Haemimont Games CEO Gabriel Dobrev is a hard man to find. Tracking him down to a secret speakeasy operating underneath Central London (no, really), I presented the doorman with my password (Tony "Two Gun" Tucci sent me) and eventually came face to face with the kingpin behind Omerta: City Of Gangsters.
Having gotten hands on with the prohibition-era blend of city simulation and cut-throat strategy, it was time to interrogate the big cheese. Be sure to mug up on our Omerta: City Of Gangsters preview first, capiche?
Jonathan Lester (Dealspwn): Thanks for talking to us, Gabriel. First things first: why 1920s America? Haemimont have been all about ancient history and tropical islands thus far...
Gabriel Dobrev (Haemimont): As a child, I was really interested in gangster stuff and read a lot of books about it. I had absolutely no idea that there would be some point where I would be working on a setting like this. When the idea came up, both me and the entire team just liked it, because there was so much potential to do so many things that people know about that era that we can use. So it was instantly liked.
We had several different ideas to pick from, like we could do 'this' or "this' or 'this,' but [Omerta] stood in front of everything else.
Dealspwn: You mentioned that you read a lot of books about gangsters and the prohibition era. How much research have you put into Omerta, and how authentic do you feel it is?
Gabriel Dobrev: We did a lot of research about Atlantic City and how it looked: all the landmarks, all the scenery. We also tried to represent the entire map of the city, so there's a region where there's more factories and a region where there's more living spaces and so on. There was a big discussion about whether we should include The Elephant, which is a funny hotel built outside of the town, which is not on the map, further west. But we didn't include that in the end.
We really tried to stay true to the spirit of the times. All the music of the game, all the characters, the way they dress and talk is something that we tried to keep true to the times.
Dealspwn: If you don't mind me asking, what were some of your influences - behind both gameplay and tone?
Gabriel Dobrev: We were influenced by a lot of games. The original X-COM, Jagged Alliance, the Gangsters game (the first one in particular). Tropico also, in terms of structuring the campaign and how to make a story in a game that's all about strategy- stuff like that.
For movies: Goodfellas, The Godfather, Boardwalk Empire, definitely. It's also about Atlantic City, so a lot of the visual stuff came from there. More or less, there were so many sources of inspiration that we sometimes had conflicting influences that we wanted to include, we wanted to take everything. So we had to carefully select the things that we wanted to represent in the game.
Dealspwn: It's clear that Omerta is almost two games in one: a city sim and a turn-based combat game. What sort of balance have you struck between the two?
Gabriel Dobrev: The interesting thing about the balance is that it's up to the player. You can go through the campaign and play very few battles, just the ones that are necessary for the story. There's also an auto-resolve button, so even if you play some battles you can keep auto resolving them.
But if you want to go combat-heavy, you can make all your money from wetworks, heists, bank robberies. It's up to you: you can go deep and build your team around it or play with very few missions.
Dealspwn: What sort of audience are you pitching Omerta at, then?
Gabriel Dobrev: I think that Omerta has this combination of both strategic elements and turn-based action, and a multiplayer element that's very important to the game, so we're targeting people who are very familiar with some of the games and films we mentioned earlier as inspiration. It comes back together in Omerta and you can spend a good time there. If you look through the camera, it's at a very narrow angle, so it reminds you of those 2.5D games back in the nineties. It keeps that feel of the past.
Dealspwn: Yeah, it definitely evokes some of the classic turn-based strategy games. That said, though, I noticed that there's also a fair bit of waiting around and inactivity involved, especially when you're building your infrastructure. Did you ever consider implementing some form of optional time compression or way to speed things up?
Gabriel Dobrev: We did consider it, and in the first mission, because you only have one gang member running round, there is a little bit of waiting. But afterwards you have six gang members so it picks up really fast. Once you take the completion of one task there's another one to start, so you won't be waiting around too much. It increases the pacing.
Dealspwn: Okay, that sounds promising. I was also impressed by some of the surprising random events, perhaps that will help?
Gabriel Dobrev: The thing about the gangster world is that nothing works as expected. There's always unexpected stuff; in every movie you watch, things happen all the time. We wanted to preserve that, even your contacts come back with different complications. "Something happened," or "something didn't work out as expected."
Dealspwn: Yeah, I tried to sell a socialite some liquor, who then threatened to ruin my reputation if I didn't waive the fee.
Gabriel Dobrev: Exactly. So there are things throwing you off-balance all the time. Everything is pretty simple, and it looks really simple, but when you start playing things throw you off balance, mix you up and really provide a lot of options to select your path. You can avoid doing certain things because you don't like doing them, you can still play through the game and this will still be your patch. Someone else may select a completely different path.
This is something that we chose very early on: we wanted to simulate 'what happens,' we don't want to give the 'proper' path and the 'wrong' path. So more or less tried to simulate the consequences of every one of your actions and throw some random stuff at you, and just make you find your way around.
Dealspwn: Sounds good. One thing we didn't get to try out today, however, was the multiplayer. Apparently there will be cooperative and competitive modes, can you tell us a bit about that?
Gabriel Dobrev: Actually the combat part was created with multiplayer in mind from the very beginning. The combat multiplayer was actually the first thing ready in the game! We built the AI for the multiplayer, strategic mode and all this combat stuff you see right now. The whole design of the combat is created so it's really interesting and gives you a lot of options in multiplayer.
So there are all kinds of things you can do, and all of them have certain consequences. You're not always sure exactly what is best, and there are a lot of things that you can try, a lot of different combinations between weapons and characters. You can make your characters move very often and have a lot of action points, or you can make them very tough.
Dealspwn: So how will we go about doing that? Will they gain experience by winning battles? Money?
Gabriel Dobrev: It's done through money. Basically every battle, depending on how many enemies you dispatch and whether you win or lose, you get a certain amount of money. You can spend that money to acquire new characters, to level up existing characters or buy new weapons.
Dealspwn: How will co-op work? Can we expect a persistent world, perhaps?
Gabriel Dobrev: No, it's pretty much the same, like the versus mode. You can play against somebody or just pick your partner, and you go and make a bank robbery and split the reward based on whose team killed more people etc.
Dealspwn: Omerta: City Of Gangsters isn't just slated for PC; it's coming to Xbox 360 as well. How have you adapted the controls and interface to make it work on a console controller?
Gabriel Dobrev: The interface is actually very different. We knew the game so we had to build it from the ground up, and we had to work on the console version at the same time. So it's not like we built one version and then built the next one. So we keep building new versions of the game. Some people in the office prefer using a controller and others prefer a keyboard, so we just rebuild everything from scratch thinking, "what is the best way to control this type of game?"
Dealspwn: Well, that's about it for now - but we do have one last question. It's one we love to ask. What, in your opinion, is the most awesome, coolest thing that players can do in Omerta: City Of Gangsters?
Gabriel Dobrev: That's a good question!
Dealspwn: Yeah, we like it.
Gabriel Dobrev: The thing is that the game is not built around very narrow path of actions. It tries to be broad and give you a lot of opportunties to do a lot of stuff.
The coolest thing I can do is... shoot a number of enemies, set them up, push them back so they go back into a grenade I've thrown previously. You can make all kinds of crazy setups like that, and they work out - or sometimes they don't - but the coolest things are to be found in the combat. You can use abilities like grenades, knockback, healing and so on to make crazy setups and come out on top against huge numbers of very powerful enemies.
Dealspwn: Sounds like fun. Once again, many thanks for talking to us, Gabriel.
Omerta: City Of Gangsters is slated for a February 2013 release on PC and Xbox 360.