Mafia II Roundtable Interview

Mafia II Roundtable Interview

Written by Tina Amini on 8/23/2010 for 360   PC   PS3  
More On: Mafia 2
It has been eight years since the original Mafia title, Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, was released. Now, under the guidance of 2K Czech, Mafia II will feature Vito Scaletta's rise in one of the prominent crime families of Empire Bay during the 1940s and progressing into the 1950s. Although we scoped out the game at a preview event in San Francisco, and had the pleasure of interviewing Jack Scalici one-on-one for some unanswered questions, we sit back down with the Director of Creative Production at 2K Games and our fellow game journalists to learn more about Mafia II and the process of its development (as well as getting a few fun questions answered). Read on for the interview, but first: an introduction to the game from Jack Scalici.

The game is called Mafia II. It's coming out on August 24th of this year for the PS3, 360 and PC. It tells the story of a young man named Vito Scaletta and his best friend, Joe Barbaro and their rise and fall in the Mafia in the 1940s and 1950s.

Almost eight years have passed since the original Mafia title was released. Why did it take so long for the sequel to come to fruition?
You guys have all seen the way the game looks and the way it runs; how smooth it is. Right from the get-go we said we want to develop it to look and run like that on all three major platforms that could support a game with graphics and features like this.

At the time, there was no engine out there that could do that, so 2k Czech chose to develop their own game engine. That is neither cheap, nor quick to do. That was what took most of the time for the last eight years. Of course, games this big don't come together overnight, so we did need a couple of years to put the rest of the game together after the engine and the dev tools were built.

What are some of the major improvements the devs have made to Mafia II over the first game?

First and foremost you see the graphics. Mafia I looked great. It looked amazing at the time. It still holds up to this day, which I think is a major achievement. But Mafia II had to look better in every way, and it certainly does.

One thing we chose to keep from the first game was the major focus on story and atmosphere. I really wouldn't call that an improvement, but it’s something that I think Mafia I did better than any other game of its time—and of all time, actually. It’s something we chose to bring over from the first one.

Mafia II draws from an era of Americana that's part and parcel of the American experience. Since the game was designed and created by 2K Czech, were there any challenges about obtaining authenticity of that era, whether it be in the script, the game’s visuals or anything else? If so, how were those overcome?

A lot of it was my job. The artists flew over to New York, Chicago, San Francisco; they took photographs, did a lot of research. That's something where you don't really need to be from the culture to understand. Like fashion and advertising and things like that. As far as the dialog and the characters and etc. go: the original writer, Daniel Vávra, and I both worked really hard together to Americanize or “Hollywoodize” the script that he had written. So a lot of that really fell to me. 

What were some of the most challenging obstacles the dev team encountered during development?

The biggest obstacle—as I said earlier—was probably the game engine; developing this tech that not only had to work on PC but had to work on the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360.

Some people don't know this, but because it was 2002, it started out being developed for the PS2 and the Xbox and PCs from 2002. Once the next console generation hit, the game engine had to be fitted to those consoles with all the new capabilities that they brought to the table. So no longer were you confined to certain memory restrictions. Now, all of a sudden, we have these game consoles of today, which are technologically light years ahead of what the PS2 and the original Xbox could do. So that was probably the biggest challenge.

Do you foresee the Mafia franchise progressing into even more recent time periods?

Of course. I mean, the mafia is something that has existed for hundreds of years. It’s something that's going to exist. It’s become a general term for organized crime; it doesn't have to be the Italian Mafia. We've all heard of the Russian Mafia or the Yakuza, the Japanese Mafia. It could go anywhere and do anything, really.
Were there any features of Mafia II that didn't make the cut that you wish had—any that might be added back in later?
There are a couple of features. I wish we had gotten a melee combat and weapons working. We have a great melee system in the game, but melee weapons aren't something that the Mafia is really known for. They are more about guns.

At one time we were playing around with things like baseball bats and pool cues and things like that—and destructible environments, and being able to break things in the environment and then having those things become weapons. Like hitting a guy with a chair, then the chair breaks and you can beat him with a chair.

Things like that I wish that we had gotten up to the same level of quality as the rest of the game. The reason that we didn't include them is because they were not up to the level of quality as the driving, the shooting, and the melee combat that we have in the game that is shipping.

