Mafia insider goes digital

David Fisher is an expert on organized crime who has written numerous books on the subject, sometimes collaborating with mobsters and the FBI alike. Fisher once brought together FBI agent Joseph “Donnie Brasco” Pistone and former Mafia family head Bill Bonnano for his book The Good Guys. More recently, he joined forces with Aspyr to create the videogame Made Man, a Mafia action game in which the player follows Joey Verola through the decades and up the ladder of organized crime.

Fisher spoke to Montage Editor Tristan Wheelock about how he got so close to the Mafia, what it was like adapting his style to video games and the influences he drew from to add authenticity to the game.

Tristan Wheelock: I understand you’re considered an expert on organized crime. How did you get into that?

David Fisher: Well, it started in the early ’70s when an agent asked me if I wanted to cooperate with a Mafia killing, and I said, “Well, that sounds like fun.” We ended up doing three books together. His name was Joey Black … and all three of the books were major bestsellers. It just led to many different experiences.

One day I was home and the buzzer rang, and the person who just showed up at my house was the person who had been on the FBI’s most wanted list longer than any man in history.

TW: John William Clouser?

DF: Yeah, the Florida Fox. That’s what he was known as.

TW: How did you get so close to him? He just showed up?

DF: He just showed up. He just rang my bell. He had read several of my books, and he decided that I was the person he wanted to tell his story to, and he showed up at my apartment. Eventually we arranged his surrender on The Today Show and did a book, which did OK. I’ve just done many books about crime, on both sides. I’m the only reporter who the FBI has really given complete access to their crime lab.

TW: There have been a bunch of Mafia video games, but I was reading the claims about Made Man and they say it’s “the most realistic crime story to hit the interactive realm.” How did you use your knowledge to make that happen? DF: One of the things I had to learn was what the video game universe was, and what was possible and what was not possible. The truth is, I have two teenage sons and they play; they’re gamers, and I watched them play. What they’re interested in is playing the game. They’re not interested in cut scenes and explanatory material. They want to play the game, they want to shoot, they want to have fun. I had to take that into consideration when I was figuring out how exactly we would make this realistic. Well, the truth is, in the structure of organized crime you move up; you start small, and you get bigger and bigger and bigger. There are certain things that are true and will be true forever. Basically, what happens is (that) everything the player has to do in the game is based on real things that would happen within organized crime. You start on the lowest level, which is like smuggling cigarettes in North Carolina, and you end up doing all the things that one might have to do (to move up).

I think one of things that other games have done is in fact suggested that they were going to deliver more than they really delivered, games like The Godfather. The inference in The Godfather is that you’re going to be in the family and interact with Don Corleone. The truth is, the technology doesn’t exist, so it’s a disappointment almost by its very nature.This was supposed to be a trilogy, and it may still be a trilogy. The idea was that you move up through the ranks, encounter the kind of people that you would encounter if you were in the structure of organized crime, and that’s what we’ve done.

TW: How did this compare to working on novels, newspapers and magazines?

DF: Totally, totally, totally different. One of the things I had to learn was that this is a whole new universe. I read an interview not too long ago by a screenwriter who – I can’t remember his name. But he had written a game or tried to write a game and walked away disgusted … He saw video games as an extension of movies and other people have seen video games as an extension of TV or books, and it’s not. It’s a really exciting, new universe, new medium, and I don’t think anybody has yet really figured out what works and what really doesn’t work once the newness is gone. What I learned is what the parameters were, rules I had to work within, what I could do and what I couldn’t do. There was a steep learning curve. It’s very different than books or magazines or anything like it.

TW: How much of the story is authentic and how much of it is fictional, because it says it’s based on true events?

DF: Pretty much everything in there is based on something that happened. To say it happened to one person is absolutely not true, but these things do happen. Do trucks get hijacked? Absolutely. Do box offices get robbed? Absolutely. Are there grudge killings? Absolutely. We used the Chinese, but in fact – and we used the Chinese for a lot of reasons – the fact is that the Mafia and the Russian Mafia have long had these problems when they’re not doing business with each other.