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Leaving Los Angeles
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on May 25, 2005   |   Episode 58 (Show Archive)  

   

Just because E3 takes place in L.A. doesn't mean EVERY game needs to be set there!
Look, I love Los Angeles! I love going there every year for E3, television tapings, and big movie premieres. For an outsider, L.A. is a great place to visit for a week, weekend, or however long it takes you to get voted off of American Idol; there's just no place like it on Earth. But I'm not the only one who loves visiting L.A., game developers appear to be transfixed on the smoggy skies of Los Angeles ... and I'm here to tell you that it's for the best.

Pitting your game in the city of L.A. is nothing new, games have been doing it for years. But it wasn't until games like Grand Theft Auto came about where gamers finally had the opportunity to explore these huge cities, allowing for a whole sub-genre of non-linear action games where you are rewarded for investigating your surroundings. These free roaming games could be transplanted in just about any large area ... but for some odd reason, they keep picking L.A.

Take Fear & Respect for example; here we have a character named Goldie (played by Snoop Dogg) traveling around the streets of L.A. to help a family member in trouble. Los Angeles is also the center of attention in 187

Ride or Die, a game that combines the excitement of Midnight Club with the violence of the Twisted Metal franchise. Beyond the fact that they are set in the same cities, these two games seem to be going after the much coveted gang banger demographic.

If rap music isn't your thing, Activision's latest Tony Hawk game appears to also be set within the city limits of L.A. Although the series has already traveled to Los Angeles, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland is heading back into the smog to give gamers one giant world to explore, finally mixing elements from Grand Theft Auto in with the skating.


L.A. is lousy with out of work models!
But Los Angeles just isn't that interesting of a city to pit and entire game in. I love visiting the state, I love the great weather, but when it comes to playing games, I'd rather not visit L.A. We've already been to an accurate representation of the city in 2003's poorly received True Crime: Streets of L.A. and few gamers were really demanding to go back.

L.A. is, for a lack of a better word, a pretty boring place once you get over the glitz and excitement surrounding it. It's a flat location with only one season, very little rain, and not a lot of variety

There is nobody better at navigating L.A. than Jack Bauer!
in its looks. These are all fine things in the real world, but games are supposed to be about creating a hyper-realistic place for us to escape to, if you're going to go all the way in making a city for us to play in, you might as well make it one of the interesting cities.

Rockstar Games understood this problem when devising last year's superb Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Although you start in a fictional Los Angeles, you are soon exploring the forests and mountains, looking people up in fake versions of Las Vegas and San Francisco, tanning on the beach, and getting lost in the desert. They understood that in order to make a compelling world you would want to live in, they would need to offer a place you didn't quickly get bored by. Los Angeles is boring and overused, certainly they could have gone to Detroit or someplace that has barely been touched by the gaming industry.


Most of the absolute best parts of San Andreas happen far, far away from the city of Los Santos!
Of course, sometimes you have no control over where you're game is set. When Sony bought the rights to make 24: The Game they had no control of the world Jack Bauer lived in. there was just no way of getting around being set in L.A. But the people at CTU might be saved by the games more linear storytelling, hopefully allowing the art department to come up with a way of showing us things we haven't seen before.

For a job that is often praised for its sense of creativity, these days it seems like a lot of game programmers are getting lazy on the job. There used to be a time when these people looked forward to coming up with new and fantastical worlds we had never seen before ... now we're stuck memorizing street signs and being able to predict the weather six months out with 100% accuracy. It's time we packed our bags, because we're leaving Los Angeles!
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