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01/09/2004

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Tijs

Dark City is a fun film. It's not a good movie but it stuck in my mind and the script story line already has a strange made-for-video game quality to it. As for books read King Rat by China Mieville altough the story doesn't fit film noir stereotype i think the atmosphere fits in nicely. And it's modern which is a bonus with most games hangin around in either maffia, eighties or sci fi world.

Phil

Good Lord! Are you suggesting actually doing some research, approached with open minds, preparatory to possibly CHANGING minds? That's excellent!

Personally I think you're making some too-generous allowances by saying that it's unfair to compare MP to the best noir in other media. That's the benchmark, after all. So absolutely include the Maltese Falcon and the Third Man. Just make sure you get some B-grade in there as well, so that the writing in MP can be shown up for whatever grade it actually is. (I'm reserving judgment as I haven't played it yet.) But the best way to establish where something sits on a scale is to compare it to elements from all positions on it.

If you want to compare MP to other noir games, you might like to think about Discworld Noir, though it might be difficult for people to get hold of... played a while ago, when I had very little exposure to noir of any kind, but I recall the writing being fairly well done.

Good luck with getting people to sign up for this. It sounds like fun!

Tijs

Oh! I almost forgot. Grim Fandango. It's the best made adventure i've ever played, it's noir and it's still unbeaten when it comes to actual plot, character & dialogue.

Mike Drucker

Tijs brings up an incredible point. Everyone should look at "Grim Fandango" and "Max Payne" for a comparison on film noir style. You don't have to sound like a complete dumbass to get a gritty, though story with a spice of romance and amazement.

Grim Fandango used cartoony graphics (hated by many a gamer these days, it seems...), an abundance of humor, and skeletons as the main characters. However, compared to MP, Grim Fandango is a complete writing masterpiece that has its fair share of cutscenes, sure, but at the same time uses its story to advance the play, not the other way around.

Christian Cosas

Frank Miller's "Sin City" comic series is as pulpy as they get. And freakin' brilliant.

It's head and shoulders above Max Payne in style and content, and the dialogue seems to have more of a polished feel to it (even though it's still over-the-top, as is par for the course). MP seems almost Schwarzenegger-esque in the way its dialogue is executed, by comparison.

James

Ken Levine says he intended the dialog in *Thief* to be noir-ish, with Garrett's monologues a cynical, hard-bitten analogue to stuff you'd read from Hammett or Chandler. So, steampunk noir.
And still some of the best dialog written in games. (Ken worked briefly as a screenwriter in Hollywood, before coming to Looking Glass, and before that, was a playwrite.)

san

A friend of mine, one hell of a bright guy in the game industry -- you'll have to take my word for that as he responded to me directly and I'll therefore not attribute what he proposed -- wrote that perhaps most important is the game industry developing its own writing talent. Seems like Levine is a sort of model for that conccept: he began with traditional training in the craft of writing, but soon his skill evolved specifically to the kind of writing suited to games. Perhaps we can posit that the basics have to be there -- the essential good writing training, be it self taught or through academic programs -- and then the game writer comes into his or her own in the field by application of that broad-scope background. A single pen, many nibs.

Doctor X

The Blue Dahlia, The Big Clock, The Asphalt Jungle are three B-list noirs that first come to mind. The Internet Movie Database can probably find more titles. If your local library has a large enough video section, you can find some good stuff just through browsing.

Raymond Chandler is my favorite noir author, and Phillip Marlow, as well as Nick and Nora Charles, are some of his best characters. Look for his books, or rent "The Big Sleep" with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, as well as the 1940's "Thin Man" movies.

BrainFromArous

A friend of mine, one hell of a bright guy in the game industry -- you'll have to take my word for that as he responded to me directly and I'll therefore not attribute what he proposed -- wrote that perhaps most important is the game industry developing its own writing talent.

Amen.

Awhile back, a friend of mine returned from a game designers' conference with the observation, "There were no writers. None. Every other element of game design was covered - sound, 3D engines, interface, even licensing issues. But not character design, plot or dialogue. These things are just afterthoughts, apparently."

