialogue in the 1950s, there was no PC at all. There are a lot of funny stories that I won't tell because I don't want them captured on the mic, but everyone was racist. These are people who left their country in the 1800s, early 1900s. They had the balls to get up and say, "All right, I'm going to move halfway across the world to this place that I hear is really cool." Then they were all fighting for jobs, and you're only friends with those of your own race, so they didn't like each other very much, but they lived right next door to each other. That's why bad words happening and things like that.

This isn't something that we shied away from. If you watch some of the best movies out there that were period pieces, it's the dialogue. It's the way people think about each other. HBO's "Deadwood" is one of my favorites. They don't pull any punches in that. The same thing with movies like "Goodfellas" or "Godfather": Every ethnic group has very specific thoughts and words about all the other ethnic groups.

It wasn't a focus of the game. It wasn't a feature. It was just, "What would these Italian-American wiseguys have to say about this particular gentleman who they're dealing with, who also happens to be pointing a gun at them?" If it fit, it fit, and if it didn't fit, I removed it. A lot of it fit, and the actors, if they couldn't pull it off and make it sound believable, we took it out. But if they could sound believable, we left it in.

It just added to the authenticity, the atmosphere, and the pure feel of the game. Any other company would've been like, "No, we can't have that word in there!" Luckily, Take-Two has giant balls.

WP: Speaking of the different ethnicities, we understand that you were actually on-size with 2K Czech for quite a few months. What was it like to take a script that was originally written in Czech and then translated into British English before you guys could work on it in American English?

JS: Well, like you said, it was Czech then British and then it was sent to me to see what we could do with it. We initially tried to hire a couple of writers to work on it and rewrite all the dialogue, but they didn't work out. Eventually, we got to the point where we were way behind, and since I was fixing everything anyway, the writers said, "Jack, would you just do it? Your stuff is fine." So I did it, and they said, "This is great. Can you just do the whole project?" I checked with my boss, and he said, "Yeah, sure. Have fun."

Neither of us realized the scope of the project. We didn't realize it was only going to go up from there. Three years later, we've finally finished all of the dialogue recording and everything.

It wasn't easy.  A lot of stuff had been lost, actually, during the Czech-to-British translation, and I worked closely with Daniel Vavra, the writer of the original script, to get it back to what he meant originally before it was translated. From there, I did a full pass on the script, and then I sat with Daniel and we went through all my changes. Luckily, all my changes got it closer to where he had originally envisioned it anyway.

We made the changes and then over the course of the next two years, the game design evolved and changed, as all games do. It was my responsibility to adapt the story to the changes in the game. You know, evolve the characters, add some characters, remove some characters, rewrite some scenes, and stuff like that. I worked closely with the cut scene team at 2K Czech to bring the script to life.

WP: For the past couple of years, Playboy has made efforts to be more relevant to gamers. What brought about the partnership with Playboy and 2K Games for Mafia II? Did they approach you guys? Did you guys call them up and say, "Hey, we've got a great idea?"

JS: Well, it is a gigantic, living, breathing, open city. In a world like that, you want to have collectibles. You want to encourage the player to explore the world you've created, and the way you do that in-game is having collectible things. We have several different kinds of collectibles, and we talked about magazines. Initially, it was some magazine that we made up, but Playboy is the iconic gentleman's magazine. It's all about the good life; it's all about the stuff that a wiseguy aspires to have: beautiful women, nice cars, a nice stereo system, etc. It just fit. One of our guys had a contact with Playboy, so they spoke. Here we are.

WP: What do you think of the fact that you would be the first rated game in the U.S. to feature photographed nudity?

JS: Well, there are some that have it posted on a wall, but you walk up to it in a first-person shooter and stare at the lady, but I think we're the first to actually include real centerfolds.

Like everything else in the game, it's not something that we shied away from. If you're playing Mafia II and you haven't seen a boob yet, something's wrong with you. If you're offended by 1950s pin-up style nudity, why are you playing our game? It's not something you have to experience in the critical path; you can ignore them. They're not required to beat the game; it's just something that if you want to collect them, you do. We have the real covers and the real centerfolds for 50 original Playboy magazines. It's not pornographic; it's just nudity. It's boobs and butts. Playboy of the '50s is not the Hustler of today.

WP: It's a far cry from the naked Tomb Raider patches that floated around back in the day.

JS: Yes, there won't be any gigantic, blocky boobs.

WP: During the course of working on the game, which part of the project really hit home for you?

JS: I've seen a lot of game design docs and scripts in my time in the industry, some of which have gotten made and some of which haven't.  I'd never seen anything with this combination of the shooting, driving, melee combat, all supported by this epic story in this gigantic world. It's a combination of all the stuff that I like to do in other games, but it's all happening in one game. I asked, "Can we really pull this off?" They said, "Yeah!" and we did.

It's one of those things where, once in a lifetime, a project comes along like this, where you have a story this deep and this big, with this many interesting characters in this kind of world where you can do all this different stuff.

WP: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?

JS: One other thing that I forgot to mention is the soundtrack. I work on all the soundtracks for all of 2K's games. On a normal soundtrack, you get about 20 tracks, maybe 30 or 40. Don King's Prizefighter, I think he got 70. This one, when I saw how big it was, I saw the opportunity to not only have so many different varieties of music, but also so much music. I couldn't wait to work on the soundtrack. It's something that I'm really proud of.


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