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The Godfather II

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: EA
Developer: EA

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'The Godfather II' (PS3/X360/PC) Developer Interview Part 1

by Rainier on March 31, 2009 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

After being promoted by Michael Corleone to Don of New York, players expand to new cities, as they build up their families through extorting businesses, monopolizing illegal crime rings and defeating new families in an effort to become the most powerful mob family in America. To help players manage their empire, The Godfather II introduces “The Don’s View” – an innovative strategy meta-game that allows players to oversee the entire world as they grow the family business. Using the Don’s View, players will be able to build, defend and expand their crime rings, while keeping an eye on the movements and plans of the rival families.

Genre: Open World
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Release Date: April 7, 2009

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

I'm Hunter Smith, and I'm the executive producer on The Godfather II.

WP: Does The Godfather II tie in with the first game? Is it a follow-up, or is it a different standalone story?

HS: Really, we tried to do two things. One, most people take a license and make a game where you're playing the movie, and then you get to do some action in between. We really wanted to make a game, and we want to be in the open-world space. In Godfather I, we wanted to build on that, and in Godfather II, we took the features that we thought were the best ones. People like running these businesses and taking over the protection business in Godfather I, an open-world action game tying into The Godfather story. In Godfather I, the story and the open-world game were really disconnected.

In this one, we really tried to make it like the Corleones are playing the world of organized crime. The other families are playing this game of organized crime. What we did was look at the property. We basically sat there, and the whole time you're watching the movies — they take three hours — there are 10 minutes of action and a lot of conversation and chin-scratching. On our mind was, when there's chin-scratching, they're thinking about what the other families are doing. How are they going to make their family successful? Who do they need to be in the family? Who do they need to do a hit on? What information do they need to get? Who do they need to get in their pocket? We saw that this was our Don's View.

That's why we have this whole mode where you zoom out from the world, you have this map with a whole strategy layer on top, and this is where you get to act as a don. You see what the other families are doing, make decisions for your family, figure out which guys need to be upgraded, send guys to different spots, figure out which important people in the world have influence and you want to get in your pocket, and then you drive into the game, go back into the 3-D world and play it. You can go back and forth and send guys off and come back. We really tried to tie those experiences together, which is a really big difference from what we did in Godfather I.

In Godfather I, at the end of the day, we called you a don, but you were still just doing the action, kick-ass part. We didn't want you to leave that, but we wanted to give you the other layer on top, and that's really what we tried to do with Godfather II. Our tagline is, "Act like a mobster, but think like a don," and that's the fantasy that we want to deliver. We look at the property and figured that's what's going on inside their heads in all these conversations, but how do we turn that into a gameplay experience?

WP: As an open-world game filled with crime and blowing stuff up, The Godfather II is reminiscent of Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto. What would you say sets The Godfather II apart from the other open-world titles?

HS: The Godfather II is about organized crime, and that's what the Corleones are, the epitome of organized crime. It's about a family, it's about building these guys in your family, knowing who they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are, how to deploy them, and also have the action yourself. Those other games are about being the guy who gets told what to do inside that world. You make your moves in the game, but you're not really building a family. The other families aren't plotting a strategy against you. The families that you're playing against in Godfather II are playing the same game you are. They're trying to take things over from you, and they're trying to take things over from the other families. The focus of the game is about these organized crime breaks, getting them for your family, and defeating and killing off all of the other families. That's how you win the game. It's not really the model of the other open-world games. They're about a big, long story and a big, huge, really well-done world. It's a different game. We just happen to not be level-based, so everyone lumps us together as crime-based open-world games. As you play it, they're not very similar at all.

WP: One of the major features in The Godfather I was the customization, where you could create your own character. Can you still do this, and can you bring this newly created character, who doesn't have any stats, into multiplayer?

