Electronic Arts is readying up their take on The Godfather II as gamers take over and try to become one of the world’s most powerful mobsters. Joel Wade, senior producer on The Godfather II, recently lent us his time to speak about the project and what to expect when it releases.
Strategy Informer: What’s your name and daily duties at Electronic Arts related to The Godfather II?
Joel Wade: My name’s Joel Wade and I’m the Senior Producer. My job involves a million different things, from helping to build the team, working with designers, managing the details of its production- operations, marketing, etc. And of course, I end up playing the game a lot, trying to identify the biggest improvements and changes we can make as the game comes together.
Strategy Informer: In comparison to the original game, what has improved and/or changed in terms of gameplay?
Joel Wade: The Godfather II is really a departure from many of the other games in the genre, even including the original Godfather game. While at its core it is still very much an action game- fighting, shootouts, chases- it also has some new very cool mechanics never seen in an open world game- really focusing on the fantasy of building and running your own organized crime family.
Setting out to design the game, we wanted to retain all that great “mobster” action gameplay of extortion and Blackhand combat, but also allow the player to really feel like he’s a Don. In so many games you’re just the “lone wolf” – one man against the world. We desperately wanted to break away from that traditional model, and so attacked the problem in several ways.
First, we wanted to allow you to build your own family from the ground up. Over the course of the single-player campaign you’ll recruit all of your own Made, spend money on upgrading their skills, promote them, equip them, change their outfits- even make them “sleep with the fishes” if you need to open up a new slot.
Beyond building the family, we also wanted you to actually be in charge of them. You’ll choose how and when to use your Made Men, either by commanding them directly in battle as part of your crew, or doing jobs for you in another part of the world- bombing rival family rackets, attacking their businesses, or defending your own.
And finally, you’ll manage their own criminal empire using the Don’s View – a 3D representation of all three cities showing the status of all the crime rings, all the battles in progress, and the locations of your jobs and contacts. You’ll actively decide which crime rings to go after, hire guards for your critical rackets, deploy your Made Men, and place hits on the rival families.
Strategy Informer: What impacted the team’s decision to throw in RTS elements and create a hybrid action game?
Joel Wade: RTS probably is a bit of a misnomer- you’re not grabbing and directing units from above in real-time, or micromanaging each of your soldiers- but we have spent a lot of effort building the “Don’s View”. It’s a 3D overview not only of the rackets, businesses, and battles currently raging in the three cities, but also of the status of the Made Men in your family and all the rival families. While in the original game your rivals were static as you gained more and more businesses, in The Godfather II, all five of the rival families are actively trying to acquire the same rackets you are. Continually making sure your business interests are well defended, checking on the status of your family, or plotting your next attack are going to be key to eliminating your enemies. The Don’s View makes that possible, and puts all the information you need at your fingertips.
Strategy Informer: Could you tell us about creating the story for the game?
Joel Wade: Much like the first game, we’re not trying to simply re-tell the story of the book and movie. They’re brilliant, but it would be a mistake for us to try to tell the exact same story the exact same way- for that experience it’s much more satisfying to simply watch the movie again. Instead, we’re really interested in you carving out your own narrative from the Godfather world; while still making sure your story intersects with all the great moments like the Mob dividing up Cuba, the Senate investigation of organized crime, etc. and letting you interact personally with all the characters. We concentrated on what makes the Godfather license unique, which is being a Don of a family in a 1960’s organized crime world.
What’s new this time around is that Dominic, the game’s hero, is an active participant in every scene- and his journey will often mirror those of the great Don’s from the films- Vito, Sonny, and Michael. Since Dominic is also a Don, he has the power to shape and influence the game’s events in very big ways. In this way, the story is really about Dominic- his rise, fall, and redemption as he lives through the turmoil depicted in The Godfather II movie.
Strategy Informer: Will Aldo Trapani the hero of Godfather I be playing a huge role throughout the whole storyline of The Godfather II? How long it will take the player to finish the single-player campaign?
Joel Wade: At the beginning of the game Dominic starts as Aldo’s trusted Underboss. You’re both in Cuba with Michael and Fredo on New Year’s Eve 1958 where Hyman Roth is dividing his spoils amongst his loyal families as he prepares for retirement from the life. As fans of the fiction know, however, things go bad when the Cuban revolution spills into the capitol during the celebrations and your first order of business becomes getting everyone to the airport and out of the country safely. Unfortunately, Aldo doesn’t make it, and you receive a battlefield promotion from Michael to step into Aldo’s shoes and retake New York for the family. Upon arriving back in New York, you are immediately able to start picking your first soldier, and heading out to take back what the Corleones have lost.
Beginning with Dominic as a newly appointed Don let us have the player begin their game building their own family from the ground up as they see fit. Over the course of the game you’ll transition from these humble beginnings- recruiting your first Made Man in New York- to running a complete family spanning all three cities. Without any online play most people will take around 20 hours to complete the campaign.
Strategy Informer: Could you describe the online support and options that are being integrated into The Godfather II?
