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A real swell AMA

Article / Aug 06, 2020

On July 23rd we packed into our towncar and took a trip down to reddit for a grand old Ask Me Anything! We were absolutely flabbergasted by the attention, and we had a real swell time answering questions that night!  While the full AMA thread is still there on Reddit for you to take a gander at, we have gathered here a fine selection of questions and answers for you to enjoy. 

On the setting

BlueLantern84: What made you lean toward this particular setting?

Brenda Romero: I have been fascinated with the Prohibition-era since I was a kid. There is a bar in my hometown called The Place. Rumor has it that it is the oldest continuously running bar in the US, and never shut during Prohibition. The bar itself is a short walk to the St. Lawrence River and across that is Canada. So, it served a lot of Canadian booze during that time. I knew I wanted to make a game in this setting at some point, and I started toying with the idea in 2000. The challenge with making a game, though, is that it has to have a hook — the unique thing that separates it from all other games. That’s the game you see here. Chicago was key to it. It’s geographic location, the people who were there during the time… it was just an incredibly rich space to develop in.

 kirsebaer-_-: When you make a game such as this, do you talk with old mobsters and get their input?

Brenda Romero: I’ve had 20 years to research the game, so I’ve taken in a lot. I’ve read every book I could get my hands on, watched a ton of documentaries and read police files and testimony from the time. I also have watched every film and TV show that’s even remotely related (and the whole Sopranos series six times). I didn’t talk to any actual gangsters of modern era for this game, however. Just the stuff on Capone could keep me going for years. We also had a guy on the design team, Darius Monks, whose job it was to dig all kinds of stuff up. Some of the bosses in the game are a credit to his sleuthing work.

What makes the game stand out?

Hieremias: I am super on board for an “XCOM-with-gangsters” game, but because there are so many games in that genre can you give some details on how yours is different?

Ian O’Neill:Great question! The setting is a huge part of what sets Empire of Sin’s combat apart from similar games in the genre. The weapons and equipment, the Gangster professions and abilities, and the environments all combine to really make our combat systems their own. Combat will feel familiar and comfortable to fans of the genre, so they’ll be able to jump right in and get started, but there’s also some new tricks and tactics that you’re going to have to become familiar with to come out on top. I’ll give one example. Combat can happen anywhere, and I mean anywhere. Hit that ambush button and traffic around you will stop as the game switches over to turn-based mode. You’ve now got a whole bunch of cars that will provide you with cover or block line of sight. Use it wisely.

Brenda Romero: Great question! Most importantly, we have no aliens (or they are just disguised as humans. The truth is out there on the internet. It is the only way to get this message out. Help us.)

Empire of Sin has a lot of different stuff going on in it. You’re building an entire empire in a variety of different ways. That means that you have to gain strategic control of neighbourhoods, maximise their earnings, and learn all the little things you can do to increase prosperity (or trash it in your enemy’s neighborhood). To do that, you need to get and manage a crew who often have minds of their own and might make friends, enemies or lovers of one another. Bosses have their own unique stories as do some of the gangsters, and those stories come into play as missions in unique ways. While you’re trying to be Boss of Chicago, someone is also trying to kill you. Many someones. So, you have to manage your diplomacy and know your enemy like you know yourself. Make alliances, Form trade agreements. Accept and offer protection treaties. There’s just so, so much going on in the game.

On what inspired the team

Scythius1: Which 3 games would you say Empire of Sin is mechanically most influenced by?

Brenda Romero: From a design perspective, it is heavily influenced by the games in the Civilization series, Jagged Alliance and XCom.

Katie Garner: I can answer to the narrative design, which is inspired by branching path style dialogue found in games such as Fallout 3 & New Vegas, mixed with some Divinity: Original Sin 2. Skill checks and traits play a part in missions, so they’re certainly something to bear in mind when making dialogue choices!

MachoToast1122: Are there any films or television shows that inspired the game and it’s mechanics? 

