Mafia II Interview

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posted 7/20/2010 by Tina Amini
other articles by Tina Amini
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While at the Mafia II event I got the chance to talk with Jack Scalici, the Director of Creative Production on the game who helped manage the writing, casting, and voice over for the game. 





Why did you pick this era for the game? Did the potential for Mafia III work its way into the decision?

Maybe. Mafia I ended in the 30s. So we said, "What's the logical progression?" Why skip over the 40s and 50s? That was amazing. The FBI was still ignoring organized crime back then. J. Edgar Hoover was like, "Doesn't exist! It's a figment of your imagination. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

There were no cellphones, Internet, no communication. It was a completely different world. If you had a telephone in the 40s, you were like, "Ooh look at this guy!" To skip over the birth of rock 'n roll would have been a major mistake. We really wanted two eras that felt very different from one another. The WWII era of the 1940s and 1950s? That was it. We further enhanced that. We chose to set the 40s levels in the winter time because colors are more muted, and things are quieter with the snow on the ground. It's a little more depressing. Then when you get into the 50s it's bright colors, sports car, rock 'n roll, summer time, sexy girls, yes! That's why we chose the 40s and 50s.


What kind of design challenges do you face with having an open world game set in the 1950s?

One of the things that make it cool that there are no cellphones, is that it makes it hard that there are no cellphones. Whenever you need to be able to talk to someone Vito has to be near a telephone, you have to force him to pick up that telephone, or it has to be in a cutscene. Or the other character has to already be in the car. It wasn't just that you are driving, and you get a phone call, "Oh my god! Get back here, quick!" That can't happen.

We didn’t have all the luxuries we take for granted in telling stories that take place after the 90s when cell phones were everywhere. Every game you play, the main character goes [puts fake cellphone to ear], and hears a magic voice that tells them what to do. Vito can't do that. He has to know what he's doing at all times. We have to remind him with other players in the world telling him what to do. Or, if we absolutely need to, on-screen text: "Jackass, you're supposed to go that way!" We can't have Cortana come in, "Chief!" It doesn't work.

What kind of research was done to ensure authenticity of the vehicles, music, etc?

Vehicles: the Czech guys got super geeky with. They actually found the physics and got the schematics for all the cars from back in the day. They have a system where they enter in the data, and the cars behave realistically like they would from back then. It was to the point where it was so geeky that we were like, "Oh my god, they have to stop." We needed it to be fun.

There are two different driving modes. There's simulation, and what we call normal. Normal is more arcadey. They'll still behave like the cars behaved back then, but they'll be a lot more - for lack of a better word - fun to drive. If you're really into the simulation of driving a car from that era, you could put it in simulation mode and it's incredible.

Music: I handle all the music licensing for 2K. When this massive script came across my desk, I was just like, "Holy sh*t this is going to be huge." So I called all over musical licensing departments. I told them, "Send me everything you have before Phil Spector.” The girl groups were the defining sounds of the 60s, then Phil Spector started working with the Beatles. So I said, "Everything before Phil Spector, and the girl groups, and the British invasion. Send me everything you have before that in your entire catalog."


We narrowed it down to 1500 tracks, and then Denby Grace (the game's producer) and I sat there (more me than Denby) for literally years when we were working on this together, just listening to these songs over and over and over again. If it got annoying, we cut it. And I ended up with about 300 that weren't annoying that you could listen to forever and ever, and you won't get sick of it because in the game you have the chance to hear a song more than once.

Personally, I hated it in a game when I'm hearing the same damn song over and over. I won't mention any names, but it has really taken away from the experience in a lot of games. So for this, we had the budget, we had the disc space, we had all this stuff that we were able to do it. We looked at it and said, "Now let's categorize each one of these songs." What mood, what kind of feel, what does it invoke? If it had one word that could describe the song, what is it? And when we had the script written we said, "The mood or the tone of the scene is x. Let's find a song that matches x. Let's plug it in here." We ended up with about 120 something.
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