The original Mafia had a screenplay of 400 pages. This time around you're boasting nearly double that with 700 pages and over two hours of in-game cut scenes all done with the game's Illusion engine. What challenges did you face trying to cram this much storytelling into one game while maintaining player interest long enough to finish it?

The script started out around 500 this time when I got it. We got it up to almost 800 at one point, actually. We noticed that the story was good, but games are all about gameplay. If the gameplay isn't there, and if the pacing doesn't work, then not as many people are going to get to experience this wonderful story that we've written.

The major changes that we did between the original design on paper, being the script, and the game that you're going to play on August 24th, was with the pacing. If we had five minutes of story to tell and it was originally designed as a five minute cut scene, wherever that cut scene took place in the world, odds are you had to drive for 60 seconds to three minutes to get there. We wanted to take some of that five minutes of information conveyed in that cut scene and put it during the drive. So if you drove to that cut scene with another character in the car, you could talk to give a little bit of exposition and do some storytelling there before you get to the cut scene, thereby having a shorter cut scene. That's a lot of what we did. We said, "All right. Let's not have a two minute drive to a five minute cut scene. Let's have a two minute drive to a three minute cut scene and still convey the same five minutes of information."

How destructive will the environments be, and will you be able to damage through cover?

The environments aren't completely, 100% destructible in that you can't knock down whole buildings. This is a mafia game, so you are using weapons, mostly projectile weapons with bullets that aren't going to knock down a whole building. I know there's one video in this one part of the game where you do have to destroy a building, and it is scripted to fall apart. But that's really the only case like that. 

You've probably seen some videos, and you've seen in the demo that was released on August 10th that the cover you hide behind is partially destructible or completely destructible. If you're hiding behind a concrete column and a guy's shooting that with a shotgun or a Tommy gun, that will chip away. If you're hiding behind a wooden table, for example, that will take a couple of bullets and then it'll just disintegrate.

You can shoot through certain cover. Certain guns can shoot through wood. There is no rail gun. You're not going to be shooting through entire buildings, etc.

What's the coolest, most unexpected thing you've seen someone pull off in the game?
I've been playing the game for years, as you probably know. Every time I play it, something new happens. I don't know about coolest, but something weird happened the other day. We were demoing the game and the cop started chasing us. 

I didn't feel like bribing the cop or running from him, so I started to fight the cop. The cops end up chasing me all across the city. Then, I decided to car jack someone, and the guy had his wife in the car. So I pulled the guy out, got into his car, and then his wife got out of the car. The cops flew into me, knocked the door down, killed his wife and then fell off a bridge. Little crazy, emerging things like that always happen in the game world.

The first Mafia was much better received on PC than Xbox. How did that affect your approach going into making a game that has to be successful on consoles?

We saw the growth of the console market. I actually was one of the consumers who was a little bit disappointed having played the PC version of Mafia, and then I played the Xbox version of Mafia and I saw the magic on the PC version. Some of it just wasn't there on the Xbox version.

I never touched the PS2 version, but I heard that that one wasn't quite up to par compared to the PC version. Tight from the very start we said, and again going back to game engine, we said, "We need this game to look great and run great and support the entire feature set across the major consoles and PC." Once again, this is why it took eight years.
What was the most fun you had recreating this era of time?
The most fun I personally had was the music. I handle all the music licensing for 2K. When I saw this script a couple of years ago, I saw how much music we had the opportunity to put in this game. I called up all the record labels and I said, "Send me everything you have that came out before the Phil Spector sound, the Wall of Sound sound, the defining sound of the 60s." That was 1961, 62. I said, "Send everything you have before that and we'll take it into consideration."

We ended up with a couple thousand tracks. Over the course of probably three years, I listened to nothing but those thousands and thousands of tracks from the 50s and 40s, and some from the 30s. We ended up with 122 total that went into the game. These were the 122 best, and also the 122 that didn't annoy me after listening to them for three straight years.

The original Mafia game was released to rave reviews, but that was eight years ago. What have you done to evolve the series to attract a new crowd of gamers while making sure any original Mafia players can purchase without worry?
Well, as I said earlier, we did carry over the story and the atmosphere. Those were universally acclaimed, and those were the elements from the first game that everyone considers to be best of breed in Mafia with the story, what was in the story, the storytelling and the atmosphere.

