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Neither tarnished nor afraid
June 16, 2011 6:49 PM   Subscribe

Rockstar Games/Team Bondi's open world adventure game LA Noire was released last month to near-universal praise. However, several long-form essays have been written exploring it's problems. The Shadows Of LA Noire criticizes its lack of noir feel. Press X For Beer Bottle (some spoilers) uses the game's lack of freedom to explore the nature of gaming. Finally, Kill Screen Daily's review finds a metaphysical explanation for some of its most obvious issues.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn (62 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Maybe this should go in Ask, but I'm interested in the use of still-existing brands in the game. Bank of America is a location, Kellogg's and Seagrams logos appear, and plenty of genuine Chrysler, Chevrolet and other cars are drivable. But Coca-Cola has been replaced with Cola King, and there don't appear to be any historical billboards at all. What's up with that?

Also, I love the game. I think limiting freedom to tell a fully coherent story is a valid artistic decision. It still has more freedom than most non-RPGs.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:01 PM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


What's up with that?

I think that this falls under fair-use. IANAL.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:05 PM on June 16, 2011


I can't stay in this thread for long, because I'm only halfway through the game and I'm trying to avoid spoilers. I bought it because I had some trade in credit and I'm the sort of person who owns a fedora. Plus, I was high off Red Dead Redemption and feeling the tiniest, slightest twinge of local pride for the city I live in.

I got about halfway through the game (two Vice cases in) and just... stopped. I can't muster up the energy to play anymore. The gameplay isn't bad, though I do get tripped up on interrogations. But nothing I do matters. I can fail a case badly and all I get is a bad grade. The story isn't affected. The only thing that stops play is failing an action sequence, and if I do that 3 times then I can restart it.

'That's cool, LiB. But what about the story and the atmosphere?' So far, there's no over-arching story. I've put about 8 hours into the game and there's hints that Phelps might have a dark past and assurances from other gamers that it does get better. This is way too long for a primarily story-driven game to go without a narrative. Right now it feels more like Law & Order than The Wire. Sure, Phelps and his sidekick are pretty fun, but there's no metaplot to keep me coming back.

The atmosphere just isn't noir. I'm not a noir expert, but most of the game takes place in the daylight. Phelps is a straight up good cop, and there isn't much ambiguity in the cases.

I'll finish it, I guess. I paid money, and I have it. But every time I try to get back into it I do something like beat Vanquish in a weekend or play Dead Rising.

Funny story:
I was at a party, wearing my wanky fedora (because it was raining). A random comes up and spends 30 minutes adjusting the angle of it. I make some joke about 'playing too much LA Noire'. Turns out he was a playtester on the game for 2 years.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:10 PM on June 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


random comes up and spends 30 minutes adjusting the angle of it.

30 SECONDS. sorry
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:10 PM on June 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


30 SECONDS. sorry

Yeah, thanks. I was thinking that "adjusting my fedora" was some sort of euphemism.
posted by shothotbot at 7:12 PM on June 16, 2011 [24 favorites]


Maybe this should go in Ask, but I'm interested in the use of still-existing brands in the game. Bank of America is a location, Kellogg's and Seagrams logos appear, and plenty of genuine Chrysler, Chevrolet and other cars are drivable. But Coca-Cola has been replaced with Cola King, and there don't appear to be any historical billboards at all. What's up with that?

For historical stuff, scram ran an LA Noire tour and 1947 Project did a historical overview of the game.

I end up skipping the driving sequences most of the time. The slippery GTA car physics just doesn't work with the game.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:13 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


But nothing I do matters. I can fail a case badly and all I get is a bad grade. The story isn't affected.

I think the best thing to compare LA Noire to is point-and-click adventure games, in most of which you cannot even get a "Mission Failed, Retry?" screen, because you can never fail at anything in the slightest. It's a genre which has gone out of fashion, but it's beloved by many players, myself included.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:16 PM on June 16, 2011


Watched some friends play it for a few hours and I'm not very interested for a few reasons:

*How does walking over every square ft of a crime scene waiting for a vibration equal using your brain? At least in old point and click games you had to desperately click on everything hoping that the objects might help you in some way.

*The writing seemed terrible. Maybe it got better later in the game, but they seemed really cheesy.

*The facial animations didn't impress me as much as I expected after hearing all the praise.
posted by meta87 at 7:16 PM on June 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


How does walking over every square ft of a crime scene waiting for a vibration equal using your brain?

