David De Martini is no stranger to big names and big franchises - the last game he served as executive producer on was Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf, and he's formerly worked with other licensed brands and celeb-studded games including NASCAR, NCAA and Knockout Kings. Taking on The Godfather, however, involves working with one of cinema's most enduring classics - and some of its greatest legends, in the form of actors Marlon Brando, James Caan and Robert Duvall, and director Francis Ford Coppola.
Sitting only a few minutes drive away from the Little Italy district of New York, we asked De Martini about working with one of the most closely guarded properties in the business, some of the most talented actors in the world, and how The Godfather fits in with EA's largely family-friendly image.
Eurogamer: You're working quite closely with the original creators of the film - how receptive have they been to the changes that you're making to the content?
David De Martini: Let me just be specific there - we're working very closely with Viacom and Paramount. They're the owners of the property, and they obviously treat it with much care, as we do. They've been incredible partners. From the very beginning - obviously, since they haven't put out a game in the thirty years - they've moved very cautiously with regard to the gaming space and this property.
I think, as we were able to get to some very core, specific creative concepts, we were able to have a real meeting of the minds with regards to how the property would be treated - and as long as we stay within the boundaries of how we had agreed the property would be treated, we have quite a bit of leeway with regards to moving the game forward.
Francis Ford Coppola, who obviously was the director of the film, we've met with him on one occasion and we shared with him what our vision was for the game, and where we were going to go. He wasn't choosing to participate in the project, and isn't choosing to participate in the project, but he did invite us up to the Coppola winery where he has his own private library, which he opens to the public.
He's got a lot of materials from the original Godfather production, and all three of the Godfather productions - so a lot of sketch designs for the sets, for the costumes, a lot of notes that he's taken in the original screenplay as well as in the book, as well as some original ideas that he wanted in and cross-outs that he wanted out. I think he invited us up there to take a look around, and we sent like four or five people for a week - so maybe we overstayed our welcome! But it was such a rich experience to go up there and see it, that it was well worth the time.
Eurogamer: Do you think that the current gaming demographic are aware of The Godfather? Will they have sat through the whole three hours?
David De Martini: You know, the interesting thing is - it almost doesn't matter. Strange answer, but I'll tell you why - they'll have heard of it. This became very clear to us, because we do a lot of tours where we go out and listen to the media and to focus groups - we call them "listen and learn" tours with the media, with regards to trends and things like that.
So I did one, and I was in the Scandinavian countries, and we had like fifteen or eighteen journalists - they're a little bit younger there, so some were seventeen and eighteen years old. We were talking about gaming trends and stuff like that, and they were saying 'well, you know, GoldenEye on N64 was one of the greatest games ever'. I kind of pressed them on it, and I asked how many of them had an N64. No hands go up. 'So how many of you have really played GoldenEye on N64?' Half of them raise their hands, and the other half meekly keep their hands down.
It doesn't matter if they experienced it themselves, when something has a reputation like this. I think The Godfather is another one of those properties where it'll be better if they experience it themselves, but if the first time they experience it is with the videogame, knowing that it's a property to be reckoned with, that'll be good fun.
Eurogamer: So you think people will discover the universe through the videogames?
David De Martini: And then I think they'll be going back to the film, and saying 'oh, that was really cool as a videogame, I gotta go check out what these stories are about' - because there are very few people who haven't seen any scenes from the Godfather. I mean, typically it's on US television so frequently that you catch glimpses of it, and you kind of get immediately mesmerised by it - but it's a longer experience, it's two hours and 45 minutes of film. You kinda have to buy a big bag of popcorn and buy into it, and say "I'm going to sit through this whole film."
They're memorable films though, and you kind of look at that and say, there are about five or six sequences that I can see how they would easily translate into gaming - but how do you do it for 20 hours in a videogame? I think that's part of the reason that Paramount allowed us to move forward with our project, and part of the reason why we moved to the central concept that you create yourself as a person within this world, and then you cut your own path.
So what we're doing is we're not so much delivering The Godfather The Movie as a game, we're delivering The Godfather universe, and we're allowing you to play in that sandbox.
Eurogamer: Releasing an M-Rated game is a bit of a departure for EA as a whole - is that indicative of a change in thinking within the company about mature products in general?
David De Martini: I think it's an opportunity that arose, and hopefully it'll be too good to miss. The game is obviously not rated yet, but it deals with mature subject matter - the movies were rated R in the USA and whatever that translates to in the UK, 18 Plus or whatever. The interesting thing about the films, though, is that they're not violent all the time. It's not Scarface. When they're violent, they're very violent - I mean not gross violent, I mean just kind of.... You know, the knife going into Luca's hand, every time I see it I just go 'oh, god!' It still hurts! And, you know, the whole choking and stuff like that...
But their world wasn't just about violence, and I think we're going to be true to that story, in that you need to be a balanced player to move most optimally through our gaming experience. It wasn't the Sonny path that got him anything but killed. Tom's path was too slow and he never moved up the family ranks. It's that balanced path that is the ideal way to move through the family - and much like in that era, 1945 to 55, if it was bad for business, the family and the other families were very much against it.
