LA Noire in Need of Tough Love, Part 2

There’s Film Noir, then there’s, Film Noir…

Part 1 ended with a reference to LA Confidential, so speaking of film noir films, that’s have a close look at some examples starting off with Chinatown (1974).

Chinatown is a film noir classic, and, a good flick. But, I’ve only ever seen this movie in it’s entirety once, and, most likely won’t have the patience to do so again. The pace is slow and ultimately, it’s a fairly forgettable film story-wise. Speaking of pace, consider the following quote and that even Heavy Rain has an abundance of (button-pressing) action sequences:

“We wonder whether an audience trained by GTA and its wannabes to associate open worlds with mayhem will be able to settle into LA Noire’s more sedate rhythm.” [Edge]

Next The Black Dahlia (2006) which I’ve only seen once as well, and though I may watch it again as it is by far better paced than Chinatown, I’d have to say that the long lasting impression it gave me was of a poor contrived black-and-white cliché of a film. It seemed to have the pieces, but the script just wasn’t there in the end.

“But its deference to genre doesn’t, from what we’ve seen, lead it into simply regurgitating Bogart-flavoured clichés.” [Edge]

Speaking of clichés, it’s interesting to read the above, in that that is exactly the impression Team Bondi gave of their project when they first revealed details of the title along with a pre-rendered trailer. That it was meant to be a 1940s film noir inspired title, not, a modern film noir title set in the 1940s. Why you’d want to do that, is beyond me other than to do so as a parody or pulp / graphic noir as in Sin City (2005).

Cinema doesn’t start to get good until the 1950s, especially film noir – in my opinion. Prior to that, the dialogue was inane and plot socially and emotionally stunted by censorship derived from a questionable-basis for morality.

Therefore to my modern sensibilities, 1940s film noir is mostly crap!

Honestly, compare the “classic” film noir The Dark Corner (1946) to Night of the Hunter (1955). Though the latter may not be strictly considered film noir as I understand the conventions, it’s cinematography most certainly is, and, the story most certainly “dark” enough – it pisses all over The Dark Corner in the story department.

My guess is that LA Noire started out that way, until, they realised just how crap film from that period was. Changing from a 1940s film noir private-eye title, to, a modern cop film set in 1940s LA, drawing upon the real (case) history of that period. I’m also guessing that that conclusion ran-up at least a 10 million (pound?) tab with Sony, before they had enough of it, and Rockstar decided to take the tab off their hands.

Now LA Confidential (1997) is a flick that I can’t recall how many times I’ve seen in its entirety. Lots is my best guess. It’s no surprise to me that LA Noire is sounding more like LA Confidential and less like Chinatown, especially with Rockstar involved. But, will it end up like The Black Dahlia? Apart from being set in the 1950s, LA Confidential has it all: crime, corruption, drugs, prostitution, intrigue, humour, sex, violence, the grey morality of a seedy underbelly to Hollywoods polished veneer… I could go on, but I’ll just say that it’s also a cop-flick like LA Noire is a cop-game.

But, does LA Noire have all the rest as well, especially the action that I think a good deal of gamers will expect from a Rockstar title?

“’The script’s up to 22,000 pages,’ McNamara explains. ‘That’s two full years of a TV series and probably 12 feature films. It goes a lot of places!’” [Edge]

“To help get natural performances from the actors in this unnatural environment, Team Bondi has hired veteran director Michael Uppendahl, who had previously worked with Staton on Mad Men.” [Gameinforer]

Mad Men is one of my favourite shows, it’s engaging drama, cleverly using marketing (and period fashion) as a device to communicate the issues of the time – 1950s to 1960s – but, it’s no action-flick or cop show unfortunately. Why I guess I’m not completely impressed by actors being directed for dramatic sessions whilst being stuck within a restrictive motion-capture cube by a director who’s worked on the show.

