In a PlayStation Blog, creative director and studio lead of Hangar 13 Haden Blackman discussed how the confluence of Mafia 3's city, year, and hero plot elements helped the team establishment a narrative for the game.
Reflecting on the project's origin, Blackman admitted that all three elements evolved more or less together over a period of time. "As we searched for our setting and main character, we wandered into dead-ends and switchbacks, or spent time staring into the sun at ideas that seemed brilliant initially but ultimately proved hollow or unattainable."
Early on, Hangar 13 set Mafia 3 in Empire Bay, the setting of its predecessor. Other locales included smaller areas rather than a sprawling environment. Characters and plot details changed, too. One plan called for the story to occur in 1952, just after Mafia 2. Another unfolded over the 1960s. The main character went from a crooked cop, to a low-level Mafia enforces, to a fixer who was called in to clean up sticky situations.
"Any of our early ideas would have likely yielded a solid hard-boiled crime drama with compelling gameplay, but we didn’t feel that any of the combinations were quite right."
By the time Hangar 13 put together its first playable build of the game, the team realized they'd reached a now-or-never point in development: they needed to nail down ideas or the project risked going off track. They ran their ideas through filters: was such-and-such city iconic? Did the time period evoke unique feelings from those of the previous games?
"From the list of possible locations, New Orleans in 1968 jumped out at us as the perfect inspiration for our setting. But, none of our previous character ideas really felt like their stories were unique to that time and place. After weeks of additional exploration, Lincoln Clay emerged."
Clay is Mafia 3's protagonist, and a complex character. He belongs to the Black Mob, a position that, combined with setting events in New Orleans, opened up intriguing story possibilities such as organized crime, racial issues in the south, and Clay's residual effects as a Vietnam veteran.
"And, as an orphan, he’s a character who is always looking for a place to belong, a surrogate family; this creates a sense of loyalty that drives him to seek revenge, and gives him the motivation to start his own criminal family. And ultimately, we discovered a character who belongs in New Bordeaux. His journey through the city begins soon. I can’t wait for you all to experience and shape it with him."
Check out Lincoln Clay's character trailer, released back in July, for even more info about his journey.