Our nightmares aren't very creative. They mostly involve being chased by hungry bears and discovering that your legs are made out of lead, or being 18 years old and faced with final year exams that you'd completely forgotten about, or waking up one morning to discover that you've got to review an Army Men game. If we ever did dream about being asked to turn The Godfather into a videogame, though, we'd probably wake up screaming. It's the kind of prospect that the word "daunting" just doesn't quite cover.
Philip Campbell and Hunter Smith, to their credit, looked well rested when we spoke to them in New York earlier this month; if they wake up screaming much, they were covering it up impressively. They'd have reason to, though. British ex-pat Philip is creative director on The Godfather: The Game, while Hunter is senior producer. In their hands lies one of the most cherished franchises in movie history - in ours, conveniently, lies a Dictaphone.
Eurogamer: Why do you think The Godfather remains such an enduring classic?
Hunter Smith: I think it has universal concepts - the same reason that any classic lives over time. It's a story about power and intrigue and respect and family, and those are themes that we all resonate with, right?
I think when you look at that film, it's three hours of mob film, and there are maybe fifteen minutes of action. It's all about people manipulating, and thinking, and pulling the strings - focusing on power. That's something that's classic - I think that's why it's still fresh today.
Eurogamer: How are you going to transfer those themes into a game?
Hunter Smith: Those are exactly the themes that we think about when we're creating our game. Our focus is to leverage those ideas and create an action-based game where you're in that world. You're living in a world where your ultimate goal is to learn to skilfully manipulate the people in the world in an action-based format - to pull the right strings, and try to become the Don yourself.
Eurogamer: Is the game, then, going to be much more action-focused than the film was?
Hunter Smith: We look at it, and think about it in terms of, whether you're talking to somebody or shooting or driving or just moving through the world, you're always feeling very fluid and action-oriented in your controller. However, you're conscious about the consequences and the effects of what you're doing in each one-on-one interaction, and how that's affecting your growing reputation through the course of the game, because your ultimate goal is to become a Don.
Philip Campbell: People are going to step into this, I think, with the same preconceptions - you know, they're going to go in with their guns blazing. We call it the Jimmy Cagney, 'Top of the World Ma!'. They're probably going to go out in flames, and then they'll start realising that often in our game it's going to be about not killing someone - until you've extracted the secrets that they hold.
It's about getting them to break, getting them to give you what they have - because if you just kill them, you're not going to get anywhere. You can kill them at the end of that, you know - we're not putting any bar on that - but it's like juggling. It's dealing with people to earn their respect, or realising that you're never going to get that respect.
Hunter Smith: You know, if you think about most shooters, it's about shooting that opponent before it shoots you - but there's no value you're getting out other than mowing them down and getting to the next set of NPCs to shoot at you. In our world, they're alive - they have roles and they do things. So you're trying to control this world, control this territory, have the businesses out there running money in to you. You want them to stay alive - you want to get power and figure out how you can take over more of the world than the opposing families.
Eurogamer: Who specifically do you play? Do you play as the Al Pacino character, Michael?
Hunter Smith: You play yourself. You come into this world and you create your Italian mob character. You grow from being an outsider, start to interact with the Corleones and then have the opportunity to rise through the ranks.
Eurogamer: So you're not exactly mirroring the film? It's the film universe, but you're stepping into it?
Philip Campbell: We didn't want to make a typical movie game. We really wanted to say, look, this is The Godfather's world. This is New York between '45 and '55 and The Godfather story is one story that crashes through that world. It has a start, middle and end - it's a very linear thing. Then our story - the player's story, however you construct it - will weave around that.
Obviously the stories will meet at all the critical and enjoyable moments from the movie, but other than that, you are deciding how to build your own story. You're working with the Corleones - they're mentoring you, and you're moving up in their family until ultimately you become an underboss or a Godfather.
Eurogamer: Are you expecting this to be an 18-rated game?
Hunter Smith: We're not yet rated, but we're definitely staying true to the fiction.
Philip Campbell: We can't make the rating, that's up to the ESRB. I think the main thing is that we're not going to be gratuitous - we're going to base it on the time when that movie came out. We're going to have an authentic feel of what the Godfather movie was about then in the seventies.
So it's not going to be an updated or modernised version in that respect, with the violence, the language, the sex and so on. There was plenty in those days to go around! Our game is going to be at that level.
Eurogamer: What kind of access to the assets and creators of the film did you have?
