LA Noire in Need of Tough Love, Part 1

Love unrequited…

Over the years, I’ve watched the recently delayed L.A. Noire’s progression with interest. It’s been tough, as all there’s been were scant details and a growing tide of criticism via forums. With so little to go from, it’s hard to paint a clear analytical picture, even with the more recent magazine features in Edge and Gameinformer.

With these tight-lipped details, malignant rumours, and delays to the title’s release, I’d still been able to keep a positive view of LA Noire when others would tell me not to bother – and these are people who used to work on the project. I’d argue that I thought that Australia needed a title like this aspired to be – even if it failed to live up to its own hype.

What they call a “breakaway title,” original IP developed by a studio that is a breakaway success.

The “experience” from that kind of title would go along way to nurturing the local industry, in that the talent behind it and the know-how that lead to it’s success, would then flow into other studios or seed start-ups that will eventually become Australia’s versions of Bioware, Blizzard and Valve – hell, even Rockstar.

It may even be a good thing for Sydney’s local game development industry, in getting a surge of growth here finally.

But if it does fail, and by that I mean that the project finally has the plug pulled on it. What will it say of the Australian industry when a studio was given the opportunity to create such a title yet they spent years pissing away millions in order to deliver: a pre-rendered video, a handful of screenshots of characters in mid-sentence, and technology, that could very well boil down to full-motion video (FMV) simply done via real-time 3D?

And even if it does get released, manages to charm critics but not make a return on investment, I don’t think the fact that it took 8 years to deliver a self-indulgent flop, even if it aspired to be something more than the norm, will go down too easily with just about everyone directly involved or not. Then there’s another scenario, where even the critics – not just gamers (consumers) – hate it as well.

I guess you could say that I’m no longer optimistic about this title, even if I am still trying to remain positive. But at least the thought of hearing that this title has been delayed by yet another year, and how the staff there have apparently been treated… doesn’t make my upper lip start to twitch into a sneer of contempt anymore.

You have to wonder what exactly Team Bondi have traded for another year of development funding from Rockstar? Will they end up becoming Rockstar Sydney when the title ships, no longer an independent studio? Have they let Rockstar take a slice of the pie in way of their Depth Analysis motion-scan technology? I’d be surprised if Team Bondi didn’t think that was a prized jewel in their war chest for getting the funding for future development campaigns via licensing – if the hype’s to be believed. Have they lost it along with a continued future as a development studio?

The following indicates that Rockstar at least have a strong interest in it:

“’Rockstar will hopefully start using Depth Analysis motion scans in a bunch of different games as well,’ McNamara says. ‘We’ve got an arrangement to do that.’” [Edge]

Of course, this is just my own speculation, but, you have to wonder what they have given up in order to have uncle Rockstar buy them yet another year of development time. You also have to wonder, if they do manage to release a title, how their bloated studio will continue to operate once the title ships, if, it will continue to exist at all!

In the beginning…

There was Team Soho and The Getaway, a British crime-themed third-person action-adventure title that sold around 4 million units on the PS2 back in 2002 – released 18 months overdue. It only came out on the one platform, and I must confess, though I own a PS3 I don’t own a PS2 – I have an XBOX instead.

So, I’ve never played this game, all I can go off of are vids, screens and reviews; Metacritic gives it an average of: 72/100 – usually, I don’t play a title unless it gets in the mid 80s or better, anything less, depends on how interested you are in the genre and how little it costs when you fish it out of the bargain bin.

“With The Getaway, the storytelling and characters were great, but it was just too hard to play.” [Gameinformer]

As per Brendan McNamara’s appraisal above, the title was admired for it’s story, but, ultimately a flawed gaming experience due to the attempt of the developers to create a game that did “everything in-game” without the use of “traditional” user-interface mechanics – like a HUD. Clearly, they lacked the know-how in order to achieve that vision; you could argue that the technology just wasn’t ready yet to handle some of what they wanted to achieve, however, a studio with the know-how would have realised this.

They should have also realised, that simply removing such features and not replacing them with any kind of working alternative, isn’t, actually an adequate solution.

Now I mention The Getaway, in that I believe it was a success more due to circumstance and timing, rather than, due to it’s maligned gameplay. GTA 3 had come out the previous year, and there probably weren’t that many “clones” yet. Also, I think the fact that it was a distinctly British crime story and setting, were the real draw card here. We’d seen Guy Ritchie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), then Snatch (2000); not that those would be the only “hip” British crime films, with Layer Cake (2004) being another good example, if less successful.

A “GTA” like game, even if not all that “sandbox,” with a strong “British” story set in London when most titles are from a distinctly American point-of-view… that’s a big point-of-difference (hook) – personally, I’d love to see the sales figures for the UK, as I suspect, that such a native setting would have had a strong appeal there. Will a 1940s LA have a similar appeal to gamers I wonder? It appears I’m not the only one to do so:

“The risk Rockstar took was buying into my idea – that we could make a huge genre in movies and literature work in games when no one else had.” [Edge]

Lastly, there is the fact that it was for the PS2, a console that had been launched 2 years prior. A console, that would bring a lot of new (non-traditional) gamers to the console market; having sold over 145 million as of June this year. This new blood into the gaming market gene-pool, were distinctly not what had come before – gaming geeks. In fact, gaming was no longer the past-time of socially dysfunctional kids, but, had hit mainstream.