Fans of Mafia I: you'll still get a very unique feel when you play Mafia II. It'll obviously be different because it takes place in a different era, but they don't have anything to worry about.

For people who are completely new to Mafia, gameplay in general as far as all games go has evolved so much in the last eight years. Think about how many amazing games have come out since 2002. We really updated the gameplay. So if you weren't a fan of the slower moving cars in Mafia I, which fit perfectly in that era, a lot of the cars in Mafia II are much faster, and cooler. Basically, it's sex, drugs and rock and roll compared to the 1920s and 1930s, where the first game took place in.

What kind of research and design was done to capture the look, feel and sound of the '40s and '50s America?
The Internet is a huge source of information as far as classic cars go. There are books on this subject. There are books on the fashions and advertising in the '40s and '50s. These are places we really looked to. Music was forever, so music wasn't too hard. I guess that's all I can really say about that one.

How hard is it to be historically accurate while making a game that is set decades in the past? Were there any aspects of this historical period that were especially difficult to replicate?

Not really. Everything was pretty simple to replicate, but we had to work within certain constraints. In just about every game I can think of that was set within the last 30-40 years, you have radio communication. So, whenever you need to, you can just have the player put his hand up to his ear and his magic communicator turns on, and some voice tells him what to do. As a game designer, that's the easiest, cheapest and best thing to be able to do. Kind of like in Halo, Kortana just talked to Chief whenever he needs to get his next objective. 

We didn't have that luxury. In the 1940s and the early to mid 1950s, that didn't exist. There were no things like cell phones. That gets lumped in there, too, so it was really difficult. We had to make sure that the player understood what he needed to do, and once he was in the car, that's it. We couldn't really have him veer off that path.

We were inspired by history, but we weren't slaves to it. If being historically accurate meant that gameplay was going to suffer, then we bent history a little bit. For example, the GPS. You can't have a city that's ten square miles, which is the size of what Empire Bay is, without having some kind of GPS navigation because it just doesn't work. Obviously, the GPS didn't exist in the '50s. It's just something that we put in the game just to make it work for everybody.
For people who are new to the franchise, is it important to play the first Mafia before playing Mafia II?
No, not at all. For people who don't know, just about everybody died or went to jail at the end of Mafia I. It didn't leave us too many avenues to carry over that story, or to make Mafia 1.5. It is a completely new story with similar, yet much evolved gameplay. You don't really need to play Mafia I in order to play Mafia II.

The PhysX engine looks quite impressive in the game. Can we expect cover areas to also be affected? For example, a table that's already knocked down for cover is not a permanent camping ground, but can quickly be torn to bits?

The cover is usually destructible, depending on what you're hiding behind. Partially destructible things include things that are made out of concrete. It'll chip away. It won't get completely destroyed by lead bullets, but it will chip away. If there's an overturned wooden table, that table is going to take one or two shotgun blasts, and that's it. A tommy gun will tear it to pieces.

Can we get a rough estimation of how long it will take to complete the main game and side missions?

Most playthroughs I've seen take between 13 and 20 hours. It depends on what you want to do. If you want to rush through it, you can probably get through it in 13, a little less. Average, I'd say, is between 15 and 20.

How linear is the actual game? Will there be multiple endings based upon how you progress through the game?

The game is actually very linear. Much in the way that a movie is very linear. At one point in the design, we did have a couple of choices in the game that led to different endings, but the closer we got to finishing we said, "These choices aren't as meaningful as we'd like them to be." While the endings were all different, and it's cool to get different endings, they weren't all quite as satisfying as we would have liked them to be.

There was one ending that we thought, "This one has the greatest impact on the player. Everyone who gets this ending has been affected in a different way, and it's profound, so let's just direct them towards this ending." So the choices went away, and we steered everyone to - like most games have - one ending.

In what ways are we going to see the city change over time?

Things that will change are the things that we mentioned earlier, like the cars. In the 1940s the cars are these boxy people-movers that were painted in dull colors that were available back then. In the 1950s, all these factories that were busy making airplanes for the war were now making cars again. That's why you couldn't buy a car in the 1940s, because everyone was busy making planes and tanks. When the 1950s roll around, the cars looked like rocket ships, and it was super-bright red and yellow and blue paint schemes. The cars really, really evolve.

