Home PC News Brenda Romero interview — How Empire of Sin simulates the gangster life

Brenda Romero interview — How Empire of Sin simulates the gangster life

Brenda Romero’s decades-long fascination with the mob comes to fruition on December 1 with the launch of Empire of Sin, a strategy game about being a mobster in Chicago during Prohibition.

The 1920s-era game has 14 different mob bosses from Al Capone to Mabel Ryley, all real gangsters who stoked Romero’s curiosity when she was a child. Romero grew up in Ogdensburg, New York, on the Canadian Border and the banks of the St. Lawrence River. You could hop on a boat to cross over to Canada. There was a bar called The Place, which was the oldest continuously operating bar in the U.S. It stayed open even during Prohibition even when others were forced to close. Romero wanted to know why, and her mother wouldn’t tell her that it had to do with the mob.

In the meantime, over 40 years, Romero made 47 other games from Jagged Alliance and Gunman Taco Truck (conceived by her son). She became a program director for game design and development at the University of Limerick in Ireland, and her John Romero, co-creator of Doom, joined her. They started Romero Games and as Brenda Romero’s gig came to an end, they returned to Empire of Sin.

She pitched it to Paradox Interactive, got approval, and built a team of a few dozen mostly Irish game developers to make game about gangsters in Chicago. I got a chance to play a few hours of the game during a preview, playing as gangsters like Ryley and Goldie Garneau.

Then I interviewed Brenda Romero about what it was like to make the game, where you assume the role of a young mob boss and plot your strategy to build an empire. We talked about the design of the game and how to play it. (Here’s our hands-on preview).

Above: Brenda Romero is cofounder of Romero Games.

Image Credit: Romero Games

GamesBeat: I wonder if I went off in the wrong direction, because I played as Goldie.

Brenda Romero: I was just looking to see who you played. Goldie was the–we had two different ways. There was Goldie, who starts late in the early game. It’s a slightly more advanced state. You could have picked any one of the bosses and been just fine, though. The only thing you would have missed there–if you’d started with O’Banion, you wouldn’t have gotten her initial introduction to the game. All the bosses have their different paths they take to Chicago. Everyone starts out as a level-one gangster, I guess is the easy way to say it. Mobster, boss, whatever.

When you first get into the game early on, if you’ve played a game like Civilization–who else is on the map? Who’s here in my neighborhood? You would have come across at least a couple of people in the early game, and then you would have had the decision–this one of the early important decisions, where you’re figuring out who you will trade early favors for. You’re new in Chicago, I’m new in Chicago. I can do this for you and you can do this for me. You would trade an early game advantage with someone. This sets up a pretty dynamic beginning state between all the ways this can go.

Then you could, when you meet people–you could say, “Let’s get together and talk, have a sit-down.” You could threaten them. Or you can go straight into war, which would be a pretty ridiculously aggressive action, at least for me. But one of the guys on the design team plays that way. I’m gonna take this guy out before he has a chance to get off the ground. Like any strategy game, there isn’t one perfect path.

GamesBeat: How much of the world is active at any given time? I remember pulling out and seeing how far I could zoom back. Can you see the whole city in this demo?

Romero: You can, yeah. It depends. You can play a game with all 10 neighborhoods, or with as few as three. I like playing a chaotic game of three neighborhoods with max bosses. That’s 10 bosses in that game. Everyone is pretty quick to war, because resources are scarce. Everything is compressed. But if you zoom all the way out, there’s stuff going on everywhere. If you picked all 10 neighborhoods and you took a cab from your neighborhood into another one and cleared the fog of war, you’d see people exploring, maybe some people on an exterminate agenda. If you got the whole map cleared in a particular neighborhood, you could just zoom down in and see what everyone is doing. The other bosses are crawling all over the map, same as you are.

GamesBeat: Is the clock always ticking? Is this happening in real time, as opposed to a turn-based approach?

Romero: Combat is turn-based. But the clock is always ticking. You can obviously pause the game, so you don’t always have to have it going. But the clock is always ticking.

