Category Archives: Bad Day LA

BDLA Interview

A new Bad Day LA interview is up on Derek dela Fuente’s article begins…

Over the last few years American McGee has started to establish himself as somewhat of a cult figure and a voice that many are keen to listen to. His latest creation, billed American McGee Presents: Bad Day L.A., is a third-person action/adventure game that weaves a wild storyline and offers a unique art style.

Cult figure? Hm.

Anyway, lots of new screenshots are available along with the article. I would post a few of them here, but sadly I am limping along on modem power. No broadband in the new home on Lamma… yet. I feel like a caveman and am so disconnected from the world!

As soon as full power is restored I’ll post some info about the move. My favorite part was seeing the lower deck of the Hong Kong->Lamma ferry jammed full of my stuff.

Video Games & Murder

A reader recently commented on a previous post entitled “The Goodness of Bad Day LA” as follow:

Wow, I guess school shooting and gang shootings just aren’t enought for some people. I guess there are just too many people out there making good wholesome games and you figured you had to balance the scale a bit and make a mindless killing game. Well good luck with it. When you read about the next teacher who died at the hands of a child you can sit back and say “hey, I helped do that!”

I am baffled whenever someone implies that I might derive pleasure from senseless murder simply because I am a video game designer. It makes me wonder how and why some people have such a negative view of games and their impact on society. Where do people get the idea that video games actually cause murder? How many murders were linked to video games in the US last year? To the best of my knowledge it is zero. Can someone show me otherwise?

I can find a lot of stories that talk about murderers who play video games. For instance:

Ralls nonchalantly described to police investigators his role in the deaths of five people and the robbing of at least 23 others as the Nut Cases terrorized Oakland for 10 weeks ending in their arrest in January 2003, police said.

The suspects told police they would spend their time getting high and playing the violent video game “Grand Theft Auto III” — which rewards players for committing crimes — and then would act out what they’d done when they grew bored with the game.

Full story at:

Here we have a couple of maniacs who went on a killing spree in San Francisco. The crimes they commited were senseless and horrific. The article clearly calls out the fact that they played the “violent video game” GTA3. And it points out that the game “rewards players for committing crimes”. But does this mean that GTA3 caused the crimes? Does anyone honestly believe that these guys would have led a crime-free life of public service if it weren’t for video games? Here we have maniacs who played video games. Video games did not make them maniacs.

In addition to playing games these guys also “got high”. I would imagine that as they drove around on their killing sprees they were listening to something other than Mozart – perhaps something a little more rage filled? They probably enjoyed the a few violent movies. The point is that these kids, and a lot more on top of them, are exposed to violent media day in and day out. When one person snaps why is it entertainment content that receives the blame? People have been going on killing sprees since long before the invention of digital media.

People get road rage and kill one another. We do not blame cars or traffic or poorly designed road systems. A friendly game of golf gets too competitive and someone ends up with an iron lodged in his or her brain cavity. We do not blame golf club manufacturers or the greens keeper. I could keep going, but the point here is that when someone goes nuts in those contexts we rightly blame it on the person, not the cereal he ate for breakfast or his favorite sit-com.

As for how all of this relates to Bad Day LA, I’d like to point out that far from being a “murder simulator” this is a game where the player is actively encouraged to help people in need and rescue people in distress. Killing innocent people results in the player being punished. So unlike GTA3, this is a game that “rewards people for committing acts of heroism.”

The Goodness of Bad Day LA

Game development as a creative process has always amazed me. It is an instance of group effort and collaboration similar in my mind to building an airplane while taxiing down a runway towards takeoff. Interdependent systems, assets, and efforts must be combined in the right order and with the right emphasis or the whole endeavor could be lost.

Ultimately, most game developments manage to get off the ground. Some do it in their first months, building atop existing technology and inside a known genre (DOOM me-toos). Others languish in the development hanger while designers try to figure out how to invent the equivalent of the flying saucer, something technically imaginable, but not yet proven (The Sims).

Then there is Bad Day LA. Boy, what a strange beast. When I first began talking to the press about it I honestly had no idea what the game was. So I fell back on the default “3rd person action game” line and then quickly changed the subject to the story and theme. So most early interviews read pretty light on actual game play and pretty heavy on the politics, art style, and humor elements.

How, you might wonder, can you build something and not know what it is? Well, I’ll tell you. To start, I’ll be the first to admit that I know little about making games. Yeah, I’ve been doing it for 13 years, and have worked for the likes of id and EA, but hey, what do I know? Maybe I’ve faked my way through it all to this point! Actually, I just don’t think that anyone really knows anything about making games. The medium is too new. Sure, I know how to make a title that fits into an established genre; anyone working in the industry long enough knows how to do that. But to truly *make* a game, to build something from scratch, now that’s a scary thing, a tough thing.

BDLA… well, I wrote this story. 125 pages of dialog, action, and locations. So there’s a lot of verbal content and story. We took all that and built a world around it. For a long time Bad Day LA was basically a collection of in-game and pre-rendered cut scenes that told the story of our main character, Anthony Williams, trying to save himself while disaster after disaster struck Los Angeles. Not a game. Not really fun.

When I went out on the BDLA press tour a few months ago I was basically showing simple 3rd person action set between these cut scenes. People laughed, things exploded, but the thing I was glossing over was that the game itself was really painfully boring. There was no gameplay. I knew it, I was worried about it, but I sorta figured that something good would eventually emerge…

Luckily it has. In the past two months the gameplay has grown out of the story and the world in a very organic way. The concept of “chaos management” as a gameplay mechanism has matured and now delivers a very addictive and fast paced bit of entertainment.