Then there’s the music. Obviously in the 1940s there was no rock and roll. 1950s roll around, and you have the birth of rock and roll. You have artists like Chuck Berry and Little Richard, Buddy Holly. You're going to experience the birth of rock and roll in the game. The radio is no longer dominated by World War II news reports, as it was in the 1940s.

In the 1950s, you're going to hear a lot of advertising for products. There's a lot of commercialism. The economy in the 1950s exploded after World War II was over. You're not going to see as many propaganda posters. You don't see any propaganda posters, actually, in the 1950s. That’s really all you see in the 1940s: ads urging young men to sign up for the Selective Service, for the Army, Navy, Air Force, etc. Women's fashions tend to change a lot. Men's fashion haven’t changed too much, given that guys have been wearing suits for like 100 years, but women's fashions tend to change every six months or every couple of years. Women's fashions and hairstyles will change.

Could you describe the save mechanic used? I've heard that it's old-school, where if you die the level is restarted instead of using a more modernized checkpoint system.

No, no. You don't start at the beginning of the level, unless you don't get to the first checkpoint. The checkpoints are not placed every 10 minutes, so it's not like you're just going to die and start where you were two seconds ago. You'll start off, and then once you get to the first checkpoint, if you die, you'll start at the checkpoint. So we do have a modern checkpoint system in the game. 

There has been some talk about the destruction in the gameplay, i.e. vehicles and buildings. Can, or will there be consequences of the destruction? Will the vehicle not function? Make maneuverability hard, etc.? In other words, how much of the destruction actually affects the storyline?

Well, that's not really storyline. I'd say that's gameplay. So the destruction of anything doesn't really affect the story or storyline at all. The cops can shoot out your tire, it'll go flat, and eventually if you keep driving on it it'll fall off. You'll be driving on a rim. That will obviously affect your ability to go fast, and to corner, so the cops can then easily overtake you and start shooting at you, if it's a shoot-to-kill situation.

Depending on the vehicle, it can take damage. The engine can also get damaged, and then the car's performance will suffer. You won't be able to go as fast. So, vehicle destruction is something that's very important.
Are there any side missions that can be repeated after the completion of the main storyline? Can the players continue playing in the open world after the end mission, or will users have to restart the last checkpoint to explore the world again?
There is no free-roam, free-ride mode or anything like that in the game. You can free-roam, or you can do side missions (whatever you'd like to call them) during most of the main story. You're not really timed to get anywhere. Except, at the end of the demo, Henry is bleeding to death in the back seat. So obviously in the main game the continuation of that is: you need to get Henry to a doctor before he dies. You can't free-roam with bleeding friends in the car. But you can free-roam whenever you want during the main game.

After the game's over, the game's over. That's it. But for PS3, we have that free, day-one DLC "The Betrayal of Jimmy." That is more of an arcade-style free-roaming experience. It's still story-based, but the major objectives Jimmy has to complete don't take an hour like Vito's objectives take. They take 5 to 10 minutes. So the free DLC, and the DLC that's available for everyone called "Jimmy's Vendetta," are far more free-roam-based.

Can you give us a little insight into the melee combat in the game? Is it the combat of last resort, or do you want to try and get your character into a melee situation?

It's designed to be easy to understand, and rewarding when you can actually pull off the different finishing moves. It's almost like boxing, in a way. Vito's not a kung-fu master, or anything like that. He can defend himself, but it's mostly with his fists.

The finishing moves are what are my personal favorite. They're context-sensitive. So if you were near a car, and the guy's facing the right way, Vito will take his head and smash it into the car. If you're not near a car, instead they'll take the guy's head and ram it into his knee. So the finishers are my personal favorite part of that.

Several games of this sort leave the window open for the player to go nuts and create as much carnage as they want, however there are some that discourage this kind of behavior. Where does Mafia II stand?
We'll let you do it to a point, but we do discourage it. The police in Mafia II are nowhere near as aggressive as they were in Mafia I, but they still are a presence. When you start behaving badly, depending on what you've done, the cops will respond in different ways. If it's just a fistfight, you'll have to pay a small fine, or you can resist arrest. If you run someone over and keep driving, they will use their guns to stop you. If you kill a cop, you're basically dead. They call in "officer down" and then you're basically labeled a cop-killer, and every cop in the city will stop at nothing to kill you.

