By Alfred Hermida
Technology Editor, BBC News website
In the world of celluloid, The Godfather established itself as the classic gangster movie for a generation of film-lovers.
The Corleone family hopes to make gamers an offer they cannot refuse
Fast-forward more than 30 years, to the world of bits and bytes, and it is Grand Theft Auto (GTA) that has defined the gangster experience for a generation of gamers.
The games giant, Electronic Arts (EA), hopes to change this with its forthcoming game of The Godfather.
Due for release on 21 March in the US and 24 March in the UK, the game plunges players into the underworld of Don Vito Corleone and mob violence.
The man who has steered the project at EA, executive producer David DeMartini, shies away from describing it as better than GTA.
But the talkative game maker is confident it can give the best-selling gangster title a run for its money.
"We wanted to make a category leader that would give significant competition to the GTA game and basically would provide a very formidable alternative," he told the BBC News website.
"We found a tremendous number of things that they were doing well that we tried to match. And then some very specific opportunities for innovation and enhancements that should establish us as the leader in those areas."
The impact of Grand Theft Auto on the games industry cannot be overstated. It redefined the way people played games by overcoming the traditional limitations of predictable plots, restrictive virtual worlds and a lack of control over the eventual outcome.
In its place, GTA offered vast free-form, open worlds, which gave players the freedom to do pretty much whatever they wanted.
The various versions of the game have sold millions across the world and amassed games awards aplenty. But at the same time, it has also come under fire for its realistically brutal plots and violence.
Taking on GTA is an ambitious goal, but Mr DeMartini believes the nature of his game will tempt gamers to switch their allegiance to the new contender.
He talks enthusiastically about the 130 venues in the world of the Godfather game, about the ability to personalise the lead character to look like you, about a control system that is more than just button mashing.
But perhaps the ace in the hand is the Godfather brand itself.
According to Mr DeMartini, 75% of the game is based on Francis Ford Coppola's film, a further 15% on the original novel by Mario Puzo and only 10% of additional material.
He has seen the film hundreds of times, as have many of those who worked on the game. For six months, the movie was running on a loop at the development studios. The game makers even pored over film scripts to immerse themselves in the world of the mob.
The game, though, is not simply an interactive remake of the classic movie. Instead of playing one of the film characters, players take on the role of a lowly mobster who has to work his way up the ranks of the Corleone family.
"Our intention is to let you experience the Godfather story, to interact with the Don and all the other characters," said Mr DeMartini.
The game is set in New Jersey in the 1930s
This was a deliberate choice to avoid a common mistake found in games inspired by movies that often end up being an interactive rehash of the story and little else.
"There was a danger we could become over-dependent on the fiction," explained Mr DeMartini. "We wanted to create an intense gaming experience, exclusive of the license."
The challenge facing the game makers was coming up with something that would satisfy both the hardcore Godfather fan and the casual gamer.
The game was originally due to be released last year in time for Christmas. The extra four months, said Mr DeMartini, has allowed the developers to do more than make a GTA clone.
"We are trying to be epic with this experience," he stressed.
Much is riding on the success of The Godfather: The Game. Aside from the millions spent on making the game, EA is hoping to establish it as one of their blockbuster titles and move on to adapt the two sequels.
"We went into this venture taking into consideration the establishment of a brand new franchise. Our intention is to make two and three," said Mr DeMartini.