There are exceptions, of course. A number of famous and beloved LucasArts games - Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max, Monkey Island - were hardly technological masterpieces. But the WRITING was clever, smart and engaging.

This problem goes all the way back to the beginning. Most pioneers of "story" games - RPGs and adventures - were programmers first and storytellers second. (In their defense, they had to be so.)

Richard "Ultima" Garriott was a notable exception, but even he remained locked in smack-the-orc/grab-the-loot mode until Ultima 4.

This is why the Tolkien/D&D model is so appealing for story games. Dungeons, monsters, castles, swordfighting, spells, Foozle - you can recycle them endlessly while focusing all creative effort on impressive visuals or online mechanics. The games write themselves.

For every System Shock or Fallout, how many D&D-type games are there? How many in the past 12 months alone?

Walter

I'll second Chandler's The Big Sleep. Also, Bendis' work on Marvel Knights: Daredevil.

Irony

I agree with you, BrainFromArous, about the D&D model being helpful in terms of easy story development, and we certainly saw that done incredibly well with "Morrowind". For a lightly-scripted game, the amount of incidental writing in the game was huge, and very very impressive. Every book you see you can read, and while some are short (like ABCs for Barbarians which has only A, B, and C), most are involved tales that read like wonderful little short stories I felt privileged to find in a game.

Of course, the D&D influence can backfire. While I thought Planescape: Torment was stellar (which had a lot to do with voice acting, as well), Temple of Elemental Evil is leaving me pretty cold in terms of the dialogue and story writing.

To go back to the original topic, though, why would I want to compare Max Payne to actual noir? My understanding of MP was that it was to a large extent a noir satire, and I thought it satirized the conventions of that genre extremely well. Comparing it to actual, straightforward film noir seems like a waste of time. I'd say the same for Grim Fandango, a great game but also an obvious satire.

san

I'd argue that "Max Payne" was far less satire than it was homage to film noir and literature of the same ilk. Whether it succeeded at that is in question, though at a quick glance, I'd report that more people responding to this thread felt it worked rather than not. But even as satire and satire alone it's certainly worth investigating the influences of a thing from other mediums.

Games as an entertainment and art form are both ground breaking and derivative. Still worth looking back as we look forward, important to examine theater as it molded film, oral storytelling as it molded theater -- I simplify of course, but you get my drift.

James

I'm a big fan of *MP*, but I think all this talk of *noir* tribute/satire is giving the game way too much credit. The voiceover dialog is noirish, and elements of the story are noirish, but the basic plot is really not that dissimilar from an 80's Joel Silver action movie. When it comes to conflict, real noir heroes get into brief, ugly gunfights with maybe two or three mangy gunsels, tops, and usually something strange or horrible happens during the action, say Lee Marvin gets a pot of coffee tossed into his face by the woman he disfigured, like in *The Big Heat*. Real noir heroes don't dive slow motion into a room with two Ingrams and mow a dozen dudes down. That's the John Woo influence in *MP*, and far as Woo's action goes, his big references are Chang Cheh, Kurosawa, and Peckinpah-- not exactly big noir guys.

Narrative-wise, I think the most interesting elements in *MP* are the dream sequence levels that are meant to be trips through Max's tortured conscience, and the cutscene where Max is informed that he's actually a videogame character. Those are both pretty unique to the medium, while the noirish voiceover dialog (cue Garrett) has already been done before, and better.

Bishop

Well, we run into a problem when you want people to watch the old style, pulp noir of the past: it doesn't exist. Noir was not a Genre when it was in its prime. Noir was defined after the fact.

When French Film critics saw the mass of films that had been made in the US during the war. They got all the films at once and were thus able to spot more elusive and subtle trends that no one else had noticed. The thing that they noticed was that their were alot of dark films.

This was mostly because of several reasons: 1) the Nation was feeling depressed, 2) that we had recently gotten an influx of directors who had fled Germany (German Expressionists loved using Shadows and dark subject matter), and 3) recent laws calling for black outs in most american cities, for fear of bombing. The term Noir is simply the french word for Black and did not imply a story but a visual style.