It's realistic, and you can fight the cops. The cops aren't super-men. They're not wearing body armor or anything like that. They didn't have that back then. So if you're very well-equipped, weapon-wise, and you're ready to take on the cops, you can try it, but you'll probably die, eventually.

How vast is the explorable area compared to the original Mafia?

Empire Bay, as opposed to Lost Heaven? Empire Bay is twice the size, roughly, so it's 10 square miles of fully-explorable real estate.

Mafia II is said to be boasting real-time cut scenes. What benefits are there to code real-time cut scenes versus pre-rendered?

Technically it's a little bit of a disc-space issue. You don't have to have this pre-rendered video living on the disc anywhere. You're using the same or similar assets in every scene. We provide a lot of customization for what Vito can wear, so we have all this clothing in the game, and depending on what you choose to wear, Vito is wearing that in the cut scenes. It's a deeper level of customization in the game with real-time cut scenes.
Will hijacking every car in Mafia II require the lock-picking mini-game?
Hijacking, to me, usually means that there's someone in the car already. So when there's someone in the car, and if it's going slow enough, or if it's just stopped, you can pull open the door with the "open door" button. You'll throw the guy out, or you'll help the lady out of the car, depending on who's driving it. If you want to break into a stationary vehicle with no one in it, you can break the window with the action button, or you can pick the lock if you don't want to damage the vehicle.

Will wearing different clothes have an effect on missions, i.e. make you easier or harder to be spotted by the police?
No, not really. This isn't a game where you can wear a giant purple pimp hat or a crazy bright red suit. You do have to dress like a mobster would dress. So there's nothing that Vito can wear that's really extravagant, loud or anything like that.

Will there be more sneaking missions like the sewer mission?
Yes. But I won't go into exactly what that is.

What kind of weapons can we expect? Anything that we might be familiar with?

Well, if you're familiar with World War II shooters, you'll see a lot of World War II era weapons in there like the M1 Garand, the 1911 semi-automatic pistol. I think there are around 20 weapons altogether: grenades, molotov cocktails, shotguns, the Tommy gun - of course, you can't make an old-school mafia game without the Tommy gun - the M3 Grease gun. It's a nice mix of American and exotic weaponry from the era.

What would you say immediately makes your game stand out from other open world, sandbox type games?

I think it's our focus on the story and storytelling, and the linearity of it. These are all things we did on purpose. We wanted it to really feel like a cinematic experience.

In a similar respect, there's no other game out there that has this level of driving, shooter combat, and melee combat wrapped up in a city that takes place in this set that's ten square miles. It really just evokes this era of this world that no longer exists. There's really nothing else out there like it to me.

The story in Mafia was epic, taking the protagonist from a taxi driver, to made man, to police informant, to an old man. Is Mafia II going to be just as epic a story, and what films and events influenced the story in Mafia II?

I don't know what films and events really did that. The version of the story was originally written by Daniel Vávra, the guy that wrote the first game. So it is just as epic.

The only reason you know that Mafia I took Tommy to where he was an old man is because you would have seen the ending. I'm not going to give away the ending to Mafia II. But it is just as epic.

And, honestly, I can't answer what films or events influenced the story. I know that Daniel is a history buff so I wouldn't be surprised if it was influenced by historical characters.

How difficult is it to create a new gangster story without falling into mafia cliches that have been done time and time again?

The reason that the Mafia stuff is maybe considered cliche and is done time and time again is because the mafia is very much like a military organization. You have to behave one way and only one way. You have to do certain things and only certain things or they kill you.

It's not like you can just have a guy who's a mobster/something else. You have to be a mobster and you have to act like a wise guy if you're a wise guy. There are rules to this organization. Like I said, it's like the military but, obviously, different uniforms.
How will the back story of Vito being a World War II vet influence Mafia II?
Vito is an ex-soldier at the start of the game. He's seen the hell and the horror of war in World War II. You guys have seen this probably in the August 2007 trailer that we debuted at Leipzig. He's asked by a high ranking member of one of the Mafia families in the game more or less: "Can you kill?" And Vito's response to this is, "I was in the war, asshole. Of course, I can kill." So he's saying, "Look. All this little mafia stuff that you guys are doing back here is great and I'd love to be a part of it. But it's nothing compared to what I went through overseas in the war."

