L.A. Noire: A Trip Through LA’s Dark Past. . . and a Walk Through its Lighter Present

view of city hallLos Angeles has long mythologized itself, perhaps most distinctively in its “noir” period of film and fiction, inspired by an era of high crime, tough policing, Hollywood glamor and an expressionist cinematic style brought here by emigre filmmakers and composers. Now the myth is being revived, this time in the realm of video games, in Rockstar’s new release, L.A. Noire. The game has been widely anticipated for its astonishing recreation of eight square miles of Los Angeles in 1947, with buildings, vehicles, clothing, signage realized down to the finest detail. Ray Guarna, co-producer and audio engineer of DnA, actually purchased the game at midnight today, the moment the game was made public, after five years in production and a lockdown on story leaks and piracy. He played the game for a while and described, for example, entering a shoe store and finding each individual leather shoe displayed “with perfect class.”

Book_CoverOn today’s show we hear from John Buntin, author of “LA Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City,” about his experience playing the game and how it matches up to the real LA of the time period. It was John, I should add, who has kept me — not a gamer, at least until now — posted about the pending launch of L.A. Noire and he who provided a wonderful clip from Dragnet, the LA-based police procedural that partially inspired L.A. Noire. Typically when one interviews a guest, that guest needs do nothing except be present at the required time and answer questions in an interesting way. John, on the hand, got deeply involved in the production of our segment, peppering me with ideas for questions and construction of the segment, some of which we used; so I give a big thanks to John here.

We also hear from Simon Wood, production designer for Team Bondi, the Sydney-based company that created L.A. Noire for Rockstar. Until I reached him in a studio in Sydney, I had no idea Simon was a Brit; it turns out Team Bondi is a group of mostly expat Brits who forged a team in London and moved en masse to Australia, where they have now spent the last few years working on a game based in Los Angeles. Simon, who describes himself jokingly as a “handsome guy in his late 30s,” has a youthful delight in the entire process of creating the virtual LA, describing with excitement how, for example, they pored through “an Aladdin’s Cave” of archival photos at UCLA. Among the many fascinating themes that he discusses is how much gaming and film are converging, and how gaming is getting so sophisticated in its gameplay and immersive experience it is no longer just childsplay.

After hearing about the lengths gone to create a past, in order to satisfy legions of gamers who plan to spend hours immersed in that fantasy world, it was tempting to take a bracing cold shower of reality. So we finish the show in the present, with Alissa Walker telling us about a walk through real LA, specifically John Chase’s West Hollywood, happening Saturday. Click here for more details, and I hope you enjoy today’s show.