Released in the wake of the massive popularity of Grand Theft Auto III‘s open-world gameplay, 2002’s Mafia was a different kind of action crime-drama set during the prohibition era in the United States. As a narrative-driven game that was punctuated with brutal gunfights and some surprisingly heartfelt moments, it focused on the rise of Tommy Angelo, a lowly taxi-driver who becomes a big-time gangster in the fictional city of Lost Heaven. While the series has featured new characters and settings, the original is still highly regarded among fans. With the reveal of the Mafia Trilogy last May, it was announced that Mafia III developer Hangar 13 would revisit the original game with a complete remake.
While Mafia II and III both saw updates with new Definitive Editions, the original Mafia has been rebuilt from the ground up. In keeping with its focus on story and atmosphere, it also includes a revised story performed by a new cast along with new missions, and gameplay elements that help set the stage for its sequels. 2K Games has released an extended video breaking down what’s new with Mafia: Definitive Edition, giving us more of a look at what’s to come in this revisit to the city of Lost Heaven.
Just before the release of the gameplay reveal, GameSpot spoke with game director Haden Blackman about the extensive process to remake the original, what’s new in the remake, the unexpected challenges that came from making a game during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what it’s like moving on from the Mafia franchise.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.
To start things off, can you take us back to when Hangar 13 and 2K Games made the decision to go back to the original game and modernize it with this remake?
We had just wrapped up work on all the DLC for Mafia III, and at that point, we were already working on a new IP at Hangar 13. While we were getting that up and running, the team looked at what we had done with the Mafia series, and we started talking about what else we could do in the meantime as we were working on this new IP. One of the floated ideas was a remake, from the ground up, of the original Mafia. We took our time to consider what that would mean and what it would take, and eventually decided that it was a good idea, and it was something that fans of the series deserved. There was a lot of passion for the project internally because so many people across Hangar 13 worked on the original Mafia and Mafia II, which made it kind of a natural fit for us.
This is a remake of the original, but it’s also expanding upon it as well. We got to see some of the original characters and events get some more attention in the remake.
Yeah, one of the early discussions we had around the remake was about the scope of it. We wanted to stay true to the original as much as possible, so we tried to replicate all the missions, the spine of the story, and recreate the city to the degree that we could, given the kind of advances in both technology and game development, storytelling, and several other facets. We took a step back and said, “Okay, if we keep kind of the core intact, what are the things we can improve upon and add to, to flesh out more?” I would say there are three areas we looked at: the narrative, the city itself, and the missions.
On the narrative front, we were keen on expanding upon the stories of some of the other characters that interact with Tommy. So we’ve added many new scenes with Sarah, Tommy’s love interest in the original game. We’ve expanded her character, and given her a role within the larger organization that makes sense. We rewrote everything from the original, but we paid particular attention to the scenes with Sarah to make sure that we were doing that character justice. The same goes for Paulie, one of the two sidekicks that Tommy has in the game. Paulie has dreams, he’s got plans, and I don’t think that ever really came through in the original. So we wanted to make sure that we highlighted that in the Definitive Edition. We also wanted to establish a war going on between the Salieri Crime Family and the Morello Crime Family, which is the crux of the conflict and the drama in the original.
When it came to missions, we took every mission from the original and said, “Okay, what is the core and the heart of this mission from the original game, what are the most memorable beats, and how can we expand upon those?” How can we make sure that we add a set piece for every single mission, something that you can talk about or remember after the mission is over? That was a lot of work, and it was our focus on what we wanted to do with the game. Then there’s the city itself. We didn’t want just to reproduce the city block by block. We knew that the city had to be fun to drive around, and we knew that the city needed to have plenty of landmarks, and we knew that we wanted to have vistas and points of interest. So all the districts are there, and all the locations are kind of still relative to one another, but we’ve expanded it a little bit by adding clearer lines of sight, and made the streets wider, so they’re more fun to drive around. There’s also more of a sense of elevation. So again, it ran the gamut from big story tweaks to make sure that the characters are coming through, all the way to tweaks to the city itself.
Since this original story has now been updated to a part of a larger Mafia trilogy, have you added in new references to account for Mafia II and III?
Oh, yes. For sure. So we’ve got some really direct references to characters from Mafia II in particular, and then even Mafia III. Now that it is a trilogy, we can look back at the entire storyline. We know how the characters weave through there and the kind of crime families kind of ebb and flow through the three games, so we definitely make references to the other two games. I don’t want to give anything away for players that haven’t played it, but the ending of Mafia I is consistent with things shown in Mafia II–people who played that game will know what I mean. Aside from that, we also have collectible cigarette cards as you go through the game, and those cigarette cards are kind of mob bosses or mobsters from the Mafia Franchise. Obviously, all the characters from Mafia I are in there, but you can also find cards that reference characters from the whole trilogy.
