Family Chat: 2k Czech’s Alex Cox On Mafia 2

By Alec Meer on March 12th, 2010 at 11:43 pm.

Last week, I finally got to spend a little quality time with the rarely-seen, much-delayed Mafia 2. While I was there, I made Alex Cox, one of the game’s producers, an offer he couldn’t refuse. He refused it anyway. So I decided to ask him about the game instead. Read on for the chatty chap’s thoughts on the game’s excellent music, open world versus linear and whether ‘dickcheese’ is an authentic 1950s swear word or not.

RPS: I love the soundtrack – I was just haring around 1950s New York to Buddy Holly’s That’ll Be The Day… Was there a conscious choice to go with more recognisable stuff than the first game, or is it just a by-product of the game being set 10/20 years on?

Alex Cox: We’ve spent ages on the tracklist. It’s been… carte blanche isn’t true, it’s not like we had billions of dollars to spend on the music. But the music is obviously a big part of creating the period. I’m not a big music guy myself, but obviously other guys on the team are, and for them it’s like being kids in a candy store. They have all this 50s music, and then there’s the 40s music as well -being able to put all this big list together has been pretty cool for the guys. I’m not sure how many tracks there are – maybe 130? Definitely over a hundred.

Were there any tracks you wanted but couldn’t have?

AC: Because it’s mature, we’re not gratuitous in that sort of way, there wasn’t an issue of people wouldn’t want to be associated because it was very violent. It’s more to do with getting as many songs as we could effectively within a budget. Here’s the amount of money, get the best amount of tunes. There’ll be a range of tunes in there, from really iconic music to music that we just think is cool for the vibe.

RPS: Why decide to move from the 30s to the 40s and 50s with this one?

This isn’t a direct sequel – the story doesn’t so much follow on, but it is supposed to be the same fictional universe as the first. It’s a different city, and it’s moving on through the ages. It’s an interesting time period for a lot of reasons. 1946, which we didn’t get to see today, is interesting because the mob are exploiting wartime blackmarket, ration stamps, things like that. It’s a good time for the story for Vito to come back from the war, for example, and he’s poor, a load of the guys are still off at war… It’s a totally different environment, and a great place for the story to give him a plausible motivation of starting to get involved in organised crime. It makes the story believable and it allows us to use the whole city as the backdrop to the story.

So when we move to the 1950s as you played today, Vito is quite heavily involved in with the Mafia right now – it’s a completely different era. He’s got money now, he’s living the life that he always dreamt of… And there’s the rock and roll soundtrack, the nice cars – all of these cool Americana things that are starting to come on more. The real-life timeline reflects the storyline again. On the one hand it’s good times, happy times, things like that, but there’s backdrop, that things will maybe start to go a bit sour. We used all of the things in the game to reinforce that – the story, characterisation, the selection of weapons, the clothes, things like that.

RPS: Vito just coming back from the war seems a little reminiscent of Al Pacino’s Michael in the Godfather, and his best mate Joe has a touch of the Pesci about him… Presumably you’re consciously nodding to your inspirations?

What we’re looking to create is the feeling… we all know these Mafia movies, they’re very iconic experiences for cinema. I don’t think there’s anything that’s a direct or complete rip-off of these movies, but we want to use those touchpoints that people recognise, so they feel like they get that whole feeling of playing through The Godfather or Goodfellas, which is a cool idea in itself.

RPS: At one point, someone shouted “Bring it on dickcheese” at me. Now, is this really a phrase that would have been used in the 1950s?

[Laughs], Maybe, look it up on the internet! I’m not sure. I think in the finest tradition of mob movies there’s definitely some creative swearing. “Bring it on dickcheese…” Hmm. I’m not sure whether that’s an anachronism or not. Who knows?

RPS: Why did you decide to drop the speed limit system and the like from the first game?