Vito isn't one of those guys who sits there and tells war stories with his buddies. He did see some crazy things in the war. That's what makes him able to stomach this stuff. He's not just a nice little guy off the streets. He's like, "Yeah. Sure. Give me a gun. I can kill that guy." He's someone who has had to do this before.

Will we see any references or cameos to Mafia II?

There will be some stuff. I've said in the past, there will be some stuff in there for fans of Mafia I. But I won't say exactly what it is. I don't want to ruin the surprise.

How did the association with Playboy come about? Did the team approach Playboy with the idea of including playmates from the time period or vice versa?

Playboy was one of those things that we'd always planned to advertise in because it kind of embodies what we call the good life; what the mobsters would inspire to become. A well dressed guy with pretty girls and fast cars. Playboy to us always embodied what it was to be a gangster, and when it came time to find collectibles to put in the game we felt like, “What are we going to hide all over the world to uncover exploration?”

That's what you do when you have a game world that is literally 10 square miles in size. You have to hide these things all over the world, and encourage people to explore, pick them up, and maybe go a little off the beaten path. So we said, "Is it going to be booze, brass knuckles, something like that?" Those are really cheesy. We had a phony gentleman's magazine that we created for the game and we said, "Wouldn't it be cool if this was Playboy?" One of the guys in the department already had a relationship with someone at Playboy, so we just made a phone call and they went for it.
(For people who don't know, the 50s is when the Playboy magazine first came out, so it was also timed with that.)

Can you talk a little bit about what people see with the magazines?

We have 50 original Playboy covers from the 50s and 60s centerfolds.

We get to collect mini issues of Playboy, but how much of the magazine is viewable outside of the cover? What if I want to read the articles?

I enjoy the articles as well, but, no, the articles did not make the cut. It must have been a space issue.

We know that you have a variety of vintage cars in Mafia II. What are your favorites?

One of my personal favorites is the Ascot Bailey. It's one of the convertibles you have probably seen. Another one is a special car that's in the game. The jeep that is available is also really cool. It's obviously not quite as fast, but those are probably my three favorites.

We have seen the cars in the game, but what other sorts of conveyances will there be? Street cars, boats, airplanes?

There are no street cars. It is based on New York City, they don't have street cars. There are taxis, but you can't take a taxi because wise guys don't take taxis. They drive their own luxury cars everywhere, so we don't allow Vito to take public transportation for that reason.

You cannot fly a plane. There weren't too many non-military airplanes flying around back then. There was really no place to go on a boat, so we didn't do boats this time either.

In the E3 demo, the car physics felt sluggish in response. Was the design of the game aiming toward realism of the era instead of fast maneuvers?

I would say to this person that you obviously didn't drive all the cars in the E3 demo. Every car feels different. There are around 50 different car models in the game. We have ones that do feel large and sluggish, but we also have ones that feel like race cars.

If you're driving a big boat of a car, it's going to feel like a big boat of a car. But if you're driving a two seat convertible with a big engine in it, it's going to feel and respond like a race car. The guys got really geeky with the car physics, but that's why we created the normal driving mode, which is a little bit closer to an arcade style driving mode.

For the people who want to, we have a simulation mode in the game where the cars will behave realistically. The big boats will behave even more like big boats, and the race cars will behave even more like race cars.
There is a big call to add multiplayer to a title to try and keep it in player's hands longer, yet Mafia II sticks with the solid, singleplayer experience. Was it difficult to stick with this philosophy, or was there serious debate over adding a multiplayer component?
One of the cool things about working at 2K is that we are never really forced to anything. Just because we are supposed to check that box that says multiplayer in order for it to be successful, doesn't mean we have to do it. 

It was just like with the original Bioshock. We didn't find a way to do multiplayer that made sense, so we didn't do it at the time. Same thing with Mafia: we couldn't really think up a way where multiplayer would be at the same level of quality as the singleplayer experience, so we chose not to do it. It didn't make any sense at all to take our 200 character models in the game and just throw them into a big shoot out somehow. When we can figure out how to do it in a way that makes sense, we'll do it.

Was it hard to cast Italian sounding voice actors or was anybody with a decent Rocky accent allowed to audition?

