Development of L.A. Noire

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The development of L.A. Noire began in 2004 following the founding of its developer Team Bondi. Rockstar Games published L.A. Noire on 17 May 2011 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and on 8 November 2011 for Microsoft Windows. Though Team Bondi oversaw development, the work was shared between the core team and multiple Rockstar studios around the world. L.A. Noire was delayed numerous times through its seven-year development, which included a change of publisher and platforms. The working hours and managerial style of the studio during development was met with public complaints from staff members. L.A. Noire was formally announced in 2005; it was heavily promoted through video trailers and press demonstrations.

The game is notable for being the first to use the newly-developed MotionScan technology developed by Depth Analysis. MotionScan uses 32 surrounding cameras to capture actors' facial expressions from every angle, resulting in a highly realistic recreation of a human face. The technology is central to the game's interrogation mechanic, as players are required to use the suspects' reactions to questioning to judge whether or not they are lying. The game uses full motion capture actors to record the voices and movements of the characters. Over twenty hours of voice work was recorded for the game.

L.A. Noire '​s open world is a recreation of 1947 Los Angeles. The development team conducted field research in Los Angeles throughout the game's development, and compiled multiple aerial photographs to gather traffic and building information. Various plot points and investigations in the game are based on real life events, such as the Black Dahlia case. Like other games published by Rockstar, L.A. Noire uses licensed music provided by an in-game radio. Over 30 licensed tracks continuously loop on one radio station. The game also features an original score composed by a group of musicians and inspired by 1940s films.

Production[edit]

Overview[edit]

Preliminary work on L.A. Noire began after the founding of developer Team Bondi in 2003. Though Team Bondi oversaw development, work was shared between the core team and multiple other studios owned by publisher Rockstar Games. Unlike other games published by Rockstar, L.A. Noire uses a custom engine, which includes a combination of facial motion capture and animation software.[1] The game also uses MotionScan to capture actor's facial expressions.[2] BBC News reporter Kev Geoghegan estimated that the development budget for the game exceeded US$50 million, making L.A. Noire one of the most expensive video games ever made.[3]

L.A. Noire was developed for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and later ported to Microsoft Windows. Windows copies of the game are distributed on two DVD discs, while Xbox 360 copies are distributed on three; the PlayStation 3 version fits onto one Blu-Ray Disc.[4] A total of 16 cases—the game's form of missions that advance the game's narrative—were removed from the final version of the game as they would not have fit on one Blu-ray Disc; while five of these cases were later released as downloadable content,[5] eleven cases from the departments Bunko and Burglary were completely removed.[6]

Technical development[edit]

While most games published by Rockstar since Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis (2006) use the proprietary Rockstar Advanced Game Engine, L.A. Noire uses a custom engine, which includes a combination of motion capture and animation software.[1] The game also utilises Havok for the animation and physics.[7]

The left side of the image shows an actor in orange clothing sitting with his arms crossed. The right side of the image shows the equivalent of actor's face as in-game animation.
The game features the motion capture technology MotionScan, using 32 cameras to record an actor's facial expressions, which is then transferred to in-game animation.

L.A. Noire is notable for being the first game to use the newly-developed technology MotionScan, developed by Australian company Depth Analysis. MotionScan is a motion capture technology that records the face of an actor at over 1000 frames per second.[8] This technology is crucial to the game's interrogation mechanic, which requires players to use suspects' facial reactions to questioning to judge whether or not they are lying.[9] MotionScan functions by recording actors with 32 surrounding cameras to capture facial expressions from every angle, resulting in a highly realistic recreation of a moving human face.[2] Despite using 32 cameras, not all are required; Oliver Bao, head of Depth Analysis R&D, said that the extra samples allow the team to "reconstruct a better 3D surface in general" and to "remove reconstruction noise a little more easily".[10]

Although the use of MotionScan was critically acclaimed for its highly realistic capture of faces, it was criticised for its inability to capture body movements. Many players considered that characters are "dead from the neck down". McNamara attributed this to players' expectations of realism; "people expect to see clothes moving and the rest of the body moving in a way we can't replicate in video games," he said.[11] "We would have loved to have spent more time on fine-tuning that for L.A. Noire but it wasn't feasible due to the scope of the scripting and talent involved," said Bao.[10]

