The principle of the vision, division, and mode (religious, philosophical, juridical, scientific, artistic, etc.) of knowledge at work in a field, in association with a specific form of expression, can only be comprehended and understood in relation to the specific juridics [légalité] of the field as a microcosm. For example, what is called philosophically the “language-game” can only be described and explicated in terms of its relationship with the philosophical field as a “form of life”, inside of which it circulates. The thought-structures of the philosopher, the writer, the artist or the expert, hence the limits imposed on them as thinkable or unthinkable, are always to some extent the dependents of the structures of their fields, and thus of the history of the constitutive positions of the field and of the dispositions which they favor. The epistemic unconscious is the history of the field. Pierre Bourdieu. Pascalian Meditations. (My own translation). Éditions du Seuil, 1997 (119-120).
Adorno observed long ago the truth-content of a work of art does not consist of any presumed identity between the work’s aesthetic form and its historical content, but in their radical contradiction: each is the indispensable corrective on the other. If a given aesthetic form overshoots its historical moment, the result degenerates into mere advertising, apologetics for a totality in which every local element of the total system changes, precisely to ensure that nothing changes globally. Conversely, if the work of art simply presents concepts rather than crystallizing these out of its aesthetic raw materials, it falls into the trap of all moralizing or badly political art – i.e. telling, instead of showing.
What marks Remedy’s Max Payne as the worthy successor of Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis: Evangelion (1995) and the Wachowski’s The Matrix (1999) is not merely its status as the breakthrough text of the EU’s blossoming information culture, its power-packed storyline, or even its spine-tingling admixture of design and game-play innovations. By setting the micropolitical forms of the late 1990s information culture in motion towards their geopolitical content, Remedy transformed an eclectic admixture of Finnish programming, US scriptwriting, Japanese console gaming and Hong Kong video into one of the touchstones of the multinational era.
In essence, Remedy did for the 3D action game what Nokia did for the cellphone, and what DoCoMo’s i-mode did for text-messaging – that is, transformed an obscure niche market into the nodal point (to borrow William Gibson’s term) of a vast collective transformation. This is not to argue that Nokia and DoCoMo have suddenly stopped being the giant, predatory multinationals they had no choice but to become, in order to survive and thrive in a ferocious and unrelenting marketplace, but merely to underline one of the central contradictions of information capitalism: the more the total system really does become total, the less that any given owner or corporate entity can objectively control the processes of that system, and the more necessary it is to rein in and recontain the fearsome violence of the marketplace via governments, regulatory agencies, and plebian cultural spaces.
As Bourdieu tirelessly pointed out, these non-market agencies are neither innocent bystanders nor obsequious perpetrators of the status quo. They are contested sites, littered with internal and external contradictions, and contested by a wide variety of class struggles. Max Payne marks the point at which the objective contradictions of thirty years of marketization, austerity and privatization recoil into a subjective political and cultural resistance – or put more concretely still, the moment when the global proletariat spawned by three decades of brutish neoliberalism begins to forge its own institutions and modes of class struggle.
In retrospect, the media culture of the late 1990s seethed with the revelatory signs and corporealities of that proletariat. Where Half Life’s radicalized interstellar guerilla, Gordon Freeman, symbolized the rebellion of the skilled programmers, scientists and telecom-workers of the post-Cold War era, the doppelganger-dialectics staged by David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) narrated the uprising of the transport and retail workers of the service economy. Meanwhile, the Evangelions of Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis: Evangelion (1995) and the Forest Spirit of Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke (1997) did something similar vis-a-vis the East Asian proletariat. Such corporealities are far more than just the objective reaction-formation to the emergence of the electronic commons, that is to say, informatic bodies which represent a certain class fraction or profession within the electronic body politic. Rather, they are unimaginably powerful engines of a multinational class praxis, with no real precedent in the historical record.
Most of all, these bodies are multinational through and through. The epiphany of Gibson’s Neuromancer, when Case accelerates the Kuang virus program through the T-A ice, as well as the comparable moment in The Matrix when Neo learns to read the financialized bit-streams of neoliberalism, both quote a specifically North American urban space. Yet Remedy reappropriated not one or two, but three multinational urban spaces, all at once. The first is the East Asian action thriller (Hong Kong cinema plus Japanese manga and anime); the second is the theater and film culture of the EU; and the third is the architecture of that prototypical global city, New York.
