Mafia 3 was not great, but it did get credit for tackling the rampant racism of its 1960s New Orleans setting head-on—a "bold, subversive move" in a game that was otherwise a pretty big letdown. It turns out that it was actually toned down somewhat prior to release: At one point it featured a "cold open" sequence that laid out exactly why lead character Lincoln Clay joined the Army and went to Vietnam, but developer Hangar 13 cut it, and scrubbed it from existence, because it was just too far over the line.
"That whole cold-open has been burned from our servers," executive producer Andrew Wilson said at the recent Develop Conference (via Eurogamer). "It literally does not exist. Because if ever that had come out without any context in any form it would have looked terrible, because disconnected from the game it's obviously even more shocking."
Game director Haden Blackman described the sequence as a "really violent prologue" in which Clay kills a cop while escaping a mob ambush. That in itself may not seem like such a big deal in the context of videogames, even if it was as violent as they said. The problem is that it was added late in the game, and so it felt "exploitative" rather than like an integral part of the story.
"Lincoln never really talks about it," Blackman said. "I think we added one scene where he has a conversation with this Priest, Father James, and they talk about it a little bit, but we never really paid off on it. There were characters involved in it who he encounters later but doesn't really acknowledge."
"We ended up cutting it because of the feedback, which was super-painful for me personally because it was something I'd pushed forward and championed, and I ended up directing that day's mocap shoot because it was such sensitive subject matter, and we worked on it for a couple of months. But it was absolutely the right thing to do in hindsight."
Blackman explained in a Q&A session that he believes it's important to tell "meaningful stories with meaningful characters," but added that it's important to avoid getting "on a soapbox," or presenting idealized characters.
"One of the first conversations Bill [lead writer Bill Harms] and I had about Lincoln was, 'He can't be perfect. He has to be flawed'," he said. "We cannot put him up on a pedestal and say this is the idealised African American lead character, otherwise it won't feel true, or honest, and we wouldn't have enough to relate to with him while working on the story."