detective stories of radio's Golden Age in North
America and real hard boiled detective fiction. I'm writing about the likes of
Dragnet, Tales of the Texas Rangers, The Adventures of Sam Spade, the writings
of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond
Chandler, Richard Diamond, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar ("The man with the
action-packed expense account").
The most damning part is that all this source material to which LA Noire owes
its style, sensibility, and vibe is so perfectly suited to episodic or
serialized downloadable content.
it's the best parallel, I'd like to focus specifically on Dragnet, though I
could branch out to Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, that focuses on an insurance
investigator (which is a role the player assumes near the end of LA Noir).
Dragnet "taken from actual police files" focuses on Joe Friday -- his mother
invariably calls him "Joseph" -- and his partners investigating cases in various
departments. One week Joe and his partner might be on bunko detail; the next,
homicide; the next forgery. From week to week, you never know what you might
get. Joe and partner hunting down a shoplifter known as "The Little Mother" then
tracking down the source of pornography being distributed to high school kids
then busting television repairmen overcharging for repairs that were never
actually made. Whatever division or case they worked there were some common
occurred. Usually there was a foot chase, a shoot out, interrogation of suspects
and witnesses, banter between Joe and his partner and superior, and possibly the
most famous four notes in entertainment history.
Each of the episodes was compact, most of them running less than 30 minutes.
Most of the episodes feature a deftness in characterization that many writers
could learn from, even today. Some of the writing was broad and wide, and gaps
between story points are connected by "three weeks later..." so it's seems the
perfect opportunity to bring Dragnet to the digital realm. With the seemingly
innocuous "three weeks later..." a good writer could squeeze in a couple more
crimes for Friday and company to investigate then pick-up the thread of the
first story again.
LA Noire's digital environment is the one place that makes sense to resurrect
these stories. Dragnet is set in Los Angeles during the very period that LA
Noire covers, a post World War II America where a fedora wasn't a warning sign
that you might be dealing with a douchebag or a hipster. Such a missed
For the most part, LA Noire always partners Cole Phelps with another
investigator (just like Dragnet, in case you're missing my beats, brother), but
some of Dashiell
lone wolf characters would fit right in here.
The Continental Op, the nameless protagonist of Red Harvest and The Dain Curse,
is a perfect match for a more footloose, action-based approached. The Op is
never one to shy away from a fight, and spends a lot of time dealing with
gangsters and ne'er-do-wells, sometimes directly with a bullet or fist, and at
one point substitutes gin for sleep. He's a perfect fit as a video games bad-ass
and parallels with Max Payne wouldn't be off-base. Then there's detective Sam
Spade, from Hammett's best known novel, "The Maltese Falcon." Even though he's
based out of San Francisco, Spade wouldn't be out of place in Los Angeles,
though lack of consistent fog might spoil the mood a little. Spade is also a bit
of a bad-ass and in the end demonstrates a dedication to his craft that actually
surprised me the first time I read it. "The Glass Key" focuses on Ned Beaumont,
a gambler with a keen political knowledge that elevates him above the rabble of
common gangsters in the novel. He's probably the most complex character to deal
with as a game character because he's operating on his own strict moral code.
Maybe even more difficult would be translating Nick Charles from "The Thin Man."
Married to a much younger woman, he spends a lot of the novel hung-over or
drunk, ordering room service, and talking a lot. Plus, the novel is set in
Prohibition-era New York (i.e. before World
War II). In fact, all of Hammett's novels were written prior to World War II,
but it would be no jump to position these characters in a post-war world, maybe
ageing them a little or even just flat-out re-tell the Hammett stories in a
slightly different setting.
The fact the digital world of LA Noire was created over so many years, so many
thousands of hours spent crafting a setting that in the end is so underutilized,
it represents a phenomenal failure to live up to its full potential, moreso now
that the developer has been sunk.
The one silver lining is that the publisher, Rockstar, retains the rights to the
LA Noire as an intellectual property. I hold out some hope that they might be
able to capitalize on the potential of the setting and technology that could be
used to tell some awesome hardboiled detective yarns using the best of the genre
from the '30s, '40s, and '50s as touchstones.
- Aaron Simmer
(October 18, 2011)