In effect, Remedy rewrote the urban matrix of New York City into an allegory of the food chain of global capitalism. This is already evident in the game’s bravura opening scene, which begins with the airmobile perspective of a police helicopter racing from the Statue of Liberty towards the New York skyline, and ends with a zoom close-up of the title character, undercover officer Max Payne, who is wearing his signature trench coat high atop a corporate office building. But what may seem to be a routine citation of the generic action thriller is endowed, upon closer inspection, with two extraordinary moments of narrative retroactivity.
The first and most obvious one is the spectral presence of the Twin Towers themselves, a recurrent motif throughout the game (although censored in the console versions of Max Payne).1 Given that the original game was released for the personal computer market in April 2001, long before the ghastly events of September, the first assumption which needs to be dispensed with here is the thought that Max Payne has anything at all to do with the world’s first multinational catastrophe. The Twin Towers are not functional elements of the game, but rather one of a number of prominent New York landmarks, ranging from the Statue of Liberty to the Brooklyn Bridge, and from historical paintings of New York to snapshots of Babe Ruth, which Remedy transformed into miniaturized wall-textures. That is, Remedy transformed a set of cinematic exteriors or panoramic shots into informatic interiors.
There is a second and even more powerful form of retroactivity at work here, due to the fact that this opening scene is really a closing scene, marking the moment when the narrative proper has concluded. The telling of Max Payne, just like the Hegelian leap from Kant’s post-empirical noumena to the universal Spirit, is a narrative which can only be retold. The secret of Max’s opening line (“They were all dead…”) is that the entire narrative is a veritable Hegelian ghost story.2 That is, the entire game takes place somewhere in Max’s mind, as a kind of extended recapitulation between the final gunshot and the release of the trigger, whereupon Max’s ghosts finally release him from his haunting. This aesthetic of temporal framing is more than just the essential narrative motor of Max Payne, it is also the source of the deservedly famous category of “bullet-time” – without question, the single most radical innovation in 3D game mechanics since the arrival of true vertical movement in the mid-1990s.
The idea of bullet-time is deceptively simple. At the press of a button, time literally slows down for the onscreen action but not for the player’s target icon, thus enabling players to dodge, aim and shoot with superhuman accuracy. What prevents bullet-time from being a single-shot stunt is the ensemble of effects Remedy constructed around the device. Bullet-time triggers a slow-motion peal of thunder, suggesting the slow-motion reverberation of a heartbeat, while flying debris, bullet-trails and character movements are all rendered with astonishing fluidity and realism. One of Remedy’s most subtle but effective design choices was to endow Max with realistic reaction-speeds, i.e. it takes a minute but appreciable amount of time to point and fire, duck and roll, or perform any other action. The result is not the disconcerting lag one might have expected, but a seamless fusion of game action and player reaction – the momentous convergence of the 3D game and the framing and zoom techniques of John Woo’s Hong Kong thrillers.
Two specific reappropriations of the Woo thrillers are worth mentioning here. The first is the slow-motion video pan or mobile close-up, something Woo deploys in the context of domestic spaces or interiors – e.g. the famous scene in The Killer where the dual protagonists hold each other at gunpoint in the apartment. Remedy will transform this spatial motif into a temporal one, by parlaying cinematic space into informatic time. The game’s video pans are triggered by the death-sequences of the player-character or various villains, i.e. the camera slowly rotates around Max or the villain, as one or the other falls lifeless to the ground. The second Woo citation is the high-velocity, slow-motion pan, designed to zoom through a series of informatic spaces (this is the genesis of the factory sequences of Hard-Boiled, where the kinetic movement of cars and motorcycles are transformed into the moving target-icons of the 3D action game). Remedy’s version of this motif is the slow motion zoom triggered by Max’s sniper shots, which tracks the rifle bullet as it careens towards its target.3
Remedy also borrowed freely from the design ethos of the console videogames of the 1980s and 1990s, as well as the theatrical and mediatic postmodernisms of the Central European media culture – in particular, Heiner Müller’s media-savvy Eurotheater and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s multinational video productions. What Remedy took to heart from Nintendo and Sony was the crucial role of game balance, egalitarian design and narrative content over technological performance or graphical form.4 Remedy’s debt to the Central European cultural field, on the other hand, is considerably more complicated, due to the structural disjunction between the heavily state-subsidized venues of European theater and mass media, and a fledgling videogame culture which barely existed in mid-1990s Finland.
