Interview: Team Bondi's Brendan McNamara talks L.A. Noire

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In early 1947, a young woman's murder rocked Los Angeles, California. Her name was Elizabeth Short, but newspapers called her “The Black Dahlia”, with photos of her mutilated corpse covering their front pages. In the years since, a good number of fictional tales have been crafted around the Black Dahlia case, but never one you can play. Until now, that is.

What are the consequences for reading a suspect incorrectly?

McNamara: The worst-case scenario for incorrectly reading a suspect is choosing a response that doesn’t yield new insights into the case. Simple as that. If someone is lying to me about a piece of evidence relevant to the case, but I think that they are telling the truth, I won’t fail the case for believing him. I may, however, have to interrogate someone else to learn more about the evidence in question, or perhaps move to a different location and speak to someone else entirely.

26.jpeg Will there be any sort of good cop/bad cop routine?

McNamara: No, there won’t be a traditional good cop/bad cop morality system in the game. Phelps is a character with a moral code and his own personal story that plays out over the course of the narrative. Within the context of that narrative it wouldn’t make sense for Cole to fly off the handle and start mowing down innocents. It’s simply not in his nature. Now, of course, there are shades of gray to everyone and Phelps is no exception. He is a flawed character, and who he is at the start of the game versus at the end are two very different people.

You have put so much time and effort into maximizing the realness of the characters faces, has that same care gone into making the dialog and situations realistic (e.g. canned dialog being repeated when not in a set scene)?

McNamara: We put a lot of time and energy into every aspect of development in order to create a new type of video game experience. The facial technology was a huge part of it, but so many different moving parts must come together to make a game of this size work. We spent a lot of time QA'ing the script and making changes because the logic of who you have spoken to, what you have found and where you might have been makes it very complex in relation to how the dialogue works. We get great feedback from Rockstar and they bring a lot of their experience to the table. But it goes beyond that. We had amazing artists that created a beautiful city that just breathes life into every situation and interaction players may find themselves in. When you combine that with a piece of technology that allows us to achieve a previously unrealized level of fidelity in characters’ faces…the results speak for themselves.

5.jpeg Are you worried about Aaron Staton looking too much like Mad Men's Ken Cosgrove?

McNamara: Aaron is Ken Cosgrove just like Aaron is Cole Phelps. Physically you can’t differentiate between the two. But on an emotional, psychological, and mental level, they’re two totally different characters. That's an everyday occurrence for an actor and their skill is becoming another person, another character. One is a detective in 1947 Los Angeles with a dark history, the other an Advertising guru in the 1960s. It’s like apples and oranges. So, no, we aren’t too worried about those sorts of comparisons.

When does the Black Dahlia storyline start appearing, and how prevalent is it in non-dahlia episodes?

McNamara: One of the reasons we chose the year 1947 was because the Black Dahlia case happened in January that year. Having said that the Black Dahlia murder like Jack the Ripper is an unsolved case and will never be solved conclusively. As incredibly tragic as that case was it provides more of a backdrop and sets the tone for that year instead of being a case that Phelps gets involved directly in. Phelps begins the game as a beat cop in the LAPD in January so his chances of being involved in such a high profile case would have been minimal. The Black Dahlia case will definitely have a bearing on the cases Phelps must solve during his stint on Homicide. We can’t get into too much detail about its effect on the overall narrative, but Phelps and everyone else at the LAPD will certainly feel the pressure to put an end to a string of gruesome murders all of which are based on real murders that happened that year.

We've heard a lot about the interrogation mechanic. How will the gunplay and other combat mechanics be handled?

McNamara: L.A. Noire is a cop show first and foremost. So even though it is a radical departure for video games its format is something that is readily accessible to a very broad audience. Generally you arrive at a crime scene, find evidence and then interview witnesses. Then you pursue leads and tighten up your list of suspects. Suspects who like in every cop show can either come quietly or resist arrest. When your suspects do resist L.A. Noire then features a lot of the more traditional gameplay elements that people are familiar with. Phelps does his fair share of running, climbing, shooting, jumping, driving, chasing, etc. The gun combat and cover mechanics would feel fairly similar to anyone who has played Red Dead Redemption or Grand Theft Auto. We don’t want players to micro-manage combat scenarios, so we do have a regenerative health system in place that slowly covers the screen in shades of gray as the player takes damage. Again, we want it to be meaningful and impactful when Phelps feels the need to wield a gun, so players shouldn’t expect to be engaged in huge shootouts during every single case.

L.A. Noire is due out May 17 on Xbox 360 and PS3.

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