If you want to look at Max Payne's influence you have to look to a much closer time in our history, a time when Noir was actually a Genre. To be a Genre you have to have rules and conventions, you have to have a formula to follow. When Noir was being made, no one even knew about it, there was just no time to make the formula. Nowadays we find that there are rules for Noir: Gritty dark male anti-hero protaganist, femme fatale, a dark world, murder, crime, cruelty, and dirt; chip in just the right amount of mood lighting and you are home free.

Max Payne did not copy "The Big Sleep" or "The Maltese falcon" or even "Double Indemnity", it copied Sin City, and Dark City, it copied Blade Runner and Se7en. It did not copy Film Noir, it copied the cultural Zitegiest that is now known as Film Noir, it copied the Myth, not the man.

san

"If you want to look at Max Payne's influence you have to look to a much closer time in our history, a time when Noir was actually a Genre."

Here I agree with you much. Perhaps we could propose that Max Payne is an homage to an homage: it drew from the characteristics of a body of work that was not intended to be taken as a single genre at the time it was made. It was an acknowledgement of a genre that only advanced once the common trends were recognized, and then that latter-day defined set influenced later work. By the same logic, I'd posit that Jules Verne didn't think of himself as a science fiction writer.

But I still think we can learn a lot from looking at the original body of work that bore the traits that got it lumped into the genre. That would be "Falcon", "Sleep", etc. And then perhaps also jump ahead and look at the media that paid tribute to those earlier works. Also, I think it's of value to mention that Ridley Scott never intended Blade Runner to be as camp noir as its theatrical release. The voice-over, the thing that really gave the film the gritty noir feel -- admittedly, the superficial part, as the other elements were there -- was added by the studio as a reaction to less than satisfactory early screenings of the film.

The most notable thing about Se7en for me was that it was stripped bare of all references to real locations and entities. I noticed that the first time through but watched it again just to look for places that generic icons of urban life specifically replaced those we would expect: police patrol car emblems, auotmobile models, signage, etc.

ragmana

bishop has it spot on, on every count.

Phil

Bishop:

Noir was defined after the fact? Noir was named (or at least named "noir") after the fact, certainly, but I think like all genres it defined itself as the works were made.

Or are you suggesting that American filmmakers were unaware of the common themes and elements (subtle and glaring) of the works that were being made at the time? To me that smacks of explorerism, where a country is not discovered until the right kind of foreigner puts it on the right kind of map.

Also, I'm not clear why you say that a copy of a copy should not be compared to the "original", but only to the first-generation copy. The original is still relevant to assessing and understanding the second-generation copy - or if you prefer a more evolutionary image, the grandparent is still relevant to the grandchild.

But even if your point stands, and we compare MP only to Blade Runner, Se7en et al, Sanford's point about the relative merit of the writing still stands as well. I'm in the middle of MP2 now, and while I appreciate a lot of things about it enormously, the dialogue and characterisation is mediocre and lets down the rest of the game. It is better than I expected, but nowhere up to spec compared to the quality of the visual/animational design, sound, level design, etc.

I see your point about copying the myth not the man, and MP2 does a good job of that. But great art refuses to choose between the two. It reveals the mythic qualities in life that our imperception hides under a false sense of mundanity; and it takes the myth, and reveals the humanity at its core (and therefore why we should care about it). As at the start of Act III, Max Payne the character is too generic, too slickly mythic, too devoid of any individual texture or grit, for me to care much about what happens to him. His observations - even the potentially illuminating similes and metaphors used so tellingly by good writers of any kind - are driven by his mythic function, making them predictable and uninteresting. My reaction to Max's utterances, and many of his deeds, is too often "Well, you would, wouldn't you." Myth without human substance degenerates into cliche.

The Fall of Max Payne - i.e. the game - is a different kettle of fish, despite my irritation at some of the words. But that's another post. And depending on what happens next, I may be back to eat my words.

outsider

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