What the Remedy team had in common with Müller and Kieslowski was an extraordinary talent for collective organization. Müller, for example, worked closely with the Berliner Ensemble, and participated in co-productions with dramatists and actors from around the world, while Kieslowski’s mature works were produced with the assistance of scriptwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz and composer Zbigniew Preisler. Similarly, Remedy assembled some of the finest programmers, designers, musicians and voice actors available – something facilitated by the Remedy team’s historic roots in Finland’s “demo scene” of the early 1990s, wherein groups of young programmers would gather for impromptu competitions between rival graphical demonstration programs or demos.5
Such linkages are most evident in Max Payne’s extraordinary sound-track, everywhere from the close-up of a ringing telephone in the game’s prologue – a direct quotation of the artful phone-shots in Kieslowski’s The Decalogue – as well as the dynamite theme music of the game. Composed by Finnish recording artists Kärtsy Hatakka and Kimmo Kajasto, the theme consists of a single, memorable piano melody, backed by an orchestral track reminiscent of all the classic Mafia thrillers, overlaid with an ominous heartbeat pulsing in the background and a bass motif cycling around a single half-step transition. This bass line is a direct quotation of mid-1990s hip hop artist Kool Keith’s masterpiece Dr. Octagon (1996), and one could argue that Max Payne is following in the footsteps of its path-breaking forerunner, Half Life, which similarly cited this theme.
All of this story-telling potential would have gone for naught, however, if there had not been a single center of narrative gravity capable of weaving the various strands of the game into a seamless web, like an informatic Norn – the indispensable role played by fantasy and sci-fi writer Marc Laidlaw in Valve’s Half Life, and by mapper Neil Manke in They Hunger. As it turns out, the driving force behind Max Payne’s dazzling script and storyline was Remedy’s lead game designer and writer Sam Lake, the pen name of Sami Järvi. Lake made a number of key design decisions, ranging from the extensive use of voice-overs to the sophisticated plot, and from the quotations from John Woo and The Matrix all the way to the game’s extraordinary voice acting. In particular, James McCaffrey’s brilliant rendition of Max casts just the right amount of noir shadow on an essentially Information Age protagonist, while Dominic Hawksley’s rendition of Vladimir, the Russian mobster, all but steals the show. Numerous interviews with Remedy team members confirm that even the smallest details of the game bear Lake’s imprint, e.g. Max’s personal circle of friends and family are based on snapshots of Lake’s real-life associates, while Remedy programmers were the models for the game’s villains (as if to drive the point home, Lake’s real-life countenance is the model for Max’s personal features).
Like Manke’s They Hunger series, Lake’s storyline is structured into three parts, each of which corresponds to a stratum of the global economy. The first section, The American Dream, takes place in subways, sewer tunnels, and squalid hotels, or the realm of primitive global accumulation. The second, A Cold Day in Hell, features dockside warehouses, tanker ships and Mafia mansions, or spaces of global distribution. The third, A Bit Closer to Heaven, takes place in research labs, manufacturing plants and corporate offices – that is to say, spaces of global production. In addition to a specialized architecture and cast of villains, each section is outfitted with a specific set of miniaturized texture-insets, or what we will term “wall-pics”, which simulate posters, billboards, paintings and other items throughout the game. Such pics have long been employed as texture elements, and occasionally as inside references to game designers (e.g. the “missing persons” posters posted throughout the game are snapshots of Remedy team members).
What Remedy did which was completely new, however, was to endow the pic with its reflexive or informatic content, thereby transforming the pic from a mere decoration into an autonomous element of game design. In The American Dream, one pic shows Avenger-brand handguns against the resplendent background of a US flag (the byline reads, “America’s Avenger: For the pay-back time!”) – the more or less obvious recuperation of the Hollywood crime thriller from the perspective of Remedy’s bullet-time. The signature pic of the Aesir Corporation, on the other hand, depicts a fog-wreathed lower Manhattan skyline with the byline “Aesir: A Bit Closer to Heaven” suggestively stenciled above the Twin Towers. This is the reappropriation of the opening cinematic sequence of the game, namely the extended moving shot which starts from street-level, climbs up the sheer face of the skyscraper, and resolves onto a close-up of Max Payne – or what amounts to the logical inversion of the “sniper shot” typical of most 3D action games.