Above: Goldie Garneau is one of the mob bosses in Empire of Sin.

Image Credit: Paradox Interactive/Romero Games

GamesBeat: It feels like you’re always competing with the other bosses. You can’t just stall. If you slow down they’re going to race ahead of you.

Romero: They are. Depending on your difficulty level that you choose, obviously, but they will do that. That’s some of the stuff we test. What if I just did nothing, just hung out in one of my rackets? The city progresses. Bosses start wars with one another. Often you’ll get dragged into that. For us, that felt like the right way to do it. We wanted there to be a passage of time.

With some games that are purely turn-based, we didn’t want to have that “so and so goes, then so-and so goes” during the racket-building aspect of it. There are so many different pieces to it — the empire management, the RPG part of it, and the combat. And the strategic aspect of diplomacy. Some of those things, to best be told, should be done in real time. We didn’t want to always force you to pass a turn or take a turn or pass a turn to somebody else, because that wouldn’t feel right. Now, in combat, it’s absolutely turn-based tactical combat. That’s what we wanted for that element.

GamesBeat: How quickly would I have earned things? Is it happening on a monthly cycle, where I get paid from my rackets?

Romero: It’s every week, and each day is 12 seconds. So in total real time, just over a minute.

GamesBeat: I managed to take over a bunch of derelict buildings and turn them into rackets, but then I ran out of money fairly quickly. I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait until they started earning.

Romero: In part, what happens is that when you start the game–in the tutorial, players are walked into the game. It was probably already dismissed in your game, because it was later on. But generally, here’s what would have happened. You would have taken over a few derelict rackets. You would have been notified that, by the way, your brewery can only support this many rackets. If you run out of alcohol those businesses can’t make any money. But there are also businesses that don’t really need to have alcohol to run. Alcohol is good, but they make money on your own. Things like casinos. You’re trying to diversify your empire so that you have money coming in and you’re somewhat shielded from the effects of not having alcohol.

My guess is that you took over enough rackets that you didn’t have a brewery to support all of them. And so you were running out of alcohol. You may have even hired on other gangsters, which would have pulled your income down further.

GamesBeat: I didn’t want to go and attack another boss yet, because I still only had three people or so. It didn’t make sense to do that yet. It felt like I would have to build up a fairly large force before it became wise to attack somebody.

Romero: It’s hard to say. I tend to play pretty aggressively, where I will try to kneecap a couple of bosses early in the game. Especially if it’s a big game. Like I mentioned, my favorite game to play is three neighborhoods, 10 bosses, and I’ll try to take a couple of them out as early as I can. But that depends. Bosses are tough, but their toughness is dependent on how big their empire is.

Also, if you form some kind of business alliance with another boss, you can get them to take somebody out for you. The down side of that is that they get all of their empire. You want to whittle down that empire first. On the money aspect of it, pretty much any strategy game is learning how to min-max that. Another way I try to play, there are synergies you can have in the empire. If you have two or three of a specific business, that will give you a synergy. It all has to be in the same neighborhood. There are five different synergies, and then you can buy a hotel. At that hotel, the concierge will funnel people into your businesses. That will give you extra draw. This is the nerdy level I go to.

There’s prosperity in the neighborhoods as well. It’s Chicago in the Roaring Twenties, so it starts to become a rocking place. The prosperity of neighborhoods goes up. People’s taste for higher-quality alcohol goes up. You can change your alcohol to make more money off those people. You can also sabotage other people by–gunplay obviously lowers the prosperity in other neighborhoods.

Depending on the boss you have, you will also have a couple of economic bonuses. Those bonuses are things you can use to your advantage as well. But my guess is that you were just past the tutorial, so you wouldn’t have gotten the message that said, “This expansion is great, but you have no product to sell.”

Above: Combat in Empire of Sin

Image Credit: Paradox Interactive/Romero Games

GamesBeat: How did you decide on how adult a tone to hit, given the themes that are usually associated with gangsters?