HS: As soon as you hire your first guy, you can take him online. It's some of your game skill that's going to make a difference. If you start off and in the first 20 minutes of the game, you hire your first crew member, you cannot play multiplayer. You can go in, he's going to have a Level 1 weapon, and if your skills are good, you can start scoring because scoring isn't just kills. If you have a particular skill, if you're an arsonist, you can be a firestarter and get some points, and those things will get to be honors. You bring those honors back into multiplayer, and all of a sudden, you find that Level 2 weapon pretty quickly, and you play in single-player, you can now equip it to that guy.

As you're playing single-player, you're going to make more money, but you're going to invest it in yourself and all your RPG attributes because the money's the main currency. In Godfather I, we had respect and cash. This time, we thought, let's not confuse it. It's all about money, so let's focus and make the currencies all tie into one economy. So you're making choices, like, am I going to have more guards at this place? That's going to cost me money. Am I going to equip my guys with certain weapons? That's going to cost me money. Am I going to increase my attributes? That's going to cost me money. Which one of my guys' attributes is going to cost me money? While you're playing the game, you're always thinking, "How am I spending my cash and what's going to affect my family?" If I'm going to take this guy online to play with my buddies, I've spent cash on him, so I'm going to make sure that this guy is upgraded well beforehand. But you can go in and play, and they try to put levels on the matches so that people can make sure they're playing the appropriate levels when they play in public matches. You can play in private matches as well, so there's a lot of control over it.

WP: There are classes — for instance, you can be a demolitionist, arsonist or bruiser — are you stuck to those particular skill sets? Obviously you can upgrade them, but can you make a guy who's a class hybrid, kind of good at arson and a little bit of a bruiser, or do you have to stay with one? What if you want to switch classes?

HS: When you're playing in single-player, you're going to go to every one of the environments. We try to make every map leverage different crew members' skill sets, but when you promote a guy from soldier to capo, you can add a second skill to him. When you promote him to underboss, you can add a third, so you've got one guy who can have up to three skills in your regular family.

There are a total of five classes: medic, arsonist, demolitionist, engineer and bruiser. That makes a big difference during gameplay, too, because all of a sudden, I've got a guy who's got three [skills]. He's pretty powerful to me when I'm playing single-player, and then when I want to go online, I'm likely going to want to have that guy because now I can score and be effective in my team in three different ways. I can score, I can get money faster, and I can get honors faster, which means I can likely equip that guy with a higher-level weapon more quickly.

Those slots open up as you go through the single-player campaign. At the very beginning, you can't move a guy up to there. You hire your first guy, and after a certain period of time, as the Corleones trust you more, they say that you should bring another guy into your family because you're doing more things for the Corleones. Then you'll become seasoned enough to have your own capo, and then an underboss.

WP: The Godfather II was originally scheduled for February 2009, but it was delayed. What was the cause for the delay? Did the game need more development time?

HS: It was for bigger marketing opportunity reasons. Most of the game was done, and the biggest thing was pulling in some of the things that we're doing now, like the Don Control mode. Making that available on day one was one of our key goals. The real reason was a market opportunity reason, and we decided to leverage that opportunity by having a small team finish this up so that it's available as soon as we ship the game.

WP: Why wasn't this included in the retail version of the game?

HS: It was more because of timing and all the pieces that we could get together and what we wanted to do with it, and discovery and iteration on it.

WP: You recently revealed the Don Control, but there are four other multiplayer modes. Can you briefly describe what they are?

HS: Don Control is a mode that sits on top of all the other modes. The four modes are basically the gameplay rules, so there's Deathmatch, and everybody knows what that is. There's Firestarter, where you set things on fire in the map, and you get points. They're hidden around the map, and each of the two competing teams is playing against each other trying to get the most points in a certain amount of time. Each time you score, your family gets more points.

What is fun about Firestarter and makes it unique is that you get a multiplayer, so once you score a second time and a third time and set certain things on fire — you have to be an arsonist to set certain things on fire — you'll get a multiplier. The next time, you have 2x points for everything you set on fire, and you can get up to a 10x multiplier. As you're running around the game, you're carrying a multiplier if you're scoring a lot. Well, you start to have flames all over you as you run around the game.