Research and open world design[edit]

For L.A. Noire, the development team recreated 1940s Los Angeles by using aerial photographs taken by daredevil Robert Spence.[12] In a career spanning over 50 years, Spence took over 110,000 aerial photographs of Los Angeles.[13] The team used the photographs to create traffic patterns and public transport routes, as well as the location and condition of buildings.[12] While striving to recreate an accurate model of 1947 Los Angeles, the team also took some artistic license, such as including the appearance of the film set for D. W. Griffith's Intolerance; the set had actually been dismantled in 1919.[14]

The left side of the image shows a hallway, of white, green and brown colouring. The right side of the image shows the equivalent of this using the in-game engine, with two characters standing at a door in the hallway.
The interiors of many buildings were used as research points in development. The Barclay Hotel in Los Angeles (left) was used as a reference point when modelling an apartment building in L.A. Noire (right).

Los Angeles was extensively researched for the game. The team spent the first year of development researching Los Angeles by using newspapers and magazines, organising field research field trips, and capturing photographs.[15] A total of 180,000 photographs were available as resources throughout development,[16] and over 1,000 newspapers were used for research.[17] Both the interior and exterior of multiple sets were the result of researched reference material. For example, the Barclay Hotel in Los Angeles was used as a reference point when modelling an apartment building in the game. However, some sets were originally designed, in order to meet the gameplay or the narrative script.[18]

Character development[edit]

L.A. Noire has over twenty hours of voice work. To cast the characters, the team held secretive auditions.[19] In the game, Aaron Staton portrayed Cole Phelps,[20] Gil McKinney portrayed Jack Kelso, Rodney Scott portrayed Ralph Dunn, Sean McGowan portrayed Stefan Bekowsky, Michael McGrady portrayed Rusty Galloway, Adam Harrington portrayed Roy Earle, and Keith Szarabajka portrayed Herschel Biggs. Singer and model Erika Heynatz and actor Andrew Connolly also appear as Elsa Lichtmann and Captain James Donnelly, respectively.[21] Many of Staton's Mad Men co-stars are also featured in the game,[8] including Vincent Kartheiser, Rich Sommer, Michael Gladis, Patrick Fischler and Morgan Rusler.[22] Their performances were mostly recorded using motion capture technology.[23] During their performances, the actors attempted to appear as realistic as possible. Director Michael Uppendahl said, "I try to monitor the performances to make sure we’re getting the human element that’s going to make it compelling and interesting."[24] Initially, McNamara was not keen about the casting of Staton, but Rockstar Vice President for Creativity Dan Houser convinced him into agreeing. "[Cole Phelps] is conflicted and has quite a bit of depth and [Staton] is great at conveying those things," said McNamara.[25]

When discussing the player character change near the end of the story, from Phelps to Kelso, McNamara explained that the narrative "got to the point where [Phelps] couldn't really do much more, and you have to go outside the realm of being a cop to bend the rules". He stated that, when players performed poorly, the game was set to allow them to become a "rogue cop", in which they must defend themselves against other police officers; this feature was removed from the game during development as the team felt that it was "massively out of character".[26]

Prior to performing, Staton received a 12-page document that outlined the story, and the history of Phelps. He has said that he received the document as there wasn't enough time to read the 2,200-page script before filming began.[27] Staton cumulatively worked on L.A. Noire for about eighteen months. He said, "consecutively I think I worked six months, and then for the next year here and there picking things up, adding, changing and tweaking things".[28] When discussing his character, McGowan felt that Bekowsky was initially jealous of Phelps, but eventually warmed up to him. "Like a good older brother he'll always have his back but will never take shit from him," he said. McGrady, who portrayed Rusty Galloway, said his own introverted personality helped him connect to the character. "I am a classic introvert but I can hold court when I need to. I think Rusty is that way too," McGrady said. Harrington described Roy as "jaded, tough, mean, cruel, brutally honest and ... very funny". He took credit for all of Roy's facial expressions, but said that all of the dialogue was scripted, as opposed to ad-lib.[29] Many characters in the game are influenced by real people and events; for example, Captain Donnelly is loosely based on both McNamara's father, and LAPD Captain Jack Donahue.[5] Additionally, many cases that Phelps solves are based off real life events, such as the Black Dahlia case.[30]