Romero: In the really early design of the game, before it entered production, it was looking at–knowing, if you’re going to make a game about Prohibition, you have to have Capone. If you’re going to have Capone, you’re going to Chicago. Chicago has this great mix of the south side and the north side, the Irish and the Italians. It was obvious that a game was waiting to happen there.

Then the question is, what are they going to do? Some of those gangsters did run brothels. They ran casinos and speakeasies. Dean O’Banion, one of the factual bosses, absolutely hated prostitution. He was a super religious guy. In fact, his personal mission is all about how much he hates brothels and doing some stuff for his priest.

There’s some edge that you go up to. We do have the execution moves in the game. We didn’t want to hold back on the real lives of these people and what they did. At the same time, we do have equal opportunity brothels. Maybe there’s some liberty taken there, but–we wanted to include what we needed to include to make it feel real. I do feel like, even 10 years go, some of the language in the game would have been too strong.

In that aspect we were sort of guided by Deadwood. In Deadwood, back then, Al Swearengen probably would have said something like “You gosh-darn something something.” Who knows? But if they used the language of the day in making the TV show, it wouldn’t have come across sounding hardcore. The writing team wasn’t trying to be gratuitous, necessarily. “We haven’t said ‘fuck’ enough today.” They wrote it as they perceived these gangsters would have talked, so that you hear it in your ear the same way somebody in 1920 would have heard it in their ear. Even if the words themselves are different.

GamesBeat: As far as the history goes, how much were you able to weave in before you decided it was enough? Is there a point where there’s too much realism, something too painstaking?

Romero: It comes down to several things. Will it make the core of the game stronger? Does it help? Did we want that sort of city-builder thing, or did we want to put you into an existing Chicago and see what happened? It comes down to time as well. You can only do so many things.

With the research, some of it was shockingly easy. If you’re working with history, there are already systems in place. I’ve made some historical board games. There’s a lot of systems happening already, so let me find out what those are, and then where do I put the flair into those? It’s a series of complicated systems, which is fantastic for a game. As a boss, you have to figure out what rackets to get into and how to run them. You have layers of the game where you deal with the other bosses, who are also quite powerful. You have to decide whether you’re going to make a move on those bosses. Al Capone is largely remembered as the person who was the kingpin of Chicago, but this gives us an opportunity to tell a different story there.

There’s the diplomacy layer. Then there’s what businesses you’re going to get into and how many of them. There’s paying off the cops, who were shockingly dirty in Chicago. I knew they were, but it was far worse than I thought once we dug into the research. Then there’s the whole layer of the gangsters you hire and the crew management aspect of the game. A lot of that stuff made itself, so to speak, because that’s what real bosses had to do.

Above: Mob boss Mabel Ryley in Empire of Sin.

Image Credit: Paradox Interactive/Romero Games

With the research, some of the stuff–you can find out almost anything you want about Capone. He’s been heavily researched. But other gangsters aren’t as well-known. Daniel McKee Jackson, his history and his bad-assedness as a boss is more interesting to me than Capone. Jackson is another one of the factual bosses. He was an incredibly honorable man. He was friends with Mayor Bill Thompson. He was known to be a vocal, supportive advocate in the community. In his real life, he was an undertaker, and he had this little casino operation on the side. Somebody who is an undertaker, who can dispose of the bodies, there’s something really–up until recently, he was my favorite boss to play.

There’s no shortage of research. If we had to extend Empire of Sin 10 times again, I think we still wouldn’t run out. There’s loads of stuff left.

GamesBeat: As far as how this all got started, it’s interesting that you transplanted to Ireland. How did you pull this team together? Especially while you’re working at the university.

Romero: I’m not teaching there anymore. I’m full time in games now. Making games, especially once it enters production, that’s that. But yeah, when I look back on that, if I pitch it like this–”Hey, John. I have an idea. What do you say we sell everything we own and we move to the west of Ireland and make a game there. What do you think?” It’s a ridiculous idea. It’s a phenomenally risky prospect.