So, for the most part I don't think that these people were so tremendously moral that they were trying to make 'I'll kill you or not kill you' kind of decisions by saying 'well, I don't think I'll do that' - if killing you is bad for business, then it wasn't done. If keeping you alive and bleeding money out of you for a period of time was good for business, then that's the path that was taken.
The game will follow that path of, quote unquote, morality. If you're being gratuitously violent against innocent people, your own family and the other families will turn against you way before the police systems do.
Eurogamer: The Godfather is very much about the family aspects, as a film - from an emotional side as much as anything else. How have you brought that into the game?
David De Martini: It's one of our core creative centres for the product, trying to create an emotional experience that matches that of the film. Now, I mean, of all the goals, that's an incredibly lofty goal. We're talking about videogames. But between that goal, and living world - and I'm not talking about what many people who have sat in my chair and said 'oh, we're going to create a living world here, it'll be life as we know it!' meant... I'm not even going to begin to go down that path and say that we're going to do that.
But we're going to make more strides and focus more attention on creating a living world - a world where you feel the consequences of your decision, so before you just press the button and pull the trigger, you have to think about whether there are ramifications to pulling this trigger. Are there going to be consequences to me pulling this trigger?
And then also, the other big thing that's frequently missing is that these worlds have no memory. We all have a memory, unless we got hit in the head and have amnesia, and it's just frustrating as a game creator that you walk down the street, you might beat up a character, you walk two feet that way, come back this way and here that same character comes walking right towards you again. There's no living to that world - that kind of stuff can't happen.
I'm not saying we won't have our own flaws with regards to our direction down that path, but we're going to move farther down the path than anybody else has.
Eurogamer: Have you actually taken the step of modelling New York of that era for the game environments?
David De Martini: Not the entire geographic space, but we've accurately modelled the space that we're intending to put within the game space. We've got kind of a scaled version of New York - there are fewer blocks. The game is not so much about gross amounts of territory, where we're trying to create miles and miles and miles of territory.
Our ratio is probably 10 to 20 per cent driving, to 80 to 90 per cent on foot, and we're trying to create a world that's so interesting that I'd rather walk through it than drive through it quickly. That's one of our core tenets.
We're focusing the gameplay objectives more on that kind of moment-to-moment on-foot gameplay than on a whole bunch of stealing of cars and driving around. Few people know that in that era, 1945, there was still gas rationing that was going on - and a lot of the reason why there wasn't so much traffic in the streets is because you were on the tail end of World War II, and there still wasn't gasoline readily available to everybody. There was still an element of rationing, and gas was a commodity that was disseminated - effectively stolen, and kept on the family compounds.
Eurogamer: The key concept, then, is about gaining power and money; is there a financial element?
David De Martini: Respect, I'd say. Respect, monetary currency, and then also gaining physical territory on the map. The core premise is that you create yourself as an Italian American in 1945; you go out into your territory, you earn respect based on your day-to-day interaction with the characters within your game space. You add to the family's wealth, you add to the family's territory which they control, and then you move through the ranks of the family until you ultimately become the Godfather.
The ultimate aim for the hardest core gamer is... I think the term is 'tutti de tutti cappi', which is the Godfather of all Godfathers. There were five families in New York outside of the Corleone family, and the ultimate gaming objective is to take over the entire map - all the businesses, all the other family compounds - until you become the Godfather of all Godfathers.
The shorter term objective for fans of the fiction or the more casual gamer would be to become the Godfather of their own family, to become the Godfather of the Corleone family.
Eurogamer: Are the other families the only rivals you face in the game, or are there other criminal and law enforcement elements?
David De Martini: No other criminal elements, although they existed at the time - there was a small Chinese mafia, as well as Irish mafia. Phil is the expert on this...
Philip Campbell: We have all the families, we have all the stars, we have the actors signed - dead or alive - for those roles. We have all the traders, we have all the key players on the enemy side. Then we have thugs - there's a lot of street crime, that sort of stuff.
We don't necessarily go into all the different ethnic groups - we're not making Gangs of New York, this is a different phase. We're concentrating mostly on the Italian experience - Italian neighbourhoods, the ebb and flow of taking over Italian neighbourhoods like Little Italy.
David De Martini: But then, also there were other levels of corruption. You had the police, you had the FBI, you had the judicial branch... And that era was kind of a free floating era, and a lot of times people were kind of enterprising, and whether it was the police that were out for themselves or the gangsters.... I think there are a couple of memorable quotes along the lines of, 'I don't know who the crooks are, the police or the mafia'. I think they had their own objectives.
Philip Campbell: We didn't want the police to just be this generic force that just went to five stars, you know. It's not that kind of game. We wanted them to have a personality, want to have them crack down - like when Michael left for Sicily, and the police chief was killed, we wanted to make sure that the police cracked down.
So you'll find that they just raid through an area - you'll get some warning, you'll hear rumours on the street, but they're just as living as everything else. To us, living world is not just the buildings and the change in the buildings, it's the people.