Agreed. I turned off all the hints from the very beginning. It's a lot more satisfying.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:19 PM on June 16, 2011


I think the best thing to compare LA Noire to is point-and-click adventure games, in most of which you cannot even get a "Mission Failed, Retry?" screen, because you can never fail at anything in the slightest. It's a genre which has gone out of fashion, but it's beloved by many players, myself included.

I really did like Monkey Island and the LucasArts adventure games. Didn't many of them actually give you really arbitrary, stupid deaths? The attraction with those was partly the story and the humor, which again seems to be lacking so far.

I was joking about it before but apparently Discworld Noir actually does use a similar notebook/clue method to LA Noire.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:19 PM on June 16, 2011


But Coca-Cola has been replaced with Cola King, and there don't appear to be any historical billboards at all.

Copyright. It's not fair use - IANAL but I've had to argue with a publisher's legal department about questionably copyright material in games and my experience is that they are overzealous in protecting themselves from being sued and risking a recall. If a logo does appear, you can bet that they gained explicit permission for it. For L.A. Noire, they probably sought out this permission because the logos and products would make it more immersive to the time period.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 7:21 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was so disappointed in LA Noire that I think it's put me off Rockstar games for good. The facial animation is better than any other game I've played, but it's still not good enough to sustain the "deception detection" mechanic - the actors either go over the top with the shifty "I AM LYING TO YOU" thing, or they're so subtle that you're just guessing wildly. And what's worse is that the new facial animations just compound the "uncanny valley" problem that all these games have - the eyes are vacant and unfocused, it's unnerving. I suspect that having your story populated by glassy-eyed humanoids makes it almost impossible to get emotionally invested in it - but maybe that's just me. I would love to see more abstract and cartoon-y styles come back into fashion, but obviously the video game industry is moving in exactly the opposite direction.

And yes, there's basically no use for deductive reasoning in this game, which is a damn shame. Walking around a room and waiting for your controller to vibrate is not an interesting challenge.
posted by mellifluous at 7:24 PM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've played the game obsessively and I think it's fair to say that it's a flawed gem. The writing is sometimes confusing... the ending was odd... the physics are flawed... the MotionScan and aspects aren't perfect (there's one suspect in a homicide case that is notoriously hard to read).

That said I love it for reasons that would be lost on most gamers (through no shortcoming of their own). While it takes artistic liberties, the 1947 LA setting is incredible. If someone knows LA history and is a downtown LA fan, it's amazing. The game matches so many of the little details my grandparents have told me about their youth... In 1947 they had both just graduated from Hollywood High (you can drive past it), my grandma worked at the big blue NBC building, and my grandpa was in med school at USC (just like Courtney Sheldon). The number of recreated buildings is staggering. That's why I love it. It's an imperfect game but in some pastiche sort of way, it takes me back to when my grandparents were young kids... 50 years before I'd wander those same neighborhoods.
posted by Old Man McKay at 7:27 PM on June 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


I really did like Monkey Island and the LucasArts adventure games. Didn't many of them actually give you really arbitrary, stupid deaths?

Sierra adventure games were notorious for their hilarious deaths. LucasArts adventure games started as a competitor that succeeded in part because it was very difficult to die (and be frustrated). They had similar humor styles.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 7:28 PM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the best thing to compare LA Noire to is point-and-click adventure games, in most of which you cannot even get a "Mission Failed, Retry?" screen, because you can never fail at anything in the slightest. It's a genre which has gone out of fashion, but it's beloved by many players, myself included.

I think the bloated corpse of prehistoric point'n'clickers is currently being nibbled at by the tiny, mammalian room escape games.
posted by Sparx at 7:28 PM on June 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was at a party, wearing my wanky fedora (because it was raining). A random comes up and spends 30 minutes adjusting the angle of it.

BAM instant art film
posted by Sebmojo at 7:28 PM on June 16, 2011 [16 favorites]


By the way, for me, half the joy of the game is the environments it recreates (or creates in a Baudrillard simulacrum sense). Places just to stand and look around and watch. The bowling alley, the Egyptian Theater, any of the diners and bars were a few of my favorite examples of this.
posted by Old Man McKay at 7:32 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed the game, and I look forward to the forthcoming DLC.

It isn't without its problems, though. I'm a "creep and save" gamer, and it frustrates me to not be able to restart interrogations. I wish the different desks had a tally of completed street crimes -- I'd like to do all of them, but I don't know which desk's crimes aren't completed.

