The Hardcore Archival Research Behind 'L.A. Noire'

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How Rockstar Games recreated 1940s Los Angeles using countless photographs and maps for their latest video game blockbuster

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L.A. Noire was released last month to rave reviews. The hotly anticipated detective game set in 1940s Los Angeles is the latest blockbuster from Rockstar Games of Grand Theft Auto fame. What sets L.A. Noire apart from its forebears -- aside from its next-level narrativity -- is the realism of its mid-century southern California setting.

The historical accuracy didn't come easy, as Nathan Masters explains on the KCET website. Works Progress Administration maps housed at the University of Southern California were consulted to build an accurate street map. Aerial photographs from the stunning Spence Air Photo Collection at the University of California, Los Angeles added the third-dimension. Countless street-level photos from the Whittington and Los Angeles Examiner collections contributed their own small details.

For those of us who love these old collections, it's wonderful to see them brought to life with a big budget. Now, I'd love to see Rockstar release the model of the city for remixing and study. It costs them nothing and students of L.A. history could have a beautiful sandbox to learn in.

Image: L.A. Noire.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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