My Life in the Mafia (Games): Looking Back on the Series’ 15-year History

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My Life in the Mafia (Games): Looking Back on the Series’ 15-year History

Longtime Mafia veteran Roman Hladik looks back on the series' 15-year history.

My name is Roman Hladik and early on, I was caught up in “the life.” I cut my teeth with Tommy Angelo in Lost Heaven. (I worked on the art direction for the characters in the first Mafia game). I went along with Vito’s moves in Empire Bay (I was the art director for Mafia II) …and stuck by him down in New Bordeaux (art director on Mafia III). I’ve been working on the Mafia franchise since the very beginning. If you told me that I’d be looking back at a game I worked on over 15 years ago, I wouldn’t believe you. And if you said that I’d work on the same franchise for that long? I’d say you’re nuts. But that’s exactly what happened. And right now, I’m going tell you a little bit about how we got here.

It was just after the fall of the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia, and I had convinced my parents to buy a Commodore 64. I discovered the magical world of computer games and drawing software. Just trust me, trying to draw by using a joystick is a fairly demanding discipline. After working on – and playing – games in high school, I eventually joined Illusion Softworks to work on a new project.

Mafia II

Mafia III

At the very beginning, there were just five of us – game development teams were not much bigger back then. We started to develop a fantasy RPG game, but after a gaming tradeshow, we decided to change direction. We put our heads together again. We’d been thinking about the games we play ourselves and how to combine all these different game mechanics. If we’re being honest, our mission became designing the game that we wanted to play.

Our inspirations were classic gangster movies and we tried to capture that atmosphere in a video game. If I recall correctly, the player was originally supposed to be a policeman, but when Daniel Vávra got in charge of script, he flipped the roles and it clicked with everyone. There was no looking back. We had our plan.

That was the beginning of Mafia.


None of us realized how big that challenge would be back then. The development for the first game took almost five years while the team grew to nearly 40 people. Since we were so close to the game, we didn’t know what to expect when it shipped– but we obviously hoped people would like what we made. The reaction of players and critics who loved the original Mafia game made it all worthwhile. It was a game with a strong story and film-like atmosphere, which was a bit unusual in 2002.

After the success of the first game, we knew we wanted to work on a sequel. So Daniel was already working on the script of the second Mafia game. We thought: “We just launched this great game, the sequel should be a piece of cake, right?”

Well, a console generation jump was coming, so we made a decision to develop the game further on an internal engine that we had created for another Illusion Softworks game and prepare for a new generation of hardware. The only things we had to go on: the script, several concept images and a new gaming engine we were still building. At the time, we were learning how to work with shaders and what to do with the new hardware coming.

Mafia IIMafia II

Of course, new technologies mean an increased demand on the quality. At the peak of development, the Mafia II team had nearly 200 people at two studios in Prague and Brno.

The work on Mafia II was more intense for me, because on the original Mafia, I was responsible for the characters. In the sequel, I was in charge of art direction for the whole game. The team’s goal: give players an intense and authentic experience, and I’d like to think we did just that. Again, we created a story – and a game – that we were all proud of at launch.

We took a small break then threw ourselves into the third Mafia game. We had the same conviction as at the beginning of the second Mafia game to increase the quality. Our need to improve quality coincided with another console cycle change (funny how history repeats itself!). So we decided to switch to newer hardware again (planning for Mafia III to appear on the PS4).

Mafia III

Nested in the authentic New Bordeaux environment, we had a new vision – to provide a raw, less romantic view of the American underworld. Just like the two previous installments, the third is based on a very strong story and, moreover, offers a larger, more open world than the previous titles.

If you’ve never had the chance to play Mafia II, it’s available to stream via PS Now. And, of course, Mafia III just completed its season pass DLC so you can get the full New Bordeaux experience on the PS4. I’d love to hear about your experiences in Empire Bay and New Bordeaux!

Mafia 15 Year Anniversary

And for those of you who have been with us and played our games, I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you. I am grateful to everyone who has allowed me to take part in an amazing series and, above all, to my parents for not having hesitated and investing 28 years ago in a Commodore 64.

Comments are closed.