Music production[edit]

L.A. Noire features an original score. The game's score accompanies the gameplay, alerting players at specific times. Like other games published by Rockstar, L.A. Noire also contains licensed music tracks provided by an in-game radio. Over thirty songs, from artists such as Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, feature in the game. To work on the score, the team engaged Andrew Hale and Simon Hale, as well as Woody Jackson, who had previously collaborated with the team on Red Dead Redemption (2010).[31] Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, the score was inspired by orchestral scores from 1940s films. In addition to the original score and licensed tracks, the game also features original vocal recordings in order to create an authentic sound to suit the musical identity of the period. When The Real Tuesday Weld were commissioned to compose the original compositions, they sought vocals that could "evoke the period", ultimately falling upon Claudia Brücken. Three vocal tracks were produced: "(I Always Kill) The Things I Love", "Guilty", and "Torched Song".[32]

Music supervisor Ivan Pavlovich stated that Rockstar's focus on authenticity and realism inspired the composers to reflect the focus in the music. Andrew Hale felt that composing the game's score was a flexible process "about setting a mood", as opposed to a "mechanical" process in which the music was specifically composed to fit with the time frames of the game; the composers decided to focus on the latter after the music was produced. They also attempted to compose something that felt accessible to players, avoiding exclusively focusing on swing or jazz. Andrew Hale felt that the orchestral score assisted in this.[33]

Business[edit]

Announcement and delays[edit]

"One [thing] is the size, it’s a huge game – probably too big. ... We were a brand-new studio – we had brand-new tools, new technology. We have tools that allow you to build cities now, but we had to build that kind of stuff and make it work. ... I’d say the first year and a half – [maybe] even longer – was just research."

Brendan McNamara, founder of Team Bondi, PlayStation Official Magazine, 28 December 2011[15]

In October 2003, Team Soho's director of The Getaway Brendan McNamara left the London company to form his own studio in his native Australia. The six-person studio, Team Bondi, immediately announced their first project, for "a next-generation Sony platform".[34] In 2004, McNamara said that the project was wholly funded by Sony Computer Entertainment America.[34] The game's title and platform was revealed in 2005: L.A. Noire was to be released exclusively to the PlayStation 3. Team Bondi described the game as a "detective thriller".[35] In September 2006, it was announced that Rockstar Games would be handling the publishing of the game; Rockstar only referred to it as a "next-generation crime thriller", with no platforms specified.[36]

In June 2007, Rockstar's parent company Take-Two Interactive re-confirmed the release of the PlayStation 3 version by listing the game amongst its "announced to date" titles for "fiscal 2008".[37] A spokesperson for Take-Two later implied that the game was likely to also be released on the Xbox 360.[38] In September 2007, Take-Two announced that the game had been delayed until their 2009 fiscal year.[39] The March 2010 issue of Game Informer confirmed that the game would be released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in September 2010;[40][24] L.A. Noire missed this release date, when Take-Two delayed the game until the first half of 2011,[41][42] confident that the delay would help the game's success.[43] This was later narrowed down to March 2011,[44] before a final delay until 17 May 2011.[45]

Promotion[edit]

The game was extensively marketed through video trailers and press demonstrations. For its February 2010 issue, Game Informer magazine ran a cover story on L.A. Noire.[46] On 12 November 2010, the debut trailer was released. It depicted several scenes from the game, partly narrated by one of the characters, Herschel Biggs (Keith Szarabajka).[47] On 16 December 2010, the first behind-the-scenes development video for the game was released, titled "The Technology Behind Performance". It showcased the MotionScan technology used in the game, featuring interviews with the cast and development team.[48] The second trailer was released on 24 January 2011, particularly focusing on the game's Homicide cases.[49] A trailer released on 9 February 2011, titled "Orientation", featured the first gameplay footage of L.A. Noire. It demonstrated the game's interrogation and investigation mechanics, and exhibited the game's combat element.[50] The game's cover art was unveiled on 23 February 2011,[51] followed by the announcement of the game's exclusive pre-order content.[52]

