Remedy Designers Visit New York!

(1999/05/28) New York, New York! These vagabond shoes are longing to stray into the very heart of it.

Max Payne is set in New York City. It was the perfect, logical setting for a film noir crime-thriller. The only problem was: what do we Finns really know about New York? Sure, we had watched all the right movies over and over and over, we had dug the deepest depths of the web for any and all pictures and tidbits of information, we had collected a whole library of NYC books, but we were still missing that first hand experience, and most of all we were missing a whole lot of good photo material. We wanted every level in the game to spell New York in big, bold neon letters. We had all the levels planned out, from the deepest crime-ridden slums to the glittering skyscraper heights, we knew exactly what we needed. There was only one way to get it. We had to go and do it ourselves. Six brave level designer soldiers, about to boldly go where no level designer had gone before.

The day of departure, 06:00. The final briefing. All the preparations were done and everything was a check. We were ready to go, ready to rumble, armed to the teeth with the latest in camera hi-tech. Destination: New York City. Mission: Capture it all on film, show no mercy, Max Payne's New York must look even better than the real thing.

All six of us were very excited about the trip, for most it was the first visit to the States, not to mention the Big Apple. We were going to see the whole city from top to bottom, the good, the bad and the ugly. This was quite something different to what we were used to, working as game developers, sitting in front of our computers all day long. The 10-hour flight did nothing to lessen our eager excitement, far from it, when we arrived at the JFK airport, we had that dangerous light in our eyes, and our grins were sharp and hungry, our cameras already trembling with anticipation. Only the best would be good enough for Mr. Payne.

The first thing to do after we got through the tight security check and got our luggage, was to get a cab to the hotel which was located right next to Central Park in the center of Manhattan. We decided to go for a limo, it was the most convenient way to get all six of us to our hotel. The hotel itself was quite ok, even though it was under renovation and the elevators didn't work that well (some of us had to go down the stairs 19 floors a couple of times). Max Payne would not have whined about it, so neither did we.

New York, New York, then. Let us tell you about New York City. The sheer, mind-boggling 3D of it all! When we lifted our innocent gazes in search of the skies we could see only skyscrapers, rising up forever. And the kaleidoscopic rainbow multitude of styles, crappy abandoned tenement buildings right next to sexy all-glass skyscrapers. We were in level design candy land! What wonders we would craft for Max Payne after seeing all this!

On the first day, we faced our first enemy, the dreaded jetlag (time difference between Helsinki and New York is 7 hours), we woke up 2 AM and couldn't sleep anymore, it was morning in our home sweet home. Come morning we had a short battle plan briefing with our lovely local contact from TSI Communications via Gathering of Developers, Andrea, 08:00, the hotel lobby. She passed us some crucial 'for our eyes only' data, including the address to her friend's place on top of a 40-story building (excellent location for rooftop photos). We stepped into the glorious streets of the city, and did a commando dash through the notorious Hell's Kitchen to Hudson River. From there we took the Circle Line boat tour around the southern parts of Manhattan. Manhattan skyline, need we say more? One thing less on our 'must have'-list. And yes, we did see the lovely lady herself, the Statue of Liberty. She waved at us. You can expect to see her standing tall somewhere in the game's horizon.

For the rest of the day, and the whole of the next day, it was no rest for the weary, as we roamed the more-uptown locations from our Max Payne level-list, our cameras on constant overdrive. Boldly defying all dangers we decided to split into two groups to cover more ground. We checked out many famous art deco skyscrapers. We dared the depths of the New York subway system, and got lots of excellent material for the subway part of the game. We walked over the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan. We have seen things… At Civic Center, with all its government buildings, there was a demonstration going on against police brutality. Masterfully we evaded the steely glares of an army of cops, we dodged and feinted, sprinted and ducked, our cameras recording every minute detail of the police vehicle multitude. We knew Max would be in trouble with the law from level one. In the evening of the second day we had a relaxing gourmet dinner with the people from Rockstar Games, a division of Take 2, Max Payne's distributor in Europe.

