Compared to cinema, the gaming industry is very poor in the history of the mafia of the first half of the twentieth century. If you remember offhand, at least some interesting titles are counted with the fingers of one hand. But the gangster theme is insanely colorful and, by the way, again, thanks to the cinema. All those formal suits and wide-brimmed hats, Smith and Wassons and Tommy Guns. Godfathers, their right hands and sons of traitors. And if you choose the main mafia video game of all time, Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven immediately comes to mind. No The Godfather, LA Noire, or even a sequel to Lost Heaven could continue to evoke the same nostalgia in the players as unexpected adventures in the life of an ordinary taxi driver from the first Mafia.
On October 7, 2016, the long-awaited Mafia 3 was released, developed by the American studio Hangar 13 together with Illusion Softworks, which created the original, which has only changed its name (to 2K Czech) and its composition. A flurry of criticism immediately poured into the game, in which almost everyone unanimously agrees that only cut-scenes and not the most boring plot can be written down as advantages of Mafia 3, while everything else cannot withstand the pressure of the expectations of modern players.
It is quite possible that if the game did not have such a significant past, Mafia 3 would be treated more loyally. From the day of the announcement, it was doomed to be compared with its predecessors, despite the fact that the development of the first of them took the last century.
Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven
The first steps in the development of The City of Lost Heaven began in 1998. At that time, the Czech studio Illusion Softworks was still a very young team, but it had already managed to make itself known and even acquire relationships with a reputable publisher, Take-Two Interactive. Initially, only nine people worked on the game, led by artist and screenwriter Daniel Vavra. Daniel is still considered the true father of the series and it is to him that the fingers of those who criticize the latest parts of the franchise point. Vavra himself recalls that he became a game designer unintentionally, because he simply saw the concept of the game as a whole better than others.
“The idea was to make players feel like they were watching a movie a la The Godfather or Goodfellas. I wanted to tell the story of the transformation of a young man who joined the mafia, soared to the top, and then fell to the very bottom.»
The first alpha of the game was radically different from the final version and was made on the engine of the studio’s previous project — the tactical shooter Hidden and Dangerous. The cars were much more monotonous, as was the setting. The models were too angular and lifeless. What can we say, it was assumed that the project was supposed to become a kind of analogue of Driver, and at that time it was called «Gangster». Two years later, the studio was replenished with several specialists and decided that everything had to be done anew. It was decided to build a new engine from scratch.
According to the original plans, Mafia was supposed to include multiplayer, racing and other elements. For example, the city was conceived as a filled, lively place. If the developers had carried out their plans, there would have been food stalls on the streets, and the townspeople would have talked among themselves, walked with umbrellas in the rain, and fed the birds in sunny weather.
“We decided to depict a typical 1930s East Coast city in the US, but at the same time, the place had to be fictional. We couldn’t afford to recreate the real city piece by piece.»
In the end, due to a delay in release, the game was overtaken by GTA 3, another city gangster simulator with driving cars and some freedom of action. But, nevertheless, the only similarity between the games was the open world and gangster theme. GTA 3 had an arcade feel, inherited from the 2D parts, while Mafia tried to tell a story for adults.
Vavra recalls: “I’m very happy that we gave players something that they usually didn’t get in video games. I’m proud of the non-violent episodes, like the date with Sarah, the preparation of the robbery, or when the hero was carrying boxes of whiskey.»
Thus, the developers tried to harmoniously combine action, drama and humor, creating a vital atmosphere. To many of the team, the idea seemed risky, and its success was in doubt.
“It seems that most crime games do not contain the most important thing. They all try to build themselves into an absolute sandbox with endless possibilities, and behind all this, the essence and soul of the game is lost.
The developers themselves did not want to create a sandbox simulator. They wanted to show all the cruelty of the life chosen by the protagonist, but without plot clichés and stereotypical characters.
Speaking of cruelty. Even with all the gunfights, fights, and violence in the game, most of Mafia’s competitors would easily give her a head start in terms of the number of corpses per minute of gameplay.
“We always made sure that the enemies did not end up in one place or another just like that. If there were more opponents, then someone called the police or something like that.
Summing up his work, Vavra is still pleased with the result.
“A lot of mistakes have been made. The city, the plot, we could all do better. And definitely now I wouldn’t force the player to drive so much in the first missions of the game. However, I was very proud of how it turned out and how close we got to the original vision of Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven.»
