Pixel Hunting Is Fun in 'L.A. Noire'

L.A. Noire is concerned with story first and foremost, and this focus on story trickles down to every mechanic and system in the game, including its own unique approach to pixel hunting.

Pixel hunting is considered the bane of adventure gaming. An object you need is only a few pixels in size and it’s hidden within the scenery, so you’re forced to point the mouse cursor at every object onscreen in order to see what you can interact with and what’s just part of the background. It’s the epitome of frustrating, unintuitive, trial-and-error gameplay, a cheap and artificial way of stretching out a game’s length. It’s a system so universally hated that even updates of old adventure titles find ways around pixel hunting: The downloadable special edition of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge includes a button that highlights all interactive objects on the screen, so players can quickly see what’s interactive and what’s not. There’s no need to hunt anything.

But is pixel hunting really that bad? Or is just poorly implemented in most cases? L.A. Noire argues for the latter point by including its own form of pixel hunting, one that fits so naturally within its world that the hunt becomes an integral part of the game and one of its major selling points.

L.A Norie calls its form of pixel hunting an “investigation.” You’re still essentially moving a cursor around the screen looking for random interactive objects, but now you’re moving an avatar around a 3D space. The system itself hasn’t changed, but in this case, the hunt has a clear narrative context.

You play as Cole Phelps, a detective, and you investigate crime scenes. It makes sense that important evidence would be hidden by the criminal in order to make the crime harder to solve. People naturally associate detectives with the process of investigation, so playing as a detective automatically sets one’s expectations for a detailed investigation of crime scenes. Unlike other adventure games, in which pixel hunting becomes the default method of puzzle solving due to a constant lack of information, L.A. Noire makes the hunt itself part of the puzzle. It doesn’t surprise you with the sudden need to find a random object, you expect such a hunt from the outset given the genre. By simply changing the context in which this frustrating system is presented, it becomes a feature.

Of course, L.A. Noire includes its own set of tricks to make the hunt easier, less frustrating, but at the same time, it drops a lot of red herrings in the player’s path: As Phelps walks around a crime scene looking for clues, you’ll get a musical cue and the controller will rumble when he’s near something important. The game highlights evidence like this by default. However, giving the player such an advantage would make the hunt too easy, and L.A. Noire demands that you do hunt for its pixilated evidence, so the crime scenes are always littered with junk that you can interact with -- objects that look like evidence and that the game hints might be evidence, but are not evidence. When the controller rumbles that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re standing near something important, just something interactive. L.A.Noire makes it easy to hunt pixels, but most of what you find is useless. It makes the hunt easier while still making it necessary.

There’s also a way to highlight all the important objects at a crime scene, similar to the button in Monkey Island 2, but this button is treated as a “last resort” kind of hint. You can use “intuition points” to reveal all relevant items on your mini-map, but intuition points are hard to acquire and are best saved for difficult interrogations. By limiting how often you can use this hint, and by making other uses for said hint more attractive, L.A. Noire encourages you to hunt down evidence the old fashioned way.

Each game’s differing attitude towards pixel hunting represents their differing attitude towards adventure gaming in general. Monkey Island 2 is driven by its puzzles, so it helps to focus players on solving puzzles rather than on finding puzzle pieces by making it easy to avoid pixel hunting. L.A. Noire is driven by its story, so it wants you to hunt for pixels because that’s what Phelps would do; it holds back its best hints and litters the ground with interactive junk in order to more effectively put the player in Phelps’s shoes, justifying the hunt both mechanically and narritively.

L.A. Noire embraces pixel hunting but presents it in a new context. All it takes is this new context to make pixel hunting fun.


You can follow the Moving Pixels blog on Twitter.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting. A surprising common tool in this collection? Humor.

The name of the game is "normal or abnormal". Here's how you play: When some exceedingly shocking political news pops up on your radar, turn to the person next to you, read them the headline and ask, "is this normal or abnormal?" If you want to up the stakes, drink a shot every time the answer is abnormal. If that's too many shots, alter the rules so that you drink only when things are normal—which is basically never, these days. Hilarious, right?

Keep reading... Show less

The Dear Hunter: All Is As All Should Be EP

Jordan Blum
Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Although All Is As All Should Be is a tad too brief to match its precursors, it's still a masterful blend of songwriting, arrangements, and singing that satisfies the Dear Hunter anticipation.

The Dear Hunter is undoubtedly one of the best—and consequently, most egregiously underappreciated—bands of the last decade or so. Aside from 2013's Migrant LP, every one of their major releases featured an ambitious hook; for example, 2011's The Color Spectrum presented nine EPs (consisting of four songs each) that individually represented a different sonic tone (in order: Black, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, and White), whereas the five-part (so far) Act saga, with its genre-shifting arrangements, superlative songwriting, narrative complexity, and extraordinary conceptual continuity, is a cumulative work of genius, plain and simple.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.