As for the complaint that it doesn't feel "noir" enough, well... I guess that's true, but there's a twist at the end that takes makes you re-evaluate everything that has happened before and was, I thought, an excellent hat-tip to the genre.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:34 PM on June 16, 2011


I suspect that having your story populated by glassy-eyed humanoids makes it almost impossible to get emotionally invested in it

Have you *been* to L.A.? They were striving for accuracy.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:40 PM on June 16, 2011 [18 favorites]


I'm a "creep and save" gamer, and it frustrates me to not be able to restart interrogations.

If you make a mistake during an interrogation and don't want to restart the case and do all the investigatory run-up again, just exit the game. Since the game saves just before interrogations begin, you can start asking questions again without locking yourself out of anything. (Admittedly it takes a minute or two to run through the opening menu and reload your save, but it's far quicker than investigating everything again.)
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:47 PM on June 16, 2011


"If a logo does appear, you can bet that they gained explicit permission for it."

Huh. And here I took for granted that whenever I see a logo a company paid to put it there. Video games hand out freebies?
posted by idiopath at 7:48 PM on June 16, 2011


Press X For Beer Bottle is a very fun read and I think does a good job of nailing down some interesting things about how the game declines to Save Against Asshole the way GTA games generally do, and it got me thinking:

I'd like to do a run through LA Noire sometime as Cole Phelps, Credulous Detective. Just assume every single thing everybody tells me is the truth. The game'll let me fail my way through the endgame as far as I can tell, and I'll probably get to hear a lot of reaction dialogue that I missed on my first largely-successful run.
posted by cortex at 8:02 PM on June 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


L.A. Noire does have a Game Over screen for failing certain series of interrogations. I know because I actually managed to hit one.
posted by chrominance at 8:06 PM on June 16, 2011


Perhaps I will have to engineer in a brief crisis of faith or two, then. I'll just roleplay Cole apologizing again and again afterward, during the loading screens.
posted by cortex at 8:13 PM on June 16, 2011


South Park was pretty clear in their review too in the same "Press X For Beer Bottle" vein.
posted by CarlRossi at 8:29 PM on June 16, 2011


In the options you can change it so the game is in black and white. That makes it more noirish, naturally. But I think the main problem with this thing is that it's basically a showcase for the new facial scanning technology and they didn't really know what to do with it. It's an okay game, but I wish I had waited for it to turn up in the bargain bin.

Off-tangent slightly, I notice that the new McGee's Alice and Dungeon Siege III are out today for the 360 and after being slowly slapped for three hours by the geriatric gaming assault that is Duke Nukem Forever I am not going to bother with it any more but I want something fun to play, can anybody recommend either of these new releases?
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:29 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


a redditor commented that LA Nior was GTA with white people. I wonder if that's true.
posted by the noob at 8:38 PM on June 16, 2011


This is a great collection of links. Thanks for the post!
posted by Bwithh at 8:41 PM on June 16, 2011


Huh. And here I took for granted that whenever I see a logo a company paid to put it there. Video games hand out freebies?

Ha! I once got permission for use of a copyright... only if our company paid the copyright holder the equivalent of my year's salary in exchange. Management declined.

(The subject's more nuanced and there's reasons why it's fairly specific to games, but it's pretty much that in a nutshell).
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 8:45 PM on June 16, 2011


LA Noire dances like this, and GTA dances like this, am I right?
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:45 PM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


a redditor commented that LA Nior was GTA with white people. I wonder if that's true.

It's nothing like GTA. You can't run over people, you can't draw your gun unless you're chasing a suspect, and not only do you play a cop but you play a cop who's more by-the-book and upright than 90% of fictional cops (at least so far). If Rockstar hadn't published and polished it nobody would make that comparison.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:50 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


While video games can be used well as a story-telling medium, I've long felt that video games really aren't at their best when used to try to tell stories and it's an inherent flaw, texture or structure in the media.

The reasons why are actually outlined in the Press X for Beer Bottle essay. When you're entering into an interactive world it's frustrating (or fascinating or distracting) to find the actual edges of the world and it's environment. This destroys disbelief, and you run into mental "fourth walls" wherever the dramatization of reality breaks down.

This is why film still works and why interactive video was a failure and why people didn't want it. Reality is huge, but with a linear media like a book or a movie or a play the author assumes complete control. It's implicit in the media that the audience is mere voyeur and spectator, and that it's not reality. The whole point is to relinquish control and relax and enjoy the ride.

