Brendan McNamara interview: creating LA Noire and destroying Team Bondi

brendan McNamara interview


OPM It’s widely known that LA Noire took seven years to make. What were the main reasons for that?

BM One is the size, it’s a huge game – probably too big. The map’s massive, and so that’s probably my fault. We had to build a new process to do that. We were a brand-new studio – we had brand-new tools, new technology. We have tools that allow you to build cities now, but we had to build that kind of stuff and make it work. Everything from the road network, where all the trolley cars go, all the cables connecting automatically to all of the buildings…

The tech was pretty extensive, including MotionScan. I’d say the first year and a half – [maybe] even longer – was just research. Newspaper research, guys going over to LA and doing research on the buildings, taking photos, getting all the resources together… We were quite a small studio – 16 people or something – and we had to have all this material so we could start building stuff.

OPM Obviously the high staff turnover at Team Bondi during development has been well documented…

BM I think I’ve said all I want to say about that kind of stuff.

OPM But you must have regrets that certain negative things happened?

BM It was a long, painful process, but making games is like making films in that it’s a marathon, not a sprint – and some people come into the process not knowing that. I’d love to spend more time at home with my family and kids. We run things differently now – we have flexi-hours, for example. But everybody has their view on who’s the worst boss in the world, and maybe that’s me. I’ve read some amazing things about Steve Jobs in his biography, and I’ve never seen him get as vilified any way as much as I have. Sam Peckinpah [’70s film director] fired [plenty of] people off one movie, and nobody said a thing. Werner Herzog pulled a gun on Klaus Kinski to get him to finish a movie! Obviously I don’t compare myself to any of those people…

OPM So what’s happening now with Team Bondi?

BM Team Bondi is closed. It’s nearly finished going through administration.

OPM Are you in the same situation as other Team Bondi ex-employees, i.e. owed money?

BM Yeah, I am and my wife is, and so are some of the other people – but we’re trying to resolve that situation as we go along through the administration process. It’s not nice to go into administration – we would’ve liked not to have done that, but that’s the situation we ended up in.

I think that in the film model, people set up a production company for the life of the film, then they close it down at the end of it. Maybe that’s the right way to do it, because having hundreds of people sat around at the end of a project isn’t a good thing, either. The other way we tried to go was to outsource everything, but we chose not to do that and to try to give work to people in Australia. We helped most of those people to get other jobs.

OPM So are people saying, “I never want to work with Brendan again”?

BM Oh, I think the 11 people who’ve said that have gone on at great length about it. [They’ve] put my emails up on the internet – I don’t know how you can put confidential company information [online], but people do. It’s a pretty dangerous precedent, too.

OPM Was there a problem getting experienced staff for Team Bondi?

BM Yes, it was absolutely a problem. We took a lot of graduates, and one of the main reasons we did that was when we arrived there, the rest of the games business said, “We don’t want you poaching all our people.” So we agreed with them that we wouldn’t, and trained people – which actually made the process longer. Lots of those people have gone on to work on other things, but some of that stuff just gets thrown back in your face.

OPM Did you have plans for LA Noire 2, and are you disappointed you can’t make that now?

BM We talked about doing more add-on DLC, but it’s [Rockstar’s] property, so it’ll decide what it wants to do with that. There was a period where I did [want to do more], but it’s been a very long project and I’ve got other ideas that I’m working on, so I’d rather write something new. Spending seven years of your life on one story can get a bit much. I mean, The Getaway took three years, which people said was horrendously long at the time.

OPM Are things cool now between you and Rockstar?

BM Yeah – you’d have to ask for [Rockstar’s] opinion, but we still talk and get emails. It’s been helpful during the administration process. We were both very happy with the game, the numbers it’s done and what it’s still doing – the PC version came out [recently]. A lot of people who worked on LA Noire have gone on to work at Rockstar studios.

OPM Could you see yourself working with the company again?

BM It really depends. It was a hard process, but I’ve no hard feelings about Rockstar and hopefully it doesn’t have any hard feelings about us. Rockstar Leeds helped us a lot on LA Noire and of course made the PC version. I’m looking forward to seeing that – with the stereo 3D it should be really interesting.