Interview with Rockstar Games’ Rob Nelson, Part Two


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The continuation of my talk with Nelson pulls back the curtain on Rockstar’s latest baby. Nelson offers up more insight on the particular brand of alchemy that going into Rockstar’s successful games. Find Part 1 here.

We have to talk a bit about “L.A. Noire,” right?


I’ll start off by being frank: I thought “Redemption” was a big dice roll for you guys. By the very nature of the game that you were making, a lot of the tools that you’ve mastered already–for creating this cacophonous, multilayered urban environment where it seems like anything can happen and anything does–you couldn’t use that same tool set when you’re making a western.

It seems like you guys are facing the same prospect with “L.A. Noire,” where you can’t deliver the kind of crazy, chaos-ready world in “L.A. Noire.” Again, just by the very nature of the story that’s trying to be told, the experience has to be different.

So, do you guys think about points of separation, like we could do this in a “GTA” game but we can’t do this in “RDR” or we could do this in “RDR” but we can’t do it in “L.A. Noire”?

I think we definitely think of that stuff but I don’t think we think of it directly in relation to our other games. Obviously we made those games and so our experience of making those games is going to factor into the decisions that we make on others.

But we constantly think about what is appropriate in a game’s world, and it’s a tricky thing. Especially this game was a really new experience for us because you’re playing sort of a cop and you’re a good guy.

You have a problem even saying the word “cop”.

[laughs] It definitely changed things. We don’t make sandbox games, really. A sandbox game, I think, it’s a game where you can do anything you want, anytime you want. That sort of world makes it very difficult to construct any sort of believable engaging narrative, I think.

We like believable engaging narratives and believable engaging worlds. We also like fun. And so constantly fighting to strike the right balance between those two things and not be too restrictive to players, and give them the freedom that they want but still construct a world that they can get lost in and believe in is what we strive for every time out.

The goal is that the world that we put you in makes sense and doesn’t break down for you anywhere. So, it’s not about points of separation between “L.A. Noire” and “GTA” or “GTA” and “Red Dead,” it’s just about whether or not the experience that we’re creating feels authentic, and that the actions that you’re carrying out are appropriate. That’s the trick.

So you try as best as you can to start fresh each time?

Well, we try. We come up with ideas for how we’re going to do things and what we’re going to let you do, and sometimes they don’t make it off of the drawing board. And sometimes they make it right into the game and they get cut. Sometimes they get cut two months before we ship.

It’s a constant, ongoing thing, and there’s no rulebook for it. I remember we made decisions at the end of “RDR” about how to handle the end, and whether the players would feel restricted or whether they would feel like this made sense for what his character was doing.

And we’ve been doing the same thing on “L.A Noire”. It’s been fun to be a detective. I actually don’t have any problem with him being a cop. I definitely like to have some limitations placed on me when sort of trying to figure out what we’re going to do, because I think you come up with interesting solutions that you maybe wouldn’t have if it was just a free-for-all.

That’s an interesting point because, with a free-for-all, then it becomes this huge unwieldy beast. If you wanted to direct some intent into the work, then you can’t do that. At least, that’s what I’m interpreting from what you’re saying.

Yeah, if we wanted to make a game about a super-powered stunt man in a post-apocalyptic world or something, we would make sure that we did everything we could to fit that concept. We might. We wanted to make a game about a detective in the ’40s. And we had to make sure that the vibe fit. The vibe in the field is everything to us. Do you believe where you are? Do you love it? That’s sort of the most crucial thing to us, I think.

It seems like “L.A. Noire” is different in that regard, as well, because it’s a lot slower and a lot more methodical. Brendan McNamara has talked about building the deduction engine and making the player feel like they are solving a crime. What were the important parts that you felt you had to nail there?

I think it’s finding the right balance between not making it frustrating but also making it challenging, and making it feel plausible. So, with the branching stuff that we put in was really challenging to get the logic right. For example, if you go to a crime scene, it’s entirely possible that you don’t find all the clues.

You find three out of six possible clues that you could find or you interview somebody and you get two out of four questions right. That will give you different information than if you got all the questions right and found all the clues. And so, it might give you a different location to investigate.

So, it’s creating a sense of consequence, then?

Exactly. If you don’t find all the things that you need to find at a crime scene, you might have to do more work. You might actually end up going to more locations to end up solving that crime. And, so, it was writing all of that: the branching dialogue and then the branching cases where you could be going to different locations in different orders, and needing appropriate cutscenes for whether you go to the coroner’s office, and you found the knife, or you go to the coroner’s office and you didn’t find it.

So lot’s of alternate cutscenes. Lots of alternate endings and side things. The weird thing about it is you won’t know if you missed them. Because, when it branches, it branches. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book, you pick the next page you want to go to. At least with those books, I guess, you know that there’s a branch.

But sometimes you’ll choose between two locations. But sometimes if you don’t find something you don’t go somewhere. And you won’t know until the next day you talk about that case with somebody else who’s playing. And they tell you, “Yeah, I went to the coroner when I found the knife.” And they’re, like, what?

Yeah, that’s kind of new territory for you guys.

Branching? Definitely this level of it, yeah.

You see it in BioWare’s games all the time, and other companies that tell stories in different ways. But this is really different for you guys. Another different thing is the inclusion in the Tribeca Film Festival. It’s obviously a great honor. Do you feel like that symbolizes anything?

Yeah. I mean, it’s thrilling and really exciting to be included. I think it is appropriate in this case for this game, and it’s fantastic that people are interested in it enough to do this sort of thing. But, I haven’t thought too much or too deeply on what it means for games as an art form. I think we love the medium, and this way of telling a story, and creating an experience.

I don’t know whether there’s going to be more of it or not. If it feels right, I guess, and it makes sense, then cool. If people are interested to sort of talk about it in that sphere, I guess.

Well, now, if the next game doesn’t make it to Cannes then people are going to be upset.

[laughs] Yeah.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.