If you’re like me, a child of the eighties, you’d remember the days of video games being developed by one dude, in their bedroom to then be copied onto a cassette or other such retro storage device. It’s no secret that 30 years on, things have dramatically changed (except the indie development scene who ruffle this otherwise sound statement!) and over the next few weeks, Rockstar Games will be peeling back the dusty but perfectly recreated curtain of L.A. Noire to show the what Team Bondi have been busying themselves with. It’s interesting just how similar creating a high budget video game has become to making movies with colour swatches and location scouting being a key part in both. As a result, many in-game locations of L.A. Noire are based on real-world settings like the Barclays Hotel of LA which has become an apartment block in the game where Cole investigates the driver’s seat case. If you’re a local of the city of angels, you may recognise a few of the sights though I’d hope not since they look fairly dilapidated…
After the jump is part one, locations and set design and stay tuned for a peek into the game’s costume design.
Locations and Set Design
The team at Bondi traveled to L.A. to tour all sorts of historical locations, relics of old Los Angeles still standing more or less as they were over 60 years ago – collecting countless reference photos in a shoot that informed many places you will visit in your tour of duty as LAPD Detective Cole Phelps. From glamorous restaurants to the dingiest skid row hotels, Simon Wood and Team Bondi Lead Artist Ben Brudenell found reference locations perfect for the game. A great example being the run down apartment building that appears in the Traffic desk case “The Driver’s Seat” – the in-game setting being an almost perfect replica of the Barclay Hotel in L.A. which has been used as a location in many Hollywood films. “Sometimes there’s no better substitute than real life,” says Wood. “Ben photographed every square inch of that hotel.”
The final product of in-game locations, both interior and exterior, wound up an amalgam of carefully researched reference material and artful inspiration. Wood explains, “Some were designed from the ground up as we couldn’t find what truly matched the needs of the gameplay or the original script by Brendan (McNamara, Team Bondi Studio Head). But other locations are interiors that we inserted into wonderful existing buildings. The Art guys in the team did an amazing job, as you really can’t tell what was made up by us and what was an original fabrication.” Additional reference material that wasn’t photographed was sourced from rare items such as vintage magazines from the time. “I bought from eBay old House & Garden magazines, along with Architectural Digest, Sears catalogues and Interior Decorating guides from the 40’s. These were invaluable as not only did it show you the best of how they styled their homes, but it showed you how they lived.”
“We created ‘Production Bibles’ which are like production design style guides for all the locations in the game,” said Wood, “The bibles have floorplans, material, dressing, graphics and signage, lighting details, and any other reference images that are needed to create the locations in the game. We made over 140 of them altogether.”
This was particularly challenging considering the sheer amount of locations and the need to keep each one unique, yet accessible to explore and investigate. “I had a checklist of which styles of architecture and colour palettes would work well with the characters Brendan was writing, so that their persona was reflected in their personal surroundings.”