” You are who you are, and there’s no point arguing with yourself about it”Lincoln Clay, Mafia 3
Publisher: Titan Books
Published: January 2017
From Titan Books, released in January 2017 by 2K, The Art of Mafia 3 is a showcase of the development behind the design and creation of the third entry in the Mafia series, the creation of the fictional city of New Bordeaux, drawing influence and inspiration from New Orleans in America’s south. The world of Lincoln Clay is a divisive and challenging environment and era in America’s history with the conflicts in the civil rights protests converging into the progressive attitudes that have grown ever since. This hardback release is a collection of the artwork and design sketches detailing the creation of the natural and urban areas of New Bordeaux in addition to the character design models that brought this homage to New Orleans to life in the digital era. With additional commentary provided by the games art director Dave Smith, it provides an insight into the creation of this world that is both recognisable given the inspiration from its real world counterpart and yet a distinct period of time that until its release hadn’t been presented in gaming form before.
When we reviewed Mafia 3 in October 2019 in certainly felt like somewhat of a missed opportunity to address the contentious and divisive issues of America’s history and growth by instead opting to focus on the mafia and empire building nature of the games series over the societal and political issues that were pervasive across the nation at that time. In contrast, and unlike its nearest equivalence of a game using a fictionalized depiction of a real world location in Watchdog’s, the content of this Art Book is generous in quantity and detail in showcasing the creation of the various environments and locations. The world of New Bordeaux, and presumably New Orleans is a fascinating variety of the topography of the bayou and marshes to the south and the bright lights and buildings of the urban heartland of the city. The book, as with the game, follows somewhat of a chronological nature of the encounters you experience in the gaming narrative, your earliest encounters and misdemeanors revealed first, the final showdown in the casino one of the last areas covered. It’s a distinct approach, having reviewed a number of these titles in the last year with each seemingly taking its own approach, probably my personal favourite in its approach as it brings to mind the events in the order in which you encountered them as best as it can given the open nature of the games design.
One of the game’s strengths as we observed in our original review was the creation of New Bordeaux and the distinct and memorable environments and areas open for you to explore. In contrast to the modern or near future interpretation of Chicago which featured similar terrain and locations for the most part, when exploring by vehicle or by foot, each area of Mafia 3 had its own unique style and design. Driving around the narrow roads of the Bayou was challenging in contrast to the design of the large open cities and highways. I did enjoy the opportunity to explore the marsh lands and felt it broke up the urban crawl of exploring the city, though given the majority of the games campaign is set predominantly in the city the chances were few and far between. The warmth of the colours used certainly does match up with the images conjured through imagining sailing on a riverboat through the Bayou. I’m not convinced the use of the light filters in the game its entirety works without creating the impression you are forever in a sepia infused landscape, that said on the Bayou, the sensation created through existing in perpetual dusk on the water is remarkable and striking and a testament to the art design of this game.
The urban and city landscape in contrast to the natural environment is an admirable reflection of the boom of the American landscape and economy in that period of time, transitioning from a more reduced wartime economy to a booming economic powerhouse as it exists today. Whilst certain elements and quarters of the city it was based upon, were historically left behind, the game acts to contrast the rich and poor neighbourhoods and by default there is something eclectic to experiencing the game through exploring the contrasting regions of the game’s map. The book works to showcase the varying urban designs and construction areas perpetuating the image of a city in development and growth. The design images are more nuanced and detailed than their appearance in the game engine so as ever it’s always enjoyable to see the contrast from concept to final realisation. The interiors of the various buildings and casinos used in its setpieces and siege levels were one of the games strengths though through repetition in their use did become overly familiar. Still, from a design perspective it was interesting to contrast the rich grandiose interiors of the casino and nightclub to the more subdued homes and gardens of the city.
The book itself presents each of these distinct locations in somewhat of a chronological order of the events your encounter though as noted, in an open world game this is largely at the players choice as such there is some variation. I did prefer this approach as it created resonance to the gaming experience and you were able to pictualise the final realised effect to the intended design as shown in the graphical sketches. Each area is detailed though it does have a similar issue to other gaming books in largely presenting the final realised product as opposed to the layering of development approach others have adopted to show you the process and stages of world creation. Whether that is required or indeed needed in an open world game based on real world buildings and structures is debatable, for instance the image of the housing above, it probably would add little in breaking down the different elements, the housing and streets for example as opposed to fantasy or sci-fi based games and how those levels were designed from beginning to end. That said, the enjoyment of these books comes from going inside the design process, seeing the images or areas of inspiration and how they were brought to life to explore, an element that certainly could have been expanded upon here.