We’ve had a relaxation of the rules to some degree. The original Mafia got a lot of feedback to its police system. I don’t think it was wholly negative, but people did feel like the police system was pretty aggressive. What we wanted to do was keep that in principle, and again coming back to the idea of making you behave like a mob guy – mob guys don’t run around rampaging in the street, doing all kinds of crazy stuff. It’s a secret society, they try to avoid the police where possible, they try not to be gangsters in real life, and only when events require it the [smacks hands together] get their guns out and deal with business. What we’ve done is try to make it less frustrating. If you start crashing around and things like that you’re going to get chased by the cops, but I think by this stage of the game – we’re about 2/3rds of the way through – you know the rules of the game, you know how to manipulate the police, you know how to react to it. It’ll be tough to survive and that’s the goal – like it would be in real life doing these things.

It’s there to play with, it’s a fun diversion, but it’s not the focus of the game. You can survive it, there’s methods of removing your police status, you duck out of sight, you lose your recognition bar, the immediate police lose you. If you aggravate them too much, you’ll get a Wanted status, which means you are personally recognised, or the car that you’re driving is recognised, or both, in which case just random cops that see you in the street will start chasing you. AT which point you have to start bribing the cops, changing your clothes, spraying your car – things like that, to lose the wanted status and effectively go back to being a non-descript civilian in the street.


RPS: What’s the balance between being a scripted action game and an open world? Will it still be rewarding to explore the city?

Yeah, sure. There’s stuff out in the city that you can do, there’s lots of interactive environments, but really the focus isn’t sandbox. The focus has always been for the city to be a backdrop… From a concept point of view we’re trying to recreate this cinematic gangster story. One thing that would be more challenging would be to do this in such a way that it’s just a linear game progression from mission to mission to mission. Because of the concept of gangsters – they exist on the street, they require you to have a city around you, to feel the reaction of the city to your crimes, it’s not just what’s going to happen in a cutscene. It’s adding colour to the story, I think. That’s really the goal. There’s gameplay there and it’s fun to drive around the city, but the focus is very much on the narrative.

RPS: I was cheerily playing around opening windows and turning off lights at the start of the mission – can we expect those kinds of small interactions throughout?

What we’ve got, again let’s conceptualise it as the features that are in the game, the things that are in the city, there’ll be a point in the story that you need to do something. So you’ll be told to go to a bar, and the functions of that bar are recreated as you’d expect . These are venues that exist in the city, but they’re also part of the story. And things like buying some food and drink, that’ll restore your health, or changing your clothes, that’ll lose the cops. All of these things are there to give you the feeling of life and vitality of the city, but they’re all there in design as part of the story experience. At some point in the game, these things will be used for something. There are over a hundred different buildings that you can walk into off the street…

And I have to say, they’re very detailed and richly visualised interior environments that are seamlessly streamed from the open world. Which I think is a really cool thing from a technical perspective. You can go into these environments, you can shoot the place up, check out all of these detailed interiors, and walk straight out into the street again. In open world games, that’s actually quite hard to achieve – everything has to be streamed, the loading is happening somewhere in the background, holding these things in memory, and all of the completely destructive environments things like that.

RPS: I must shamefully admit I died a couple of times in the big fight at the end of the mission, and wasn’t overjoyed about how far back the checkpoint system flung me. Are you guys still tweaking that stuff?

Oh yeah, everything like that is still being tested and checked. But from a difficulty perspective, we want the gunfights to be quite challenging. We certainly don’t want them to be frustrating. if it’s a difficult moment for Vito in the story, we want the player to feel that it’s a challenge, we don’t want it to be a cakewalk with pretty explosions. We want it to be a challenge because the game feeds back into the story. If it’s an action moment in the story, the player will have that feeling of exhilaration or challenge or danger, like you would if people were shooting at you – you’d be worried about not being shot, you’d be taking cover and not running around like a lunatic. this is the feeling that we really want to happen in this. Like you saw in this level, the villains are the Greasers – obviously they’re not hardcore villains, they’re not like the mafia, they’re just a gang of punks.

RPS: Yeah, I found it quite brutal, almost harrowing – they’re just kids, really, and most of them are running for their lives and screaming in terror as your guys chase them down.