These gamers unlike those that had come before, you could say, were also less “mature” in expectations.

The gamers that bought and played the title, 9 years later, would not buy a modern day “The Getaway” — which if the rumours are right, Sony forced Team Soho’s hand and pushed it out the door, otherwise, it would still be in development to this day. They’ve come to expect more from a title’s A$120 price-tag in the way of quality-of-experience in way of gameplay; also consider, that the novelty of what Team Bondi are aspiring to do, may have worn-off some.

Heavy Rain kinda did it first — and though it was enjoyable enough and I finished it, it was fundamentally flawed in a number of ways, story being the most obvious. Will people really jump on the bandwagon and buy into the illusion if Team Bondi deliver something similar, yet, not as polished interface-wise? Especially if the critics don’t like the title.

I mean consider this (if my memory serves me right) that Team Bondi wanted to carry on their “everything must be done in-game” mantra from The Getaway to LA Noire. For instance take “navigation,” The Getaway had the dashboard turn indicators flash either left or right when you got to an intersection in order to guide the player to their destination. GTA 4 since it’s set in a modern setting, has an in-game GPS that does the same thing, but, more effectively. LA Noire doesn’t have such a luxury due to setting, yet, how to do away with an “unrealistic” mini-map?

Perhaps this will shed some light on this conundrum:

“…the game deigns to have a GTA-style mini-map” [Edge]

Simple really, by having a mini-map… I wonder how many years of development it took before they came to that particular insightful conclusion. It seems that to some degree, they’ve abandoned their earlier stance on trying to achieve everything “in-game;” as the following remarks indicate:

“A dial on the right of the screen indicates that we can choose to force, accuse or coax: stances which determine the broad direction of your retort… Two bars, labelled ‘insight’ and ‘guilt’, flank the conversation dial during interrogations.” [Edge]

So much for the millions spent so far on doing away with the venerable HUD…

People are going to see through what is claimed as being “innovative” and see it for what it is. Or, that is my fear — though, it really shouldn’t be mine to have. They’re going to look at this and think to themselves: did that really warrant 8 years of development? Sure it looks good and all, period LA looks great – and some people are going to buy it for that reason alone – elements of the “interactive” FMV like story-sequences are interesting, but c’mon, where is the actual gameplay here.. ?!

Now I said I liked Heavy Rain, but, I bought it second-hand for A$40. If I had paid A$120, then I would have been left with a bitter after taste. Let’s face it, pressing the right sequence of buttons is hardly what you’d call “gameplay.” And if LA Noire is largely about their “interrogation,” press the right button, mechanic… I don’t care how great it looks or how great the story ends up being, I won’t be paying full price for that kind of “experience.”

More likely I’ll buy it second-hand, play it a couple of days, and if I find the gameplay to not just be “lacking” but an atrocity to my senses and insulting to my intelligence… I’ll be taking it back to EB Games to get a full refund.

If I want to watch a movie on my PS3, I’ll watch a Blue-ray film like LA Confidential!

Make sure to read: LA Noire in Need of Tough Love, Part 2

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4 thoughts on “LA Noire in Need of Tough Love, Part 1”

  1. I don’t agree with your contempt for Team Bondi trying to wrench the “venerable” HUD out of their games. Dead Space and Fable used glowing trails for navigation to some success, and I’d warrant LA Noire could make it “on-call” like Dead Space did. There’s no reason to quit innovating simply because something “works”. Isaac’s world is extremely immersive for Visceral Games’ attempt at bridging Isaac’s omni-tool thing with pop-up menus like the workbench unfolding to take up the screen, etc.

    I despise GTA4’s screen clutter. It cheapens the experience of running from cops when you’re pretty much playing PacMan on your GPS. The option to remove the HUD is always tempting but ultimately I revert when I get in a chase. You gotta know where that perimeter ends and when to park. It’s lame.

    Having a HUD also gives Rockstar a spoon to feed players random banal “tips” throughout the game. Quit telling me how to access the phone, or or how to use the taxi. Jesus…

    1. I think you’ve misunderstood me on a number of levels — along with the situation.

      I don’t have any contempt for any developer that tries for a more progressive approach to the “venerable” HUD. Sticking to the old is kinda lazy. However, when a developer doesn’t try to do anything progressive, like Dead Space, in the way of doing better than the usual HUD. Because, they see this as a HUD and want to do everything “in-game” — without any HUDs at all. I think that is being rather ignorant to the limitations of the medium.

      I have to wonder why on Earth anyone would give them such large sums of money to develop a game with — we have HUDs for a reason ;).

      You have to remember, that any kind of HUD that you’ll find in the final game, is there because of Rockstar pushing (or even demanding) for it to be in the end title so as to make it not only playable (functional) but also enjoyable to play.

      As much as I’d hate to say it, as it implies a lot.

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