GTAV

Less than a week after the modern take on Grand Theft Auto turns 10, Rockstar Games has announced GTAV by no more than a simple Tweet containing the hashtag #GTAV. Right now, the only thing known about Grand Theft Auto V is the logo that adorns Rockstar’s website with the first trailer scheduled for next Wednesday. Don’t expect much footage however, the publisher tends to tease their products by artistically crafted snippets but it’ll be enough to get many major sites scanning it frame by frame to see what’s hiding within. The five in the logo is reminiscent of a that found on an American five dollar bill. Whether that is any indication of what to expect is anyone’s guess.

One of the many older rumours surrounding GTAV was that it could well be a launch title for Nintendo’s Wii U and the timing of this announcement may well support that rumour. Latest educated guesses is that the Wii U will launch next Summer of Holiday season which is around the time I’d expect to see another GTA since the fourth game came out in 2008. But who knows, this trail of thought could go on for ages so lets just see what next Wednesday has in store.

Rockstar Sydney. An impossible dream

It’s an understatement to say the working relationship between Rockstar Games and Team Bondi was a troublesome one at best but it now appears the controversial publisher is so unhappy with the L.A. Noire developer, that they won’t be publishing their next game. The whole debacle began last month when IGN posted a story about why it took the Sydney-based studio so long to develop L.A. Noire, detailing the seven long years of what can only be described as a living nightmare. Eleven ex Team Bondi staffers gave anonymous testimonials of the abusive working conditions for them and hundreds of other colleagues that included ridiculous working hours with an almost mandatory overtime and weekend schedule, terrible management and a boss, Brendan McNamara, who was one of the angriest persons you could meet.

Since then, the story from IGN has gained momentum with the International Game Developer’s Association (IGDA) currently investigating these claims of an unacceptable working environment. McNamara was approached by IGN for comment where he gave an interview saying things like “I’m not in any way upset or disappointed by what I’ve done and what I’ve achieved,” and “If you wanted to do a nine-to-five job, you’d be in another business,” adding how he also would stay late, work the 110 hour weeks some of the former staff members claimed. It was his blasé attitude towards the situation which angered followers of the story even more.

Two more ex employees have come forward (via Gamesindustry.biz) with their accounts and it was one of these sources who revealed just how bad things have become for Team Bondi. “I’ve heard a lot about Rockstar’s disdain for Team Bondi, and it has been made quite clear that they will not publish Team Bondi’s next game,” they said. “Team Bondi are trying to find another publisher for their next title, but the relationship with Rockstar has been badly damaged – Brendan treats L.A. Noire like a success due to his vision but I think Rockstar are the ones who saved the project. They continued to sink money into L.A. Noire, and their marketing was fantastic. Without their continued support, Team Bondi would have gone under several years ago.” The marketing from Rockstar was very well done and by the time L.A. Noire was due for release, everybody knew its name, helping it sell millions of units over its first weekend.

But marketing wasn’t the only thing Rockstar helped out with. The two anonymous voices spoke of the massive contribution Rockstar gave towards the game’s development, especially over the last two years overruling “many of the insane decisions made by Team Bondi management.” This only fuelled tensions between management and Rockstar because of the publisher’s frustration with Team Bondi’s direction which in turn caused Team Bondi’s management to resent Rockstar for taking away most of their control. Things became very ugly indeed. At one point, Rockstar were planning on turning Team Bondi into Rockstar Sydney, something pretty much everyone expected them to do after playing the game. However, the closer they worked, the more it was apparent this will never happen.

With all the troubles between studio and publisher coming to light, it’s clearer now why L.A. Noire although brilliant in some places, is broken in many others. The open-world elements don’t really work and feel out of place plus the added ‘gamey’ features like having very right or wrong paths when questioning people jarred with the rest of the experience. Who’s directly to blame will, for now, remain a mystery but the disgruntled staff have only been singing Rockstar’s praises so far if that helps with your own personal conclusions. It’s a massive shame that development a game like L.A. Noire had to end in such an unpleasant fashion and that Rockstar have pretty much washed their hands of the studio. For all its faults, L.A. Noire has been able to elevate the industry in some form or another and has had far reaching effects that we’ll likely be seeing in future titles. It’s worth adding that Team Bondi’s next game may not be a sequel to the 40’s crime drama and that Rockstar could be still on board if there is ever to be one. As the source said, they poured considerable money and time into it so it might be worth putting up with an allegedly terrible management team in order to be part of a potentially powerful franchise. Then again, now they’re out, they may just want to stay out.

Oh crap, here comes Phelps

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Rockstar’s L.A. Noire has made a name for itself as one of this year’s top games because of the commendable risks Team Bondi took and more importantly, because those risks paid off. But that doesn’t mean the game is faultless, far from it, a clunky combat system and inconsistencies in the acting and ethics of leading man Cole Phelps removes the shine of an otherwise gleaming title. Comedy site Funny or Die have made a parody of L.A. Noire and pin point exactly some of these issues. Like how Phelps may begin a conversation casually only to begin a tirade of anger towards his interviewee. Or the somewhat troublesome navigational mechanics. But FoD’s mimicking of Phelps’ investigatory activities is just hilarious and affectionately pokes fun at the game’s best moments. Enjoy!