One thing I’m really most excited about is how we’ve got a series of new comic book covers that we created that you can find as you go through the game. They reference moments from not just Mafia I, but Mafia II and III as well, which I think is really interesting. We set up these three characters as almost like otherworldly fictional, anti-heroes–the three protagonists from the three games: Tommy, Vito, and Lincoln. Also, we created just little things like several in-world brands for the Mafia Franchise over time. There were some things that we pulled from Mafia I and II into III. So it all feels like a cohesive universe.
What was interesting about the original Mafia game is that it came out shortly after the beginning of the big rush for open world games, which started with Grand Theft Auto III. While Mafia had some fairly open areas, it wasn’t quite an open world game–and it didn’t try to be. With this Definitive Edition, was there any thought to try and expand upon the exploration of Lost Heaven?
Honestly, not really. We wanted to keep true to the spirit of the original, which is this kind of linear, mission-based narrative-driven experience. That’s really what we’ve stuck to, but with that said, though, there are some opportunities for exploration, and I think we call it out, even in that A Trip to the Country mission [which we showed off in the Gameplay reveal video]. There are several collectibles and things like that hidden in there. So, we treat the city as a character in its own right for all the Mafia games, but it really does serve as a kind of a backdrop to these missions. So it’s more accurate to the original in that way, but I think for the fans who know the franchise, there’s going to be many references in the narrative itself that they’ll be able to point to. But like in the original, you can still play in Free Ride and the Test Drive modes, but now with the various new vehicles.
And you guys have been working on this since after the completion of Mafia III?
Yeah, we started after the DLC for Mafia III, which was a huge undertaking. There are many, many hours of story-driven content and new features, and many other things introduced in Mafia III after launch. Honestly, I think that Mafia III: Definitive Edition is a very different game than the Mafia III that was initially released in terms of the amount of content. So I’m hoping that it goes the other way and that people who didn’t play Mafia III are fans of the franchise, when they get the Definitive Edition for Mafia, that it encourages them to check out Mafia III, too. And just having it all packaged together, kind of the three games together will hopefully encourage that.
But when we started to wind down on Mafia III, we had already started kicking around ideas for our original IP. We knew that we were going to have a team, especially on the art and kind of media team side, that we wouldn’t be able to leverage right away. So that’s when we started discussions around sort of Mafia, the Definitive Edition. Still, it took us several months to flesh out what that would look like. That was a team of three or four people, myself included, talking about how we would build it, what we would improve, what we wouldn’t change, how we would build it in terms of our current tech, and where we wanted to invest time and effort in improving our tech. We spent many, many months doing that before we started rolling a team onto it. So, yeah, then we were in full production, in full swing and production when COVID hit. And that’s been very interesting, but the team has done an amazing job staying focused.
Yeah, the Definitive Edition was delayed a month due to the changes in development.
Yeah, and that was largely due to localization. We want to make sure that we have versions available for multiple languages at launch, or as close to launch as possible. We work with external groups to translate and record VO, so we have fully localized versions in many languages, including a Czech version, which we’re really excited about. But with COVID, a lot of that got put on hold. So the decision to move it out a month was to make sure that we could have all the localization ready. We’re obviously going to take that time to polish as much as we possibly can and fine-tune everything as much as we possibly can.
Mafia II: Definitive Edition also got released during the period of lockdown. Would you say there were any big lessons you took away from getting that off the ground, especially considering the timing of the release?
You can never underestimate the amount of polish time required for any project that’s going to be released, especially across multiple platforms. So that was obviously top of mind for us when we were looking at the [revised] release date for Mafia, after the polish time that we had to devote to Mafia II. I’m really excited that all three games will now be out on the same platforms simultaneously as the Definitive Edition, and as a trilogy. So from that standpoint, I think it’s a big win for fans. So yeah, that’s all I have to say about that.
Would you say that the release of the Mafia: Definitive Edition is Hangar 13 putting a neat bow on the Mafia Franchise, before moving on to this new IP that’s unannounced at this time?
I would say for now, yeah. I mean, I wouldn’t say that it’s a goal in the sense that we’re not going to return to the franchise. As you know, a lot of it will really depend on how successful the Definitive Edition is and what the reception is. But I think we’re all very passionate about the franchise and the themes that we can explore, and what our tech can do for these types of games. We are a multi-project studio, so we’re working on an original IP, and we’ve got a couple of other things in the works as well. But I wouldn’t say that Mafia: Definitive Edition means that we’re done with the franchise. I think that we’ve got some ideas kicking around, but a lot of it’s just really going to depend on what the reception is like and how well it does in the market.