When we came over here after I won the Fulbright, we just loved it. We had an opportunity to meet people, to meet game developers, loads of game developers. We got to know the community here, and we loved it. We wanted to be part of it. We moved, and it turns out that–one of the things that Ireland may not be–when you come from Silicon Valley, it might not be something that’s immediately on everybody’s radar, but Ireland is easily the tech capital of Europe. Easily. Nine out of 10 of the biggest tech companies are in Ireland. On the edge of town here in Galway, EA has an office with 400 people. Cisco has 225 C++ coders. I deeply believe that they all want to be making games. But there are loads of programmers in Ireland.

Also, the arts scene, especially with animation for TV and film–Star Wars was done here. They worked on Game of Thrones in northern Ireland. All the things you need are here. Havok and Demonware are here.

I don’t know that we had to leave Silicon Valley by any stretch of the imagination. There’s loads of developers there. But I’m really happy we’re here. I’m happy that this game is flying the flag for Ireland. My family would have originally come from here. As far as I know, it’s the first game in the world to feature a hurl as a weapon, from the Irish game of hurling, with Frankie Donovan.

GamesBeat: How big did your team eventually get?

Romero: There are 30 of us now. A couple of the early key hires were Keith O’Conor, who was the graphics lead at Ubisoft on the Far Cry series. He’s our CTO. He’s Irish. Ronan Pearce, who is the lead programmer on Empire of Sin, he’s worked with everybody. People love him. You get a couple of key people in place and everybody else comes along.

When I look back, admittedly, it’s ridiculous what we did. But it’s the best team I’ve worked with. They’re fantastic. I’m really happy with the game we put together.

Above: A shootout in Empire of Sin.

Image Credit: Paradox Interactive/Romero Games

GamesBeat: What was it like pitching the idea of a mob strategy game? Who bought into it earliest?

Romero: Factually, I liked it first. I wanted to make a game set in this time period, using this theme, for 20 years. It’s like trying on clothes. Would it work here? No. Maybe it works here? No. In between all of that you’re always in production on something else. But finally, five years ago–I tend to work on game ideas, although this is going to sound stupid, while I’m on vacation. I’ll usually go somewhere I don’t have access to the internet. Or access is expensive enough that I can’t bring myself to buy it.

I started working on this idea. What if you were in Chicago and you had to play as one of these bosses, building your empire and your crew? The idea started to come together that way. Then I put the pitch together. I met with Ronan, Chris, the programmers, early on. I finished the pitch, and then I went to Gamescom.

If you search for game publishers and strategy, there’s no way you’re going to come up with a list that doesn’t include Paradox. I did exactly what you should never do. I would not advise anybody to do this. But I wrote a pitch for Paradox. I wanted Paradox to take the game. I didn’t just pitch Paradox, but I even–they know this now, but I even stacked my day at Gamescom so that I was pitching the people I didn’t think would be that interested, and then just past lunch, when I knew that they would be–I think it was 2:00 or 3:00. They’ve had lunch, and they’ve had coffee, so they’re not tired. I’m warmed up. I’ve already pitched this thing five times. That’s when I took it to Paradox.

The first team meeting we had about the structure of the game, that took place in our current office with a whiteboard and me saying, “Okay, you’re all bosses. You’re all in Chicago. What do you want to do?” We started writing down verbs about what people wanted to do. Where the game went, from that initial pitch to where it is now, has continued to be influenced by conversations like that. What if we could do this? What if we could do that?

It’s much more useful, being a design director, if one of your first words is “Help.” So many of the good things that are in this game, I cannot claim credit for them. I can claim credit for not killing them. But I can’t claim credit for them. The combat system, absolutely, that’s Ian O’Neill, Katie Gardner and the rest of the writing team. Everybody bought into it and everybody shaped it. It’s not a game that suffered for ideas. It wasn’t like, “Jesus, what are we gonna do?” It was very much, “Here’s all this stuff we want to do. What is the thing that can make the core as strong as possible?”