L.A. Noire official launch trailer makes me wish it was Friday (next Friday)

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Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the official launch trailer for Rockstar Games’ next big hit, L.A. Noire. How do I know it’ll be a hit? Given the wealth of hype surrounding the game what with its startlingly realistic facial animations, film festival-wooing story line and the fact that it’s a Rockstar title, I’d be more surprised if it wasn’t a hit.

Though considering Team Bondi have developed quite a different game for Rockstar, the trailer does stick with the tried and tested method of focusing on gun fights and action. That’s not a bad thing, far from it, the footage looks awesome and something I’d very much like to be playing just a little different from previous trailers that champion everything else about the game, like interrogating witnesses and searching for clues. But lets face it, the mainstream audience don’t want to see those kind of things, they want action, they want shooting and Rockstar wants this game to sell. I’ve got my copy pre-ordered (yes I know, I’m part of the problem) and know at least a few more who’ll be picking it up next week. So that’s at least three copies… anyone else planning on getting it? (as if I need to ask!)

L.A. Noire skips a beat

Remember the chortling at Nintendo for adding a feature in its games where you can skip hard segments? It appeared in New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns so that younger and more casual players could potentially get through the entire game without feeling like inferior gamers. Though a lot of people saw it that way and in some cases, your ‘hardcore’ status was brought into question if ever you resorted to this digital aid. But what if Rockstar Games were to include such a feature and if one of their most ambitious titles was the first to try it out? Does it still remain a joke?

At the Tribeca Film Festival, attendees were shown a screening of L.A. Noire – the first time said festival has allowed a game to take part – and it was during the Q&A session that art director, Rob Nelson, revealed an in-game option that allows players who failed a certain segment a few times to skip it altogether. “You can skip those action elements and still experience the bulk of the narrative,” he said. Since Rockstar are going after a considerably wider audience for L.A. Noire, it actually makes a lot of sense to let those who wish only to absorb the story to do just that. Depending on whether they actually own a console of course.

What’s strange is how for traditional gamers, it’s usually the other way around and the cut-scenes are the parts that get skipped with action being the main reason why a game is played. But as the industry strives towards being something more than a quick entertainment fix, story is becoming increasingly important to the point where it’s now taking precedence over balls-out action sequences. The majority of L.A. Noire is devoid of action per se and instead has players seek out clues, interrogate suspects and slowly unravel a case to completion. MTV Multiplayer blog who reported the news said that in the demo shown which lasted about an hour, only about five minutes could be considered action-packed with the rest massaging the often neglected grey matter. Despite having a similar look to GTAIV in terms of engine, the gameplay itself is more akin to Heavy Rain they said.

It’s a bold move. Not the inclusion of a skip button, games have had something similar even before the aforementioned New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Devil May Cry 3 had a somewhat patronising but comparable pop up message on failure, suggesting troubled gamers try the easier setting. Rockstar are taking a risk by such a massive departure from their previous titles and fans wanting a cop-based GTA game may be angrily disappointed. But if they succeed and lure a different kind of gamer altogether while delivering an all encompassing experience for everyone clambering for more out of their games, L.A. Noire could be more important to the industry than anything that has come before it. Can games finally be regarded with the same respect as some movies rather than being mocked for cheesy story lines and emotionless characters? Maybe…

As clean as Cole

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Every time Rockstar release a trailer for L.A. Noire, I always harp on about the facial animations, how lifelike they appear and how they could raise the bar for in-game acting. So I’ll spare you the flowery butt kissing, even if trailer number three above once again looks stunning and state some of the facts. Hero Cole Phelps is one step removed from the usual Rockstar protagonist. He isn’t being forced to kill for money or has any kind of shattered American dream to face. What he does find challenging is keeping the rest of the LAPD on the straight and narrow what with all the dirty money flowing through their grubby hands. The new trailer details some of his plight as an clean-cut detective but I have to wonder if we’ll be able to decide whether he remains that way throughout the game. Can we turn him from a life of unquestioning duty to just another bent cop on a severely bent police force? Not that I would of course, I tend to stick to the path of good when games offer moral choices but it’ll be interesting to see if L.A. Noire can, or rather has the option to, tempt me into the world of sleaze and corruption when its released in Europe on May 20th.

How to be a cop the Rockstar way

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Rockstar Games have released another video in their L.A. Noire gameplay series today with the latest focusing on the interrogation and investigation process. As the video’s narrator states, each mission begins with a crime scene that must be checked out by the player in order to obtain vital clues. Some may simply continue your line of thinking while others could all but wrap up the case there and then. Next comes the interrogation of whiteness and suspects where the true marvel of L.A. Noire takes centre stage, the facial animations. Rockstar and various media outlets have been shouting from the rooftops about the unparalleled realism in these sequences for good reason, they’re integral to the missions. You can choose to believe what you’re hearing, doubt it or harass the suspect hoping to get the answers you desire. By reading the characters faces, you should be able to decide the best course of action but misreading the signals could cost you valuable information. You can’t badger a suspect until they give in because lean on the wrong person too hard and they’re likely to end the conversation early.

The differences between L.A. Noire and previous Rockstar games are increasing in number each time we see it (in a positive way) but one thing that remains constant is the ability to get players talking. When GTA IV was released, I would greatly look forward to meeting up with friends who were also playing through Nico’s broken American dream to see how they completed various missions and what manner of crazy they experienced while doing so. L.A. Noire‘s multitude of branching paths and options looks to offer the very same basis for conversations among gamers, something that is becoming increasingly common and definitely welcomed in recent video games.