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Mafia: Definitive Edition Interview – An Offer You Can’t Refuse
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 04:39pm 23/07/20 | Comments
We chat to Hangar 13 about the upcoming remake of 2002 classic Mafia, its beginnings, what’s new, the connection to Mafia II and III and how the team will address the problem of racing.


When the now defunct Illusion Softworks (with several members of that team now at Hangar 13 and 2K) released Mafia for PC in 2002, it did so at the dawn of the age of the Grand Theft Auto era. Both Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City were among the top selling games from that year and helped bring the concept of a videogame crime epic and open-world sandbox mainstream.

Mafia was different though, in-place of an open-world it presented a linear and cinematic experience that drew inspiration from cinematic classics like The Godfather and Goodfellas. Set during the Prohibition Era of the 1930s, it also depicted an era and tone that made it stand-out in an already stacked year of great PC releases. It’s fictional city of Lost Heaven was huge, a sprawling mix of pristine inner-city streets and depression-era ramshackle alleyways. More set dressing than GTA-style digital playground it laid the ground rules for what would become the Mafia template – immersive cinematic crime epics where you became the character in the tale being told.

Often literally, with players having to obey the rules of the road in cars that barely moved, whilst keeping their firearms holstered and hidden from patrolling cops lest they be arrested. Recently we sat down with Hangar 13 president and chief creative officer Haden Blackman to talk about remaking the original Mafia with Mafia: Definitive Edition, the technological advancements that have come from the past 18 years, and how those lovable features from the original like obeying speed limits will be presented in 2020.

Plus, we chatted at length about a certain infamous racing sequence that tested the limits of player patience back in the day.

On Recreating the Original




“The first thing we did was sit down and look at the original and then identify what we thought was the heart of the game,” Haden Blackman tells me. “That benefited from the fact that people on the team worked on the original, and we have several folks that have worked on all three Mafia games within Hangar 13. We knew we wanted to keep the narrative spine intact, stay true to the characters, and that it was a relatively linear, narrative-driven experience.”


“The first thing we did was sit down and look at the original and then identify what we thought was the heart of the game.”



That bit has been a Mafia talking point for decades. Although visually dated now, at the time the sheer detail in the city of Lost Heaven created the impression that it was a game akin to GTA. With Mafia: Definitive Edition that tradition will be kept alive thanks to the incredible detail seen across the environments and characters. Bringing to light just how far we’ve come in 18 years. And by we, we mean the talented team over at Hangar 13.

“Setting it in a world that felt rich and full of atmosphere and authentic to the time-period, which was a huge part of that game, was important,” Haden continues, adding the team were also aware that recreating moments and missions would lead to some of more out-there aspects of Mafia. “We've all fallen in love with games that might have been a little rough around the edges. The police system for example, is one thing that over time as we've evolved game design, may not create today. But it’s something that we can look back on fondly. In addition to capturing some of the big, memorable set pieces, we’ve also brought back a few of the quirks too.”

The result? Mafia: Definitive Edition will ship with what’s being referred to internally as a ‘classic settings mode’, allowing players the opportunity to play with the same level of stringent policing found in the original. “We wanted to make sure that we captured that for the players that wanted to experience that,” Haden adds, noting that there will be settings to make it all easier for those that simply want to experience the story. “It was a deep analysis of the entire game to see where we thought its strengths were, and from those which were still relevant,” Haden continues. “Could we take those strengths and make them even stronger and shore them up? Things have advanced in the 18 years since its release.”

Remake vs Remaster




With Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 Remake from last year and Square Enix’s remake of Final Fantasy VII hitting the PlayStation 4 in April – the latter only presenting a small portion of the PS One original – Mafia: Definitive Edition is further proof of the difference between a remake and a remaster.

“Nothing from the original is directly reused in the remake, mainly because of the quality of assets we can produce today,” Haden tells me when asked about assets from the original. “We could only use them for inspiration. Take characters as an example, the design for Sam and the fact that he wore a bow-tie throughout much of the original Mafia. We look at that and see that as a window into the type of character Sam might be. In a way it almost serves as early concept art.”


“Setting it in a world that felt rich and full of atmosphere and authentic to the time-period, which was a huge part of that game, was important.”



For the Mafia remake the team at Hangar 13 more than live up to the whole ‘built from the ground-up’ tag, developing and leveraging modern technology and development tools to present a new and visually stunning vision of the original. “We created concept art for all the major set pieces, for the characters,” Haden adds. “We knew we were creating all the cinematics from scratch, using technology like facial likeness capture, facial mocap and full body mocap. For that we had to recast the whole game and make sure that there was, well, a fully realised face for everyone. In many ways it was like starting from scratch, creating a brand-new Mafia game.”

“But there were also a lot of ways where it wasn't,” Haden explains. “We knew the mission flow going in, which is something you would have to figure out in pre-production on another project. We knew the main storyline, we knew who all the major characters were, we knew what the big gameplay features were going to be.”