Brenda Romero: Without a doubt, The Untouchables and The Sopranos. The interplay between the various bosses in The Sopranos and the humour/depth in their own stories is something that I definitely wanted in the game. I can’t claim credit for its delivery, however. That is all down to our writing team: Katie, Mike, Luke and Jack.

titus_1_15: As a kid Gangsters: Organised Crime was one of my favourite games, and for years I’d been hoping someone would have a modern take on something in the same vein. I particularly enjoyed the legal fronts/illegal business and money laundering mechanics, which few other games have explored, and the general tycoon aspects, as much as the combat.

Was this game one of the influences you looked at when designing Empire of Sin?

Brenda Romero: Surprisingly, it wasn’t, though it certainly comes up a lot. The main influences from a gameplay perspective were games in the Civilization series and XCom (for the combat). My favorite game of all time is Civilization Revolution. I also love the time period of 1920s prohibition-era Chicago. At some point, this happened in my head: What if instead of picking Napoleon or Gandhi, I was picking Al Capone and Dean O’Banion? What if instead of trying to build an empire to last the test of time, I was trying to build an empire to take everyone else out?

I also drew heavy inspiration from my favourite TV series, The Sopranos.

On Game Development

tmjhurts: What are a few things about developing a game, even just minutiae, that a lay person doesn’t know about but you find interesting?

Conor Jordan:The most interesting thing I find about developing a game is you’ve got a group of experts in art, programming, design, narrative etc. all coming together and just making this one awesome thing for others to enjoy. It’s the fuckin’ coolest thing.

John Romero: The process of developing a game is one of constant problem solving. The first big problem is that you have a game idea you want to make – to solve that problem you have to break it up into hundreds of smaller pieces. Those pieces tend to break into dozens of smaller pieces as well.

This is why it takes years to make a game.

Brenda Romero: Wow. Interesting question. I have never done anything else, so I find it a challenge to have perspective on what other professions might feel like. I do know that game development feels more like a family to me than any other “team” I’ve been on, and I mean “family” in the near-literal way. It’s pretty demanding, and the game is in your head even when you are not working. I wake up at 3, 4, 5am thinking about stuff. It means that our partners, families, kids also live this thing. When we launch the game, we ALL launch it. There is a tremendous closeness bound by that purpose. I can’t imagine it’s like that at an insurance company.

Bazztoner: How challenging has been for you to conceptualize this type of gameplay coming from so many different backgrounds?

Brenda Romero: If you’re referring to the gameplay style, it was 20 years worth of challenging. I’ve wanted to make a game based on Prohibition-era Chicago for a very long time. It took that length of time for that unique mix to come together.

RSAnderson: Hey guys, love your work! How do you go about casting voice over for your projects?

Katie Garner: Good question! Casting for VO is a lot of work, but also really fun. For our part, we listen through tons and tons of auditions and match up voices with characters. Every so often, a voice will just click. You’re listening to an audition, and you’ll immediately go, “Wow, that’s exactly what this person sounded like in my head.” It’s a really cool moment.

guyewhite: What is a programming skill that you learned early on that has been useful over and over again in game development? (Could even be a “beginner” move!)

Ian Dunbar: I distinctly remember when I realized that you can safely remove elements from a list while looping over it if you loop over the list in reverse. That blew my mind at the time.

John Romero:The most important skill in programming for me has been writing only small bits of code before running and testing it. The bugs you have are typically very small and easy to understand and fix.

The longer you code before testing, the harder it is to debug.

On Gameplay

grumpyfrench: Multiplayer?

Brenda Romero: Empire of Sin is a single-player game.

JoshRTR14: Will the Nintendo Switch version be watered down or the same as the PC release?

Brenda Romero: Same game, no water added.

AllntheReflexes: You guys are great!

In Empire of Sin, will there be other ways to defeat the bosses in the city other than killing them? How will police/FBI interact with the player and the AI? Will there be any form of a court system/arrests/judges?