This is one where I cast the net really wide. I deal with most of the casting and voice direction for 2K's titles. This is actually the reason I got involved in this project from the get-go was because we obviously needed actors who could pull off a certain accent that's really, really difficult to do if you didn't grow up around here like I did.

Anyone was allowed to audition. I went through hundreds, if not thousands of auditions. Some of them were really, really bad, but a lot of them were good. It wasn't too hard to cast.

I'm assuming that you mean by Italian sounding that you mean people with a New York kind of Brooklyn accent, because there aren't really too many Italian or Sicilian characters in the game. It was just trying to find the guys with the right voice. You need the right voice, you need the acting ability, and then you need to be able to do the accent. This is a game based on a very specific ethnic group in a very small part of the world. But what's cool is they all know each other. They're all up for the same roles in the same movies all the time. So you find one, you find them all.

Can you talk a little bit about how you shot it, how the voice acting wasn't just a single actor at a time?

I'm very critical of voice performances in a game because it pulls you out of the whole experience if you're not convinced by the actors. What a lot of games do is they record one actor at a time in the voice-over booth, which is the easiest to do from a scheduling and production standpoint. But it doesn't always yield believable conversations. In other words, if two game characters have to talk to each other and they're not in the same room at the same time, then it usually doesn't work.

What we did with Mafia is I rented out an ADR stage, which is a big sound stage that they use when they re-record dialogue for major films. I brought in between four and six actors at a time. Whoever had dialogue with other characters, I brought in the actors for those characters. So the actors were all able to play off of one another. It really yielded much more believable performances. We do this for all our games.

Are there any famous voice actors in Mafia II?

There are people whose voices you might have heard before. There are some people whose faces you might recognize. But as far as the main characters go, no not really.

The biggest name is probably Bobby Costanza, who plays Joe. He's one of those guys that if you know him, you know him. But he's not a leading man. He hasn't been a major star where everyone is going to hear his voice and say, "Oh, that's Bobby Costanza." For me, when a famous actor’s voice is heard voicing a human character in a video game, I immediately am sucked out of the whole world they're trying to immerse me in because I'm hearing a voice of a man I know and not of a character that I've just met.

Did you try to get De Niro to do a voice?

No. I've worked with celebrity talent before. The best way to do it is to get your game done because the celebrity is not going to come in every time you change a scene or every time the design changes. And if they are, it's going to cost you millions.

There are so many wonderful actors out there who still get paid a lot, but they don't get paid what the celebrities want to get paid. So that's why I prefer to work with still very competent, professional actors but guys who aren't going to come with a million different demands and want a million dollars a session.

The recent trailer has "Kick in the Head" playing. What other licensed music can we expect to see in the game?

We run the gamut, including Django Reinhardt who was a huge part of Mafia I. Well, there's a Mafia I Italian for you. Django Reinhardt was a huge part of the Mafia I soundtrack. We do have a couple Django Reinhardt tracks in Mafia II.

Everything from 1920s to 1930s: jazz progressing through swing, some early blues, evolution into R&B, Rockabilly rock and roll, the Italian pop crooners like Dean Martin and Tony Bennett (guys like that that were really big), Rosemary Clooney, the pop stars of the 1950s. Then you have guys like Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Roy Hamilton, etc. All the pioneers of their fields are here.
The collector’s edition will have an orchestral soundtrack. Is there a chance of us getting a soundtrack of the license music at some point? Or, will we have to gather it all ourselves?
122 tracks as one soundtrack is extremely difficult to pull off. I'm personally working on it right now. I haven’t really talked about it in public before, but it's something that I'm looking into, and would like to do.

But, as you can imagine, there's a huge number of people that need to be signed up for it. It's something I'd like to bring to everyone, but it's definitely not going to be easy.

You've announced that the licensed music will also be in the game, but how will it be implemented? Is that all in cut scenes or will it be on radio stations, too?

We do use it. We have what I call “narrative” license music used during the cut scenes and during play segments. All of the music is available on the radio. We have three different radio stations in each era.

We have three radio stations in the 1940s, and those will all evolve and change formats once you get into the 1950s. You'll have your rock stations, R&B stations and pop crooner stuff in the 50s. In the 40s, you have the oldies like Django Reinhardt music station, pop music station and then what they call race music, which was basically the precursor to the R&B charts in the 1940s as well.