GamesBeat: When I was getting sit-down notices, I didn’t quite know what to do right after that. Did I have to go find the sit-down on the map? I wondered if you could just click on the person as they’re talking, and then it would take you there.

Romero: Yeah, you would have learned how to do that early on. It occurs a couple of times in the early game, and if you do the tutorial, you’ll learn about it. If you don’t do the tutorial, you’ll still learn about it. There will be a pop-up that lets you know someone wants to do a sit-down with you, and if you scroll up to the map it’ll show you where that is. There will be a mission pointer both on the map and in the street view so you can see it. But I still think there’s a better way to telegraph that. I’m going to think about that.

GamesBeat: In the combat, when you go into a derelict building, is the layout inside the building randomized as far as where your people and the enemies start out?

Romero: With the derelict rackets, there’s a message we’re adding to the game today, or it’s been added to the game since you played. I’m testing it today. There are a number of different derelict rackets. There’s not just one. Obviously depending on the size of the racket. There are multiple small, medium, and large derelict rackets. When you go in, the placement of your characters inside of that is different. We like the player to not be able to say, “I know exactly how to play this combat now, because it’s the same thing every time.” It is randomized.

What we put in today, this is largely for players who are completists. They might see, in one neighborhood, that there’s a ton of derelict rackets they could take over. As a completist player, I would think, “I have to get all of those.” But you don’t need to get all of those, because Chicago’s population grows over time. Sure, if you do have the money to support a growing empire, that’s great. You might attract some people from another neighborhood to come over as the city’s population grows, or pull people out of your opponents’ businesses. But you don’t need to go into every single one of those. We do have a message that comes up and says, “By the way, you own all the businesses you need to own for your current customer base in the game.” So players don’t feel like they have to clear the map. They can come back and do the rest later.

Then there’s also the minor factions. Those are useful if you want to trade alcohol to make some money. In fact, it’s beneficial to leave some of those minor factions around, since you can trade alcohol with them as your own resources go up. It’s an easy way to make money.

Above: Goldie Garneau’s rap sheet

Image Credit: Paradox Interactive/Romero Games

GamesBeat: Did you have any particular model for this kind of grid-based combat, like the XCOM series?

Romero: XCOM was a pretty obvious influence, as it is for every game with turn-based combat. XCOM set the bar pretty high. Ian was influenced, especially in the boss abilities, by a lot of movies, funny enough. Things he saw in movies and hoped he could replicate in games, or things he had learned about from the 1920s. Angelo Genna, he comes from a pretty big family, and his nickname was “Bloody Angelo.” Ian’s like, what’s bloody? Knives are bloody, so he starts creating moves based on that.

As far as other aspects of gameplay, I’ve been a long-time Civilization fan. You get the idea of, instead of playing as one of multiple leaders, playing as one of multiple mob bosses. The crew management aspect of it was influenced by Jagged Alliance. Or I should say it was first influenced by history, because people did have to manage their crews. And the overall attitude of the game, I was a huge fan of the Sopranos. And things like Peaky Blinders, but the Sopranos, just for that edge. There’s something fantastic about that series.

GamesBeat: I was surprised when I lost one of my hired guns, and then the other one got too scared that they ran away. They left me facing four other guys, so I had to run away as well.

Romero: It’s an interesting thing about the characters. Something I meant to say earlier, with the systems of the game, thinking of ways–we were looking at different games and what we could do that was at least a plus-one, if not more than that. The gangsters have traits. They start with a certain set of traits based on their background. As they grow, they have more traits depending on their specialty before they meet you. Their early childhood gives them a set of traits, and then the life before they get to you gives them a set of traits. But then traits develop over time, 100 percent based on what you do and the people they interact with.

All the relationships that form–they come in with some relationships early on. Maria already has a relationship with Bruno. But those relationships are also all dynamic over time. You can, when you look in the crew screen, figure out that some of those low-level gangsters are tied to some of the higher-level gangsters. Characters have loyalty. How long they’ve been working with you and how good you’ve been to them, that can lead the way to future things, whether it’s telling you about a certain mission they have, or making an introduction to someone else, or their performance. It’s all affected by those things.

