Remedy is the best at starting stories with a bang. Max Payne’s opening scene shows our antihero on top of a tall building, while the sirens wilt in the darkness below. Max frowns and says, “They were all dead.” “The last gunshot was an exclamation point to all that had lead to this point.”
Next, we go back in time to Max’s brutal murder of his wife and infant child. We then continue our revenge mission. Guns speak, but two wrongs are indeed better than one. Acts two and three show that the guns have grown in size and the number of bodies has increased, while the lies continue to unravel. Next thing you know Max is back, perched above the whine of the police cars.
Max can narrate the whole story by starting at the beginning and going full circle. This is an old literary trick more games should use. Max’s meaty narration is complemented by graphic novel panels, which are placed at chapter breaks as well as during levels. Kiia Kallio was responsible for bringing these panels to life. Kallio says that there had been initial plans to do video cutsscenes, but there wasn’t enough money for it. So graphic novel panels were created as an alternate method.
First, you had to place photographs under watercolour paper. Then the storyboard was created. After that watercolour was applied by hand and everything was then scanned into Photoshop. Kallio states that this was sufficient when the script had 50 pages. But as the number of graphic novels pages increased to 100, and there was no end in sight, it was obvious that hand-painting was not an option.
Levels can change as is the norm in game development. Kallio was forced to continue redoing his job. What was the solution? The solution? A Photoshop watercolour filter that produces the perfect look, without the need for an artist to paint every detail. This multi-layered image can be easily adjusted in real time, which allows the team to work more efficiently and make adjustments quickly.
The final version of Max Payne contains approximately 250 pages. I believe they are essential for the Max Payne experience. Although this is a third-person shooter, Max Payne feels like an independent artist trying something different. Even if they were executed properly, traditional cutscenes would have taken away the charm of Max Payne.
We can’t talk about Bullet Time without mentioning it. The game mechanic was not common and drew comparisons to The Matrix. It was easy to do: it involved setting the timescale and ensuring that the cursor and camera were not affected. Peter Hajba says that “Seeing how awesome it looked,” he tells me. “We were going to have some shootouts in slow motion.” Scott Miller of 3D Realms and George Broussard from 3D Realms proposed that we make it a game mechanic that the player can control. Bullet Time was thus born.
Hajba joined the team from the beginning and was involved in several roles during the development process, including taking care of the sound effects and visuals over the four-year period. Hajba was also instrumental in creating the realistic animation. Even after all these years, it’s still a pleasure to launch Max into slow-motion as the gangsters tumble like dominoes. Max jumps to his feet as a master in the martial arts after he has been exterminated. It’s stylish.
Action cinema is all about style, and Max Payne draws a lot of inspiration from John Woo films. You can see the references everywhere, right from the Easter Eggs hidden in plain view to the script. It is hardboiled crime fiction at its best. Max tells us about a security panel that lets out “mocking cackle”, that New York “is drenched with gloom” and that Roscoe Station is the “death spot.” A helpful pause button allows you to see the entire scene 360 degrees. This gives Max the opportunity for vintage photos. This scene feels very modern and cinematic.
In its initial form Max Payne had a top-down view, much like Remedy’s original title Death Rally. The camera was placed behind Max Payne’s titular character to give you the best possible view and allow you to direct the action like on film sets.
It’s quite a thrilling ride. You’ll be taken to the gritty underbelly in a subway system before you reach the snowy streets. This is where you will find a casino, a shipyard and a mobster’s home. A progressive difficulty curve makes it less difficult, although death can happen quickly. It’s a good idea to look through the linear painkiller levels and to take them as soon as Max is able (or before Max’s health runs out – this was a strange design decision in hindsight).
All those mobster actors you are shooting, by the way? Peter declares that many of the actors were among friends and relatives of the developers. He also mentions that a number of them came from other companies in the area. This is true for characters appearing in graphic novels panels. The game’s budget was modest, so costs were cut.
Sam Lake was Max’s unintentional biggest star. Sam offered to play the lead role. It wasn’t so big at first because all textures were created by hand and there wasn’t much likeness. When the team began to experiment with textures using photos, Sam was the man. A wardrobe was created that combined the beautiful Scandi cheekbones with high-fashion flea markets and high fashion.
Max Payne has been 20 since then. However, the men who brought it to life still work in the company. Kallio works at Siru Innovations which provides architecture for game consoles and desktop GPUs. What about Hajba, In 2011, he left Remedy and went to Avalanche Studios, Sweden as sound designer. While he worked on Rage 2 and Just Cause 3, he has returned to particle effects. It’s been fun. It’s good to have variety.
A talented group managed to create something that felt very luxurious on a limited budget. The kitty grew when Max Payne 2 was released. Peter recalls that “we could hire real actors to model our characters.” Motion capture could create animated cutscenes. We need more programmers and artists. It could have been completed faster. My opinion is that the first game was more memorable. The first game feels bolder, less sanitized, and more punk. Sam Lake’s Max is my favorite actor, along with the true actor (Timothy Gibbs). Remedy was already moving on, and a third game would be released years later.
They didn’t forget the lessons learned. In all of their later work, there are still traces of Max Payne. Style in abundance; third-person cameras; and most importantly, an obsession with story.
Sam Lake was Max for one game. But, I think he found time to look in the mirror, make the facial expression, and that was a very common meme if the game were released today. Fans still follow him on Twitter and demand that he do this. While it may seem like a lot of time has passed, there are still some heroes that can’t be forgotten.
Publiated at Sun, 01 August 2021 08:32:46 +0000