Hunter Smith: We got all the assets from Paramount, we've got rights to the Nino Rota score. We talked to Coppola early on and he gave us access to his notes and library - Phil did a lot of digging through all that material when we were coming up with all of the fiction behind the game.
Philip Campbell: We're weaving our new story into the old story, characters like Sonny... James Caan and Robert Duvall are re-recording all of their dialogue.
Eurogamer: What about Marlon Brando?
Hunter Smith: He did do some stuff for us, right before he died.
Philip Campbell: I was stuck in a room with him for four hours. It was one of the best moments of my life! We didn't know he was going to die or anything after that, of course, but it was enlightening, because he gave us some great inside information about the role. He really gets it - he really got computer games, and what they were about, which was really surprising.
Eurogamer: Is that the last performance he ever recorded?
Hunter Smith: It could be.
Philip Campbell: To the best of my knowledge, yeah.
Eurogamer: Once you strip away the brand, what would you say are the main things that are going to distinguish The Godfather from the obvious comparison, which is Grand Theft Auto?
Philip Campbell: I think firstly, we can't deny the power that the brand gives us. You know that if someone's sitting looking at the screen and they go, 'oh, that's just another mob or mafia game', if they see that severed horse's head on the screen - for example - it can only be one thing. It can only be The Godfather.
I think that what we bring to it is much more up close and personal. It's much more about relationships, it's much more about getting out of your car and walking. It's much more about interacting with people in the street, unlocking businesses and so forth.
Hunter Smith: The emphasis is very much on gameplay innovation. We've been spending a lot of time prototyping with game mechanics and player mechanics. We really believe that there's room for growth in the genre in that area.
I think that the other thing is creating a living world - a world with a memory, a world that has consequences. If you look at a moment of walking around in GTA, you beat a guy up and then walk down the sidewalk, turn around and come back the other direction, and that NPC doesn't have any memory of you, right? In our game, he'll have memory, and you'll have changed how he and the people around him react to you going forward.
So there's a sense of consequences and a sense of memory in our game that I think is really new.
Philip Campbell: I think, just using the word 'action'... Obviously there are a lot of preconceptions about action, and we can't talk about everything, but the game is going to be physical and it's going to be dynamic in terms of not just making choices, but that everything is under deadlines, everything is under timers. The pressure to negotiate or intimidate is always going to be there. You can push somebody too far and kill them before you want to...
Hunter Smith: ...or push him so far that he fights back against you...
Philip Campbell: Yeah, so that they start to fight back - they're able to do that!
Eurogamer: Will you be able to kill any of the central characters - like Sonny, for instance - and change the course of the plot?
Hunter Smith: No.
Philip Campbell: No, and you can't save him either, which is probably more to the point. We're very faithful to the fiction - to the fiction of The Godfather, the character progressions. They go through the exact same progressions that they do in the movie, but we see the hidden story, the behind story, the unseen story. We introduce a lot of eminently killable new characters - but no, it's sculpted in such a way that you can't save Sonny. He dies in the toll booth, we know that.
Hunter Smith: But you don't know when the toll booth is coming.
Hunter Smith: Right. If you play your cards right, if you play the game right - and we design it correctly! - you're not going to see it coming. You're going to be going on missions with Sonny, you're going to be having a great time with him, and he's going to brief you on some mission - and then you go, 'oh shit! This is it, this is the tollbooth!' We're ducking and diving, weaving in and out of the fiction.
Hunter Smith: You want to think about it as, you're playing your game - and their story happens to be taking place alongside yours, and there are times when you intersect. Of course, you want to intersect in what were the great moments - everyone really wants to have those opportunities.
The thing is, we want you to be in the middle of doing what you're doing in your game, and also thinking, 'oh my god, this is it, this is that part'. You're seeing it in a way you've never seen it before, because you're there.
Hunter Smith: The funniest thing is, we have [the movie] running all the time in the office, and okay, you can get fed up of it, but lots of the guys on the team are always watching it - and a couple of times I've gone past and they've gone, 'wait a minute, did someone cut the movie short? Isn't there meant to be this other scene?' And then they realise, 'shit, that's in the game, when Tom does that, or it carries on to do this...'
To us, when we achieve that seamlessness, where people go 'yeah, I saw that guy', and it's the player character - and you swear you saw him in the movie... Because he doesn't exist in the movie! We're not substituting for anybody generally, we're not playing Michael, we're not playing Sonny or anybody like that, you're going to be your own new character. It's not always going to just be you watching and going 'oh, Sonny's getting killed!' - you're going to be right there, involved in the heart of it.