By contrast, the pics of the fictional Captain Baseballbatboy comic strip refer not to the comic strip culture per se, but back to the scanned images of Babe Ruth, bat in hand, found in the scattered newspapers lying on the ground – a citation of the sports videogame. More subtly, the pics for “Kong’s Whiskey” refer to the King Kong epics, as well as Nintendo’s Mario classics. The pic in question portrays a composite shot of two halves of a face, human and ape, yet it is only somewhat later in the game that we realize that the person in question is a daemonically grinning version of Max Payne himself, the first hint of what will become a powerful identity-politics.
The one pic which does not seem to have any direct connection to the videogame culture, namely Choir Communications, is the exception which proves the rule. The byline on the pic reads: “Hear the voice of the angels… Choir Communications” and shows half of the face of a woman, her hair streaming behind her, against a sunny blue sky. The theological note sounded here is not accidental, but counterpoints the Norse mythological symbols found elsewhere in the storyline. The Aesir Corporation, for example, is an offhand reference to the “Aesir”, the collectivity of the Norse gods, while Odin, the one-eyed father of the Gods who reputedly sacrificed an eye in order to drink of the well of wisdom, returns in the form of one-eyed Alfred Woden, a mysterious person who secretly assists Max’s one-man assault on the Aesir Corporation (“Woden” is, incidentally, the exact translation of “Odin” into Old English). The pic’s reference to a collective spoken voice and the tell-tale single eye is, in effect, the gendered inversion of Odin, suggesting that Choir Communications is a scansion of the Nokia Corporation.
Tempting as it is to read this pic as a neo-national parable of beneficient European high-tech professionals facing off against evil Wall Street monopolists, the reality is a bit more complicated. For one thing, telecom networks and cellphones play a surprisingly minimal role in the storyline. Remedy relies on the deliberately low-tech storyboard panels of the graphic novel, as opposed to the nanotech network of Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid 2. For another, the woman’s face in the Choir pic is blandly neutral, referring neither to the iconic figure of Max’s wife, Michelle, who was murdered by drug-crazed thugs, nor to Nicole Horne, the villainous head of the Aesir Corporation and Max’s ultimate foe, nor even to the bit character of Mona Sax, the femme fatale of the storyline. As it turns out, the real significance of the pic is not so much characterological as meteorological. This is its reference to a sunny blue sky, a narrative register briefly cited in Max’s flashback to his halcyon days in New Jersey with his family, before being negated by the fictionalized three-day blizzard which overwhelms New York.
In any other context, this blizzard would be gratuitous in the extreme. Given the particular narrative demands of Max Payne, however, the snowstorm is a stunningly brilliant design decision, for two main reasons. First of all, the inclement weather allowed Remedy to keep innocent bystanders out of the cross-fire between Max and his opponents, and to burnish the game’s photo-realistic textures without having to worry about complex crowd scenes or moving vehicles. Second, and more importantly, the snowstorm transforms the desolate industrial infrastructures of New York into objects of extraordinary beauty. The masses of individual snowflakes, whirling out of the darkened sky, backlit by dock lights, skyscrapers and street lamps, perfectly complement the bullet-trails, demolished surfaces, and ricochet-effects of the action sequences, forming a veritable natural history of the 3D texture.
The vectors of social history and natural history converge in the mysterious graffiti tag revealed by the prologue, the spray-painted emblem of a noxious designer drug known as “Valkyr” (pronounced “val-keer”) or simply “V”, which turns out to be the site of the most powerful retroactivity of them all. The emblem depicts a cartoon “V” with a syringe rising up out of the crook of the letter. During the first of the game’s three extraordinary prologues, Max delivers this tremendous line:
Something ugly had been tattooed on the wall, a map of things to come. It was a poison syringe, a magic tag full of diabolical meanings.2
Max’s comment names the corporeal register of the tattoo, the spatial one of the map, and the mass-cultural one of the graffiti tag, while the wall-pic in question delivers a complex, multifaceted reference to Norse mythos (the valkyries who resuscitated slain warriors), the pharmaceutical industry (visually, the symbol comes close to “IV”), as well as the “V” sign for victory, the unofficial symbol of the Allies during WW II.