After finishing the first part, the studio immediately began to continue. From start to finish, the development took seven years, during which the creators managed to face a number of technical difficulties and fundamental changes in the structure of the company. All this did not have the best effect on the productivity of Illusion.
True, in 2003 there were no problems on the horizon yet. Illusion Softwork enjoyed the success of the first part and decided to make an add-on for new fans. Very soon, it was decided that the team was ready to tackle Mafia 2 instead, and the developers were puzzled by the search for a suitable engine, thus marking the first circle of production hell.
The team chose RenderWare, an engine from Criterion Software that has been used to make more than one Rockstar title (Manhunt, GTA: San Andreas). Further, when there were proposals to release the game on consoles, everything had to be redone on Unreal Engine 3. In the end, it also had its own difficulties, so I had to rebuild Mafia 2 for the third time, but on my own engine.
A more or less playable version was eventually obtained only in 2008. Just at that time, the publisher 2K Games knocked on the door of the studio and bought out Illusion Softworks, turning it into 2K Czech.
It is not known for this reason, but employees began to leave the company. Apart from Illusion founder Piotr Waczozk, the biggest loss is, of course, Daniel Vavra himself. Judging by the interview, for seven years the game designer either left or returned to development, but at the time of the release of Mafia 2, Daniel was no longer listed in 2K Czech. Perhaps it was the departure of the key figures of the company that caused the Mafia 2 not to reveal the full potential, which never became the “real Mafia” in the minds of ardent fans.
Regarding development, for the second part, Vavra wanted to try to create something completely different. Perhaps one of his most striking ideas was that the events of the game cover two time periods: the winter 40s and the summer 50s. The main difficulty of the developers was the creation of two settings that convey different eras with their music, moods, fashion, and technological progress.
It was decided not to connect the game with the events of the previous part. Instead of Lost Heaven, players were given Empire City, a prototype of New York, for a realistic image of which the developers went to the Big Apple for several weeks with cameras at the ready. As a result, thousands of photographs of buildings, streets, cars and people turned into Empire City, which, by the way, is twice as large as Lost Heaven.
Despite the fact that more than one crime game has been released since the first part, the developers were not afraid of comparisons.
“We are not at all worried that the game will be compared, for example, with the same The Godfather from EA. Mafia 2 will be much better and will continue to do what it is loved for — let players feel like a classic gangster living a polished story.»
One of the elements that ensured the success of the first part were cars. The abundance of models of the time and the excellent realistic driving feel did the trick. In the sequel, the developers decided to go a little further, and in the wake of the popularity of the arcade easy driving style, they gave players the opportunity to choose between classic and lightweight controls. In addition, in order to steal the model they like, the player will now have to mess around with master keys much more, but all models are available from the very start of the game.
Just as The Godfather’s Don Corleone was modeled after mafia boss Carlo Gambino, Mafia 2 was often inspired by Daniel’s reading of thematic literature. In addition, film academy graduates worked on the game and helped Varva shape his ideas. By the way, the final script consisted of 600 pages and about 300 speaking characters.
According to one of the developers, all the mafia kings of pop culture have influenced the game. The character dialogue is inspired by The Sopranos and the art is inspired by The Damned Road. Not without the influence of the then popular series «Mad Men».
At the end of August 2010 Mafia 2 finally received the long-awaited release, but the problems didn’t stop there. The console version frankly lost to the PC version, and criticism of racism suddenly flew from Italy. Additionally, the game’s characters set a record by saying the word «fuck» 397 times, beating the previous record set by The House of the Dead: Overkill.
One way or another, under all these events and hype, there was a great game that earned players much more recognition than hatred.
Most likely, it is on the second part that fans of the series prefer to end the countdown. Just a couple of days after the release of Mafia 3, the developers released a patch that improves controls and increases the frame rate. 2K Czech claim they keep fixing the game, but what’s the point? The main battle has already been lost.
Nobody expected innovative revelations from Mafia 3. The same second part did not make a revolution, but more or less remained true to the atmosphere of the original. It is noteworthy that the involvement in the development of Wavre is directly proportional to the success of the franchise. So unless the game designer comes back to restart the series in the future, Mafia 4 is unlikely to be waiting for us.