Zwei neue Interviews mit Daniel Vavra (Lead Designer) und Frantisek Harcar (Motion Capture Lead Animator)

Daniel Vavra

Daniel Vavra

How did you become a game designer?
It was quite a long way. I started working for an advertising agency as an artist and I then joined IS as an artist. I created games at home, but at the time nothing like game designers existed so I didn’t see any future for the job. Only when we started working on some project in IS I got involved and had some comments from time to time, and thus I became a designer.

What would you recommend to those interested in becoming game designers?
It’s difficult because I didn’t start as a game designer. Nevertheless, you have to be talented for this job. Lots of people would like to become designers, but they don’t have the skills they need, at least not yet. The simplest way is to join a game-producing company and work at some other position, e.g. as a tester. In my opinion, it’s better to get some experience first, such as to create some quality game modes or a new level with a good idea for some existing game. Another option is to start working as a script programmer which is something I have no idea about. Being programmers, they in fact affect what happens in the game and locations. And if they prove to be good, they may advance to designers. In my opinion, it is best to try the mod scene and then work as a scripter programmer in the company.

What are you working on these days? Can you tell us?

Well, writing… (laughing) We are creating a new thing so I keep writing plus I supervise other people’s work. For example I come up with some idea, they work on it and I then check it whether it corresponds to the original plan. So we quite cooperate.

When you started writing the screenplay for Mafia II, did you already know what the ending would be like? Or did it change during the process?
Basically, I came up with the main plot and its beginning, and I also knew where the game should get. Then, I created the rest so the main storyline takes us, let’s say, four weeks, and then we work on details. Most people don’t work like that, though. They just begin and don’t know what it will end like even several months later. In a way, they let the characters and their possible behavior carry them on through the story.

Did you try to follow up from the story of Mafia I? Lots of people speculated about Tommy and his daughter or son…
No, we didn’t. I’ve read quite a number of ideas people put on the Internet. Yes, lots of things could have been done predictably like that, but it wouldn’t have been good to do it just because people already thought it would be like that. I don’t think it is so important to have the screenplays connected. Besides, we would be limited in many an aspect because it would be obvious what has to happen. And this wasn’t attractive for us.

Did you do any graphic design for Mafia II? We know you created the menu for Mafia I.
I created a proposal of the menu and GUI, but so many people have worked on it since that it’s no longer my work. So there’s not much from me in terms of graphics.

Do you consult with any team members or friends who worked on Mafia I and aren’t working on Mafia II?
Most of those who worked on Mafia I work on the sequel now so I don’t consult the others much. I’m still in touch in some of them, but I’m not allowed to publish info outside the company. I mostly work my way and don’t let the others interfere. If somebody comes up with a good idea, I of course agree. In general, though, I like to have my own idea and prefer it to creating things in a team.

How do you feel about the Mafia I mod community?
I can say I definitely like the mod scene, but don’t have time for it, unfortunately. There are tons of various modes and there is no guideline as to what to focus on in order to filter out practically pointless attempts and keep the good ones. This doesn’t mean that I ignore the community, though. If somebody comes and brings some good thing and would like to work here, I’d definitely take a look at it. In general, though, it’s quite demanding in terms of time.

Are there any 2K Czech members that have film experience?
Yes, there are some FAMU (Film and TV Academy) graduates in the company. On the other hand, I studied this myself and am interested in it so I mostly work with my own experience, and our animators then implement it. Some got to this work through this FAMU while others through amateur films. It is also thanks to them that there is a film drive in the game.

Where do you get your inspiration for screenplays, stories, characters etc?
I have to read a lot, not only about Mafia, but also about its era, politics etc. And that’s what we use to base our plots on. During that, of course, you come across real events that were quite interesting…

Can you give any examples?
Unfortunately, I cannot tell you, but I’m often inspired by real events, e.g. don Corleone in Godfather was inspired by a real agent Carlo Gambino. Most of good gangster movies are based on real events. Mostly, they are biographies of gangsters, or autobiographies. Films like Casino and Goodfellas are based on real characters so it was quite easy for the authors to create them. They got a biography of a gangster, shot a movie, and that was it. We take for example year 1950 and work with the relations some two families had at the time, and that’s what our own ideas are based on.

So you write the basic storyline and then forward it to somebody else to review?
Well, it’s not a basic line; it’s quite detailed, but somebody else processes it for the game design so that the game can be created according to it. So also I do it, but I could never manage all that myself, therefore there are several people for the job.

It is important that the player identifies with the main character in the game. How do you achieve this?
Similarly to the way films are created. The character has to be likeable so it’s important to think of something I like and have it judged by others. The character has to have some history, some characteristics, life experience etc.

Concerning customizable characters, do you prefer allowing the player to create their own personalized character or do you prefer pre-created characters?
This very much depends on the type of the game, and it’s also up to the developers. It’s quite good to create one’s own character in Fallout or Oblivion, but in Mafia it’s better to have the character fixed.

Frantisek HarcarFrantisek Harcar

There are a number of different animators working on Mafia II – what does being the lead animator of MoCap entail on a daily basis?
Most of my work lies in communication with lead animators, actors and the organization of motion capture sessions. The key thing I am responsible for is the quality of the MoCap data and that it is delivered on time.

What are you doing to make the game look different, better, more distinct than any in the past?

We use modern technology. A good example of this is the optical system VICON. It helps us to record the movements of the actors in more realistic way than ever before. In the past we used a magnetic system, which wasn’t nearly as good.

How do you capture movement so that it is realistic and diverse?
We try to build and organize scenes in the way that allows the actors to move as naturally as possible. We don’t want any artificial movements. We also have to keep the actors in the ideal capture space. That can be very difficult sometimes. We also use realistic models of utilities (such as guns) so that actors really carry things made of actual material in its actual size and weight.

What got you interested in this kind of animation?
The work is varied. I meet a lot of new people. There is always the possibility to use new and better software. And what I really appreciate is that no matter what the actor we are capturing looks like, the final look of the character is our job!

Are there any games, or other works, that give you inspiration?
I really like PIXAR animations, I also watch animated cartoons a lot and of course I sometimes play games and follow new technology. My biggest inspiration is always the final piece of my work. I am always looking for mistakes and ways to eliminate them in future projects.

Are you any of the characters? Will we see any of your personal movements in the game?

Well… I was a dead donkey once. So I didn’t actually move! I also was a jailor. I’m always some unimportant roles. We have actual actors for important roles!

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