Trailers for the game's exclusive pre-order cases were released on 3 March[53] and 31 March.[54] The game's investigation and interrogation aspects were further showcased in a gameplay trailer released on 9 March 2011, titled "Investigation and Interrogation".[55] The game was exhibited at PAX in March 2011. An exclusive theatre presentation was displayed at the L.A. Noire booth.[56] The third trailer was released on 8 April 2011, particularly focusing on the game's depiction of the police department's corruption in the Administrative Vice department.[57] The final pre-launch trailer was released on 11 May 2011.[58]

Viral marketing strategies were used to market the game. The official L.A. Noire website was redesigned on 27 January 2011 to show a preview of characters and cases in the game.[59] On 25 April 2011, L.A. Noire was honoured as an official selection at the Tribeca Film Festival, becoming the first video game to do so.[60] Rockstar also ran a competition to win a trip to Los Angeles to attend the Festival of Film Noir Grauman's Egyptian Theatre, and play the game a month before its official release.[61] L.A. Noire was the focus of the 15 April 2011 episode of GameTrailers TV with Geoff Keighley, which featured interviews with the development team and previews of the MotionScan technology.[62]

To encourage pre-order sales of the game, Rockstar collaborated with several retail outlets to provide pre-order bonuses. These included the extra cases "A Slip of the Tongue" and "The Naked City", the side quest "The Badge Pursuit Challenge", and the bonus detective suits "The Broderick" and "The Sharpshooter". Rockstar Games and L.A. Noire shirts were also offered as pre-order bonuses.[52] In addition to the pre-order bonuses, the extra case "The Consul's Car" was included in all North American copies of the PlayStation 3 version; it later became available for purchase from the PlayStation Store, and as part of The Complete Edition.[63] On 6 June 2011, Rockstar teamed up with Mulholland Books to publish L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories, a collection of short stories from noted crime authors, all based on the L.A. Noire universe.[64][65]

Staff complaints[edit]

Shortly after the launch of the game, a group of former Team Bondi employees launched a website called lanoirecredits.com, containing over 100 names which had been excluded or incorrectly listed in the official game credits.[66] This was later followed by a series of claims and counter-claims about working hours and company managerial style during the game's development.[67] Anonymous members of the development team publicly discussed the managerial style of the studio, the studio's staff turnover rates and the working hours and conditions associated with L.A. Noire.[68]

The top image displays the original logo: "L.A. Noire", written in shiny, cursive, silver-and-black font. The bottom displays the final logo: "ROCKSTAR GAMES PRESENTS" above "L.A. Noire", which is written in a much thicker, yellow-and-black font.
Rockstar's redesign of the original game logo was met with criticism from Team Bondi, due to the absence of their company logo.[69]

In July 2011, a series of confidential emails were leaked along with further comments from staff members.[69][70] They claimed the emails highlight the contentious relationship between Team Bondi and Rockstar, and indicate that the two companies are unlikely to work together again.[71] An anonymous source from the development team claimed that "it has been quite clear that [Rockstar] will not publish Team Bondi's next game", and that "the relationship with Rockstar has been badly damaged". The source claimed:

Part of the conflict between Team Bondi and Rockstar was due to Rockstar's frustration with Team Bondi's direction, and eventually Team Bondi's management in turn resented Rockstar for taking lots of creative control. It's also worth pointing out that Rockstar used to be very keen on making Team Bondi something like 'Rockstar Sydney' - the more they worked with Team Bondi management, the more they came to understand that this was a terrible idea.[72]

Team Bondi was placed into administration in August 2011,[73] and was wound up in October 2011.[74] The company's assets were all bought by Kennedy Miller Mitchell,[75] including McNamara's next game, titled Whore of the Orient.[76] Rockstar retained the L.A. Noire intellectual property.[77] Some Team Bondi former employees went on to work for different Rockstar studios, while some went to Kennedy Miller Mitchell.[78] Despite the allegedly difficult relationship during development, McNamara maintains an optimistic attitude towards Rockstar. "I've no hard feelings about Rockstar and hopefully it doesn't have any hard feelings about us," he said.[79]

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