In contrast to the environmental design, the character models and sketches showed the evolutionary building process to a greater degree with the various layers of modelling depicted before showing the finalised design. The NPC and gang models do become somewhat repetitive in the game, given the nature of third person shooters when you are in combat from a distance there is no great need or drive to create highly detailed individual foot soldiers, as such you do experience some repetition in the model usage. The enemy gangs may look familiar as you imagine and can see, they are stock figures used again and again. From a narrative perspective, this does make some sense as your enemy without going into great detail is an Italian crime family who you are attempting to overcome to rise to the top of the Mafia empire. As such, the use of cliched, short sleeved chain smoking henchman, whilst somewhat contrived as an opponent is consistent throughout the entirety of the game. What I did enjoy through the books structure, as with other gaming art books when it uses this location structure, each new area details not only the level design but also the character models and opponents that predominantly feature in these areas.
Away from the enemy design, one of the dominant features of the games narrative and structure is breaking through and taking down the many excesses and vices of the world of New Bordeaux, from the nightclubs and parlours to the drinking establishments and drug warehouses. Such glamorous locales demand their own design work, the game succeeds in having unique and memorable assets populate these clubs and haunts, the women and men dressed in their finery and it was interesting to see not only the character design of these models and individuals but also the glamorous promotional material such as the posters in place through New Bordeaux. It always feels like an indulgence or extravagance on the designers part to have time away from creating the minutiae of character modelling or environmental detail and to just have some fun creating these nightclub leaflets or boxing promotional material. It serves no practical purpose whatsoever besides creating a level of immersion that is crucial when creating an open world design. Grand Theft Auto succeeded in this by using radio adverts and music in its original game, whilst the game features a great mix of licensed music, I adore seeing these art prints and work as it feels legitimate to the era the game was set in.
Whether it was high class dancers and cabaret acts, boxers and fighters, thugs, guards or the main character himself in his various guises, the book does well to highlight a variety of the sketches and development processes in creating and bringing the characters to life. Certainly there is a sense of repetition in some of the guard design and usage in the game but taken on its own merits, you do realise the small changes to each of the guards attire and appearance in each of the individual areas. For Clay himself, in my personal experience I played the majority of the game in a tuxedo, dressed in his trademark Green military issued overcoat was somewhat disjointed to my personal experience but it was nice to see the design process in bringing your main character to life. A game that aims to create immersion needs you to invest and believe in the world around you, purely in relation to the character design there was enough differentiation between the models in each area of the map, from the glitz and wealth of the clubs to the construction yards and rundown projects.
The Art of Mafia 3 is a polished and impressive assortment of images and promotional material for this release. Whilst the game does suffer somewhat from the fatigue of repetition in reusing certain environmental assets and models, it was refreshing to actually see how nuanced and detailed the characters were for example. As a company, if you want your audience to engage and feel immersed in your open world, you need to create a system and space that feels as distinct and unique as the world around you. From a gaming perspective, nothing breaks immersion as quickly as shooting or killing the 100th villain looking identical to the army of foot soldiers you have just taken down. Certainly, I’ll accept and concede this is the nature of game design, but it is an issue that will need to be addressed. A way around this where I feel Mafia 3 succeeded is by creating unique and distinctive models for each area, as such whilst there may be repetition in the thugs, you never feel you are meeting or seeing the same people say in the clubs of New Bordeaux whilst driving through the Bayou. This creates a very vivid and memorable open world game that is showcased in this art book how attention to detail brought that vision to life.
The finish as ever is of a high quality, the design and shape of the book is unique in contrast to the more familiar shape of other releases, from a collectors standpoint it does have the unfortunate consequence of not fitting neatly on a shelf besides your other purchases. Whether intentionally or not, it does have the appearance and shape through its square design of looking like an album cover, fitting if so given the collectable nature of the ingame albums you come across as a hidden treasure. There is more than enough content to justify its retail price however you can find this for a ridiculously cheap price at the moment on sale at Forbidden Planet in the UK which I would highly recommend to anyone who has played this game and wants to delve deeper into the world of New Bordeaux. There are areas to improve, I do wish as a publisher Titan were more consistent in their design and shape, both Alien Isolation and now Mafia 3 have these distinct designs that do make storing and displaying them more trickier than they need to be. The content is varied enough to satisfy an enthusiast or gamer whatever their particular predication, to a high degree though as mentioned, showcases the final design sketches without detailing the process and layers of bringing them to life. If you enjoyed the world of Mafia 3, or found the design to be one of its greater strengths, this book serves well to add a layer of depth and immersion to your experience and memories of the game.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog please ‘like’ the Around The Bonfire Facebook page and contribute your own stories and comments, and share my blog and Facebook posts (this is really important – it’s how we reach more readers!). Alternatively join us in the Twitter Universe for a take on the latest gaming news or Instagram for a wealth of gaming pictures and stories.
If you enjoyed this Video Game Art Book, here are others you may enjoy: