Mafia II

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  • July 15, 2010
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  • Author: Elizabeth
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For our eighth Mafia II podcast, Jack Scalici, the Director of Creative Production at 2K Games, talks more about how the team brought Empire Bay to life.

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Elizabeth Tobey:  Welcome to Episode 8 of the Mafia II podcast.  I'm Elizabeth Tobey and I'm back with Jack Scalici...

Jack Scalici:  Hello

ET: talk more about the city of Empire Bay.  So, Jack, let's start off with a very general question.  How big is the city?

JS:  It's about 10 square miles.

ET:  That was simple enough!

JS: Yeah.

ET:  More in detail, what makes up the city?  Are there different neighborhoods?  How does it feel?  How does it flow?  What do you find when you get there?

JS:  Yeah it's not just one big city, you know.  It's like any city – there's different districts.  We have a Chinatown, we have a little Italy, we have a ghetto, we have a port, we have a midtown like commercial area, we have an industrial area, we have kind of like the area where all the rich people live.  You know it's like right across the river from the city – you know, things like that.  So it's based on the districts that make up every big city.  If you look up every big city, every city has those districts I just mentioned and there aren't really different neighborhoods broken down into each district – I guess there would be – but the only neighborhood you're really concerned about is your neighborhood in little Italy.  That's really the only neighborhood, if you don't know, it's the only neighborhood Joe knows.  It's where they're most comfortable – it's where they stay.

ET:  Can  you tell me a little bit more about the different shops and the buildings that you can go into and interact with?

JS:  Sure.  At one point we just decided, “OK, where do we always go?”  We go to bars, we go to restaurants, we go buy clothing, things like when we go get food.  Those are the, you know – as a young, single guy, that's what you do.  So that's what Vito does.  He can go to different diners.  There's different types of food in Empire Bay, all conveniently open 24 hours a day.  There's bars – each bar is kind of owned or frequented by a certain group.  Like the Irish gangsters have their own bar, the black guys have their own bar, each Mafia family has their own bar.  And there's gun shops.  You need guns, so the gun shops provide one way to get them.  There's another guy named Harry who will also sell you guns out of his shop which isn't exactly legitimate.

ET:  So, within the city, can you talk about how you interact with shop keepers, citizens, people in buildings, people on the street?  How does that work out?

JS:  We try to make the people feel as alive as possible, within our tech and memory limits of course.  So if you shoot a gun, they'll start screaming, run away, they'll find a cop and they'll report you.  If you pick a fight with a guy, sometimes he'll run away, other times they'll actually stand up and fight you.  There's guys that you'll recognize as gangsters, as tough guys.  You start a fight with these guys it's gonna be a lot tougher and they might pull out a gun.  So you have to pick your fights wisely.  You know, you can pick on a little old lady and watch her run away and then you do the same thing to the big guy in the suit over there, it's going to be two different outcomes.  Also - I think I've spoken about this in other places – when you go into a shop, what's really cool is you can just pay for your stuff like a normal patron would, or you can rob the store.  If you pull a gun out they say, “whoah, whoah, put that gun away.”  They try to calm you down, they think you're nuts.  If you don't, they call the cops.  If you wait there long enough the cops will come and try to arrest you.  If you leave the shop and then come back you'll see that the clerk behind the counter is giving the cops your description and then she'll be like, “oh my God that's the guy!”  And then she'll point you out, which is cool.  There's also a situation where you could just, for instance, you could rob one clothing store, run to another clothing store, buy new clothes, change your clothes, come back, and then she'll look at you for a minute and she'll be like, “wait a minute, that's the guy right there!  He changed his clothes, he's trying to fool me, but no, he's a dumb-ass, he came back.”  Lots of cool little interactions like that.

ET:  How do you reflect the passage of time in the city when it goes from the 40's to the 50's?

JS:  It's a pretty drastic change.  One of the ways we did that was with weather.  The 40's missions are all in the winter, and the 50's you start off at summertime.  So immediately it's different.  Basically we looked at pictures from the 40's and 50's, and from the 50's and 60's, 60's and 70's and what's different.  The cars, the women's hairstyles always change, the women's clothing changes a lot more than the men's does from the 40's to the 50's.  So you see the girls in the 40's, they're dressed more conservatively.  Plus it's wintertime, everyone is bundled up.  And then if you look at the girls in the 50's, they're dressed in nice sexy summer dresses, they have different hairdos.  You look at the cars – there's these cars that look like awesome 50's like rocket ship-inspired cars in the 50's.  And in the 40's it was more utilitarian.  You know in the 40's it was WWII, and no one can buy new cars.  A lot of people don't know that you couldn't buy a car.  All the factories that were making the cars were making planes and tanks and bombs and all that stuff.  So there were no new cars, and they needed the metal for the war effort.  So there were no brand new cars really after '41, 2, 3 – I forget when it started.  Everything was kind of boring.  You know they didn't have these bright red cars driving around and bright green and yellow, whatever.  In the 50's it's all different.  All the tech that went into making airplanes for instance – that was kind of re-purposed to making cars.  That's why you get these cars with these cool tail fins and it just looks amazing.  Much more powerful engines so the cars are faster in the 50's.  They look better.  The girls in the cars look better.  There's also the counterculture.  The youth culture started in the 50's – the rebellious youth.  The 40's wasn't really like that.  In the 50's that when you got the greasers.  Guys like that, guys like motorcycle gangs and people like that.  People that you don't really want in your nice little neighborhood.  They appear in the 50's and they generally have a bad attitude – the guys you meet in the game.  And of course, how could I forget the music?  The music is drastically different between the two eras.  You'll still hear 40's music in the 50's but it'll be on the oldies station.  Everything you hear is like the music of the day – the cutting edge pop music.  You know, Andrew's Sister stuff.  And Bing Crosby in the 40's.  When you get to the 50's you can listen to rock – once in a while you go back to the oldies station and you'll hear the songs you love from the 40's.

