Over the holidays I had myself a second visit to non-other-than New York City. I had been once before, amazed at how it was like transporting to real-life GTA’s Liberty City. However since those teenage years my favorite type of game had matured from GTA into detective games. This time I wanted to find the similarities of a lesser known game, the detective series Blackwell, which is based entirely on the city of NY.
When I visited New York in my teenage years I was amazed of all the similarities with my favorite game at the time: GTA 3. Since then however GTA 4 came out which actually made me bored of NYC. For some reason I feel like GTA 4 portrays the city as just gray and slummy, without the charm.
Luckily there’s a series of games from Wadget Eye Games that portrays NYC in a different light. In GTA 4, the buildings feels like they have no history beyond their shallow mission or backdrop purpose, making me simply wish they would hurry to remake the more uplifting Vice City instead. In games such as Blackwell & Unavowed however, the gameplay is all about discovering the depth of locations and peoples lives, and thus the mature age of New York becomes a positive characteristic. All though I would rather chose Miami for driving a sports car by the sunset, NYC is a great place for mysteries with deeper stories.
So having already done a “GTA tour” during my previous visit (as well as visiting the wonderful MET museum level from Rogue Spear), I felt this time was my chance to see some WEG locations!
Blackwell / Wadget Eye Games Real Locations Tour
There are two main sources for finding these locations: a WEG Forum Thread & a well-written location fan guide. Unfortunately for me the ladder was nearly impossible to find on Google. I knew it existed as I had seen it before, but all the links lead to 404 pages (as it seems the domain was changed). As my phone had bricked itself I was limited to surfing the net on a borrowed tiny-screen iPhone 4S. Instead of spending my valuable NY time surfing the web on a coin-sized monitor, I decided to wing it. Rather than attempting to see it all, I would just see how many I can discover on my own.
At first I realized I was woefully under-prepared. I actually thought I could just take a random stroll through Central Park with a screen-grab and find the old central park bridge location. I quickly realized my original plan of using zero roaming on my phone wasn’t going to work, not only was Central Park enormous, but even if you did walk from corner to corner, it’s so broad with so many paths that you’d need to circle it tenfolds before you find what you’re looking for. Luckily I knew the name of the bridge so I was able to narrow it down to 94th street latitude.
There were other locations I were able to find easily, but having little to no memory of its resemblance to the game. The forum mentioned Washington Square as a location but upon arriving I could barely remember it from the game. It turns out it was from the very first Blackwell game which I hadn’t played for ages! Come to think about it, my liking of the WEG games came somewhat gradually as the games improved down the line, so I don’t know if I even enjoyed the very first game.
Originally disappointed by Washington Square it turned out to have been a good move after all, the place was full of tourists, so I started talking to a Korean girl who was taking photos and we ended up deciding to explore NY together. I asked if she had any special locations in mind and she mentioned wanting to visit ‘the High Line’, I immediately thought “Bingo! The High Line crime scene from Blackwell Deception!”
This is where the story may have a darker ending. Upon finding the famous crime scene she insisted we use her camera instead of my terrible borrowed 4S. I couldn’t agree more, however how would I get these pictures over to my computer? When I had to rush back to the train station we agreed she would send the pictures to my email as soon as she gets Wifi connection. But at the time of writing it’s starting to sink in that might have been a big mistake, as I have yet to receive an email, some of the locations we tracked down together may forever be lost in her private photo collection.
Basing Games on Real Cities
I’m actually quite jealous of the winning formula of “Live in a cool city, Base your games on that cool city”. Don’t get me wrong, from a quality-of-life perspective I’m very glad I’ve finally settled down in the tiny town of Dunedin. A place where pollution, traffic & crowds are non-existent problems. From a game-developer point-of-view however, it just adds so much life to a game. In most of the games I’ve worked on we’ve had to make the environment a “generic American city”, which has more than a few problems associated with it. Which reminds me of my time as an Environment Artist for APB.
At All Points Bulletin (2010), we were originally told to make the environment just “generic American”, so we started using New York (probably more Brooklyn-style) as our frame of reference. Possibly because it was one of the first places to have Google Street View. After finishing the level, we were told that the city has been renamed San Paro, and is located in California. We had to throw away our entire map and start fresh with something that looked more West Coast. At this stage of development however we didn’t have as much time to do research so we really kept it ‘Generic’ and what followed is a strange weird city void of culture. I saw a forum post somewhere where someone points out how San Paro doesn’t feel anything like California in the details, for example how the whole town is covered with “To Let” signs which is hilariously British.
Oh well that’s all for this little mini-adventure. I had a great time in US but I’m also looking forward to returning back to New Zealand to work on my own games. Make sure to bookmark so as to not miss my next adventures!