Capturing the Feel of Playing Mafia




“We wanted to update the core gameplay and make it a cover-shooter in terms of gunplay,” Haden says. “Guns aren’t a part of every mission, but it is a part of many of the missions and a big part of the gangster fantasy where you want to be able to run around with a gun and see some action. We wanted to make sure that we took that core gunplay from the original and brought it up to more modern standards.”

This side of the original is one even the most fervent fans would expect to be given an overhaul, more streamlined systems and a smoother feel that comes from the simple fact that third-person action has only gotten better over time. But, in staying true to the original it’s the character of Thomas "Tommy" Angelo that drove most of the decisions around modernising the combat.


”Tommy Angelo is a cab driver who's thrust into the mobster lifestyle. He's not a trained soldier, he's shot a gun, but it was a .22 rifle to go squirrel hunting with.”



“We started with what we had from Mafia III, which we felt was a very competent cover-shooter,” Haden explains. “But we tweaked it so that we were also capturing the feel of the original characters. In Mafia III, Lincoln's a trained soldier, he's got access to a wide variety of weapons. It's the late sixties and he's returned from Vietnam. It's a vastly different vibe. That aesthetic translates to combat. Tommy Angelo is a cab driver who's thrust into the mobster lifestyle. He's not a trained soldier, he's shot a gun, but it was a .22 rifle to go squirrel hunting with.”

“The way that we captured that was by really dialling in some of the damage values,” Haden continues. “The types of weapons you have, obviously, are different too. In Mafia you have a pistol and a shotgun, and that's it for a while. The machine gun is a rarity and it's something that you don't get until much later, same thing goes for grenades, when they show up that’s a big deal. We control the weapon load-out and the weapon roll-out, how much damage they do, how much sway they have, how aggressive we are with things like auto-targeting.”


In talking about the weapons from the original and dealing with things like running out of ammo because you’re a bad shot Haden admits that Mafia III’s reliance on auto-targeting was a mistake. It made the game a little too easy. In exploring and rediscovering Tommy, the team realised that his decisions in the thick of it were those of the player too.

“We really want you to think about how often you pop out of cover, aim down sights, blind fire, or risk moving between cover,” Haden adds. “Think about the best time to use a Molotov to flush somebody out, or what weapon to pull out. You will run out of ammo if you're not careful, and part of that was to capture the spirit of the original. But even back then, the combat was born from who this character is. He's not a trained soldier, he's not a Marine, he's not somebody that is familiar with firearms.”

He's also not, a race car driver.

Let’s Get To It… How Does the Infamous Racing Sequence Work in 2020?




“It was almost like a badge of honour when you made it through,” Haden tells me when the discussion naturally shifts to the infamous racing sequence from the original. Where, as Tommy, players were forced to compete in an almost Formula One-style race in a do-or-die mission without much in the way of warning, or training. The sequence is remembered by many for just how difficult it was to complete, how unwieldy the race car was to control, and how it felt like a brief videogame detour into madness.

“The short answer is yes [it will be challenging] because I think it's part of the charm of the original,” Haden confirms. “It's a very polarising mission, and for some people the difficulty of that mission is what makes it great. For others they want to put their controller through the monitor. We knew that going into it and we tried to replicate it for players in the ‘classic’ settings.”


“It's a very polarising mission, and for some people the difficulty of that mission is what makes it great. For others they want to put their controller through the monitor."



“A lot of the challenge comes from the fact that racing those types of vehicles is hard,” Haden continues. “It’s counterintuitive because you don't ever want to open the throttle and simply go as fast as you can, because that sets you up for disaster when a turn comes up. Trying to teach the player how to kind of feather the gas is a challenge. We're still tuning the big race, and I guarantee we'll be working on it until the day we ship.”

For those wondering the sequence in Mafia: Definitive Edition will have an easy-mode, but even on the default settings it is being set-up as a mission the team at Hangar 13 expect the majority of players to fail a few times before making it through the finish line.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse




Above all, and including the above, Mafia: Definitive Edition is an exciting prospect because of how the series has always immersed players in a cinematic crime epic unlike anything else. Access to modern technology, new performance capture tools, advancements made in things like lighting, all add up to worthwhile improvements to the immediate cinematic impact that came from playing 2002's Mafia for the first time.


“With all Mafia games we want to capture the feel of these cinematic crime dramas and put that into a game and have you immersed in that."



“The whole series is inspired by cinema and film,” Haden concludes. “With all Mafia games we want to capture the feel of these cinematic crime dramas and put that into a game and have you immersed in that. With Mafia III, a lot of the inspiration came from films of the ‘60s and action films like Bullitt. If you take Goodfellas as an example Mafia III is like the second half of that film where it gets grittier and you're seeing more of the underbelly. Mafia [the original] is very much influenced and more like The Godfather. And we did go back to that as our touchstone in what we wanted to achieve. In a way it's a simpler time, a little more innocent, but we also peel back the cover on that to show that there's hypocrisy too.”

Mafia: Definitive Edition is out September 25 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Read more about Mafia: Definitive Edition on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!



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