That’s a super dynamic system. This is not in the game anymore. But at one point in time we had characters that, if they had been with–they could fall in love with you just as easily as they could fall in love with other people. This led to one of the most ridiculous bugs that I’ve seen. There could be a love triangle. Two gangsters fell in love with the boss, and one gangster shot the other one. As a boss it put you in kind of an annoying situation. Anyway, that’s when we stopped people from falling in love with bosses. That felt weird to some people. We didn’t want people to have a shootout and kill each other on your behalf.

Above: Mabel Ryley in Empire of Sin

Image Credit: Paradox Interactive/Romero Games

GamesBeat: I wonder if there’s an interesting diversity observation here for you. Recruiting a team in Ireland to make a game about the U.S., and a place in the U.S. they might never have been. Do they bring some kind of fresh eye to the subject that otherwise–if you had a team in Chicago, would they do it a different way?

Romero: I don’t know. I did work with a team in Chicago. Not on Empire of Sin, but on another game. But I don’t know. Diversity, just in terms of the game itself–it wasn’t like it set out to be a diverse game, absolutely. But as someone who didn’t get to play as a woman character for the first six years of my career, that was important to me. I wanted people to be able to look at the game and say, “That’s me. I’ll play as that person.” It’s also important to have those different backgrounds in the game, because it allows for a lot of different stories.

I guess this is almost stealing something from the panel we did at GDC. At the very beginning of that, we would say that eventually, as this panel goes out–we’d have a wall of game developers, and we want everyone who looks at that wall to see themselves on that wall. That’s something we tried to do with the game, certainly. It was easy, really. In some cases it required more research. In some cases it required some fictional relocations. Stephanie St. Clair is also a factual boss, but she’s from New York. I brought her to Chicago. Elvira Duarte, who was John’s great-grandmother, I brought her up from Mexico. But in most cases it was just research.

Two of the characters that I’m really proud of–it was like, “Oh my God, what if we could do this? It’s amazing.” But Man Running and One Sky. Both of those characters–there’s a Cree character and a Navajo character, both of whom speak that language in the game. John’s native. He’s Yaqui. For him, he’s never seen that in a game. I know that in Red Dead Redemption–Loren Anthony, who voiced the Navajo character for us, also speaks Navajo in Red Dead Redemption. So it’s certainly not the first game to do it. But it’s still exciting to be able to put that into a game. I look forward to when these conversations are just, “Well, obviously.” It’s not even something worth noting. I don’t know if that will happen in my career. But we’ll get there.

There are Americans on the team. To use the Irish term, there’s a whole rake of Irish people. We have people from the EU as well. The team knows that this is–if, for some reason, I was outlawed from making games, I’d find some way to go speak about women in tech and women in games. But everybody’s bought into that. The lead writer on the game is Katie Gardner. And for quite a while we had Hazel Kelly. She’s gone to work at DICE now, with our 100 percent support, because she’s in a badass role there. But Hazel was our producer for quite a while. There’s a lot of diversity in the company already. Diverse people tend to attract people who appreciate diversity. That’s absolutely never been an issue.

GamesBeat: Did you work with John [Romero] on a lot of this as well? Did he have a distant role, or a close one?

Romero: We work together on everything. His closest role to the game, he’s doing all the audio in the game, just because he loves doing that. Coding the audio, making sure that–today he’s working on getting all the V/O stuff in the game. Testing combat, making sure that it feels visceral, making sure that audio is visceral. But he’s also–when this game literally existed only in my head, he was the sounding board. We’ve known each other for a very long time. We’re quite candid and frank with each other. I know that when he says, “That’s good, I like it,” or when he says, “Jesus!”–he wouldn’t hold back something like that from me.

John has also taken–it would be near impossible to have two leads on the project from a design perspective. While I’ve been doing this project, obviously he did Sigil. He was doing a lot of the early product management on the project as well. Running the company. If you do something crazy like start up a company in another country, somebody has to make sure that’s running well while the other person has their brain 100 percent in the game.

