Brendan McNamara: "I'd rather people just ring me up and tell me to f*** off"
The controversial L.A. Noire developer faces the music in this frank new interview.
Brendan McNamara begins his Bradford Animation Festival 2011 presentation with a story. His first visit to Yorkshire was to Huddersfield as a much younger man, playing for a north London cricket team. He batted first - not McNamara's speciality, as he's more of a bowling man. As the bowler ran in, he put his foot forward to the pitch of the ball and tried to whack it as hard as he could, just as he'd been taught as a schoolboy.
He missed the ball completely and smashed his big toe. The slip, who caught the ball behind as Brendan hopped around holding his foot, appealed. The umpire, who had a grim look on his face, said to McNamara, "get out of there you cheating Aussie ****".
The anecdote is apt. McNamara, the brains behind L.A. Noire, is public enemy number one. The high profile, shocking allegations of horrendous working conditions at Team Bondi during the development of L.A. Noire, as well as the emergence online of personal insults directed squarely at McNamara himself (he's been called a "bully" by former colleagues) paint a picture of a nightmare of a man.
Here, in his first interview since the collapse of his company and the scandal that dogged the developer, we get a different side to the story. McNamara calls out those who attacked him anonymously, defends his management style and reveals the truth of Team Bondi's closure.
L.A. Noire spoilers follow.
It is. Film productions, anyone you want to name... when we were over shooting motion capture for L.A. Noire they were closing down the shoot for Avatar and there were 500 people running around inside this big hanger, which is actually the hanger that The Spruce Goose is in in the game. It's still there. You see everybody and it's sad. They've all been working on it for four or five years or longer. It is sad, and it's sad to see people scattered to the winds. But it's been a difficult time for games developers in Australia. Our dollar's worth a lot of money now. It didn't use to be.
We hadn't signed another project in the time we needed to.
Mainly, I'd say because we got a lot of bad press about what it was like to work with us and our conditions. That, obviously, didn't come at the right time. To do a deal for a major video game probably takes about a year. We didn't start running around doing that stuff until well after the game was finished. That's the problem when a game is all consuming and you need to get out there and do whatever you need to do to get people to know it and interested. They would probably be the two main things, I'd say.
Rockstar own the property, so I don't know what they'll do with the sequel.
We're all pretty volatile. We had our ups and downs in the making of it. But we're all big boys. We were all trying to make something that was financially risky. I've known Sam [Houser, co-founder and president of Rockstar Games] for maybe fifteen years. We go a long way. We still talk when we need to. Anything that was part of the process is all water under the bridge to me.
I think their real problem is when they're coming to the end of things, the whole company has to focus on that game. We had lots of help from Rockstar in Leeds. We had QA, the whole world, in different parts of Rockstar, working on the game. We had the whole PR team. The main creative guys like Sam and Dan [Houser, vice president of creativity for Rockstar Games] and Les [Benzies, Rockstar North producer] and Jeronimo [Barrera], they have to come down and get involved and try and help with the process.
That's a difficult thing for them to do across many projects. I'm probably speaking for them when I shouldn't be. And now they're finishing Max [Payne 3] and about to start the end run for GTA 5. I presume everybody in the whole of Rockstar is working on that thing because it is a behemoth. All of the rest of this year and all of the rest of next year, we wouldn't have got any bandwidth out of them at all.
I don't know. Yes in some ways because of the writing part of it. But in other ways no. Remedy did the first couple of Max Paynes and they were great. Rockstar is doing the new one. From what I saw of that game, it looked great to me.
Probably. But I took three years to make The Getaway and everybody said that was ridiculously long. We took just over six years to make this one. After six years of it, am I more interested in writing... I can write more things in six years than one game, right? So from my point of view, can I write more stuff or can I write L.A. Noire 2? It's probably more interesting for me, right now, to be working on the new one rather than spending another three or four years on another one.
Cole Phelps is dead and Jack Kelso could continue on. We had ideas. I've got no problem with them [Rockstar]. They've got great writers there from Dan down. I'm sure they can turn it into something amazing. I'm looking forward to see what they do next with Red Dead Redemption. I'm sure they'll do something pretty amazing, right? It's very much in safe hands there.
"I'm perfectly happy for people to say they don't like working with me or I'm a bully or I'm this or whatever. The part that annoys me is people do it anonymously. I'd rather they just ring me up and tell me to f**k off."
I don't really feel like that. I feel like they were as much a part of it as we were and they hung in there for a long time when it wasn't going anywhere. It was never Duke Nukem, but there were periods when it was slow. When you're in the middle of making games it's like watching paint dry. You can write as much script as you want but then the actual process is a bit like watching paint dry.
I'm not bitter about that at all. They really hung in there with this and we made something great and we made something great together. Hopefully it will stand the test of time. Why would you be bitter about the opportunity? Not many people get to make that kind of game.
You'll have to ask my wife.
Yeah. I do. I always have. I was talking about being in Yorkshire and people saying what they think. So yeah, I do.