There is also the issue of the story being based on “real” cases, which may very well make for a real bore. Though the original CSI show was based on real cases, I’d hardly call the show completely “factual.” It’s fiction after all, it’s designed to entertain. If they really showed the mundane reality, minus all the gloss and special effects… once you got over the novelty of prime-time gore, you’d just end up thinking how much like your own job it actually is!

“It’s little exaggeration to say that the rest of the game was conceived around the idea of interrogation, and it’s quickly apparent why. Wilkie’s face shits between impatient and nervously deferential, eyes flickering, every part of it as alive and mobile as a real human face – and, vitally, just as readable. LA Noire’s facial animation, it seems, has scaled the precipitous slopes of the uncanny valley, leaving the likes of Heavy Rain still scrabbling at the escarpment below.” [Edge]

I wonder since the technology in use is so much aligned for use in a dramatic way, whether, this will affect the aspects of the game that are to be far more action-based, or, how it may cripple the illusion of a “sandbox open-world” by not appreciating your own (and the medium’s) current limitations; I also wonder about what exactly the over-arching story is all about that’s supposed to tie all these “cases” together.

“As the game progresses, Phelps moves up from regular beat officer to dealing with traffic offences, and then through robbery, vice and homicide, tussling with new partners each time.” [Edge]

Does it all actually make coherent sense, and, is it actually any fun to play?

Time for some Hard Luv’n…

Now I don’t mean prison-sex hard luv’n like The Shawshank Redemption (1994), or kinky-sex luv’n like The Killer Inside Me (2010). But perhaps the “you have to be cruel to be kind” kind. Team Bondi seems to need someone to do them a favour, even if they won’t appreciate it. Someone needs to step in with an objective fresh point-of-view and sort this all out, even if it means stepping on some toes and bruising egos.

Someone needs to come in and bring to this project the things that they lack…

“The push from simple ‘slapothon’ to the sophisticated interrogation mechanism that now exists happened at quite an advanced stage. McNamara: ‘The people who really championed that were Rockstar. I was a bit reluctant. It meant a huge amount of extra writing.’” [Edge]

“McNamara realises that the game needs to provide fans of Rockstar’s other, more visceral games enough thrills – something for which he’s relied on advice from his partners at Rockstar to provide.” [Gameinformer]

Reading statements like that, it makes you wonder what exactly in way of actual design of gameplay, Team Bondi really are responsible for?! I also take mild offence to the last statement, in that I’m sure they could have found the expertise here amongst the locals in order to achieve that kind of gameplay. It’s either naïve to think you can’t so you don’t bother to try, or, it highlights how inept you are if you lack the ability to tell who would have that kind of skill to bring to your studio and project.

Not exactly reassuring to read once you think about it, is it? I mean, it’s only the ability to create compelling gameplay after all…

“By Rockstar’s estimation, LA Noire will feature a game world that’s bigger and more detailed than any it has created so far, and will be a near one to one recreation of the city at the time. That’s not to mention the over 140 interiors (many of which are multi-room structures) and the mind-boggling number of fully rendered objects that Cole Phelps can examine in his investigation.” [Gameinformer]

You need to create more from your less, not, just try and create more. That’s something that those that want to get an original commercial, even innovative, title out in a timely fashion – like 3 or 4 years – implicitly understand and appreciate. Trying to make everything unique, takes up a lot of time and resources – something most developers don’t have the luxury of having.

“For one, since every character – from the protagonist to the last random pedestrian – had to be fully voiced and acted out, the casting and capture process has grown to epic proportions. Right now, there are well over 300 actors and actresses being used in LA Noire… Thousands of period items have been fully modelled, and can be manipulated by the player.” [Gameinformer]

A system that captures this rich data is nice and all, but, I feel that it is actually missing the point of the medium, missing, one of its strengths. I can’t help but feel based on what I’ve read, that LA Noire is going to have a “data” issue – how they are going to get this game to run smoothly on a PS3 let alone an X360, is an aspect of this. Perhaps Team Bondi have some interesting algorithms in way of procedural generation and compression that they haven’t made anyone aware of, but from the impression I get, they don’t.

