The don was busy, but we spoke to someone more important.
We got to discuss with designer John Calhoun the finer details of EA's upcoming The Godfather II and find out why you should be looking out for this one in 2009.
NZGamer.com: Do you feel the need to strongly pursue the movie's storyline? Or are you letting some artistic freedom work its magic to fill in any possible plot-holes or scenario's the movie never really explored in-depth?
John Calhoun: The game’s story recreates the experience of being a Don as depicted in the Godfather II movie, but it doesn’t set out to retell its storyline verbatim. Jumping back and forth between the 20’s and 60’s like the film, for instance, would have made it hard to focus on one character’s story arc. So instead, the Godfather II game follows the story of Dominic, who starts the game as underboss to Aldo Trapani – the hero of the original Godfather game. Early in the game, Michael Corleone appoints Dominic as the Don of New York, and from there he gets to expand his criminal empire outside of the big city, to Florida and Cuba as well.
This isn’t to say that the game doesn’t have ties to the film – obviously, when your source material is one of the best movies of all time, you incorporate as much of it as you can! So all the big characters are present: Michael, Fredo Corleone, Tom Hagen, Senator Geary, and Hyman Roth. And players will have the opportunity to relive every memorable scene, from the meeting of the Dons in Cuba, to blackmailing Senator Geary, to the federal crackdown on the Mob. But now, because you play as a Don, you’ll have the power to shape and influence the game’s events in a significant way. I think the story gives gamers the best of both worlds – a deep and personal story arc for them to explore, and the opportunity to experience the world of organized crime as told in the Godfather movies.
NZG: The original game was packed with different tasks for you to do. What major gameplay elements can we expect to see this time round, and how have you kept everything feeling cohesive, and not watered down?
JC: A lot of other features are returning from the first Godfather. BlackHand (our combat system) is bigger and better than ever. You can still extort and take over illegal rackets – and this time, manage them and earn bonuses from them too! You can put out contract hits on made men, and do raids on their enemy compounds. There’s a lot to do in this game!
But one of the biggest features is the Don’s View, which is what we call the interface to game’s new strategic element. One thing we wanted to improve upon from the first Godfather game was to really make players feel like a Don – calling the shots, pulling the strings, and seeing the world in a more interconnected way. The Don’s View is what enables this. It’s an overhead of the world that lets you coordinate your plans, kind of like a light RTS. It shows you on-going battles, and places that are on fire, bombed, or rebuilding. It shows the movement of rival made men, and whether they’re at their hangout or attacking/defending a business. It’s the “big picture” of everything that’s going on in your criminal empire.
NZG: In what ways has the combat been improved? Have you drawn influences from other recent combat systems, or are you creating something novel from scratch?
JC: We think the BlackHand system from the original Godfather was pretty novel, and it was one of the things that fans said they really loved. This year, one of the improvements include the ability to throw separate left and right hand punches – this was added to support our new combat system, which lets your snap arms, break knees, and crack skulls with brutal abandon. We also kept the ability to grab NPCs and pummel them, throw them, and strangle them with the analog sticks. To top it off, there are dozens of new execution styles which you can use to finish off your enemies.
We also decided that our firearm combat should employ a manual-aim system by default. This gives you a lot more precision over where you fire, and works nicely with our online multiplayer modes. We still have firearm lock-on to further refine your aiming, but it’s no longer the only system you can use.
NZG: With development now solely focused on the 'next generation hardware', has this changed how you tackle developing the game? Does this allow for more freedom in gameplay elements and environments?
JC: Absolutely! Obviously, more power means higher-resolution textures, longer draw distances, and better frame-rates. But we also harnessed the power of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 to make gameplay improvements as well. For example, our engineers completely refactored the AI system to make our NPCs act and react more intelligently. We also have a persistent population of characters, each with a memory and motive system, to drive their behaviors. What this means is that everyone you see in the game, from your own made men to the bum on the street, is a unique character – someone who thinks and will behave in life-like way.
Another cool technical innovation is the AI that runs the strategy game. While you’re playing the game, so are the five rival families you’re up against. Their actions are driven by a system that mimics playing against real people. (In fact, the rule set is derived from a table-top card game we developed!) These families have personalities – some are vindictive, some are defensive, and some are downright devilish. When they come after you, you’ll realize that their decisions aren’t random. They’re pretty smart, and they know how to hit you where it hurts the most!
NZG: What difficulties have you faced developing a setting based on real cities? Does having the real-life counterparts make things easier to draw inspiration from?
JC: We didn’t want to recreate our cities based off of real-world metrics. New York, after all, is basically a grid of square blocks! So our versions of New York, Florida, and Cuba are actually composites of several different locales, which have been fused together to create a unique sense of place and time. One of the best things about working on The Godfather II was looking back to the 1960s, and coming up with designs that have a throw-back appeal to the Mafia’s golden age. There’s so much rich history to draw from, and this really inspired our artists to think big when designing our cities.
NZG: Tell us a little about how the squad system works. In particular, how much control will the player have over what the other squad mates will be commanded to?
JC: Our crew system isn’t as complicated as what you might find in a tactical-shooter, but it’s definitely pretty deep and evolved for an action-strategy game like ours. First off, the men you command are the family members you personally recruit into your organization. Not only do you recruit them, but you can also promote them, upgrade their skills, outfit their firearms, and more. There’s a lot of customization in the family system, and no two families will be the same!
Your family gets pretty big, and you can choose up to three men to join you as part of your crew. When they’re under your direct command, you can order them to follow you, move to waypoints, attack, and perform specialties. This latter element is key – each family member has a specialty, like being an arsonist, medic, or demolitions expert. You’ll need different men for different jobs, so it’s important to assemble the right crew before you head into battle. You can also send your men to bomb or attack a rival business, and even defend a business of your own. After all, the Don doesn’t always have to get his hands dirty.
NZG: With the recent trend of games to feature online/multiplayer features, what do you have planned in terms of multiplayer modes both online and offline?
JC: There is online multiplayer in matches that can host up to 16 players at once. A unique twist is that when playing online, you play as your made men instead of Dominic. This means that the upgrades, specialties, weapons, and RPG skills you develop in the single-player game can make you powerful in the multiplayer game as well. Better yet, the rewards you get from playing online (which we call “honors”) can be brought back to your single-player game, and be used to outfit your made men with upgraded weapon licenses and more powerful firearms.
NZG: Is downloadable content something you're looking at releasing after the game's initial launch?
JC: We have some plans for DLC that I think fans will find pretty cool, but they’re all top-secret for now. I wish I could tell you, but the Mafia code of omerta forbids it!
NZG: The first Godfather game released on Nintendo Wii as 'The Godfather: Blackhand Edition'. Are there any plans to release this one on the Wii, and if not, what were the reasons for not developing for this platform?
JC: The BlackHand Edition was definitely a lot of fun- both to play and design. The ability to punch, strangle, and aim using the Wii controller was simply a blast, and if your readers haven’t played it, I encourage them to check it out. In fact the dual controllers were the inspiration for our new combo system in The Godfather II - the left trigger representing your left arm and the right trigger your right arm. The Godfather II will be coming to the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.
Be sure to read our preview of The Godfather II today!