Empire of Sin is stepping things up in its prohibition-era crime empire simulation. After a string of updates focussed on fixes and balance, the next update for the game will come alongside the Make it Count expansion, adding new crime boss Meyer Lansky into the mix, a new type of gangster for you to recruit, and new rackets for you to use to rake in cash.
Update: Since this interview, Paradox and Romero Games have had to fictionalise the new boss character, renaming him as Maxim Zelnik.
It’s safe to say that Empire of Sin did not get off to the kind of start that Paradox Interactive and Romero Games would have wanted. Launching in December last year, they had to scramble to release hotfixes for critical issues and balance patches to address some fundamental complaints by reviewers and fans alike. Setting up community-led initiatives like Community Council has certainly helped direct their early post-release improvement.
CEO and Game Designer Brenda Romero said, “It certainly wasn’t the launch that we wanted, but the great thing about it was that we have a really engaged fanbase, really engaged community, they’re active, they give us lots of suggestions and we just got in and rolled our sleeves up. All the numbers that matter are definitely going in the right direction.”
Now Romero Games are looking to the future and have announced the first major content update and paid expansion for the game. Make it Count will star Meyer Lansky, plucking yet another significant figure from the many crime gangs that sprouted up around the US during the Prohibition era, but how did Romero Games settle on him for their first pair addition?
“Well, for starters, we wanted a boss who also was known for more than just being great for a gun,” Brenda said. “Meyer Lansky was known for creating Murder, Inc., so that escalated his selection process, just because who would not want to play someone from Murder, Inc.?”
Katie Gardner, Content Designer added, “When you think about a Fixer, who they are and what they do, Lansky was the epitome of that kind of character. He did bring people together with the Atlantic Crime Syndicate in Atlantic City, and he was bringing people together who had never been in the same room before, and basically created all these branches across the country of these mob bosses and he was somebody who could make people work together who found it difficult previously. He was very influential in that.”
Lansky is the tip of the spear as five other Fixers will be added to the game’s gallery of gangsters for you to hire, and they come with the unique perk of unlocking the new loan shark racket, letting you set up in regular shops and loan out money for cripplingly high interest rates. It feels like they’re going to be pretty integral to acquire at least one of them to your retinue.
“The Fixer does have some unique abilities that are more diplomatic,” Brenda said, “but it really has a strong role, particularly on the Depots and the layout of those levels, which are larger. it changes how people might handle combat.”
Depots will be at the heart of the new overhaul of how you divide and manage your empire, coming as an intermediate management level between the overarching neighbourhood and the individual racket. In a significant change, you won’t be able to just rock up and capture a racket anymore, but have to take a Precinct’s Depot to do so.
That won’t necessarily mean rocking up with your best gangsters and blasting away, with a few new options coming to the game. The Buyout is a diplomatic means to further your goals, effectively buying other gangs off, while the Chi-Town Mogul is a new economic win condition for the game. Additionally, Katie revealed that plenty of the new missions for Lansky’s story will have economic and diplomatic options to complete them, expanding on the narrative role-playing elements already in the base game.
Given how Romero Games has continually worked to improve their AI since the game’s release, will they have to overhaul their approach all over again for the Precincts and Depots?
“Obviously we will have to get the AI to work with the new systems,” Chris King, Senior Game Designer said, “but chatting with our primary AI programmer, Ronan Pearce, we feel that there’s a lot of potential to make a better AI. One of the key things that the Precinct does is create an importance of location. Right now you can grab a racket anywhere in town, and a racket is a racket is a racket, so from the point of view of the AI, trying to decide what to do, where to attack and these kinds of things is really quite tricky.
“With the idea of Precincts and supply lines, we can say that here’s the areas you can expand into, and because the Precincts are going to be slightly different to each other, the AI can look and start scoring Precincts to go “Actually it’s *this* Precinct I want to grab.” We feel there’s a lot of potential to make the AI more strategic and better at the game, and also just more interesting for the player to be sharing Chicago with.”
When you get to a Depot, you might have a Fixer on your side (or have to deal with one on the other), so what do they offer, and how do they go hand in hand with these completely new levels?
Ian O’Neill, Game Designer explained, “Our professions are like classes. So where you would normally have Mage, Rogue or Paladin, we have Enforcer, Mob Doctor, Hired Gun, and the Fixer is the next one. So what were the fans really after? Well, small interiors weren’t high on their list of the things [they liked], so let’s build bigger interiors so we now have more space to play in. Depots are going to be quite large, a nice blended combination of office rooms and then larger open areas in the middle, like warehouses.
“Now that we have all this room to play around with, let’s create a Profession that can play around with all this room. The Fixer is predominantly a long-range support character, so they will play with rifles and sniper rifles, a lot of their active abilities and passive abilities play around with overwatch, so it’s a case where you’re going to deny a lot of area to different attackers. If you’re coming up against them, it’s going to be really tough to kick them down and break through, whereas if you’re using them on the offensive, they have a whole bunch of area denial stuff.”
It’s all really interesting to see how Empire of Sin is taking the next step and, alongside the upcoming first phase of mod support, how the game might grow in the future. When pressed on if this would be the form that future paid expansions might take, Brenda indicated that Paradox Fixers were just off-screen to prevent her from saying more, but it’s safe to say that we’ll see plenty more mob bosses, professions and new gameplay ideas in due time.