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Survival of the Family: The Saga of Creating and Shipping The Godfather: The Game
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Survival of the Family: The Saga of Creating and Shipping The Godfather: The Game

March 27, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 2

“So we get to the point in pre-production where we try to get everything together. This real world just wasn’t happening yet, we didn’t have the experience.” So another director, Mike Olsen, was brought onto the project. One of the tools he brought to pre-production was to create a faux strategy guide.

“It lets us look at [the game] from the inside out," said Olsen. "We also wrote mock-reviews of what we wanted the critics to say." Ultimately Olsen was in charge of the combat system that was dubbed Black Hand. “If you don’t have a great control scheme, almost everything else doesn’t matter,” said Olsen.

The team had two goals in mind for The Godfather's combat system: first, to avoid directly imitating the control scheme of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and second, to ensure that it fit into the world of the franchise. They also wanted to make a system that relied on analogue finesse as opposed to button mashing.

The first step was to create a ripomatic, which is where they took the scene from the film where Sonny beats the tar out of Carlo and super-imposed the image of a PlayStation 2 controller at the bottom of the screen, showing the proposed control scheme of how Sonny’s attacks from the film could be translated to the game.

At this point in the production, there was no game engine so they couldn’t prototype the system. Olsen pointed out that “Working at EA we have a lot of engines at our disposal, so we just grabbed a Lord of the Rings engine.” After a few weeks they had a working prototype of the Sonny-Carlo fight from the film transposed to a game engine.

After six months of iterations in the Lord of the Rings engine, the team built a whitebox in the Godfather engine, a whitebox being a low polygon arena meant for the testing of controls. Mike Olsen explained that “you can only design so much on paper,” and by playing around in the whitebox they found that grabs were more satisfying than punching, and from that they added throws and leans, and from that came the execution styles.

In addition, they added the strangle move after Olsen attempted to strangle the controller in frustration at one point. “Now we just had to add it to the game... oh wait, it was designed outside of the game and didn’t work," said Olsen. "Time for another director!”

Michael Perry was brought in from Maxis as the third director, his main focus being on the living world and NPC behavior. When he came aboard he immediately saw that the original spec calling for a scripted world was not suitable with the current tech available. The situation as Perry saw it was that “the world looked cool, but it needed life.” His three goals were to populate the world, give NPCs things to do, and then give them the ability to do them.

To this end he referred to complex adaptive systems, which he first read about in a book given to him by Will Wright entitled Hidden Order by John Holland. Essentially the idea is “complexity comes from simple rules that when put together makes complex behavior.”

Having worked on games such as SimCity and The Sims, he had a good idea of where to start in adding motive-driven reaction NPCs to the game. Essentially it was a weighted sum motive system, the motives being safety, social, bravado, boredom and terror. It was all designed in what Holland called his “favorite design tool,” Microsoft’s Excel, the main benefit being the ability to model in a low-risk environment.

The point where Holland saw the system was working was when they antagonized an old lady NPC to the point where she would start beating on any mobster she encountered. Excited, he took the results to the executives, who weren’t as excited. Apparently “old ladies beating up mobsters is not Godfather,” and in what Holland described as one of those vague catchphrases executives love to say, they asked for “predictable unpredictability.”

To respect the fictional context then, they added different classes for the NPCs; innocents, cops, mobsters etc. In addition the NPCs in venues acted differently, more like sims. For example, see cash register, open. See flowers, arrange.

Speaking more broadly on how to handle three directors on a project that required a single vision, they built what they called a megacube in the office kitchen. “It put us in the center of the team, so we’d all hear the same question at the same time,” making sure all three would be on the same page, said Holland. In addition they created physical maps so they could plot out where characters would be in the game world.

Wrapping up the talk, the team summed up how the game was received. They saw it as having good critical reaction, good player reaction and a great EA internal reaction. The talk concluded with a slide with what they considered their strongest design philosophies that read:

  • Survive with solid pre-production. Just treat it like production.
  • Survive with solid control iterations.
  • Survive with systems instead of scripts.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 2

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