Open World Analysis — Mafia 3

A look at New Bordeaux — Downtown District.

It’s no secret I love Mafia 3. It’s one of my favorite open world games out there.

In this article we will discuss a few details about how the Downtown district is composed and why I think it’s an excellent study case for open world design in terms of orientation and navigation.

Downtown sits in the middle of the Mafia 3 map and acts as a focal point for the entire world, mostly because you will have to converge in this location at some point or another while trying to reach your objectives.

Downtown sits on the same island as the French Ward. It is separated from the French Ward by some implied barriers like:

  • The Famous Canal Street
  • Tram Lines

Road Networks and District Separation

Bridges connect Downtown to other parts of the map:

  • Frisco Fields to the North
  • River Row to the South
  • Delray Hollow to the west

The street network splits the district into sub parcels that facilitate getting around.

Main arteries (orange lines) connect central nodes together (the connection to the French Ward and the Large Northern Roundabout) and everything in between is also tissue (yellow).

These split the map into parcels.

Landmark Positioning in relation to player position (relative to district entry points)

These parcels serve as excellent spots to place down Major and Minor Landmarks as you can see in the diagram above.

Orientation is also supported by heavy use of natural or artificial barriers that lock down the district and dictate where other districts start and end:

  • The river
  • The River Wall
  • Construction Walls
  • Embankments
  • Tram lines clearly separating Downton from the French Ward
  • The Palm Three stripe going down Canal Street
  • The Bridges separating the river into segments (when using a boat)
  • The suspended Highway to the north west wrapping around Royal Hotel like a mantle.
  • Large/Long building facades that act as barriers the longer they are

The Delray Hollow Connection

As the player attempts to cross the bridge from Delray Hollow into Downtown He will be prompted by a series of hints that will help him orient.

The first set is at the base of the bridge.

Important Landmarks are visible right away alongside some minor particular things that are specific to this intersection.

These details are here to make this transition point easier to remember:

  • Minor landmarks — Gas Station, Diners
  • The Skyline framing the exit
  • Directional Street Signs explaining where you will end up

It also helps that right before the exit point a huge intersection exists.

World Trade Center Building

Far across the bridge you can see what in reality is The World Trade Center Building.

The building is positioned next to the bridge connecting Downtown to River Row and is tall enough to be seen for anywhere across the map. It’s particular shape makes it easy to remember and the developers have taken the time to frame it even better from place to place as you are walking through the city.

The WTC is one of the tallest buildings in the game and implicitly can be seen from multiple angles, framing the set and allowing the players to quickly realize where they are, at least while in Down Town.

The Hibernia National Bank

This is the Hibernia National Bank .New Orleans has suffered from a lot of construction work over the last 60 years so finding this building in real life has proven to be a bit difficult for the following reasons:

  • When it was built it was one of the tallest buildings around
  • Now it is dwarfed by the nearby skyscrapers.

Notice the contrast between the old photo above and the snapshots taken from google maps.

The Hibernia National Bank

The Hibernia National Bank

Some history in relation to this place:

  • The Bank was found in 1870 by 3 Irish businessmen as the Hibernia Bank and Trust Company in New Orleans
  • By 1983 it became the largest bank in Louisiana.

In Mafia 3 you can see it all the way from Delray Hollow before you jump onto the bridge.

As you continue your progress across the bridge you can also notice another landmark that jumps immediately at you especially from during the night.

The Royal Hotel

In the game it is called The Royal Hotel and if you listen to the radio there are adverts promoting it. In real life it is named the Crescent City Towers or the Plaza Tower. It is located on 898–800 Loyola Ave in New Orleans.

Tower Plaza/Crescent City Towers

Some historical facts:

  • The construction of the tower started in 1964 and it was finished in 1969.
  • Mafia 3 takes place in 1969 so in the logic of the world the hotel is fairly new.

Other Landmarks

As we approach the end of the bridge we start to notice some other things as well:

View of the Children's Hospital from the Bridge
  • The Children’s Hospital
  • The World Trade Center
  • The Police Station
  • The Hibernia Bank Building
  • St. Patrick’s Church
  • Gas Station
  • Cinema Building
  • Book Store
  • Construction Area
  • Etc.

Reasons for highlighting these:

  • To allow for the player to develop a better mental model of the space he exists in.
  • To be grounded in the narrative of the world but to also be easily replaceable if needed.

The Children’s Hospital aka Charity Hospital:

The point of the building, alongside with the New Bordeaux Police Department serves to frame the player’s sense of orientation as he crosses the bridge from Delray Hollow into Downtown and it makes the intersection forming across the bridge from Delray Hollow into a memorable image that player will recognize and use to explore the district better.

New Bordeaux Police Department

This one was rather tricky since the Architecture of the building is a bit unique and I couldn’t find anything remotely similar in New Orleans.

No police building belonging to the New Orleans Police looks like this, so I changed the search patterns to look for other things and I got lucky enough to find this article:

Now the content of the article might be of some concern to some people however what caught my eye was this picture here:

Terribly similar to this one over here:

Seems like a long shot but it’s the best I found. Turns out the footprint of the Hale Briggs building fits the footprint of the Police Department if we take a look at the map:

And it’s also close enough to Lafayette Square to be relevant to our investigation.

