GamesBeat: I don’t remember how long it took to get the game out. Did you manage to meet what deadlines were set?

Blackman: Yeah, for the most part. The great thing about working at 2K is that the game comes first. Figuring out what the core of the game is took us some time, and we wanted to make sure everyone was on board with that. Not just from a concept standpoint, too. Early on we knew who, when, and where the game was going to be, but talking about the scope and the core gameplay mechanics, all of that took a bit longer in preproduction.

Once we had all that, we were off to the races. Like a lot of teams, we did user testing and focus testing. We got a lot of feedback and reacted to that. We made sure we had time on the schedule to react what we felt like we could. A lot of that was focused around the story and how we were portraying race — are we going too far, are we not going far enough? We adjusted the game based on some feedback we got from focus tests there.

The world of Mafia III, set in New Orleans in 1968.

Above: The world of Mafia III, set in New Orleans in 1968.

Image Credit: 2K Games

GamesBeat: The topic of race and diversity has become a big one in games in the last couple of years, but clearly you were working on this long before that. What was your thinking as far as the right way to approach race, since it’s so deeply involved in the story?

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Blackman: As Bill mentioned, it’s a kind of chicken and egg thing, the setting and the protagonist. But once we were confident that we were setting the game in 1968 in our version of New Orleans, we had long conversations about who could be the most interesting protagonist there. Bill and I concluded that it would be a black man, a Vietnam vet. We added his origins as an orphan pretty early as well, to give him something that everybody could understand and relate to. And he’s a member of the black mob, so he’s an insider, someone who understands how the criminal hierarchy works.

That was all determined early in development, but it was driven by the fact that we wanted to tell a great story and create a great gameplay experience. Again, I’m humbled and heartened by the fact that the game has struck a chord with people. It feels very relevant now. But we didn’t necessarily set out to make a game that made a strong statement. In fact, I think we’d have failed if we’d done that. We would have been too conscious of it.

We were focused on creating a great story and an authentic-feeling world. Some of it was trial and error, putting stuff in the game and seeing how people reacted to it. Some of it was making sure we had a diverse writing team. We have a wide variety of people on the team from all different backgrounds. We tried to get different impressions of the game as we developed. When we went to record all the mocap for the game, we had conversations with the actors about different scenes, making sure they felt like it was true to the time period, like it felt authentic.

We made sure they were comfortable with what we were doing, even when we were working on scenes that should naturally make you feel uncomfortable. The scenes with Santangelo, for example, maybe the most vile character in the game, we talked through those and made sure everybody felt like we weren’t going too far. So a lot of it was being conscious of what we were doing, but not trying to be overtly political. We had the attitude that if we tell a great story and create a great immersive experience, the game’s going to be memorable. If we create an experience that allows people to think about race in a new way, we’ve succeeded on top of that. But if we’d got up on a soapbox to preach at people, I think that would have just felt false.

GamesBeat: How did you wind up feeling about the idea that fiction is a mirror for society?

Blackman: We agree with that 100 percent. But again, I don’t think you can set out to do that really overly. Otherwise it just becomes propaganda. We’re great fans of Stephen King’s book On Writing, where he hammers on the point that the most important thing is to be honest. Be true to your experience and what you understand about life. Even if you’re telling a story about monsters coming out of the sewer, or in our case about a black mobster in 1968, you have to find things that feel true to life.

One of the things we point out constantly is that Lincoln isn’t a perfect character. He’s flawed, deeply flawed in many ways, and so is everyone else in the game. Had we gone out to explicitly make a statement, I think the tendency might have been to try to make Lincoln perfect. He’d have to be this ideal. That would be worse than anything we could have done, because it just doesn’t feel honest. We’re all flawed. We all make mistakes. We had to present him as human, and part of being human is making mistakes.

Harms: Especially in the context of the franchise. I love Lincoln, honestly, but the game is called Mafia III. He’s a criminal. All his friends are criminals. When we sat down to map out the story, like Haden said, it wasn’t so much a question of how we could comment on society. It was about how we could tell the best pulpy crime revenge story we can. And then a big part of that is having these flawed characters who interact with each other in interesting and dramatic ways. Allowing the time and place to naturally seep into the narrative allows those characters to have different opinions on things. It allows the world to present itself as itself.

Mafia III sit-down meeting. Lincoln has to choose who gets promoted.

Above: Mafia III sit-down meeting. Lincoln has to choose who gets promoted.

Image Credit: 2K Games

GamesBeat: I thought there were some very well-done scenes, like when Lincoln goes through the amusement park. He comes out of there and commits one of his most brutal acts, stringing the guy up on the Ferris wheel. You get a sense of how he feels from the context.

Harms: We talked about this before, trying to get that historical accuracy and making everything as authentic as possible. Even a place like Baron Saturday’s, the amusement park, that was inspired by a real place. There really were blacks-only amusement parks, designed specifically so that African-Americans would go there instead of white venues, as another form of segregation. Even that place is grounded in history.

GamesBeat: What were some things that were late-breaking, maybe, that you got into the game even though it might have slowed you down?

Blackman: Some of the things we added to the police system, like the indicator when they’re watching you, that came in pretty late. The sitdowns, too, were an idea we always had, but when it came to the priorities of development and other things we had to work on, getting some of the foundational things in, the sitdowns ended up materializing really late in development. We had to do a lot of iteration on those. I’m happy that they turned out as well as they did given how late they came in.

Some of the conversations between Lincoln and the contact characters — conversations with Nicki and whatnot – those came in really late, just to close the loop on a few narrative moments. That I wish we’d had some more time with.

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