What's really cool about that is that everybody instantly recognizes that that guy's got a big multiplier. On your own team — you know how in multiplayer matches, everyone's kind of doing their own thing and it's hard to get them to play together? — now they see that this guy on my team has an 8x multiplier, so I've got to protect him. The other team is going to go after him because they want to stop him for two reasons: They don't want him getting an 8x multiplier, and the multiplier also jumps to whoever kills him. So all of a sudden, you're playing and you think you're going to score your points, you have a 2x multiplier, and you see this guy run right you with flames all over him, you stop what you're doing and you want to take him out so you can get the multiplier for yourself. Usually, when you start going after him, the other team, who already knows he has an 8x multiplier, they've got two guys protecting him. You go over there, and you can take them out. The frenetic nature of the game really changes dynamically as soon as that multiplier bounces around.

One of the other modes is Safecracker, where you take over safes. They can be taken back by the other team. You earn money the whole time you have those in your control, but there's no multiplier.

Then there's Assault mode, where you're trying to control demolitions and you blow up certain areas on the map. As you blow one up, the dynamite in the next one blows up, so you've got to protect yours and try to blow up the ones from the other family.

Basically, the ideas were to try and make maps that really are designed to keep people within reasonable proximity to one another. Playing multiplayer games where the gamers find somebody to play with is a cool idea, but in practice, it's kind of frustrating. Then we tried to design maps. There have been some great maps out there with good ideas. We tried to leverage ideas that look like our world and we felt made for good scoring, good placement, had good symmetry to them so you feel a sense of fair competition no matter where you get spawned in the world. Each team has good advantages.

We also wanted to layer in scoring opportunities for all the different skill sets, so even if you're a Firestarter, you can come in with an Engineer guy and score honors and score points besides just killing guys and taking out the other team, but you can cut open fences, you can capture cameras and use your skills no matter what type of guy you get. That'll affect your honors, and that'll affect your ability to help the team win and also help your scores as you try to upgrade that guy to a higher-level weapon license.

WP: In the single-player mode, you play as Dominic and you have crew members. In multiplayer, you can play as and unlock Dominic's crew members. Can you tell us a little more about that?

HS: When you go in, the specialties that the crew members have, have a big impact all over the map. You want to have those guys, and you want to beef up their specialties. What winds up happening is people tend to play their higher-level guys, and the advantage is that they bring the money back into the single-player game, but more importantly, they can earn honors in multiplayer that'll come back in single-player. As you find the Level 2 and Level 3 weapons as you're playing in single-player game, you can apply them to Dominic right away, but your crew and family members don't get them unless they have a high enough weapon license and you buy the actual weapon for them.

When they come into the game world, they have a certain weapon license, and to increase it, they have to play in multiplayer, so as you take that guy online, it's going to impact how he's going to play. If you get a bunch of honors, he's now going to be able to go up to a higher level weapon, and he's going to be more powerful for you as a single-player AI. In multiplayer, it's going to impact how you play multiplayer again because now you're going to be able to go in there with a Level 2 or Level 3 weapon.

Now, there are guys in the world. There are 70 guys you can recruit, but you can only have seven at a time in your family, so you can find some guys later in the game that have higher-level weapon licenses, but to get to the max, you're still going to have to take them online.

WP: So you have your crew and you have your seven guys, but later on, you find a guy who already has full stats. Your crew is already full, so how do you switch out the guys?

HS: You kill off one of the guys. Just like you do in the world of the mob, you terminate them, so you basically go into Don Control and mark that guy for death. Now he's killable by you and your crew members. You kill him, he's gone, and a spot opens up in your crew.

WP: A big part of The Godfather II is racketeering. You take over someone else's business, you take their money, and that's how you launder your money through a legitimate business. Can you tell us how a racket works out, and what do you have to do to protect it?

HS: There are two levels of buildings that you can take over: rackets and fronts. A front is a small business that you take over from somebody else. They all have protection going on. One family's protecting them or another. If you want to take protection, you want to beat that other family, go to that owner and say, "You're going to pay me protection money now." A front allows you to launder all the money that you're making in the rest of the game. For every front, you make the money from that guy's protection, but he also adds a 5 percent bonus to all the other money you're making in the game. With each front, you get 5 percent more, affecting all the other money you're making in the game.