For me video games are at their best when they stop trying to tell traditional linear or branched story lines and instead present some novel mode of game play, or a blank canvas of a world to create your own stories. More Lego, less Transformers. Or more Tetris and Minecraft and less, oh, I don't know. Whatever forgettable point and click story game of your choice.

This isn't to say that you can't tell a good story in a video game, but you have to know how to hide the strings and wires really well, because in the end you're more or less compelled to use a script and plot of some sort - or else you're not really telling a story.

I used to have what I feel was a naive belief that virtual reality would be easy, that it would be a problem that would solve itself given fast enough computers and sufficient complexity. Game designers would start using AI and fractals to populate entire worlds, we'd invent insanely great brain-computer interfaces or 3D technology and oh man it was going to be awesome.

The reality is that reality is incredibly complex and dynamic. Even if you had a magic virtual reality box like the Holodeck it would be computationally difficult to convincingly model reality. Reality by default will always be more complex than an algorithmic simulation.

However, if game designers focused more on AI and the mechanics of stories and focused less on pretty graphics and sounds I could see video games really maturing into a much more formalized story telling tool of it's own that allowed a lot of behavioral freedom and dynamic game play - but we might not recognize them as linear or branched storylines.
posted by loquacious at 8:56 PM on June 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


I was totally engrosses playing the homicide cases, once I hit the arson cases, I lost interest.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:46 PM on June 16, 2011


If a logo does appear, you can bet that they gained explicit permission for it.

I would have assumed so, but the disclaimer at the start says that all trademarks and brands are used without license.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:06 PM on June 16, 2011


I generally derive zero enjoyment from open world games. With your average linear game there's this sort of rising tension per level, "you have to stop the giant laser trypticon from shooting down the shuttles as quickly as possible" or something. Open world games do have discrete missions but generally you can go spend 3 hours apprenticing as a soba noodle chef right in the middle of that important mission to no ill effect, that's the point of open worldness right?

One of my friends loves "the fuck shit up" part of these games. Either he's the Hulk smashing everything in sight or a criminal sniping from the top of a tower. My amateur psychological analysis says its empowerment fantasy combined with anger issues that drive him.

Then again I enjoyed the heck out of Rampage back in the day. Remember the pseudo king kong and pseudo godzilla destroying things as quickly as possible?
posted by Chekhovian at 10:35 PM on June 16, 2011


I generally derive zero enjoyment from open world games. With your average linear game there's this sort of rising tension per level, "you have to stop the giant laser trypticon from shooting down the shuttles as quickly as possible" or something. Open world games do have discrete missions but generally you can go spend 3 hours apprenticing as a soba noodle chef right in the middle of that important mission to no ill effect, that's the point of open worldness right?

Maybe the devs were so worried people were going to be assholes they went too far in the other direction? I don't think they should have sold the open-world stuff at all. The story is amazingly linear (at least so far) but not that compelling.

It's weird because some noir plotting would work okay for videogames. 'Drive around, see something weird, get ambushed by thugs, shoot thugs, get knocked out, get dragged to a meeting with a powerful person (cutscene), drive around again'...

That Discworld Noir game looks noir as fuck.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:17 PM on June 16, 2011


I generally derive zero enjoyment from open world games. With your average linear game there's this sort of rising tension per level, "you have to stop the giant laser trypticon from shooting down the shuttles as quickly as possible" or something. Open world games do have discrete missions but generally you can go spend 3 hours apprenticing as a soba noodle chef right in the middle of that important mission to no ill effect, that's the point of open worldness right?

I think it's important to point out the distinction between a game like Rampage or a true story-driven game. With Rampage the storyline and linearity actually has little to do with the game mechanics or plot. Sure, it helps make the game more fun in that you get to pretend giant monster smashing a city but at the heart of the mechanics of game play Rampage is more of an action-puzzle "cover or uncover territory - avoid enemies" game like Qix.

Action and platform games are also linear, but they're not really story driven. The game designers tell stories in the level design and in that escalating and deescalating tension and difficulty - you are the actor in the drama. The drama is the game itself. Even the modern versions of Super Mario have plots that could be described in a paragraph because they try to focus on game play.

But as people are pointing out in this thread in the links - LA Noir doesn't seem to have any real game. I haven't played it but it sounds like it might as well be a bad choose your own adventure book with fancy illustrations. And there's nothing wrong with using interactive media as a story telling device, but it gets proven time and again they make for poor games. Because the game play simply isn't there. "Play" being the key word, an it's an interesting and difficult to define word.