So rather than making the world seem more believable, all you’ve done, is created a data storage and engine optimisation headache. I suspect.

Regardless, a year should be more than enough time to create a flawed “masterpiece” like Heavy Rain and Mafia 2. After all this time, you’d think most of the tech and tools would be in place. The majority of the assets have been created, and, there is a story to work with – even if it isn’t perfect. All you have to do is to make what you have work by getting rid of (or reworking) the elements that don’t work, and most importantly, adding the crucial elements that are missing in order to create compelling gameplay.

No game is perfect, why try to be?

Team Bondi it’s reported, has two dates to finish this title. One is first quarter next year, which, they could miss. The other, is October 2011. My guess Rockstar has given them until that last date to deliver the goods, with the first, as a date to get it mostly done by themselves before more outside help has to be brought in – if they haven’t done so already, with rumours of Rockstar Leeds already being involved.

I doubt that Rockstar will pull the plug on this project. Too much has been exhausted on it already, and, it’s an interesting title when all is said and done… I just hope that this stays largely a Team Bondi project, and, that it is some modicum of success for all involved.

Make sure to read: LA Noire in Need of Tough Love, Part 1

6 thoughts on “LA Noire in Need of Tough Love, Part 2”

  1. Was on the design team back in 2006. We pitched hard to develop the aptly described ‘slapothon’ interrogation ‘mechanic’ (only player option in an interrogation was to slap the suspect or do nothing) into a more sophisticated system (at the minimum introducing a positive interrogation action) but Brendan wasn’t having a bar of it. The resistance was mainly due to the stubborn mantra of having no HUD elements in the game. All the theoretical attempts at communicating the interrogation mechanic without a HUD felt forced and unintuitive. Took a couple more years, a lot of money and R* pulling rank to arrive at the same conclusion we had back then; just use a HUD.

    1. I don’t understand that mentality. I can see where they’re coming from, trying to do something better than a HUD, but, we have them for a good reason. Even the solutions that try and do away with one, are actually, just more sophisticated versions of a HUD using better graphics to do the job — not against it mind you in that I think developers should be trying more progressive approaches, just saying what it really is.

      At the end of the day, the user interface is made up of a display, speakers of some variety, and, some kind of input device or devices — a controller, a mouse and keyboard, a Wii remote, etc.

      A HUD is just an element of all this, the display in particular.

      Even with HD displays, and modern graphics cards, there are only so many pixels to that screen and so many shaders and animations that can be used to convey what the system is doing to the player so that they can then interact back with it, “with ease” and “intuitively.” Period. Depending on the gameplay, you’re going to have to give the player various concessions because of the inherit limitations of that interface.

      Otherwise, it’ll feel forced, wrong, and just play crap! No matter how much you try and convince yourself of the ‘innovation’ present.

    1. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to watching one of the films you’ve listed, I can get around to writing a reply.

      Double Indemnity (1944) is probably a film I’ve seen before, but when I was much younger, and didn’t have the appreciation I have for film today. Though I can appreciate it now, however, I think my reasoning is still sound. If you look at it from purely a film point-of-view, no one, would make a film like that today. Film making has moved on, the artform has matured. The only way it could exist, is largely, as a parody of a 1940s film noir flick.

      The closest film that comes to mind of that is Sin City (2005). Another, is The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001). A modern film shot as a black-and-white film set in the late 1940s, but, with a modern story. What I mean by that, is if it were told back in the 1940s, the premise might be the same but the details would be very different – so would be some of the storytelling mechanics.

      We’ve moved on as storytellers, and, as westerners – especially in way of moral sensibilities.

      So when I say that film of the 1940s is “crap,” I mean the storytelling is from a modern-day context. I don’t mean that the films themselves are crap. I can enjoy a film like Double Indemnity, in that I find the storytelling somewhat quaint even if a tad naïve in sophistication.

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