Thanks! Looking forward to the game!

Brenda Romero: Chicago in the 1920s was a tough place. The police will arrest people and send them to jail, but everything has its price. So for enough cash, you can get them sprung from jail. One way to avoid that is to get the police to like you enough, then you pay them and the will turn a blind eye to your activities. Ultimately, Empire of Sin is a game about making allies… and then making enemies.

MachoToast1122: What rackets will we see in Empire of Sin? I’ve read on the steam page about protection rackets and union skimming but haven’t heard anything about those in a while. Was wondering if they’re still a part of this game.

Brenda Romero: There are currently 4 base rackets in Empire of Sin, Breweries, Brothels, Speakeasies and Casinos. Protection was modified as a racket and moved into diplomacy which gave it way more strategic depth. Weaker gangs can pay protection to stronger ones so paying protection is still a thing in Empire of Sin. Union Skimming ended up on the bad end of a gun and did not make it to the end of development.

RomanMad: Will the maps in Empire of Sin be randomly generated each time you play?

John Romero: When you start a new game you can choose how many Bosses and how many Neighborhoods you want to play against and in. Then, the placement of the Bosses is randomized and the Neighborhoods themselves have random placement of rackets. The Neighborhoods themselves are designed, but not the function of the buildings. One game could have a building be a derelict place filled with Thugs, another time it could be another Boss’ Brewery.

bozz14: Hi team, thanks for taking the time and cannot wait for the release! If it’s not too revealing of an answer, do you have a ballpark estimate yet of long the game is hours-wise?

Brenda Romero: It’s not a revealing answer at all… just a tricky one. Empire of Sin has such wide-ranging gameplay. There are 14 bosses for starters, 10 different neighborhoods and then a bunch of minor factions. So, you can play a smaller game with a few neighborhoods and bosses or a much longer, larger game.

Collected1: Do you have any plans for a future livestream to showcase the game and perhaps some development insights? 

Conor Jordan: We’ve actually been streaming the game on https://www.twitch.tv/paradoxinteractive. The next live stream is August 13th 🙂

Modding

KakisalmenKuningas: Do you have plans to include modding tools that would allow for user made content along the lines of the Long War mod for Xcom? Tools powerful enough to potentially change even the strategy layer of the game, and not just the tactics layer.

Brenda Romero: Yes, we designed the game to support mods right from the beginning of development. We’re planning to provide almost all the tools we used to develop the game to modders and can’t wait to see what the community do with them!

Release date

Joeonandoff: I was looking forward to the game since last year? Any reason for the delays ?

Brenda Romero: I have two answers: because that’s how it goes sometimes, and because we have a great publisher.

I’ll explain.

“Sometimes, that’s how it goes.” At the beginning of game, you make estimates based on what you think the game will be and what you think it will need. As these things come to pass, you realise that you need more of this and less of that. Games are a highly iterative process, particularly when you’re trying to make something no one else has made before. So, you do your best, and we as a team have (I’m so lucky to work with so many amazing people, genuinely).

“We have a great publisher.” Throughout the development, Paradox has been very involved. I have said publicly a number of times that they *feel* like a development studio that’s masquerading as a publisher. I don’t think anyone knows their fans or their genre as well as Paradox does. They saw the potential of the game and gave us the time that we needed. Every member of the team is grateful for it.

Blaeys: Because you have to know the question is coming: 

Do you have a release date – or more refined release date window – you can share?

Really looking forward to this game.

Brenda Romero: Fall 2020. Glad you’re looking forward to it. We can’t wait to have it in your hands.

Preorder

i_am_fear_itself: Brenda, when can I pre-order? I’m terrified life is gonna get busy and I’m going to completely forget EoS is coming out until it’s a year old?

Can you fix this?

Brenda Romero: Yes, I can. Sign up for the newsletter, and you will definitely not miss it. https://www.empireofsingame.com

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