I guess what I'm getting at is that it's the game play that really matters in a video game. I don't care if it's a puzzler or an FPS or a strategy game - or an open world sandbox, and you're right, many open world sandboxes are dreadfully dull. Minecraft really is kind of like a yard work simulator, but it's irrationally enjoyable due to the insane whimsy and utterly ridiculously, comically frightening game play when operating in survival mode.

No matter how awesome the storyline is it fails to really live up to the greats of video gaming unless it's enjoyable to play, and replay over and over again.

Sometimes a game manages to do both but it's rare.
posted by loquacious at 11:53 PM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


And yes, there's basically no use for deductive reasoning in this game, which is a damn shame. Walking around a room and waiting for your controller to vibrate is not an interesting challenge.

Yeah, but it harkens back to the old text adventure gameplay of thrashing around more or less at random and hoping stuff would happen, as Zero Punctuation pointed out.
posted by rodgerd at 12:17 AM on June 17, 2011


Puzzle based games seem to inexorably flow towards either bizarre nonsensical solutions that must be discovered through that random thrashing about, or to blindingly obvious, flashing sirens to guarantee you notice it, same as always solutions. She can light her arrows? Maybe that means she has to set that torch alight, just like the last 40.

The old 90's adventure games were all about that non-nonsensical solutions, but they were also hilarious. Are there many games that really balance successfully in between those two extremes? Offhand all I can think of are the world of goo and other similar mechanism structure games out there.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:26 AM on June 17, 2011


a redditor commented that LA Nior was GTA with white people. I wonder if that's true.

For the most part GTA is GTA with white people.
posted by Winnemac at 12:34 AM on June 17, 2011


Press X For Beer Bottle is a fascinating read. I don't have a console that plays it, but LA Noir sounds really interesting, and that article's ambivalent take on it just makes me more intrigued.
posted by brundlefly at 1:06 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


a redditor commented that LA Nior was GTA with white people. I wonder if that's true

Well it was described as "GTA for white people" not "with white people" in a (possibly fake) facebook screenshot posted on reddit here.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:10 AM on June 17, 2011


Well, the white version of GTA. I give up.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:13 AM on June 17, 2011


I completed LA Noire recently and enjoyed it, probably enough to play through it again in future. However, I'm baffled by the incredible amount of detail and work that has been put into an open world that is really barely used by the narrative. There isn't even the scope to noodle around and create your own narrative like you can in the GTA games and Red Dead Redemption. There are bars, but you can't buy a drink. There are hotdog stands which you can't use. Benches you can't sit on. The list goes on.

Honestly, I never thought I'd find myself looking for more of the kind of minigames and random tasks you can do in a typical Rockstar game. In a narrative about a criminal, they felt like tacked-on padding. But with a few tweaks, they could have made this game much more inhabitable. It's a noir game, you should be able to hash out the case over a drink with your partner, maybe do some sneaky moonlighting, walk around your house.

This could have been an amazing linear adventure game. As it is, it's a pretty good linear adventure game with a vast, detailed and largely unused open world surrounding it. Odd decisions for sure. Maybe they'll make more use of things in future DLC.

posted by Happy Dave at 1:52 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


The story is really good, but I can't forgive the fact that for the last fifth of the game you are switched to a different protagonist.

Seriously, WTF? Who thought that was a good idea? I really liked Cole, and I appreciate the fact that they wrote him with some serious character flaws but I just can't get over being yanked around like that.

The ending itself was pretty great, but ugh -- a pox on Bondi for doing something so amateurish.

Also, way to set up a cool love story and then do absolutely nothing with it.
posted by bardic at 2:01 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lovecraft in Brooklyn: I really did like Monkey Island and the LucasArts adventure games. Didn't many of them actually give you really arbitrary, stupid deaths?

Ron Gilbert actually pushed for the LucasArts games to avoid the arbitrary deaths, and particularly the puzzles which were unsolvable if you hadn't picked up an object in an earlier stage...


RobotVoodooPower:
:

I suspect that having your story populated by glassy-eyed humanoids makes it almost impossible to get emotionally invested in it

Have you *been* to L.A.? They were striving for accuracy.