Joel Wade: Online centers on arena combat supporting up to 16 players. A key twist however is that when playing online, you play as your own 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.
We’re starting with four different multiplayer modes out of the gate. Team Deathmatch is the classic favorite, and the bloodiest of the modes. The remaining three have each been tailored to a specific specialty of your family members. For example, Firestarter focuses on earning points by Arsonists setting the most number of fires, and maintaining scoring multipliers. Demolitions Assault is the most team-centric mode, and rewards tight-knit teams as they use a Demolitions Expert to destroy three different enemy-controlled points on the map. And finally Safecracker is a territory-control based game centered on … you guessed it… the Safecracker specialty.
Strategy Informer: How have the Godfather fans reacted with the creation of the sequel?
Joel Wade: So far the response has been incredibly positive- hopefully in part because we’re taking some real risks by innovating where we could have sat back and knocked out an easy sequel. The team took a ton of time to read and understand what the community really enjoyed about the first game, and what was said could be improved- from emails, forums, and comments to team members. We really tried to improve and enhance what most resonated with the fans- the Blackhand combat, extortion, the immersion into the Godfather world- while adding new gameplay innovations and systems to give that feeling of being the Don – building your family, commanding your crew, plotting your moves with the Don’s View.
Hopefully that’s a combination that will keep our fans happy and also tempt some new gamers who may have shied away from it as just another “movie game”.
Strategy Informer: Which of the actors will be lending their voice talent to the game? Also, when you were working with them, did they have any unique reactions to the video game when they saw it in action?
Joel Wade: All of the key characters from the film are there, including Fredo, Hyman Roth, Frank Pentangeli, and even Senator Pat Geary. Unfortunately most of the actors from the films aren’t with us anymore, but we’re very fortunate to have Robert Duvall reprise his role as Tom Hagen when he joins your family as consigliore. Duvall was really a pleasure to work with – he loves what he does – and I think it was a lot of fun for him to step back into a role that really launched him as an actor. Having not grown up playing games, he was incredibly impressed by what he saw, particularly the strategic aspects of “flying” above the cities in the Don’s View and making decisions and changes that you could then see immediately in the “virtual” world at street level.
Strategy Informer: Did the team try to reach out to Al Pacino and Francis Ford Coppola to gain their support?
Joel Wade: We focused on leveraging those who were interested in the gaming space, such as Robert Duvall, who plays Tom Hagen, as well as garnering the likenesses for Hyman Roth, Fredo Corleone, Senator Geary, Tony Rosato and other characters from the films.
Strategy Informer: Can you go into detail of one of the defining moments the development team had when creating The Godfather II?
Joel Wade: By far the most challenging part has been developing the strategy game- building and balancing the way the 5 rival families compete against you in the world. Each of the families will be going after the same resources you are, using the same tools- so if you don’t plan carefully or defend your gains, you’ll lose them in a heartbeat. We actually spent almost 6 months developing a prototype paper/card game to build out the rule set and help infuse the AI with some human-like play habits. But… this was all on paper. There was much nervousness and wringing of hands until the strategy game started working. So it was an amazing feeling when the rival families first came “on line” – when you’d be walking down the street and see a car full of rival Made Men tear down the block, pour out of their car and start a massive gunfight in an attempt to takeover an enemy racket.
Strategy Informer: How did the team feel after the release of the original? Were your expectations met by both the consumers and the critics?
Joel Wade: Developing the first Godfather Game was a rewarding and satisfying process… and incredibly challenging for the whole team. We knew building a game that operates in a giant living world with multiple interacting systems was going to be difficult, but we didn’t realize quite how difficult. With that learning behind us and having listened carefully to the feedback of press and fans, we hope we’re in a good spot to knock people’s socks off. It’s great to see the support from the community for new features we’re experimenting with in the genre. Our reviews were not as high as I would have liked in some cases- it sometimes felt like people were punishing us for doing anything new with the license- but the user-review scores on most websites were much higher, so at least the gamers who got their hands on it and actually played the game had a great time.
Strategy Informer: Is there currently a demo planned for any of the three platforms?
Joel Wade: We aren’t planning on a demo for the game.
Strategy Informer: Are you able to speak to downloadable content for The Godfather II? If so, could you fill us in on what to expect?
Joel Wade: I can’t say much other than we’re definitely working on some cool new enhancements.
Strategy Informer: Are there currently any plans for a Nintendo Wii version? If not, will the team consider starting development for the platform possibly later in the year if the title is successful?
Joel Wade: The BlackHand Edition was definitely a lot of fun- both to play and design. In fact the dual controllers were the inspiration for our new combo system- the left trigger representing your left arm and the right trigger your right arm. We concentrated on developing for the next-gen consoles and the PC for The Godfather II.
Strategy Informer: What’s next for your development team after The Godfather II is released this February?
Joel Wade: Lots of people are going to go on a very well-deserved vacation, while other folks are branching off and helping other projects in the studio.
The Godfather II releases on February 27 in North America. Check back next month for our full review on Electronic Arts’ crime caper.