As a PC gamer, I want to know that I'm getting the best possible Mafia II experience. How will NVIDIA’s involvement with this title help ensure that?

If you have a fire-breathing monster of a PC that’s capable of doing the GPU-enhanced PhysX that supports the APEX clothing and particles, then you're going to have an amazing experience. The cloth moves realistically.

The game also supports NVIDIA 3D vision in 3D Vision Surround. So, when you're playing this game in 3D Vision Surround, meaning three monitors in full 3D with the APEX clothing and APEX particles, it's just amazing. The main game features similar particle systems and the clothing does move, but it doesn’t quite look as realistic as it does if your card supports all that stuff from NVIDIA.

How does the PS3 version of Mafia II compared to the Xbox 360? Will the resolution and texts be close to identical on the two versions, or has one version slightly edged out the other on a technical and performance level?

To me, they look pretty much the same. I've seen crazy people who go and take screenshots and put them side by side on the Internet and things like that. But, if you're just watching them on a monitor side by side, there really isn’t much of a visual or performance difference. This, again, goes back to the Illusion Engine. This is what it was designed to do. It was designed to look and run the same across both consoles and PC.

“The Betrayal of Jimmy” pack is exclusive to Play Station 3 and the game’s second pack, “Jimmy’s Vendetta,” will be available for all platforms soon after Mafia II is launched. What additional post release content can players expect?

I can't really talk about that right now. There's going to be some more stuff maybe coming out, but we have to wait for the announcement.

At any point in Mafia II will you be fighting zombies or vampires? Because those are pretty popular right now.

No, you will not be fighting zombies, vampires, Nazis or anything like that. You guys may or may not have heard me talk about zombie mode. I was joking. There are no zombies in the game.

What are your top five gangster movies?

Goodfellas is probably my number 1, followed by Godfather II, followed by Godfather I, followed by Donnie Brasco. Is this just the Italian mafia, or just gangster movies in general? Because I'll throw in Miller's Crossing as well. I love that movie.

Will there be a Mafia III?

Cannot comment.

Will any of the gameplay take place in prisons?

I can't comment on that either.

Did you have any ideas for Mafia II that you couldn't include because of time or technology constraints? You spoke earlier about not being able to turn destroyed objects into weapons. Was there anything else?

Not really. Those were the things I most regret not being able to get into the game, but there really wasn't too much else.

Will the Mafia franchise will always be on consoles in the future, or will it mostly be a PC to console franchise?

To me, the medium doesn't really matter. If I'm playing on my iPhone 20 years from now, it's all about the experience, and I think it means less about the medium once you play it.

Would you like to see Mafia be made into a movie itself?

Not really. Just like I don't like seeing movies being made into video games. The experience is the experience, and I think if you take the gameplay out of the equation, it just kind of ruins it.

Do the Jimmy DLC packs take place after the story involving Vito, or during?
Their paths do not cross, so it doesn't really matter. Could be before, during or after. It takes place in the 1950s, so it would probably be during.

Are certain vendors brothers, like the shoeshine guys? If so, is there a story behind it in the game through missions?

None of the vendors are related to one another.

What will keep players playing Mafia II for a long time?

I don't know. Why have people played Mafia I for a long time? It's just the feel they get from it, that they just want to keep playing it.
We'd like to thank Chase from Access Communications for moderating the interview, and Jack Scalici for his time and answers.
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About Author

I am host to the kind of split-personality that is only possible when a girl is both born and raised in New York City, yet spends a lot of time with two older brothers. So, on one hand, I'm a NYU student majoring in media and communication who has a healthy obsession with fashion, music, media and the latest happenings in NYC. But, on the other hand, I'm rocking a level 70 blood elf warlock (I just got Lich King -- give me a break), spend much of my time playing games of all genres and platforms, and if you pass by my dorm you can possibly even hear my roar of victory as I spring on the unsuspecting as one of the infected in Left 4 Dead. And just when I thought things were as random as they could be, I spent the summer in Texas and, turns out, I like 4-wheeling and shooting (real) guns too.

I whet my appetite early on the classics and later moved on to Counter-Strike, GoldenEye and the like. You'll find me trying just about any game now -- I even tried my hand at Cooking Mama -- but the more blood and gore, the better. All my friends and family are probably pretty annoyed by how much I talk about video games. It's your turn now, Internet.
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