Feature

From Mr. Untouchable To Goodfellas – Mafia III’s Inspirations

by Ben Reeves on Oct 26, 2015 at 09:45 AM

Like quilt makers, game developers take little bits of inspirations from various sources of popular culture and history in order to weave the larger tapestry of their games. Set in a fictitious version of New Orleans in 1968, Mafia III has a rich background of influences. We spoke with Hangar 13’s creative leads about the various movies, books, and historical events that help the studio flesh out this colorful world.

Nicky Barnes
Dubbed Mr. Untouchable, Barnes was an American drug lord and crime boss who ran a notorious New York-based criminal organization known as The Council throughout the ‘70s. Barnes controlled most of the heroin trade in Harlem and learned how to run his organization directly from the Italian mafia. He was eventually arrested and became a government informant.

Hangar 13’s inspiration: “We wanted to show the dissolution and fall from grace of the mob, and them being exposed for who they were, which was brutal criminals,” says senior writer Charles Webb. “It nice to see this sort of de-romanticizing these criminals who seemed like noble members of their community. We keep coming back to Nicky Barnes, who’s interesting because the dude was a cool player. He cut a very striking figure. He was a criminal, but he was also a guy who snitched on his own people and left a lot of bodies in his wake.”

Justified
FX’s television drama staring Timothy Olyphant explores the continuing exploits of a hard-nosed U.S. Marshal who enforces his own brand of justice within his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky. The show has a contemporary setting, but Hangar 13 was particularly captured by the  characters and the way people try to work outside the law.

Hangar 13’s inspiration: “Season two of Justified in particular was tonally what we were looking for,” Webb says. “The big thing in that show for me is the importance of family, and even if you want to, you can’t deny it. You cannot get away from that.”

American Desperado and Cocaine Cowboys
In the ‘80s, Jon Roberts was the Medellin Cartel’s most effective drug smuggler, importing a good portion of the nation’s cocaine through Miami. Roberts was a colorful character who became friends with people like Jimi Hendrix and Richard Pryor, hired a professional wrestler as his bodyguard, and shared a bed with a 200-pound cougar. Roberts is subject of both the 2011 book American Desperado and the 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys.

Hangar 13’s inspiration: “The punchline of that is that cocaine built Miami,” says studio head Haden Blackman. “Miami was this podunk, one-horse town before cocaine, and then that drug built the entire city. John Roberts had a very specific vision of what he thought Miami should be, and he helped make that happen. They literally had to buy houses just to store all their money. All of our main characters have a very specific vision of what they think their city should look like, and it’s all very different."

"In a weird way it was kind of liberating, because that guy was so f***ing crazy that you can’t make up the stuff he did,” adds lead writer William Harms. “When we ask ourselves, ‘Is this too crazy to put in the game?’ The answer is usually, ‘No,’ because there is some criminal out there over the last 50 years who has done that, or done something even crazier.”

Jim Brown
Jim Brown was a hall of fame football player and actor who was best known for his record-setting nine-year career as a fullback for the Cleveland Browns. In the February 1968 issue of Playboy, Brown was interviewed and recounted the story of being pulled over by the police in the south while he was playing college ball for Syracuse.

Hangar 13’s inspiration: “He helped ground a lot of things we want to do with the police,” Harms says. “Their alleged crime was that their car threw dirt on some white people. But the only reason that they got out of it was that another cop came by and recognized who Jim Brown was. The way he described it was that the situation was headed south pretty quick. As much as possible we want to infuse the game system with the social climate of the day. Our police are no joke.”

Goodfellas
Hangar 13 was inspired by several films, such as Bloody Sunday and Bullitt, but one that seemed especially relevant was this 1990 Martin Scorsese crime drama. The film narrates the rise and fall of a man named Henry Hill as he struggles to find his place in the Lucchese crime family between the years of 1955 and 1980.

Hangar 13’s inspiration: “Going back to the romanticized version of the mob versus its erosion, the second half of Goodfellas was great,” Blackman says. “Mafia II was very much Godfather inspired, and it did a great job of capturing that vibe. We’re the second half of Goodfellas where it all starts to erode and Ray Liotta is coked out of his mind and paranoid and looking over his shoulder. There are characters exactly like that in our game.”

Black Power Mixtape 1967-75
Originally lost in a Swedish archive for 30 years, this documentary from director Göran Olsson and co-producer Danny Glover helps encapsulates the urban unrest of the ‘60s revolution. Via a series of original interviews with major leaders of the Black Power Movement, including Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, and Eldridge Cleaver, the film helps chronicle the evolution of one of the U.S.’s major turning points.

Hangar 13’s inspiration: “It’s a great sense of what black life was like, and seeing that from an outsider’s perspective,” Webb says. “What’s interesting about it is that it’s not just the American life perspective; you’re getting a third perspective of, ‘Here’s how insane our country looks to other countries.’ This isn’t a soapbox, but we want to have that era feel like a real place rooted in a place and time.”

For more on Mafia III, and how Hangar 13 is working to bring 1968 to life or to watch video interviews with the team, check out our month-worth of cover coverage by clicking the banner below.