Maybe that's not the best way to make games. Probably, it should be more divorced between my directness and the people I work with. But having said that, when I read about Steve Jobs - I don't know if you're reading the book - I've never said anything like that to people. And I'm the bully of the games business.
Well, I don't think so. I've got people who've worked with me for sixteen years.
It's come from people who didn't enjoy the process of making the game. And that's fair enough. Everybody has their own opinion. The way I look at it now is that people can say whatever they like, and they will. So I might as well just wear it. That's where it's at.
It affects the company, yeah, definitely. It affects my reputation. But it also affects people's opportunities in Australia. Australia, whether you like it or not, the games business out there hasn't been doing very well lately. We're the cause célèbre of that, but lots of other developers have gone out of business out there as well. It makes it diminishing returns.
People are entitled to their opinion. I'm perfectly happy for people to say they don't like working with me or I'm a bully or I'm this or whatever. The part that annoys me is people do it anonymously. I'd rather they just ring me up and tell me to f**k off, right? Or people want to print your company emails on the internet. I'm like, what is that about? That could happen to any company in the business.
I remember just before E3, Naughty Dog, there was a story in the LA Times about people working there three days straight, and they were walking around like drunks in the office and people were screaming at each other. When you've been up for three days you do that. Nobody stayed up for three days making L.A. Noire. I don't even think there was an all-nighter on it. I'm not saying that stuff is good and people should do it anyway. But they were doing that, and they said it was going to be like that crunch until the end of the game. In America, people expect you to work hard to see results.
I'm not justifying crunch for video games. If there's a smarter way of doing it we should all do it a smarter way. But the backlash to us compared to the backlash to other people was pretty remarkable, I thought. I don't know what you thought.
"I'm not justifying crunch for video games. If there's a smarter way of doing it we should all do it a smarter way. But the backlash to us compared to the backlash to other people was pretty remarkable."
Vicky, who runs our studio, says, I'm like Vegemite. People either love you or hate you. And there's a lot of people who don't like Vegemite.
Yeah, exactly the same. You either like it or you don't.
At the moment, yeah.
No I'm not, right now.
Yeah I can. I just had a big holiday, which is great. I spent some time with my wife and kids, which was great. We hadn't had much time to do that because we were trying to finish this epic project and you just can't walk away from it because you're trying to get it done. So that was great. Kids were really happy. I spent some time sailing. It was good.
A lot of people who were working on L.A. Noire have gone across to KMM, some of them to be working on some of the film projects. A lot of the art and animation guys went across. Some of the people have gone to work in different Rockstar studios. I'm personally just writing some new stuff now, which I've been pitching around for the last couple of weeks. Hopefully I'll have something to announce on that pretty soon.
I can't tell you right now, but hopefully I can tell you in a couple of weeks time.
There are a few people interested, yeah. I've still got to do the paperwork.
A console game. I don't know how to make iOS games yet. We think the evolution from The Getaway to L.A. Noire and learning the lessons we did on the way, and some of the stuff about emerging storytelling, is definitely an avenue to pursue.
I own some of the shares, and some other people own some of the shares. It's a limited company, and there are some other investors in that, too.
"We had a TV show in Australia, which was showing people who used to work on L.A. Noire with their faces blacked out and their voices changed. I was sitting there thinking, hang on, this isn't the IRA."
Yeah, I do. Hopefully towards the end of that we'll have the full body stuff up and running. That could be pretty interesting, too.
It's pretty interesting. It's one of the great untold stories of the twentieth century. So I think it'll be good.
Yeah, there is. That's one of the things that's remarkable. We had a TV show in Australia, which was showing people who used to work on L.A. Noire with their faces blacked out and their voices changed. I was sitting there thinking, hang on, this isn't the IRA. They didn't enjoy working at the place and they don't like me as their boss. Okay, but we made a video game. I think we made a great video game. It was a difficult and terrible process, but nobody died making it. No-one's career ended making it either. They'll happily go on to do bigger and better things, and I'm totally fine with that.
So I thought that was kind of.... where does this end, you know? What we did was make a video game, and you black out your face and change your voice? If you want to have your five minutes on TV and show your face, I'm cool about it. You can say whatever you like about me.
Yeah, 110 hour weeks are tough. But not many people worked 110 hour weeks making L.A. Noire, I can tell you that. And it wasn't mandatory. It was just, yeah, it was hard, and it was brutal, but I would say, most of those triple-A games, when you aren't sure of what the technology is, and you aren't sure what the process is, it's going to be pretty difficult. Time's a finite thing. You can't extend it forever. We certainly had plenty of time.
Yeah. That's definitely the case.
I was raw during the process of making the game. It's a pressure cooker situation.
It's the nature of the internet, too. People are anonymous and they can just go on a forum. I remember reading on one of them that I was a murderer and a rapist. They'd read that thing, and then the next comment was, yeah, I know him, he's a murderer and a rapist.
You can look on the funny side of it, but it's pretty over the top stuff for somebody who just makes games, right?