I've been to LA, quite a lot. Lots of friendly people. Nice pulled pork sandwiches. Large Mexican-American population, whose eyes were not as far as I could tell glassy, who were not as far as I could tell inhuman. Great Iranian-American community, which among other things means terrific ice cream. Travel by bus and you'll meet some fascinating people, some of whom are admittedly pretty glassy-eyed but all of whom are very human indeed. A huge Amoeba Records in Hollywood, full of staff who are passionate about music. More theatrical openings on an average night than New York. Oh, and the Los Angeles Film Fest has just started today, showcasing independent film.

But sorry. LOLBimbos. LOLaLaLand.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:54 AM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


But nothing I do matters. I can fail a case badly and all I get is a bad grade. The story isn't affected. . .

The facial animation is better than any other game I've played, but it's still not good enough to sustain the "deception detection" mechanic - the actors either go over the top with the shifty "I AM LYING TO YOU" thing, or they're so subtle that you're just guessing wildly. . .

And yes, there's basically no use for deductive reasoning in this game, which is a damn shame. . .


This all sounds like real life police work to me. It aint TV out there folks.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:53 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The story is really good, but I can't forgive the fact that for the last fifth of the game you are switched to a different protagonist.

(SPOILER-ish, if you care about that sort of thing.)

Yeah, this. I kept hoping during that last part of the game that I'd get switched back to Cole, but nope...I was stuck playing as this former NPC who'd only shown up in cutscenes before. It's a shame, really. The game had a lot of promise, but really went off the rails in the last act.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:24 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


And here I took for granted that whenever I see a logo a company paid to put it there.

I don't know how it works in video games; but filmmakers can't get errors and omissions insurance unless they've cleared copyright on everything that appears in their film. I once worked on a movie that took place largely in bars, and we were advised to take down or avoid all the recognizable beer signs. It seems ludicrous that companies can hang their advertisements in public places and then sue people for catching them on film -- and, in fact, I've been told that such suits probably wouldn't hold up in court, if anybody had the money and the inclination to contest them -- but there you go.
posted by steambadger at 7:07 AM on June 17, 2011


If a logo does appear, you can bet that they gained explicit permission for it.

Well, when my colleague Nathan Marsak began work on his critical 1947project piece on problems with historical accuracy in the game, a Rockstar employee tried to convince him that if there were major buildings missing on the downtown map, it was because the developers must have tried and failed to get the rights to represent them. Which is absolute malarkey. Who exactly would you apply for such rights to: dead architects, current tenants, any one of the dozens of archives that have photographs of the place, or the dead photographers' great-grandchildren perhaps? Buildings are public things, and you don't need permission to paint them, or draw them, or remake them in 3-D as a stage for a video game. If you're Rockstar, you apparently don't even need permission to go into the oldest hotel in the city and use it as a paint chip kit for your game design--which is to say the Barclay's owners were surprised to hear they're so heavily featured in a video game.

What's notable to me that within this startlingly detailed historic city, certain things are simply left out or all wrong: you can't ride Angels Flight, the last surviving Skid Row bar and its attached hotel the King Eddy are absent, no Goodfellow's Grotto (the Musso & Frank of downtown), the famous Follies burlesque house mis-represented as a movie theater, the empty roads out to Hollywood just loosely-drawn placeholders lacking identifiable residential landmarks, that jog in the map so they didn't have to render the Ambassador Hotel, and most grievously, the iconically noir (no e) Bunker Hill, that decaying zone of repurposed mansions turned rooming houses, Raymond Chandler's "old town, lost town, shabby town, crook town," is a dusty wasteland of vacant lots, dead ends and entire missing streets (self-link).

My theory is that after so much money was clearly pumped into the barely-used open world, and so much energy expended in promoting the game as an accurate rendering of 1947 Los Angeles, major changes must have been made in the game mid-development, and stuff that was supposed to be rendered or used in game play thrown out. I imagine the untold story of L.A. Noire's birth might be more noir than anything that happens to Cole Phelps and his pals, and that we'll never hear it. Guess it's too much to hope for that future DLC will contain a patch for the absent Bunker Hill, but damn, for the last six years that the game's been just buzz, roaming the Hill was a dream for many geeks of my acquaintance. What a shame that it's not there.
posted by Scram at 7:41 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


For some time I've had a problem with Rockstar Games' games and I think this post has put it's finger on it. In GTA, Red Dead and LA Noire I've lost interest quickly as once the initial novelty wears off you soon realise you are essentially doing the same task over and over and actually have very little freedom within the respective 'open-world'.

I contrast this with games like Fallout 3 and Oblivion which I think go down a far more interesting route in terms of player empowerment and give the genuine feeling that you do have some control over how your character developments and the plot of the game.