This immediately raises the question as to why these particular neo-national tropes – beneficient symbols of the mythology and technology of healing bodies, as well as the war effort against Fascism – were refunctioned into such a dire symbol of negativity. At least part of the reason has to do with the violent disruption of the domestic space of the Payne family, located in the New Jersey suburbs. Max’s stinging retrospective one-liner on this event – “Everything ripped apart in a New York minute” – comes very close indeed to diagnosing what might be termed the neoliberalization of temporality by the Wall Street Bubble. In fact, the extermination of Payne’s family is just the first of several incidents in which a quasi-national institution, trope or character is destroyed by a malevolent external force. For example, Max’s partner and friend at the DEA, Alex, is murdered by a corrupt cop. Later, a shadowy urban elite called the Inner Circle ends up being liquidated in the crossfire between Woden and Horne. Even the Punchinello family mobsters, including Mona Sax, turn out to be mere pawns in a larger power-struggle, while the institution of the NY police department is hobbled by internal corruption and powerless to do more than document the spiraling body-count.
What differentiates Remedy’s tale of revenge and derring-do from the Bond blockbusters of the 1960s, the paranoid thrillers of the 1970s such as Three Days of the Condor, or even the Hollywood blockbusters of the 1980s (e.g. Cameron’s The Terminator and Aliens), is the fact that Lake’s script dares to name the singular entity responsible for this web of deceit, destruction and mayhem. This is the multinational Aesir Corporation, whose line of business, precisely because it is left unstated, acquires the unsettling ubiquity of the nameless article produced at Woollett in Henry James’ modernist classic, The Ambassadors. One of the most remarkable features of Max Payne is the emergence of a well-nigh Jamesian register of narrative density, wherein the wall-pics begin to acquire an autonomous spatial density all their own, everywhere from the libraries of the Punchinello mansion to the data-files of the Deep Six, and from the file cabinets of the Inner Circle to the databanks of the Aesir corporation. This is closely connected to Max’s belated discovery that his wife, who worked at the district attorney’s office, was killed for accidentally uncovering information damaging to Aesir. The grisly fate of Max’s family is thus no mere incidental plot device or melodramatic flourish, but contains the key the entire narrative, a key which we still need to identify and decode.
For now, however, it’s worth emphasizing that one of the very first scenes of Max Payne is precisely where The Matrix ended, i.e. the subway station where Neo fights Agent Smith to a draw.6 But where the Wachowskis set the materials of 1940s film noir in motion towards Information Age science fiction, Remedy moved in precisely the opposite direction: the videoscreens of the subway control station, the teeth-rattling underground explosion (a Quake reference), as well as the inspection car sequence (a reference to Half Life’s tramcar), all converge in that quintessential noir trope, the bank heist gone awry. This is all the more surprising considering that Remedys’ other main source of mass-cultural forms is the 1980s. These range from Candy Dawn’s videotape porn to Lords and Ladies, the parody of PBS’ Masterpiece Theater, and from Ragna Rock’s rock-and-roll sound stage, replete with a drum set and electric guitar, to the passing references to REM (“It’s the end of the world as we know it – and I don’t feel fine”, says one of the junkies). There is even a clever homage to Nintendo’s classic console games, in the form of Luigi’s Laundry (Luigi was one of the Mario Brothers).