That’s the thing, exactly. When the whole thing kicks off, you’re just supposed to go up there and put the frighteners on them, that’s the whole point of the story, and the escalation is they start the gunfight. The mob guys don’t want to go around and kill a lot of kids, but as soon as the gunfight starts, they have to finish it off. It’s kind of like everyone has to die now. Sorry lads, but we can’t kill one guy than leave you all to go grass up to the cops. And it’s a good example of the escalation. A level is a game day – you’ll wake up at the start, or you’ll come into the mission in a certain way, and the game day will progress.

What we don’t want is the combat or the mechanics to break the story, so by the time you get to the shootout, it feels like it’s being narratively justified by the escalation of the events. So you begin with the selling of the stolen cigarettes, and that’s fine – you feel like you’re doing a mob thing. And then the greasers mess with you, you try to chase the guy away, then you don’t know what to do next. In the story, you have to call your boss Eddie, he tells you’ve lost two thousand dollars of his shit, you have to pay him back. Then the emphasis is on the player to go and get the money back. You’re quite desperate to please your boss. You go to beat up the greasers, then the whole thing gets into a big shootout. But it feels quite natural, it doesn’t break the story, which I think is quite important.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Except that’s not all of his time, as it happens. There’s a second part to this, which I’ll be posting at some point next week, when my right hand will hopefully no longer be so messed up with untimely RSI that I can’t carry on transcribing without breaking down in girlish tears. Yeah, you heard me, dickcheese.

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39 Comments »

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  1. Petethegoat says:

    How delightful.
    I have nothing more to add.

  2. PaulMorel says:

    The PC port of GTAIV was so bad that I am not going to touch this game with a 10 foot pole. I have a solid gaming PC which I keep updated with relatively good specs. I run most PC titles on medium to max settings with a solid framerate. Batman Arkham Asylum for instance, runs fabulously on my PC on high settings. No matter how I tweaked the graphics settings on GTAIV, I would get terrible framerate dips … the game was unplayable.

    Anyway, I’m done with 2K ports for now, especially if they use the same engine as GTAIV.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Mafia 2 has nothing whatsoever to do with GTA or Rockstar, grumpy. It’s a totally different developer, a totally different wing of the publishing company, and a totally different engine.

    • PaulMorel says:

      oh I see. I didn’t know that. :)

    • Zyrxil says:

      The fact that you didn’t know that means you haven’t even played the first Mafia, a crime punishable by fish slapping.

    • PaulMorel says:

      I have played the first Mafia … it was mediocre imo, although it had some moments.

      But yeah, it must be Cuh-RAZY to think that an open world game, which is being distributed by a company that is known for open world games, and acquired this open-world game studio while developing GTAIV ….. well, it’s just crazy to think that it might use the same engine. How could I possibly think that?

      Whatever. Anyway, I’m glad that I was wrong. I am seriously done with crappy ports, and I’m glad to hear that this might not be one.

    • mcwizardry says:

      Having higher system requirements than other games does not make a game a crappy port. I wish people would stop throwing that term around at will because a game does not perform on their system. At least be more specific and list the specific problems you encountered and try to figure out why the framerate is not at the desired level.

    • Zyrxil says:

      If you had the played the first Mafia, you would know it’s not a open world sandbox shooter, it’s a very focused storytelling shooter that is in a large city solely for immersion purposes. It’s a completely separate studio that’s been working on the game for longer than the RAGE engine existed.

      And mediocre? People are excited about Mafia II because the original was one of the best looking shooters when it came out, with extremely sharp textures and well modeled environments and cars that didn’t disappear when they rounded a corner 1 foot out of your LOS due to console memory constraints ala GTA3, which had also been recently released. It also told its story very well and had great voice acting, writing, pacing, and level design to support all of it.

    • Paul says:

      So say we all.

  3. Rob says:

    Awesome. Loved the first game. I want to see more stuff about LA Noir also.

    • ZIGS says:

      That’s not coming out on the PC, which means you’re a console HEATHEN! Begone!

  4. John says:

    Everything is coming together so well, it’s like a dream. Every time i read or see something new, i awe at it. This game certainly is something else. Good god.

