It’s always a little concerning when a game gets pushed back, no matter what the reason... although mainly that’s because I find it a hard time to take the ‘given’ reason at face value these days. Still, the delay of Omerta: City of Gangsters doesn’t seem to have altered the game’s fortunes in any way, and with mere weeks left to go until release, we thought we’d hit them up for a quick interview to see how things are going. Bisser Dyankov, from Haemimont Games, was kind enough to give us the 411...
Strategy Informer: Omerta was originally supposed to be out at the end of last year, but it was postponed. I imagine you guys are pleased to have an extra couple of months of development time – what have you been up to?
Bisser Dyankov: From our perspective of course we’re always happy to have a few more extra weeks. We have been focusing on bug hunting and of course we have other projects running in the studio. What we also did is that we did a lot of tweaking to core game mechanics to make it more dynamic, especially in the opening Acts where the player doesn’t have enough gangsters. It was running a little bit slow for our liking, we’re happy to say that it’s running a little better now. These are core game mechanics so they affect both the campaign and the sandbox mode.
Strategy Informer:Speaking of the sandbox mode – having played the game we can’t help but feel it’s a little weak right now. Limited map choice and there’s no real ‘point’ it – no meta-game or anything, you only build and expand until there’s literally nothing else you can do, and even that doesn’t take long. What are your thoughts on this?
Bisser Dyankov: We designed the sandbox feature to let the player freely explore the game world, give them the possibility to test the mechanics and brush up on their own strategy. We also wanted to leave the player space to create their own fiction inside the world of Omerta, because in the campaign mode we have so many predefined situations that the player can only play through. We felt it was important to let them be able to create their own crime city.
Strategy Informer:How did you guys face the challenge of representing ‘character’ in a game where you spend all of your time in a top-down view of the game world?
Bisser Dyankov: This is a wonderful question – the character is always a fiction within the mind of the player, and we have a similar experience with our tropic series, where El Presidente is a paramount character for the series, but the camera is at a similar far off distance. What I personally believe is that game design is about understanding the limitations, and using them towards your advantage. Like the film industry, in games, the designers and the developers can allow the players to participate in some kind of fiction. I think game designers need not focus so much on all the different facets of a character, and try more to get a good synergy between the game and the minds of the player. So I actually think this is a very interesting challenge that we have faced, and that it should not be the goal of game developers to create ‘complete’ characters.
Strategy Informer:When we’ve spoken to you guys in the past, you’ve mentioned how you’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from classic gangster and crime noir films. Have you taken anything from more modern productions? Like Boardwalk Empire for example?
Bisser Dyankov: Definitely Boardwalk Empire inspired us, but on the other side of the coin we also have a dedicated fanbase to all of the Noir films and crime classics here in the studio. We drew inspiration from a lot of sources though – I should also mention the obvious classics like The Godfather, Once Upon a Time in America, Goodfellas and so on.
When we were doing the research though, before we went into full production, we discovered that the ‘real’ prohibition era was really quite amazing. There’s so much real-life inspiration for us to draw from – there was a really honest bootlegger who worked along the East coast – he forbade his guys from carrying guns as he was happy to loose however many crates of beer were stolen, but not lose any lives. The Vice-Attorney general for the country was also a woman at the time I think, and not only was she battling all of the Anti-Feminism of the time, but also battling with the crime lords as well. When you draw the bottom line, yes there are the obvious inspirations from Boardwalk Empire, but there is so much real life inspiration as well.
Strategy Informer:What do you guy’s thing of games like Omerta and the console scene? You have a history of publishing your games on the 360, but strategy in general has always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the console crowd. Do you think games like XCOM have helped your cause?
Bisser Dyankov: We’ve definitely seen that – we’ve seen that invasion of strategy games onto the consoles. I love XCOM, but in the core of our concept there is still room to be explored on the consoles, and some genres still have room to explore new ways of presenting themselves. You’ll see that with Omerta, and you also see that with Tropico 3 & 3. Sadly I also read about how the XCOM sales numbers were very disappointing. We do believe that XCOM has helped the cause of Omerta though.
Strategy Informer:How did you guys find creating the Tactical-combat portion of the game? I imagine that’s not something you guys have much experience with up till now.
Bisser Dyankov: We did find it challenging, but as seasoned gamers we actually grew up with a lot of turn-based strategy games. We also have a dedicated core of table-top RPG fans here in the studio. So we do feel we had a solid background to create a turn-based interface. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do.
Strategy Informer:Do you feel you have the right amount of freedom and choice in the game? I mean it’s not like Tropico, where you can build anything you want anywhere – Atlanta is already a fixed environment, so you have little effect in that sense.
Bisser Dyankov: That’s a tough one – it’s a very reasonable one to ask when the game is so close to release, but if you try to put yourself in our shoes… we’ve experimented with different options and different possibilities. In my personal perspective, having spent so much time on the project, I can’t really say whether we’ve got the right or wrong amount. Perhaps there are other directions that would be interesting in a different way, but the whole game development as it happened was an on-going process of polish and experimentation.
Strategy Informer:Whilst we’re here – would you care to talk about any major changes that happened during the design process? Features you wanted to do but were dropped, features that are radically different to how they started, etc…?
Bisser Dyankov: We actually did a re-design of the economy party a couple of times – I’m happy with how it is now, for example we have the independent businesses now and the mini-games that are associated with that. The player gets to choose how he/she interacts with this already existing eco-system, and that’s not something that was included right at the beginning.
Strategy Informer:Did you ever consider trying to expand multiplayer to include the strategic map as well? At the moment it’s only tactical Gang vs. Gang battles…
Bisser Dyankov: We were quite entertained with the idea, but there comes a time when you have to allocate resources, and it was decided that we didn’t have enough resources to develop this idea as well as it should be. You have to draw a line at some point.
Strategy Informer:Obviously it was announced recently that you guys are going to be on Mac as well – was that something you guys had always wanted to do? What do you guys think of the Mac platform?
Bisser Dyankov: We’ve been quite interested in how the Mac has been developing as a game platform. We’ve watched it grow and as a studio we’re always keen to open to new platforms. It’s a growing platform, and we shouldn’t miss it.
We also see the whole industry changing though. iOS and Android mobile platforms mean that this is an interesting time to be a game developer, and we can’t just sit on the PC. The whole gaming world is shifting right now.
Strategy Informer:Can you give us any hints as to what the post-launch plan for Omerta is going to be? Tropico 4 was well serviced with DLC after all.
Bisser Dyankov: I’m not at liberty to discuss it in detail, but we have plans for a lot of post-launch support for Omerta. Tropico 4 was a good mention on your side; we’ll leave it at that.
Typically, mere days after this interview, it was also announced that Omerta had just gone gold. Huzzah! This is one spunky game, and even though the sand box mode isn’t anything special, there’s plenty of fun to be had online and in the story campaign. Omerta: City of Gangsters is due out on PC, Xbox 360 and Mac on February 1st, 2013.