Rockstar’s Dan Houser Weighs In On ‘Games As Art,’ Transmedia, Future Film Plans

At the the end of last month, Rockstar Games received the considerable honor of having the first video game to be a featured selection at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, which kicks off in a few weeks. The game is “L.A. Noire” of course, the studio’s May-releasing open-world film noir, which is notable for using a new type of motion capture technology which reproduces an actor’s facial expressions and mannerisms with an unparalleled level of accuracy. In a rare interview, Rockstar co-founder and vice president of creative Dan Houser sat down to chat about the upcoming release and the present-day state of the video game industry.

“The game, like many of our recent games, has been an absolutely enormous production,” he said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “With ’L.A. Noire,’ we employed a massive number of actors in the game – over 400 – along with hair and make-up artists, a great television director, and as the game is set in the golden era of Hollywood, a lot of original costumes, props and other research from the studios themselves.”

Houser cites classic films like “The Big Sleep,” “Double Idemnity” and “The Maltese Falcon” as key inspirations for the game, as well as more recent examples of film noir, like “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential.” The genre of “film noir” is largely born out of black & white crime fiction films of the ’40s and ’50s, with stylistic nods back to the era of German expressionism. It is as much an artistic framework as it is a story framework, though Houser is wary of engaging with the “games as art” debate.

“We obviously feel that games are an amazing creative medium that have unique rewards and unique challenges,” he explained. “Games today are moving towards creative maturity, as both people’s skill at designing them improves and the underlying technology to build them makes more and more possible. Production values have improved massively in games over the last five years.”

As those production values have increased, so too have sales figures. The most popular games, which Rockstar is notable for having several of, frequently catch the eyes of those in Hollywood, where blockbuster films both demand and receive large dollar amounts as well. Houser admits that his company has kept out of that space intentionally. It’s not that there’s no interest in film at the offices of Rockstar; it is more a desire to ensure that the studio’s stamp of quality can be properly carried over to the film medium, so that any adaptation doesn’t simply become another poorly received game-to-film translation.

“If we were to attempt to make a movie, we would like to make it ourselves, or at least work in collaboration with the best talent, so at least if it is bad, we can know we failed on our own terms,” he said. “But doing that takes time, and making games properly takes a lot of time. So, we may make movies one day, with the right property and the right partnership, but we have not found the time to do that yet.”