  5. Phinor says:

    I can’t believe how amazing this gaming year will be. Already two GOTY contenders (should I name them? ME2 and BFBC2, you may not disagree with your Heavy Rains and what not) that would have won last year and there’s Mafia 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Civilization 5 among others yet to come.

    So far so good with Mafia 2. Everything indicates the team knows what they are doing and it won’t be just another console game but actually something that improves on the original game. Too bad there’s now an empty void of six months before rest of the GOTY contenders are released. Oh well, maybe one of the dozen or so other great games will take me through that rough period.. or the 50 odd games I bought during Steam holiday sales.

    • icdragon says:

      ME2 wins the ECDDUASOTY award!

      (episodic content & drudgery dressed up as a sequel of the year)

  6. Zaphid says:

    This game is going to be awesome. How do I know? One of the lead designers has been writing for a local game mag about stuff that’s wrong with gaming and I couldn’t agree with him more. No, really, they have the kind of reverence Valve and Blizzard are enjoying worldwide.

    • Nalano says:

      What mag? Does it have an online edition?

    • Zaphid says:

      Czech, called LEVEL, I know there is a turkish version though I don’t think there is an english mutation. Feel free to prove me wrong, I’m drunk.

  7. cw8 says:

    Agreed, the first Mafia game was a PC masterpiece. It’s a crime not to play it.

  8. qrter says:

    Oh yeah, everything like that is still being tested and checked. But from a difficulty perspective, we want the gunfights to be quite challenging. We certainly don’t want them to be frustrating. if it’s a difficult moment for Vito in the story, we want the player to feel that it’s a challenge, we don’t want it to be a cakewalk with pretty explosions. We want it to be a challenge because the game feeds back into the story.

    This reads badly to me. I just don’t believe it. As an actual answer to the question it reads like managerspeak.

    • Nalano says:

      IE: If it’s a “difficult time” for the character but easy for the player, the player feels like he’s watching a movie, not playing the game. The closer the character and the player’s experiences match (within reason) the more the player identifies with the character.
      Is that less managerspeak for you?
      I mean, I remember one of the first missions of COD:MW (not MW2) rather well: The one where you save the tank in the middle of the Notiraqistan war zone. It flows like this:
      – Flashy intro where shit happens but you’re not involved in said shit.
      – Scripted knife sequence that’s really a quicktime event.
      – Cool weapon (mounted MG) that you kill a lot of people with.
      – Scripted event where NPCs wait for you to catch up so they can bash in a door, leading to next area.
      – Cool weapon (guided missile launcher) that you kill a lot of tanks with.
      – Timed event with unlimited respawns. (Defending the tank.)
      – Hey, have I really been carrying C4 all this time?
      – Sit here so we can show you another scripted event where shit blows up.
      1 through 5 were too easy. 6 was too hard. 7 and 8 were too easy again. It’s very “meta” but the flow is cinematic until a point where you quickload constantly, then back to cinematic. You were playing a movie, not a game. Tweaking the balance is what changes it from feeling like you’re getting a tour to a challenge where you, personally, feel like you’re making a difference – without pinning you down with endless respawns and pinpoint grenade accuracy (grumble…).

    • Nalano says:

      Oops post.

  9. Paul says:

    Mafia 2 and Fallout New Vegas are the only two games I will be buying on day one this year. Deus Ex 3 and Alpha Protocol are the other two that might get that treatment if reviews and impressions are good.

    But goddamn, Mafia 1 was one of the few real 10/10 games, so this can’t come soon enough.

  10. bill says:

    The first mafia was mediocre???!

    • Zaphid says:

      According to EDGE and eurogamer apparently …

    • Schadenfreude says:

      The Eurogamer review of Mafia is an all-time classic. I like to go back and read it from time to time; always brings a smile to my face.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Schadenfreude

      Indeed, I recall the reviews in general being pretty mediocre. Personally I overlooked it completely, but then the whole police/crime genre really isn’t my thing.

  11. Munin says:

    So…no more speeding tickets? Fuckers. Sellouts.