ET:  Now, you already touched on weather, but can you talk about weather?  How, technically, did you create the weather and what was the impact you were looking for?

JS:  Well it's more a question of the artists as far how technically they created the weather but it's just particle effect – it's snow.  You know, particles fall down from the sky.  But it affects the way cars handle a little bit.  You know it's not drastic, it's not like you're going to go skidding all over the place, but you can't drive like you can in the summertime in the 50's, in the 40's you know what I mean?  If you're in the 40's like peeling out and driving around corners really fast, you're gonna skid.  So it's realistic in that sense.  It also makes you feel a little bit depressed, and all of America was kind of depressed.  It's like, “we're still in this war, it's not over yet, it's almost won, our spirits are getting higher.”  But everyone is – there's like a depression going on, no one has any money, there's no jobs other than you can go work in a factory – big deal.  There was no corporate business really.  Well there was but it wasn't like it was in the 50's.  You know the music tried to be happy but it really – like if you listen to it, some of it's like super happy but the rest of it's just like, “oh God, shoot me now.”  So like, “Alright what goes with this?”  Snow.  That was pretty much the narrative decision for the snow.  And it also looks nice.  So you get a completely different color palate.  In the winter time, everything is very drab and very kind of black and white looking.  Literally white.  And then in the summertime in the 50's it's like, “whoah, color everywhere.”  So it was a nice artistic contrast.

ET:  Also, talking a little bit about weather but obviously different – how did you guys handle night and day in the game?

JS:  Well we chose not to have a day/night cycle.  We wanted each mission to take place over the course of a day.  And the time of day will vary.  If it's a mission like breaking into a jewelry store which we may or may not do in the game.  That's gonna happen at night obviously, when everything is closed.  If you're burying a body, which if you saw the trailer you know that you have to do.  That's gonna happen probably at night.  If it's something where it's just, “oh we're gonna go sell cigarettes.  We have this truckload of cigarettes that just happened to fall off the back of another truck.  We're going to go sell the cigarettes now.”  You can do that during the day when people are around and will come buy your cigarettes.  So pretty much the story dictated when we would start in the morning, start in the evening, start at night.  And you always end usually at night time because you have to go to bed to start the next mission, but where you start in the beginning of the mission – that's entirely dependent on the narrative of the story.

ET:  So, final question.  What was the most difficult aspect of creating the city and making it believable and making it feel like it aged as the years went by?

JS:  I'd say the most difficult part was to try to make it feel like a real city – which we did – but at the same time, keep it fun – like video game fun.  If you try to drive around from point A to point B in a real city, it could take you hours.  If you try to take a detour you could end up at a dead-end.  All this stuff is not fun.  So our artists had to make sure that the city architects in 2k Czech – they had to make sure that no matter where you went, there was always a place for you to go, for you to drive, there's as few dead-ends as possible, while keeping it looking legit.  So where normally there might be, I don't know – a barrier.  We would remove that barrier so you can keep on driving.  You don't have to get out of your car, run, steal another car – things like that.  And it was also – I don't think we really knew which parts of which cities were the target as far as what we're going for with Empire Bay.  One of the cool things – one of my favorite things – is that a lot of it is based on New York with a little bit of I think Chicago architecture, San Francisco, whatever the developers came over and observed, that's what Empire Bay became.  But we have hills in Empire Bay.  If you've ever driven around New York, it's completely flat.  There's no hills – at all – as far as I know.  I've driven around most of it, I haven't found a hill.  But in Empire Bay there are hills in certain areas so if you're going really fast you'll get those San Francisco car chase “car goes airborne” kind of moments which I think is really cool.  So that was probably the toughest part - is real city vs. video game fun city.  Because it has to be interactive.  There's a certain racing game that I love where you drive around – it feels like a real city but there's no people.  It's just an arcade fun fun fun city – which is great.  But if you're telling a story you need people – it has to be believable.  For me, that was the toughest part.  It's like OK we want this real, living, breathing thing but at the same time we had to turn up the fun dial a little bit and just make sure it's fun for everyone.  So in our game you can just drive around – you still have to kind of obey the traffic laws – the cops will pull you over if you're a complete jackass but it's a lot of fun.

ET:  Well I think that's all we've got for today, so I wanna thank you for being here, and we'll be back in a bit with Episode 9.