L.A. Noire’s Interrogation System

Throughout L.A. Noire the player investigates crimes largely by questioning suspects, witnesses, and medical/forensics experts.

The advanced facial animations are used to gauge a rough accuracy of the given testimonies, and, combined with the pre-existing knowledge of the crime and the player’s own intuition (often boiling down to simple prejudices, which I’m sure someone else is already writing a post about) the player chooses a response.

L.A. Noire does a great job of setting the mood.

This is done with a half-circle of shortcut buttons: truth at the top, doubt on the middle-left, and lie at the bottom. Truth assumes the interviewee’s story is correct; lie confronts them about its validity, often requiring the player to present a piece of evidence that contradicts their statement; and doubt hovers somewhere in between the two.

Mass Effect used a similar streamlined dialogue system with its spoked-wheel interface. BioWare wanted a very cinematic feel for the game, including its dialogues, so this made perfect sense.

The Mass Effect wheel was a pretty elegant solution to a dialogue interface.

The player didn’t need to read through a long list of possible responses, scroll down to their preferred choice, then listen to the character speak it back word-for-word. Instead, the desired option could be selected instantly based on a keyword or a short blurb. The locations of these often followed a simple pattern, and a few extra choices were included to allow the player “good” and “evil” reactions.

Some people were not satisfied with this approach as they found that Commander Shepard would periodically say things they did not expect. I never had this problem, but maybe that’s because I assumed Shepard was a pre-existing template I was occasionally steering with my own preferences.

Albeit a bit more clunky, the dialogue tree worked well in Dragon Age.

BioWare’s other game at the time was Dragon Age, and it used a more traditional dialogue-tree system. This also made perfect sense as the game placed greater emphasis on creating a player avatar and defining him/her through interactions with other characters. Such an approach required much more granularity in the dialogue options, e.g., “What heirloom?” might have been OK as a single choice in Mass Effect, but in Dragon Age it had to be split up into multiple, well-defined choices:

  • How long has this heirloom been in the family?
  • Who was the heirloom’s last caretaker?
  • Do you think it’s wise to worry about such things while we’re in the middle of a war?
  • I’m sorry for your loss, but we have to move on…
  • We’ll get it back even if it means going to the ends of the world!
  • We’ve all lost our favourite trinkets at some point; get over it.
  • If we come across it, you’ll be the first to know!

And so on.

Of course L.A. Noire stars a strictly defined character, so on the surface it seems more suited to a simplified Mass Effect system than a complex Dragon Age one. However, its dialogue scenes are not casual, open-ended conversations.

They’re interrogations.

These interrogations require detailed information, observation, and a bit of luck to properly resolve. There’s no back-tracking or second guessing, and navigating the system with the vague options of truth, doubt, and lie can be a bit frustrating.

For example, if Detective Cole is interviewing the wife of a murder suspect and she tells him that the murder weapon isn’t hers, that might be the absolute truth. After all, the firearm is registered to her husband, and the gun-store clerk confirmed his identity.

If I select “truth,” though, it might permanently close off that topic of conversation. Since the gun is a pivotal clue to the case, I want to get all the information about it that I can.

He seems like he’s holding onto some extra information, but I’m afraid of pushing him as it might result in Cole leaning across the table and repeatedly punching him in the face.

There’s always the “doubt” option, as in “I doubt she’s telling the full story,” but I have no idea how Detective Cole will react to it. He might console her with a soft tone and ask her if there’s anything else she can remember that might help the police prove her husband’s innocence. On the other hand, he might start screaming at her about obstruction of justice and how her sleaze-bag of a hubby will never survive prison.

It’s impossible to tell what the player character will do, but that could be remedied with more detailed conversation options (and perhaps more conversation options in general). As things stand, I’ve repeatedly found myself taking the wrong conversational turn not because my assumptions about the case were incorrect, but because I failed to properly convey them to the game.

Now this might seem like a major complaint, and although it’s significant, it doesn’t ruin the experience. The interrogations don’t always have to be successfully resolved, and a few sparse hints aid their traversal.

Take it easy, Cole! All you’ve got on the case is circumstantial evidence!

I also commend the developers for sticking to their guns. There are no extra HUD meters that break the suspension of disbelief, and the dialogue sequences largely rely on the script, the actors’ performances, and the technology behind them. The results are quite immersive, and actually much more intense than the checkpoint-rich action sequences.

I just think the game would’ve benefit from more information to accompany the delicate and often volatile interrogations.


  • On nights like tonight, I sometimes think to myself…. conversation in games will never work. When the best example the genre can offer is Phoenix Wright (which is, admittedly, a blast), I ask myself: what are we trying to do?

  • So are suggesting that LA Noire simply use an old school dialogue system?

    • Well, that could work but it probably wouldn’t be fitting.

      L.A. Noire’s system is notable for the fact that there’s no backtracking and the user doesn’t need to read Detective Cole’s responses in order to select the desired one (and then hear it spoken back word-for-word). Instead, the choices are simply assigned to three individual buttons.

      My issue with this system is that the nature of these responses is never clear.

      What might help without the need to overhaul the existing implementation is to make sure that Cole keeps asking about the topic until the well is dry, so to speak, and that the nature of the conversation choices is more defined.

      Even something as simple as categorizing the response options along an emotional gamut — e.g., comfort, probe, press, and threaten — could help.

    • All good points. IIRC, the old game Starflight used a similar mechanic where you took on an emotional slant while talking to aliens.

    • Yup, it wasn’t a huge part of the game, but a neat component nonetheless.

      I think a similar approach would benefit L.A. Noire and it could also allow for more than one correct interrogation path, e.g., choosing press OR threaten could — at times — both be OK.

  • Exactly my thoughts. An example with VERY minor spoilers:

    In one case you find a picture frame. You examine it more closely and find a hidden “I miss you” message from some woman who isn’t the wife. You ask the wife about the picture and she answers, obviously agitated “That’s from his recent business trips to Seattle”.

    “Truth” means that you believe the statement and coerce the subject to tell you more about it. Like, for example, if her husband may have met some special woman while in Seattle, which is what I chose.

    The only “right” answer though is “Lie” – you have to contradict the statement with the hidden message in the frame. But there is no way for the player to know that this is the only valid response! And no way to know that “Truth” means just a “oh, I see, so there’s nothing important about the picture, ok I believe you”.

    And the player? I feel cheated when this happens. The game is great nonetheless, but some words about the response would REALLY help.

    • One of the early examples of where I was mistaken as well. The fact that her husband visited Seattle was corroborated by a travel ticket, so there’s now way I thought she was lying.

      Instead, I wanted to probe her for more details. Selecting truth would’ve been the consoling gesture while discussing a very sensitive topic, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I knew she wasn’t telling the full story, so from what I remember, I selected doubt and promptly failed that line of questioning.

  • Nice photos.. It makes the cases easier because you cannot have your own opinion on who the criminal is. Honestly, I love the game.

  • “truth at the top, doubt on the middle-left, and lie at the bottom”

    Minor mistake here, ‘truth’ is the bottom and ‘lie’ is on top. You can see this in one of the screenshots you posted.

    Great article though.

  • your right that the bad system doesn’t ruin the game. HOWEVER, it’s very annoying for me to get things wrong when it’s so vague. the information in this game is also vague, for the most part any ways. I think the facial expressions only cause more confusion because I can’t tell if their upset or lying! all in all a fun game but could use a lot of improvement on this poor system.

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