  • The first Mafia is still the best game among other two. Please, bring back original game on PS4

  • I really enjoyed Mafia III, especially the DLCs. Really hope the series isn’t “sleeping with the fishes”. Would love another entry in the series in the future.

  • Hated the newest one. Had none of the style that the second one had. It was just overtly violent and explodey for no reason. Didn’t feel like a Mafia game.

  • As someone who has been playing Mafia since the beginning, I can honestly say the hype I felt when I heard there was going to be a third game was purely nostalgic…. The beginning of Mafia III looked like it had the potential to go somewhere great, but once you hit a certain point it just becomes an overly glorified version of the Godfather games. Mafia 1 and 2 had fantastic stories and the gameplay to match it, it had the darkness of the underworld and everything you would expect from these things. 3 just didn’t have this feel, it was grungy 100% of the time and didn’t feel like a Mafia game at all.
    I’m not saying Mafia III is bad, because it isn’t it was a fun game and I did enjoy playing it, but it just didn’t feel like a Mafia game.
    I also agree that Mafia 1 should make it’s own return in some way, maybe remaster it and put it on PS4? I still play it on my PC from time to time.

  • So disappointed with the latest Mafia game. Knew it wasn’t going to be massive success. Not like it could/should have been.

  • Thanks for the heartfelt post Roman!

    I got into Mafia back on the PS3 when a friend reccomended me Mafia 2 as he knew I enjoyed narrative based games. I ended up loving it, and I don’t ever think Vito and Joe will vanish from memory!

    That said, Mafia 3 remains my favorite. The story, characters and acting in 3 is wonderful, and I was glued to that seat to finish it. Have loved all the DLCs released too, and a final big shout out to the Art team for the masterful atmosphere and sound team for they great use of non-diagetic music in certain scenes. “Hold on, Im Coming” playing on the way to that final mission is still in my top 5 moments of this generation.

    Anyway, sorry for the big story haha Thanks for reading. And a big thank you to yourself and the teams over these years. I look forward to all your future work!

  • Hey

    I reported this already about 6 months ago but it was not resolved. Even though Mafia 2 returned to the PS Store, the DLCs did not. FYI. Thanks.

    • They did. The problem is, “Mafia 2” isn’t part of the name. You have to search for “Joe’s Adventures” and “Jimmy’s Vendetta” in order to find them. Bought them just a month ago to get my 100%. :-)

    • Thanks for your reply. I just looked but I did not find it. Thanks.

    • Sorry, looks like it is only available in the EU-store.

  • Mafia two was and still is the BEST in the series

  • I loved Mafia 2 and actually really enjoyed Mafia 3. Never played the original, so I would love for it to come out as a PS2 classic on PS4.

  • Please release a remaster of Mafia II on PS4!

  • personally, i’m enjoying mafia 3. i played the other 2, and was really looking forward to this one. i held off, at first, listening to the lackluster reviews and comments like “unfinished”… so i waited. and i’m so glad i did. they fixed so much of what wasn’t quite right and when the dlc hit, i was only about halfway through the game, so it was like i was able to do whatever i wanted in the game, jumping back and forth between 4 different stories, and i still am. i’m nearing the end of the original story, and i don’t want it to end. anyway… great read. thanks for sharing with us.

  • I would love a Mafia 1 and 2 remaster on PS4

  • Thanks for the history!

    Mafia 1 was amazing, the story, great characters & atmosphere drew me back to the game time after time. Mafia 2 was a great game but didnt capture the same magic, Mafia 3 wasn’t bad either but it lost a lot by being open world. What worked so well in the first game was the linear movie like design, would love to see a future game go back to that or better still a remaster of Lost Heaven!!

  • Absolutely love The Mafia franchise haver all of the games including Mafia 3!

  • When will Mafia 1 finally be re-released on GOG and Steam with all of the content (and music) intact? That was the pinnacle of the franchise that, despite its best efforts, it hasn’t quite been able to live up to ever since.

  • Hi, I love all the mafia games I’ve had them all! Any new one would be welcomed!
    I’d also like to see a new updated Scarface which I think was the best game ever! Thank you!

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