Interestingly, these 1980s forms are often punctuated with early 1990s content. For example, the secret password at the laundry is “John Woo,” the literal and figurative password to the Nintendo underground, while Max’s superb throwaway lines do something similar (“Gognitti bailed. I made like Chow Yun Fat”).7 This puzzling asynchrony is a deliberate strategy on Lake’s part to push beyond or otherwise transcend the forms of Northamerican postmodernism. Whereas The American Dream brackets a range of mass-cultural registers extending from the 1940s all the way to the early 1990s, the second and third parts of the game fuse a range of 1990s narratives (among other things, the Japanese console videogame, the melee map, and Central Europe’s own unique strategy of export-platform industrialization) into one of the first great narratives of Euroindustrialism. The first hint of this is relayed by Ragna Rock, the fortress of the game’s first boss villain, Jack Lupino:
Ragna Rock was as inviting as a headache, flickering and flashing to a machine gun beat. The belly of the nightclub was a Gothic theme park that began with bondage games and led to the nasty stuff from there… as subtle with its dark message as a cop-killer bullet. Like father, like son. Just like Jack Lupino.8
The club’s name refers to “Ragnarok”, the twilight of the Norse gods, a liturgical turn which is reconfirmed by a dense network of mythological and theological references, ranging from stacks of books on the occult to the building’s architectural status as an abandoned church, all the way to Lupino’s demented pastiche of any number of off-the-shelf apocalypses. Ragna Rock contains, among other things, a live sound stage, dramatic stage sets, a disco, and even an unmistakable Quake reference (the bodies scattered around Lupino’s den, plus the pool of blood which triggers the final battle). Lupino also gets some of the best lines of any of the villains, some of which approach the level of a Heiner Müller sound-bite (“I’m Mr. Beast, the big bad Fenris wolf. I’m the end-of-the-world-man, wearing the flesh of fallen angels.”)9 The entire sequence reads like the realization of a sparkling sequence in Müller’s play Life of Gundling Lessing’s Sleep Dream Cry (1977), whose mysterious stage directions are an uncanny anticipation of the 3D game: “Shriek. Black angels populate the audience-chamber and fall silently on the theater-goers.”10
It is extremely significant that Lake counterpoints the graphic horrors of Lupino’s chamber of doom against Payne’s thoroughly postmodern relativism (“Everything was subjective. There were only personal apocalypses. Nothing is a cliché when it’s happening to you.”)11 The chilling yet irresistible conclusion is that Ragna Rock is not really the rotten core at the heart of the Big Apple, as Max says to himself at one point, but is located outside of the space-time of New York City altogether. It is the literal and figurative end of the American dream, its terminus in what the US consumer culture long ago dubbed the Hotel California.
This is confirmed by a screenshot of the Twin Towers which opens the second section of the game, the reprise of the opening shot of lower Manhattan and the wall-pics of the Aesir corporation, and the first citation of a specifically multinational architecture. The Trade Center is the key backdrop for one of the game’s most brilliant narrative innovations. Instead of segueing into a stereotypical noir subplot (the absent narrative slot of Mona Sax), we tumble instead into an Alice-in-Wonderland dream-sequence. Max’s personal nightmare turns out to be indistinguishable from our own shock at entering the post-American space of the 21st century.
What is most extraordinary about this prologue is that Lake dispenses with the outlandish monsters and unbelievable plot twists of the horror genre, choosing instead to transform the materials of the 3D action game into a new kind of narrative material. First, player movements are drastically slowed down during the dream, creating the effect of a continuous bullet-time. Second, a real-time perspective shift occurs midway in the hallway – the camera position rises slightly, while Max’s distance-perspective lengthens, transforming a routine corridor crawl into an eerie journey into the unknown. Third, the textures we analyzed previously as variants of multinational form now begin to generate their own autonomous content.
From the standpoint of form, Max Payne’s dream-sequences are best compared to Case’s flatline episodes in William Gibson’s Neuromancer as well as Shinji Ikari’s equally striking dream-meditations in Hideaki Anno’s Evangelion. Just as Gibson and Anno sublated the science fiction novel and the Japanese mecha (i.e. robot) anime series, respectively, into multinational forms, Lake’s storyline does something similar with the materials of the videogame culture. That is, whereas bullet-time integrated the disparate realms of first-person and third-person gameplay, Max’s “dream-time” does something similar vis-à-vis the first-person and third-person viewing perspectives of the 3D action game.
