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Though not exactly the most likely candidate for a video game adaptation (1991's MS-DOS and unpublished Sega Master System games by U.S. Gold notwithstanding), EA released The Godfather: The Game last year as the first in a prospective franchise. At the 2007 Game Developers Conference, the game's three creative directors, Michael Perry, Phil Campbell and Mike Olsen, held a talk to discuss how the game came together as well as why the project actually needed three creative directors.
Phil Campbell, the director in charge of story, dialogue and building maps, began the talk by pointing out that even though The Godfather is one of the most well-known and loved films of any generation, EA wasn’t sure wether or not it was a franchise worth doing, that it was a “baby-boomer” product. To put into perspective just how old it was, photos of game directors Phil Campbell and Mike Olsen in from 1972 as young children were shown. “It was back when we had hair,” Phil Campbell joked. Michael Perry himself wasn’t even born yet.
Speaking about pre-production, Phil Campbell said “It was a big challenge,” and that Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto was an important influence.
“Paramount needed it to be close to the movie, the first movie really,” said Campbell. The game adaptation needed a mission structure that followed the film, but the team also wanted to create a living world. “It was also thought of as a franchise, so we [had] to think of games down the road,” continued Campbell, saying that the main goal of production "was not to make a mess of it, basically.”
The main problem mission-wise was fitting the player character – dubbed Mobface by the design team – into the story. “We felt it was important that the player character appeared in cinematics... no matter how goofy you made your character, he was there.”
The first step was deciding what key scenes from the movie should be transitioned into game missions. The team created a chart indicating which characters would be in what missions, and where they would be in the living world. An example they gave of fitting the character in was the scene where Michael Corleone goes to the dinner to murder Sollozzo and McCluskey, the idea being “who was the guy who put the gun in the bathroom?” Then, “Where does the character go during the scene we all know?”
The answer apparently is that Mobface would be the one to put the gun in the bathroom, and during the murder scene he’s in the background eating pasta, just off-camera in the film.
They would also go to the book for inspiration, the example given being the mission to rough up the college kids who savagely beat the undertaker’s daughter. Of course original missions also had to be created and in that case Campbell thought that “the player relationship with Sonny would be a great bonding experience,” though he noted that it was a lot easier to cut original missions than ones based on the film.
As a side note to the story side of the game, he pointed out that Marlon Brando’s work on the game was the last he worked on. “We weren’t able to use as much of his work as we wanted, but it’s in there.”
Concerning the living world, Campbell said that “we didn’t want to create an uber-realistic world, we wanted the world of the Corleones.” One of the more ambitious ideas that unfortunately didn’t make the cut was to show the game world change over the decade that the story takes place.
Some of the bigger logistical problems involved figuring out where story characters would physically be located on the map during the story, and dealing with New York’s grid system. Originally they had planned about 200 landmarks to help orient people one the map, but they found that in general most people could only recognize about five New York landmarks. One EA executive even asked “Does anyone really care if the Brooklyn bridge goes to Brooklyn?