Rockstar do what they do extremely well and their games always seem very competently put together and are very playable. However, it seems like they rely a lot on the slightly gimmicky side of things (ie you're a gangster! you're a cowboy! you're a LA detective!) rather than putting in the hard work of truly innovating in a positive way (eg having internet cafes in GTA4 was a nice idea, but didn't really add that much). It's far less risky and quicker to stick to this style of games because the gamer is essentially on the rails. The stories may be of decent quality, but if I want to watch a good detective story I'll watch a DVD or read a book.
posted by Pilly at 8:15 AM on June 17, 2011


I agree with the sentiments above, if I want to watch Chinatown again, I will. I finished the game last night after twenty hours of plodding around. The game has a shiny veneer of excitement, until the novelty wears thin and you're left along for the ride with little to do to affect the outcome.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:26 AM on June 17, 2011


This definitely doesn't fit in with other recent Rockstar games, as there is no fun havoc to be wreaked. It's a cobbled-together beast of a game, for sure.

Scram, I thought the same thing. So much of the "open world" could go unseen by a player that doesn't care about collecting tokens or who is unaware of how many buildings, streets, have been recreated. They must've changed things right around the time they began to insinuate that the game was no longer PS3 exclusive.

In some sense, I feel bad cause the incredible rendition of LA (as imperfect as it is) will probably go unnoticed by almost everyone who plays the game. For those of us who happen to be LA history/culture buffs, even though the recreation is imperfect and takes artistic license quite a bit, it's still a treat overall.

The more I think about the game, the more I see what a mess it is, but I still think it's up there with the best I have ever played.
posted by Old Man McKay at 8:52 AM on June 17, 2011


I wish the different desks had a tally of completed street crimes -- I'd like to do all of them, but I don't know which desk's crimes aren't completed.

If you've finished a desk's street crimes, there'll be a note telling you so if you load up that desk again. The way I cleared street crimes for a desk (after finishing all the cases for that desk) was to load it up, look on the map for all the red markers, finish all those up, and then close the desk and reload it. The game will automatically put you in a time of day that has undone street crimes if you haven't done them all.

I think it's also important to note that while Rockstar is the publisher, Team Bondi was the actual developer. Though I think people also overemphasize the distinction: Rockstar was obviously very involved in the process and certainly influenced parts of the design, but the core game isn't by any of the actual Rockstar dev houses.

I'd like to do a run through LA Noire sometime as Cole Phelps, Credulous Detective. Just assume every single thing everybody tells me is the truth. The game'll let me fail my way through the endgame as far as I can tell, and I'll probably get to hear a lot of reaction dialogue that I missed on my first largely-successful run.

It could be interesting to do it all three ways, honestly. Cole Phelps, Paranoid Creep, who always doubts everybody's statements without any kind of proof, and Cole Phelps, Delusional Screamer, who tries to use irrelevant evidence to prove people are lying.

Honestly the whole Truth/Doubt/Lie thing is probably too simplistic. Cole had wildly varying reactions when "doubt"ing.

I heard somebody on a podcast comparing LA Noire to an old Blade Runner game that had Voight-Kampff tests which sounded pretty interesting. Did anybody play that? What was it like?
posted by kmz at 9:13 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cole Phelps, Delusional Screamer, who tries to use irrelevant evidence to prove people are lying.

This would be even better if the game left you with a persistent inventory of clues. And then the first time Cole actually succeeds in pinning someone to a piece of evidence, his mind crystallizes and that one piece of evidence is all he can think about, like some strange evidentiary fetish, a totem to some abstract god of Justice.

All brandishing a pink floppy slipper at everyone he meets. You say you were at work at the time of the crime, but if that's the case WHY WERE YOU WEARING THIS? WHO WEARS SLIPPERS TO WORK, MR. CRANSTON?
posted by cortex at 9:20 AM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


kmz: Westwood's Blade Runner is a fascinating game - there's a lot wrong with it, but as a mood piece it's amazing for its time.