  12. Hock says:

    Really hope the focus on narrative here results in a strong engaging story. I’m playing through GTA4 again and finding it hard to get over how poor the dialogue is. It’s a real shame as the setting is so compelling, it just seems like the dialogue was written in full knowledge that their demographic is 13 year old boys, despite the great big 18 sticker that was inevitably slapped on the front of the box. It would be great if Mafia 2 was able to tell a mature story, aimed at a mature audience.

    • Premium User Badge

      Vandelay says:

      I don’t know whether I agree with that completely. Although the majority is as you say and it still relies on stereotypes for a lot of the characters, it is certainly by far the best written GTA I’ve played (playing it for the first time right now, but only got as far as moving to the second apartment.) There have been a few moments that have been done very well.

      But Mafia 1 was in a league of its own in intelligent game writing and truly felt like playing one of the great gangster movies. Can’t wait for this and everything being said here fills me confidants.

    • Nalano says:

      “by far the best written GTA”

      kinda says it all right there, really. Thing about winning the rat race is you’re still a rat.

    • icdragon says:

      As stated above, GTA4’s writing is all right for gaming and below mediocre for films/books. What really made me sad was how little charm it had, whereas the previous games (SA and VC mostly) had it coming out the wazzoo.. Even the background music and constant grayness in 4 was boring and depressing. Stick to what you do best, Lazlow!

  13. UK_John says:

    It’s coming from Eastern Europe as opposed to the Eastern seaboard of North America, so I have hope for it. This is the same reason I am Still more interested in The Witcher 2 than I ever was in Mass Effect 2! :)

  14. Javaguy says:

    Slightly upset to see they’re “streamlining” things like the police. What really made mafia was the detail of everything – the police pulling you over, getting you out and giving you tickets rather than shooting you, GTA style, for hitting a car.

    The rest of it sounds promising, though, so I’m still excited. Mafia 1 is one of my favourite games.

    • Premium User Badge

      Vandelay says:

      Agree. This is the one area where I do think they are making compromises. Having to obey some of the more obvious rules of the road, such as speed limits and traffic lights, made the world feel much more realistic compared to the cartoon world of GTA. The police system of giving out tickets or attempting to arrest you, rather than just shooting you, also helped this.

      But some of those changes do sound interesting. Making the police recognise you for extended periods of time, rather than the GTA style of them instantly forgetting about you when you are out of sight, is encouraging. I imagine this won’t be too harsh, as you could end up being hunted by the police so much that the game became impossible, but it sounds as if they are trying to make sure your actions have consequences longer than the standard couple of minutes.

  15. PaulMorel says:

    Maybe I played it too long after it came out to appreciate it’s finer points. I still thought it was mediocre and I did play it … sorry for not liking a game you love … crazy internets … full of people with different opinions…. oy.

  16. Lukasz says:

    Heh.
    They should release game with option like: Realistic road regulations.

    if not i hope the game will be easily moddable as surely some fan will try an attempt to implement road rules into the game.

  17. Konelius says:

    I am really looking forward to this, as people have mentioned the first game was AMAZING! I wouldn’t say I am a crime/police fan but what I do really connect to are games that are emersive and treat the player as an adult. GTA has been a lot of fun but where it has lost it’s way (post San Andreas) is by trying to force people into becoming a scumbag from the start. Mafia always had a proper story that drew you into the world with realistic plot escalation, laws to be obeyed, realistic cars etc.

    I mean any game that includes marriage, speeding tickets and 2 hours of being a taxi driver at the start has got to be good. The detail that went into the environments as well, such as the airport, hotel etc was just unbeleivable at the time and on top of that it ran like a dream. The fact you had to learn how to steal different cars was also fantastic because it really gave you something to look forward to as well.

    I am really excited about Mafia 2, I’ve got to say the thought of being able to open windows sounds amazing (sad I know – it’s just an indication of the love going into this). As much as I love Fallout 3, Oblivion, GTAs, Just Cause 2 (demo) etc, nothing is as engrossing as a really good story in a believable world.

  18. RedFred says:

    The mission that involves smashing those cars while the owners are in the bar brings back glorious memories from the first.

    Not sure about this squeal though. Eastern Euro developers can be so inconsistent.