GamesBeat: When you have things out there like XCOM on one hand and the Mafia franchise on the other, how do you decide what space you’re going after? Is it intimidating to see the competition out there?

Romero: It’s just intimidating, competition or not. It’s intimidating to make anything creative and put it out there for people to see. As exciting as press day is, it’s also nerve-wracking. Releasing a game is nerve-wracking.

I’m stealing these words from Brian Upton, who was at Sony for a long time as a senior game designer. Brian said, “What’s the hook, look, and experience?” We knew we were making something nobody else had made. We just had to make it right. As this idea started, as it became fully formed in my head, I wanted desperately to play that game. It didn’t exist anywhere.

John used to say–I’ve heard him be interviewed a million times about Doom. “Where did you guys get the idea for Doom?” “We wanted to play it. We just wanted to play it and it didn’t exist, so we made it.” It’s good advice. If there’s something you really want to play, it doesn’t exist, and you have the capacity to make it, then do it.

Above: No mercy.

Image Credit: Paradox Interactive/Romero Games

GamesBeat: With a team of 30, is this one of the largest games you’ve made?

Romero: Probably? John has worked on much larger games. Obviously Keith worked on Far Cry and Watch Dogs, so he’s worked on massive teams. I tend to like working in small teams. This is about as big as I would want to go with a team. When I was working on a game at EA, I was one of seven senior designers. I was a system lead. It was just a massive team. I like the idea that I know, by name, everybody on the team. I know what their favorite tea is, or favorite coffee. Mostly because right now–I know these answers because during stand-up every morning, because we’re heading toward launch, the question of the day is, “What’s your favorite beverage?”

For me, this is a comfortable size. It’s about the same size, I want to say, as the teams I worked on a Sir-Tech. Maybe a bit bigger with all the outsourcing figured in. But I tend to like small teams.

GamesBeat: Have you gone gold at this point, or are you almost there?

Romero: We’re at day one, yes. We’re there, at least as a designer. Depending on who was on the call, you’d get several different answers. Programming-wise, is the build locked? Absolutely, the build is locked. Production-wise, yes, there’s not a chance. I’m not getting anything else in. If something comes up that’s a critical error or a cert problem, the gates are open and that will get fixed. But as a game director, I’m always going to be–while I was talking to you, I was taking notes. “Clicking on the person you’re talking to. Go there directly if you click on them.”

That suggestion will make it into the game. Will it make it in a quality of life update? Will it make it in an update shortly after launch? I don’t know. But that will make it in, because that makes sense. I should be able to have the option to just do this now. We’ve gone gold, but as a game director, I’m always trying to see what I can do. My job is to try to do that, and then the producer and CTO, their job is to stop me. But I’m respectful. What you said is probably not going to be a day one thing, because I don’t think it meets the threshold of cert error.

GamesBeat: Is there going to be a live game aspect of this, where you keep working on it after it launches?

Romero: Oh, yeah. It’s a Paradox game, and Paradox tends to have pretty long tails on their games. We do have DLC planned for their game. We can’t talk about what it is yet. But my hope is that this is the foundation for a nice long run.

I’m sure you already know all the particulars. It’s going to be on Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac. The thing that I like the most about it is maybe just colored by a question that you asked me. I really do feel like this captures what it was like to be a mob boss in 1920. And not just to be a boss, but to build your way up from nothing. I love that specific aspect of it. I love that it’s multiple games in one. I love that it’s hard to pin down to a genre. It seems to me like there are specific pillars. Do you want to talk about the RPG game? Do you want to talk about the strategy game? Do you want to talk about the turn-based combat game?

I think we’ve done it. It’s also a great credit–we’re lucky to work with Paradox. I don’t know how much interaction you’ve had with them. I’ve obviously worked with a lot of different publishers, and Paradox feels very much like a developer. Our product manager, Gustav, has been with us since day one. He’s as hardcore as you can get into strategy games. He’s amazing. This game has been a joy to develop.


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