The rackets are organized into crime rings, so there are a dozen different types of rackets — there are actually nine different rackets — and each one of them is made up into a crime ring, and anywhere from two to four rackets make up a crime ring. When you take over a crime ring, you get a game benefit or a game bonus that is essentially like owning that monopoly. Some of them are action-oriented, like the bullet proof vest, incendiary rounds, carrying more ammo, and brass knuckles. Some are strategically oriented, like when you own a drug-smuggling racket, you get double income from every one of the rackets in that crime ring when you own the entire crime ring. They're only given to you when you actually own the whole crime ring, all four of them together or however many are in there. That means they have to be guarded that whole time because as soon as you own them, the other families are playing the game.

In other games, those families are sitting on their territory, they start out on the map, and you take the map from them over time. This time, they're playing a strategy game. They see your moves and they make counter-moves, but they also make moves against the other families. Sometimes, when you're playing the game, they won't make a lot of moves against you for a while and all of a sudden, there will be a few things. Or sometimes, we'll be effectively going against the other families more. It just depends on what strategy they started out with when they're playing the game and then what moves you or different family members make will change the map in front of them. Then they say, "OK, we're going to send our guys over here and try to take over this crime ring," because they'll try to take over different crime rings as they play as well.

To protect your rackets, you pay guys who are associates but aren't part of your seven crew members. When you take over a racket, you can pay money to 10 guys to guard. Some places can take up to 30 guys to guard, so it depends on the size of the place. So you put 10 guys there, you go off and do something else in the game. You'll get a message eventually if it gets attacked. You decide what you're going to do. You can go over there yourself and whoever's with you. So you have your family, which is seven guys, anytime in the game, you can have up to 30 guys with you. We call that your crew. Crew guys are the ones you can direct second to second. If you get attacked, you can go back to the Don's View, see the building that's being attacked, go to your family tree, send over two guys to defend the location and go back to your business. Or you can send two guys and drive over there with the three guys you have with you, and now you have five guys showing up. Kick those guys' asses, save your place, and go back to your business.

WP: Say you left 10 guys guarding a location. These two guys that you're sending over, do they have a morale or weapon boost over the 10 guys? How much of an impact can two guys make?

HS: It depends. The guys that you send are from your family. The impact won't affect the guards who are currently there, but the RPG attributes that you spent on them, the skill sets that they have, and the weapons that you give to them, those will all affect them when they're playing for you.

WP: You mentioned money and honors. How do you go about getting more honors?

HS: In the single-player game, it's all about money, cash. The honors you get are for scoring in multiplayer, so each member that's in your family has a particular weapon license. There are four levels of weapon licenses. Most of them have the basic weapon license, which means they can carry a Level 1 weapon, which is easy to find in the world.

When you're playing the game, instead of going out and buying Level 2 weapons, you find them as you're playing the game. As soon as you find them, your player, Dominic, can use them so you can play with them in the action game. To equip them to the guys in your family, to buy them for the guys in your family, they can only carry one weapon at a time, you've got to pay for it, but they also have to have a weapon license that lets them carry a Level 2 or Level 3 weapon. If they only have the basic Level 1 weapon license, in order to carry a Level 2 weapon, you have to take them online and score for yourself.

If you're a medic, you can heal a guy. You can also kill a guy. All the ways you can score in the multiplayer match, depending on which match you play, they all count toward your honors, so honors are basically the second economy we have that's multiplayer-related and it affects the weapon level of your guys. It just allows them to carry that next level of weapon.

WP: If you're not a multiplayer fan, how do you go about getting honors?

HS: So I said that there are seven in your family, but there are 70 guys in the world. You can find somebody else who's already got higher honors. So you have two ways to accomplish that.

WP: You mentioned the different maps. How many multiplayer maps are there, and are single-player locations simply adapted for multiplayer, or are they exclusive to multiplayer?

HS: There are six maps, and we tried to make it so that two are the biggest, two are medium, and two are smaller so that you can set them up appropriately. When you're playing on the biggest map but are only four guys, the really big space is too huge to play in, and you can take 16 guys and play on the smaller maps, and it's just frenetic as hell because there's no escape, but it's fun. If you think that might be too much, I'll tell you, half the time, they come back over and over again because your skills really start to show off how fast you can make moves and make decisions.

We built the maps based on the game world, took them and then re-laid them out and redesigned them. Some of them are of a warehouse location, and some of it feels pretty similar to the world, but then we put the multiplayer team on it and told them to do whatever they wanted. They picked spots by saying, "Hmm, what feels like it could be a map that we could then take the assets, rearrange them and organize them to give us the best mode?" They're familiar but they're completely different. They're designed to be good multiplayer maps.

WP: The game ships with six maps, and the Don Control mode will be downloadable on day one. Are there any plans for downloadable content in the future? If so, will there be extra characters, weapons, or … ?

HS: We've got some plans, but we'll talk about that in a couple of weeks. I'm not going to go into details yet.

WP: Along the same lines, open-world games are usually difficult to make demos for because it's tough to confine. Is there going to be a demo?

HS: Currently, we're not planning on doing one. There are two layers of difficulty. One is that we want the player to understand an open-world game but we're going to give them a tiny little corner of it. They'll constantly run up against the edge of the demo, and it doesn't feel like an open-world game. The other problem is that there are a lot of mechanics inside the game, and ours has action mechanics and then this whole other layer of being a don and organizing your family. If you play the single-player game, it takes you a while to understand all the facets of the game working well together, and frankly, demoing the game, you want people to understand the experiences you're going to do in the best light. It requires so much for you to demo it well that it's hard to make it into a nice little downloadable piece.

WP: A big part of the game is action and combat, and on top of that, there's the Don's View, which provides an extra layer of strategy. Can you talk about what kind of strategy comes into play?

HS: The focus of the game is the Corleones are playing this game of crime against these five other families. The end state is kind of simple. There are a bunch of organized crime rings on the map, a bunch of fronts, I have to own them all, and I have to defeat all of the other families. Every time Michael was taking over, how did he do it? He'd knock out the other families so he could put the Corleones on top. Every time they'd get into these wars, he'd wipe the slate clean, make sure everyone knows that they're on top, because that's what your goal is when you're playing the game.

The Don's View allows you to look at that layer, and you get to see where the organized crime rings are, where the rackets are, and the types. When you own a ring, what the gameplay bonus is that you get from that, like armored cars or bulletproof vests, depending on which ones you own. If you own all three of the diamond smuggling rackets, you get bulletproof vests that your guys can wear. The second that you actually capture that third one and as soon as you break the guy and you now own that third location, instantly, all of your guys in the world, a bulletproof vest shows up on them. It shows up on you, it shows up on your crew, and all your guards that are at all your locations? They all get bulletproof vests.

Now, the other families are aware of that. "I'm in the middle of a fight, I'm about to kick the Corleones' butt, and all of a sudden, these guys got bulletproof vests!" So as they're playing, they want to get that away from you, so they can go and try to take one back, but you've put a lot of guards there. They can send somebody to bomb it, but if they do, for the period of time that the building is burning and getting rebuilt, all three buildings aren't intact, so you no longer have that advantage.

So that's the kind of information that you're constantly aware of as a don — what the other families are doing, what are we trying to do next, where are the guys in my family, and the Don's View gives you the opportunity to really be inside the don's head. That was really our goal. When you're playing open-world games, you're constantly moving between your action space to your map all the time, trying to orient yourself, so even with the ones that have some sort of GPS now, you still need to have that big view. So we're just leveraging that as a system that people are already doing, put a layer on top, and try to make it not too complex and give you just the right amount of things to do without being overwhelming, but it does take a little bit of time to understand how to do each one of those.

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