The Godfather Designer Diary #2 - Film to Video Game

Creative director Philip Campbell describes the process of translating Coppola's American classic into video game form.


The Godfather

There's arguably no more revered a fictional property in modern times than The Godfather. Francis Ford Coppola's filmic retelling of Mario Puzo's organized crime epic set the stage for decades of stories to come, and now Electronic Arts is taking on the substantial task of translating the hallowed film into a video game. Here to tell us how difficult the journey has been is Philip Campbell, creative director.

Making a Great Game From the Fiction
By Philip Campbell, Creative Director, Story/Content

My name is Philip Campbell, and I'm one of the creative directors on the Godfather team. I'm responsible for designing the content for the game in a number of areas--story, dialogue, mission designs, cinematics, new characters, neighborhoods, and building design. Basically, I tend to start the concept in many areas and let people a lot more talented actually do all the work.

The Godfather movie story is exactly as we know and love it--a journey from Connie's wedding to the climactic baptism scene--and we don't monkey around with that too much. But it's actually only one of the many stories we tell in the Godfather game.

Using the story from the first Godfather movie as a kind of spine to the game progression, we let the player go out into the Godfather world (a "living city" set in New York from 1945 to 1955) and create his own story by "freelancing"--that is, deciding, for example, what rackets he wants to shake down, which family he wants to take down--and which bad guys he wants to whack. All this, of course, with a little guidance from the Corleone family!

Meanwhile, the story progresses as it does in the movie, supplemented and enhanced by moments from the book, and the player gets interactively drawn into these. The player rises through the ranks to ultimately become the Godfather of all Godfathers.

Rather than chip away at the "legend" of the Godfather by messing with vital scenes and changing settings, characters, and events, we like to think we are interactively enhancing the Godfather fiction, and that our integrity remains intact even when scrutinized by all the fans of that fiction. The player's interaction should always be appropriate and, of course, exciting--but you will never be able to save Sonny at the causeway. Or stop Michael from killing Sollozzo. Those events are sacrosanct. They're history.

As a gamer diving into this Godfather world, it's important to remember that you are not a blood relative of the Corleone family, you are not any of the famous characters from the movie. Because you in effect create and play your own character, the story that develops is uniquely yours. In any scenario, whether it be chasing Sonny's killers at the causeway, protecting the don from his would-be assassins, or even busting up an enemy gambling racket, it should be you, the player, who decides how and when to act. For example, in taking down a restaurant "front," play it your way--go in with all guns blazing, or sneak 'round the back, sweet-talk the waitress and smash the owner's face down onto a glass-strewn bar counter. With a little light persuasion, you might be able to simply talk him out of his lucrative escort racket--make him an offer he can't refuse.

The author of The Godfather Returns, Mark Winegardner, and I worked on creating the new dialogue for the game. Mark had a fantastic sense of all the established characters' personalities, and helped us achieve the correct "voice" for each. Once he made them come alive it was easy enough to develop their dialogue paths through the new narrative. I think Mark enjoyed the almost "multiple choice" aspect of much of the dialogue--given that, for example, you could never fix how much a character respected you, and therefore how he spoke to you--and Mark took endless delight in writing things like an annoyed Sonny if you try to beat on him, or a hooker's string of come-on lines if the player happened to "fall in with a bad crowd!"

Mark was the go-to guy when we needed a burst of realism, and his ceremony/initiation scenes--which were never really fleshed out in the movie--have intensity and a ring of truth. Had me wondering if he really was a "made man"...

As with every project, I'm the guy who they lock up in a dark room until I finish pouring out content. Heaven forbid they should ever let me out in public! So my research trips were long, arduous, and conducted entirely over the Internet. It's cheaper that way.

Seriously, every single one of the team, from day one to right now, has become immersed in the fiction of the Godfather, and that means multiple book readings, and so many movie watchings that it's become like the cult favorite The Rocky Horror Picture Show. We don't throw rice at the screen, but we've all shouted "Take the Cannoli!" at one time or another...

Having been on this project since we created it, it's a pleasure for me still to be working on it as we near completion--usually at this stage of intense production, I am dragged off kicking and screaming to the next project so my semicreative ramblings can thoroughly annoy the next set of development directors, executive producers, and engineers. For now, though, I stay completely focused on making the greatest Godfather game possible!

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email

  •   View Comments (0)
    Join the conversation
    There are no comments about this story