The screenshot shows what’s up. You’ll see that super imposed over the player’s view of the world is a collection of little round icons. These show the player any and all nearby events or NPCs that might change the status of the threat advisory for the level. Burning people, injured people, zombies, terrorists, and mission points are all represented. If the player ignores people who are on fire those people will burn to the ground and create a frowny. If an injured person is allowed to die, same thing. Good events, such as saving people or killing zombies, will create smilies. Together frownies and smilies move the threat advisory bar up and down.

The higher the threat advisory the more difficult it is to proceed towards finishing missions. So the player is forced to balance managing the local chaos level with moving through the level towards the eventual goal of escape. We’re still tweaking and tuning it, but when it works it really works. Not only that, but it fits perfectly with the narrative and feels pretty original to boot.

Certainly this sort of design by natural evolution isn’t that common, and brings with it unpredictability and risk, but hey, it’s a lot more fun than creating “yet another shooter”. I’m very curious to see how the world is going to react to this one.

bdla map

(Bad Day LA Screenshot – Showing a circle of icons around the player representing angry citizens, zombies, people on fire, and other useful info.)

Crunch Mode

If you were wondering why it suddenly got so quiet around here… Bad Day LA production is in “crunch mode”. We’re trying to get things finished up soon, then spend some time on polishing and tuning. Progress is good, but crunching is never any fun.

On top of that I’m trying to put the finishing touches on the Oz film story. Work on the film project has been going well. Looks like I might be starting on the actual script writing soon. Wish I could give more details, but then I’d have to kill you. Speaking of, you know the bit in the original story where Dorothy enters Oz and lands on a witch? We borrowed it for BDLA, so now there’s a little bit of Oz in the game!


(Crunched Pimpmobile – Bad Day LA concept art)

Rubber Balls – Satan’s Toys

I’ve often marvelled at the myopic attention that lawmakers give to violence stemming from the consumption of video games. There are examples a’plenty of other sport and entertainment related acts of violence. Here’s a good one: – Brooklyn girl, 9, admits killing playmate – Oct 8, 2005
NEW YORK (AP) — A 9-year-old girl pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter Friday, admitting she fatally stabbed her 11-year-old playmate after a tug-of-war over a rubber ball went sour.

Quick! Someone tell Jack Thompson to stop chasing that ambulance and get started on a bill to limit the sales of rubber balls to minors!

I’ve learned through sources that this rubber ball was the “ultra-bouncy” sort, the kind that the marines often use to train for battle. Essentially a murder trainer. The constant up-down motion of the ball combined with its angry red color has been shown to stimulate the violence centers of the brain, vestiges of when humans more closely resembled dogs. These things are a ticking time-bomb, right up there with iPods and hand-held gaming devices. Satan’s own toys.

Seriously, has anyone ever bothered to do a study to compare actual incidents of video games being linked to real-world violence in comparison to other entertainment products (rubber balls included!) causing same such violence? I’d imagine that statistically video games are safer than golf. I say that because, in 15+ years of playing and being around video games I’ve seen *zero* instances of violence as a cause of games. In my less than 5 years of playing golf I’ve seen a half-dozen or more fights or near-fights. Anyone watch soccer lately?

Tortured Language & Video Game Violence

I just read an infuriating take on the recent violent video game law passed in California:

Wired News: The Tortured Language of the Law
Interestingly, the one moment of genuine clarity in the California law is when it frets about games where you can “torture” someone. The legislators define torture as when you intentionally cause someone else suffering — “mental as well as physical” — that is quite apart from the cut-and-thrust of battle. The language is suddenly much crisper here, and I wondered why.

Then it hit me: Because this is the one area of law where our governments have deep, recent experience. Three years ago, the federal government was painstakingly crafting legal memos about torture — not so they could ban it, but so they could perform it. Who could forget White House counsel Alberto Gonzales’ intricately crafted prose, saying that torture “must cause pain equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death”?

Consider that your final irony: Politicians work hard to ban virtual torture — while working just as hard to allow it in real life.

This goes to earlier cynical observations that I made about politicians like Hillary Clinton demonizing video games while in the same breath demanding that more kids be sent to fight the war in Iraq.

Seriously, what it is about these people and their inability to separate real world violence from video game violence? They claim their fear is that kids will become more violent in the real world as a result of video games, and yet… they support policies that actively put kids in harm’s way. Isn’t this the pot acting like the kettle?

More and more I think that video gamers need the equivalent of – A place where gamers can rally around non-partisan issues that impact their culture and primary form of entertainment. Something like… The whole enterprise could be financed through donations and sales of merchandise like “I’m a gamer and I vote” bumper stickers or “You don’t (image of classic game controller) me.” t-shirts.

Isn’t it about time gamers stood together against the increasingly nonsensical and biased hatred that is being directed at them by a clueless and vindictive elder class of politicians? This is still a democracy right?

Btw, I think it is interesting to note that under this law a game like The Sims would be banned for sale to minors. Within the “dollhouse” confines of its world the player can perform actions that actively “torture” the Sim characters, ultimately leading to them urinating on themselves, going insane, and starving to death. Take note casual gamers, this law isn’t just about “murder simulators” aka first-person-shooters.