Scram: I recall that Rockstar was sued by The Play Pen in East LA for parodying its logo and look for The Pig Pen in Los Santos, the fictionalized LA of the Autoverse - but that was about a trademarked logo rather than the appearance of a public building. Also, the Play Pen lost, on account of that pesky First Amendment.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:06 AM on June 17, 2011


I ain't played this game yet, but here's my angle on video games:

When I judge games I think of something Kurt Vonnegut says in his standard speech. He remarked that people are always asking him whether we should have computers in schools. He replies "Of course, how else would the children learn what it is the machines want them to do?" At the time I was playing one of the Tomb Raider games, and it made me realize that the TR programmers were just trying to get me to perform a very specific sequence of button pushes. Now I have very little tolerance for that sort of thing.
posted by neuron at 12:04 PM on June 17, 2011


Cole Phelps is a horrible detective

I bet intentionally failing every interrogation would make for an amazing experience. I don't recommend it on the first playthrough, though. There were already some cases I (unintentionally) failed so badly that even though we arrested someone, I didn't have the slightest idea how the crime had taken place.
posted by Sibrax at 1:30 PM on June 17, 2011


The essay is spot on about the lack of proper terminology. "Video Games" defines such a broad spectrum of experiences that it's almost meaningless, but we're stuck with it. Much the same as the dopey-sounding "movies" (because they move, you see), or the increasingly inaccurate "film", we need more precise terms to define expectations.

I think it's an artifact of most people being accustomed to the generally linear, non-interactive medium of film, but it's bizarre to me that many people have a hard time recognizing just how much games are, as the article states, a participatory medium. Yes, if Cole drives like a maniac from one investigation to the next, the character does seem incongruous, but that's because the player decided to make him drive like a maniac. Is it bad that the option to play it both ways is there?

Granted, it would be ideal if the game world and characters always responded intelligently and appropriately to everything the player chose to do, even when breaking/or changing character, but barring a magical advancement in AI, game developers have few choices: Limit the player's agency to what's been planned for, try to script/program as many responses as possible, or let the player screw with the consistency of the narrative. Oftentimes the latter still makes for a compelling experience, as the author discovered when he recontextualized Cole Phelps' character in the game world.

If players want a truly open-world experience where there is total freedom of agency and every action generates an intelligent response from the game world and characters, well, so do many game developers. Give us a few more decades at least, though, sheesh. This far into film's history, they were still getting the hang of color and sound. We're not at the end of the advancement of the medium here. We have so very very far to go.

The closest example of a single-player approach to this sort of fully interactive single-player narrative that comes to mind is Facade, which is far from a commercially viable game. Besides, there's always multiplayer games, tabletop gaming, or improv theater to generate truly participatory storylines.
posted by Durhey at 1:31 PM on June 17, 2011


I'm on the second or third Vice case, can't remember which. I haven't started the game up again in about a month, but maybe I will soon. If I don't, I won't be that sad about it.

I was never a big Rockstar / open-world fan to begin with. RDR is the only Rockstar game I've finished, although I really should go back and spend some more time with Bully. What bothers me about LA Noire is that there's no basic game mechanic that I can identify and that I can improve at performing. All games reduce essentially to "do this thing": in chess and checkers, you choose and move a piece; in Go, you place a stone; in Halo or RDR, you aim and shoot; in Torchlight you time special attacks and choose which ones to develop.

What do you do in LA Noire? About the only thing, or at least the main thing, is picking one of three conversation options, one of which subdivides into picking one of X related elements. How do you get better at that, as a player? I think the player plateaus in skill very early, and after that there isn't much of a game left.

I'm having a similar problem with Mass Effect 2, which I still haven't finished. I love my Shepard, the world, and I'm enjoying the story, but I've reached a point where I'm just not going to get better at playing the game, because it would be really hard to get more proficient at "find cover, shoot shoot shoot, mech -> overload, flesh -> warp". So despite my general interest in the story, I find my attention waning.

I compare that to Batman: Arkham Asylum, or Portal, in which I was still learning new tricks and strategies around the basic mechanic (and it doesn't get much more basic than Arkham's "press A to hit a guy") right up to the end, and about the time that the game ran out of things to teach me, the game ended. That's how you pace a game, in time with the player's progression through the core mechanic. LA Noire just goes on way, way too long for its central conceit, which is not that compelling to begin with.
posted by Errant at 3:41 PM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


That's how you pace a game, in time with the player's progression through the core mechanic. LA Noire just goes on way, way too long for its central conceit, which is not that compelling to begin with.

In many ways, in terms of pure gameplay, roguelikes are nearly perfect games. I wish someone could translate the same basic formula into a modern, 3D engine. I would play it forever.
posted by codacorolla at 2:15 PM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mizzurna Falls sounds like a more successful open world detective game, though ancient
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:33 PM on June 20, 2011


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