Why would a building like this suffer such a treatment? Well the reasons might be multiple:

  • There is a mission happening here
  • All the other forms of police buildings might not fit the current theme of the district
  • Too many landmarks already around Lafayette Square.

Lafayette Square

Moving even further down the street we start to spot the central core of Downtown, represented by:

  • Lafayette Square
  • St. Patrick’s Church
  • Hibernia Bank
  • The United States Court of Appeal
  • H.R. Laidlaw’s building (Aka the F.W. Woolworth CO. Building)

In reality the square is bordered by only a few landmarks. In the game however it hosts a large variety of Landmarks.

H.R. Laidlaw’s building (Aka the F.W. Woolworth CO. Building)

This building used to reside on Canal Street at 1031 and not next to Lafayette Square, however since it was a convenience store it’s easy to assume that might not have been the only location.

Unfortunately the building was demolished so the only actual reference we might have for its existence is from old photos and of course from Mafia 3.

In game there are two places where these stores can be found:

  • One is right next to Lafayette Square
  • The other is on Canal Street

St. Patrick’s Church

Alongside the other landmarks in the area we have this church Saint Patrick’s Church.

The church dates back to 1840 and was named a National historic Landmark in 1975. It was restored between 1978 and 1990.

Hot tip: It even survived Hurricane Katrina.

In real world the church is located a bit away from the square

In the fiction of the game it serves as an identifying landmark component of Lafayette square.

Court of Appeal

The court of appeal is situated exactly where it is situated in real life, next to Lafayette Square.

Real World Vs Game World

If you have been following my blogs you might remember this one over here, where I was discussing that due to space restrictions, memory budgets, and a lot of redundant space in the real world, as world designers what we need to do in some cases is an attempt to contract space filter out the unnecessary bits.

Downtown New Orleans → As seen in Google Maps.

If you take a look at the real map of New Orleans you will notice how the spacing and positioning of the landmarks used in the game differs greatly from the game map.

Please note however that the Landmarks are in relative proximity to the major paths that frame the district and that serves as a starting point in trying to articulate the video game city, and maintaining the essence of the real place witch is what we are ultimately targeting : Capturing the Spirit of the city instead of making a 1 to 1 copy of it for the game.

New Orleans/New Bordeaux as seen in Mafia 3

What this might lead is constructing a space that might look totally different from real life (like in this example) but has all the makings of that space without the tedium.

Closing arguments

  • Real cities serve many functions. People live, work, commute, are entertained in them.
  • Video games cities don’t serve the same function. You want them to feel like they are lived in, but ultimately the player doesn’t live in them, at least not to the extent in which we (the populace do). That is an illusion that is there to ground the experience but the player/character isn’t really tied to it (unless mechanically).
  • Real worlds imply a lot of downtime (when we eat, sleep, work, etc) when people are generally static.
  • That sort of static behavior is what we (as level designers) are trying to avoid.
  • Under the mantra of “form follows function” if a space serves no function it will probably be cut, this therefore leads to discussion of having only useful (player centric) activity spaces and connective tissue (that doesn’t waste the players time).

This ties in into two of my previous articles:

  • This implies that in order to trigger motion for the player curiosity needs to be stimulated. This is generally done using landmarks and rewards, by carefully measuring things like:
  • Distances between events
  • Location gravitational pool
  • Location novelty (how fast does the attraction loses it’s appeal)
  • Proximity of other attractions
  • Creating a closed loop circuit that keeps the player in the loop (and in the game) by continuously cycling the content of these areas so the player always has something to do.

This has multiple reasons why it’s needed:

  • Player limited time (not everybody has the time to spend 2 weeks exploring the virtual city)
  • It’s not viable to build spaces that are realistic in size due to time, cost, and tech constraints.
  • Usually it takes between 2–4 years (maybe more) to build a virtual city and depends greatly on how many people are working on it, their level of skill, the tech available, the artistic ambitions, etc. The less you have of all of all of those the longer it might take.
  • Also factoring in the necessary QA/QC time needed to check, report bugs and the Dev allocated time to fix these bugs.
  • And of course how well these things tie together in a management game plan for that duration.

So it truly means that you need to make sure what you put in the game doesn’t add additional work time (beyond the time you already have available).

Some personal notes on New Bordeaux:

  • I think New Bordeaux has too many landmarks in close proximity to each other.
  • Some of them serve gameplay purposes (maybe half) while the others are purely cosmetic.
  • The purpose has been strongly tilted into making it a fun place to drive around and sight see.
  • I feel like with such a great amount of depth and research put into developing these areas the game would have benefited with some sort of Landmark Collection/Description Feature.
  • In spite of that I found it really compelling to explore the streets, drive around, take shortcuts through back alleys and discover hidden gems, looking at them and the going to google maps and looking around those places on the real map, and then researching them in Wikipedia.
  • It really gave the game a new level of depth that I wish more people would be able to experience.

There are still many things to say about it but this will have to do for now.

As a level designer I am not a creator, I am a facilitator. Senior Open World Designer @MassiveEntertainment. #Leveldesign #Open World #Design @notimetoulose.