The next day our reinforcements arrived, Mike and Kevin, two heavy-duty, hardboiled ex-NYPD policemen, security pros extraordinaire, to be our bodyguards and guides on our mission's most dangerous part to the unsavory corners of this City of all cities, we were headed for parts unknown, the badlands, the gray spots on the map, 'here be the things that go bump in the night', the true Max Payne country. We set out in our rented van, midnight black, naturally. In Bronx we visited some lovely ex-crack houses, and had some close encounters with the natives, curious of the six strangers visiting their hoods. Thanks to our security personnel we managed to get out of there alive.

Next stop: Harlem, not a very nice neighborhood. There we found some more lovely (OK, OK, read: real god-awfully crappy, but perfect for our shady level-design needs) tenement buildings and even got to the leaking roof of one of them. New York's mayor, Giuliani, had been doing some cleaning in the city recently, and it was getting damn hard to find interesting looking abandoned buildings that had not been tightly boarded up. What is the world coming to? Still, the total score of the day was once more very good, lots of usable photos.

On the cold, wind-swept Friday we turned towards Queens, Coney Island, and Brooklyn. Now, things were really getting interesting. We were shifting to a higher gear, big time! In Crown Heights, the worst part of Brooklyn, we entered an abandoned house in the worst imaginable state of dereliction. Mike led the way, checking the perimeter, his gun pulled, and we waded after him, up to our knees in used drug syringes and empty methadone jars. It was all the crime movies made real. Right up to the point when that mad dog appeared. It was huge and black, with its teeth bared, drool dripping down its jaw, growling, and it came after as like the judgment day. We naturally ran like crazy and got the hell out of there. Excitement City! In Little Odessa, the Russian neighborhood, a gang of bad guys got real interested in our cameras. Mike discreetly opening his jacket and giving them a good long look at his gun was the only reason we got to keep our stuff. And as the icing on the cake, to crown our leisurely day of sightseeing, we did a slow drive-by past the current HQ of the NY Mafia, there are more than plenty of mobsters in the game, after all. To stop and step out would have been asking for some serious trouble. Yes, we had found the limits to our bravery, there were things even we were not ready to do, dark depths of trouble we did not wish to explore.

The sixth day, and back to the trenches. Target destination: the southern parts of Manhattan, namely Little Italy, Chinatown, etc. We still needed material for the sleazy mobster hotel in the game. That day, we found the worst hotel on this planet. The sign outside said 'hotel', but you could have just as well dropped 'o' and 't' from the sign and called it hell on earth. Mike went in to check the place out, and when he came back he soberly said 'I've seen some bad places, but this place, man, this place is shit.' So naturally, we were eager as hell to get inside and put our cameras to work, but in the end we were so shocked by the place that we didn't even take that many photos, just stood there, in silence, our mouths hanging open. Locked iron gates at the entrance and in front of the reception, scar-faced criminals and junkies glaring at us evilly in the lobby, the so-called rooms were more like toilet booths with no ceiling. A small detail: there was a hand-written note taped on the candy machine, saying 'all candy bars in this machine are definitely past date, but they're guaranteed to be fresh' :-). All of us were real glad to get out of there. On a much lighter note, yet none the less cool, we got to visit a subway control room somewhere in Manhattan. We were taking shots of the passing trains, when someone from the personnel came to ask if we wanted to have a look inside the place. They mistook us for German trainspotters, and we were not the ones to set them straight. Eagerly we grabbed the chance and got a full tour, lots of extremely cool photos. It was our last night in New York City, and to celebrate, Andrea and her friends took us to see 'The Sound of Urchin', a band some of their friends played in. The gig simply ruled! We partied the night away. Saturday night fever!

Not very surprisingly, Sunday found us tired to the bone, hiding from the sun behind dark shades, but bravely we managed to do some shopping still. Misty-eyed we waved farewell to Andrea and America in general, and left for the airport.

The trip was a true success. We saw more NYC than most of the locals have seen, visited places that we could not have ever imagined, or dared to visit without bodyguards. In total we took more than 5000 shots and 10 hours of video to be used as a base for textures, locations, sounds and atmosphere. A rock-solid base to make killer NYC levels for Max Payne.