L.A. Noire Timelapse: World in Motion
A beautiful video tour of 1940s Los Angeles.
For a game that features the latest in state-of-the-art motion capture and the remarkable in-game likenesses of over 400 actors, it's perhaps a touch ironic that the real star of the show isn't found in the 80 hours of digital performances captured for L.A. Noire, but rather in the superb openworld environment created by Team Bondi.
The developer's rendition of 1940s Los Angeles is truly remarkable, and a strong contender to be one of the most impressive in-game depictions of a real-world city in any video game. Naturally then, it was a perfect candidate for one of our openworld timelapse videos.
In addition to the streaming videos found on this page, full 720p60 versions of the L.A. Noire location timelapse and the in-game edit are also available, encoded for best performance on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
L.A. Noire's Los Angeles really is a marvel. Building on existing plans for the city along with the aerial shots of Richard Spence (who photographed Los Angeles from the air with a 21kg camera attached to an aeroplane), Team Bondi was able to recreate a slice of American history with an unprecedented level of detail.
Using existing archive materials in conjunction with Spence's photography, long-forgotten details from the pre-Freeway Los Angeles were faithfully recreated, and even elements such as the density of traffic and public transportation routes could be extrapolated from the photographs and replicated in-game.
From a technical perspective, the effects elements of the openworld engine seen in L.A. Noire aren't as fully featured as we've seen before in Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption. Atmospheric rendering and time-of-day lighting don't seem to operate at the same level of complexity, the range of behaviours seen in the NPCs is more limited and there's a distinct lack of variation in the weather - though the same might well be said of real-life Los Angeles.
Yet in a way this only adds to the appeal of Team Bondi's recreation of the city. The developers haven't just adhered to the reality of the period; the game riffs on the stilted performances found in the movies and TV shows of post-war America and plays upon the modern, nostalgic view of the Golden Age of Hollywood. So if there's a sense that the world of L.A. Noire is a touch two-dimensional, it's almost certainly by design, and contrasts nicely with the seedy world of violence, murder, drugs and corruption the game builds in its narrative.
As usual, the chosen technique for putting this video together was to record the game running in real-time at one frame per second, with the clips then reformatted to run at 60FPS. Within the editing system we usually toy with playback speed still further, doubling or tripling it, but in the case of L.A. Noire we left things as they were so that the passing pedestrians and cars could still be tracked. This set pace also suited the slower tempo of the music.
The biggest challenge was in sourcing the shots themselves. In our Grand Theft Auto IV piece, the cameraphone gave us the rock-solid first-person perspective we really need to make timelapse recording work properly, while Red Dead Redemption offers up a multitude of panoramic viewpoints simply by leaving the controls alone.
L.A. Noire isn't quite so accommodating, but it does provide excellent shots of 30 major Los Angeles landmarks (indeed, tracking down all of them is one of the game's challenges). Find the landmark, press and hold the B or circle button depending on your console and you get the shot. Suffice to say, we got through a lot of sticky tape keeping that button held down for hours on end during the production of this video.
While we're pleased with the edit overall, there is a sense that it doesn't quite reflect the hustle and bustle of the streets of Los Angeles as they're presented while you play. The engine has really been optimised to produce the very best results from the in-game perspective, and the floating cameras of the location shots don't showcase the flow of movement from the pedestrians and cars quite as well as we would have expected.
While opportunities for timelapse shots are very limited in-game, pushing up on the d-pad while in a vehicle opens a dynamic camera that tracks you as move through traffic and provides some cool viewpoints. While these shots give us the action we wanted, they didn't really fit with the location captures. But they remain rather cool, so here's a short edit.
Other games in the Digital Foundry timelapse collection:
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