The dream-sequence begins by quoting from the prologue to the game, namely Max’s ill-fated arrival at his New Jersey home. But where the original prologue featured a ringing telephone, this version displays a door magically barred by wooden planks, while the ensuing gun battle has been replaced by an endless corridor. The blue skies we glimpsed briefly in the Choir Communications wall-pics return here as the corridor wall-paper (the same wallpaper, it should be noted, found in the bedroom of Max’s baby daughter). The corridor eventually terminates in a vast darkened space, devoid of buildings or scenery of any kind, lit only by a glowing red maze of pathways somehow reminiscent of giant neurons or veins. In the background, a sparse, effective sound-track reverberates with simple echo-effects and voices, while the lyrical plaint of a child (“Somewhere, the baby was crying”, Max says to himself) provides an eerie backdrop for the unearthly red snowflakes falling from the sky, like the ashes of an extraterrestrial holocaust.
The reference to red snow can be traced back to the moment in Heiner Müller’s play Life of Gundling, when the young Frederick II utters the line “Red snow” in the midst of a ghastly battle, revealing a rare flash of humanity in a human being who has been transformed into a monster of the Enlightenment.12 Given the crucial importance of the blizzard in Lake’s storyline, this suggests that the red snowfall is the internalized or social-historical counterpart to the externalized, natural-historical blizzard immobilizing New York city.
This is confirmed by an intriguing cut-scene where the children’s blocks in the baby’s bedroom slowly tumble in the air, each landing with a peal of thunder, eventually spelling out “D3AD” – a double-edged reference to the ghost story, as if a child’s spirit is attempting to spell out the word “dead”, as well as to the technology which brings unliving data to a semblance of life (the 3D game). If the informatic body is data made flesh, then the blocks are the alphanumeric grammar of the resurrection of this flesh. To read the blocks is tantamount to raising the dead. Block-reading has its spatial counterpart in the maze-jumping required in the next scene. To simply leap into the void is fatal. Survival depends on mastering the 3D-patterns of the glowing red maze, i.e. players must learn to jump and move in dream-time as easily as bullet-time.
The actual transition to the multinational era, on the other hand, occurs only later, when Max comes to his senses and runs into the Russian mobster, Vladimir. The result is a sequence so marvelous that it deserves full transcription:
Max: monologue: I spotted the tail as soon as I left the hotel. A big black Mercedes. I had seen the car before. That time it had heralded impressive explosions. Vladimir was back.
Vladimir: spoken: “Bang! You’re dead, Max Payne.” Shot of Vladimir, pointing his finger like a gun, as he gets out of car.
Max: monologue: I might have laughed, if I remembered how. Spoken: “What’s this supposed to be? Cops and robbers? Look, you want something with me, get in line.”
Vladimir: spoken: “Peace man, relax. You know, you are a real news item? ‘Armed and dangerous.’ I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.” Bursts out laughing at his own line. “I’ve always wanted to say that.”
Max: spoken: “It’s a bum rap, I’ve been framed.”
Vladimir: spoken, reflectively: “Well, that’s a moot point. Whatever you did or did not do, I’m sure you had a good reason for doing it. Want to hear me out?”
Max: spoken: “I’m listening.”
Cut to Title of Chapter 2: An Offer You Can’t Refuse
Vladimir: spoken: “Punchinello messing with V is bad for business all around. But that’s not all. There is this guy, Boris Dime, used to pull jobs for me. He’s the captain of the cargo ship Charon. Now the bastard turncoat has gone over to the other side, Punchinello’s. The ship’s loaded with hi-res hardware, guns, my business. If Punchinello gets hold of that cargo, he’s won and I have lost, and you’ll have your work cut out for you. If you want to get to Punchinello, you will need heavy duty persuaders… I’m just the man to get them for you. Change the ship back under my flag, maybe pop two in the traitor Dime’s head while you’re at it… You’ll get enough guns to start the apocalypse. You in or out?”
Max: spoken: “Let’s get this show on the road.” Monologue: Vladimir was one of those old-time bad guys with honor and morals, which made him almost one of the good guys. None of us was a saint.
Cut to Title of Chapter 3: With Rats and Oily Water.
Max’s monologue, continued: The Brooklyn riverfront was a maze of rusty containers, sharp-boned cranes looking up from the snowstorm. On a night like this you couldn’t help but think of the dark army of dead men, sleeping with the fishes, cement shoes in line. No minotaur lurked in this labyrinth, but somewhere out there, on the clanking deck of his cargo freighter, the skipper of the Charon was waiting, like the ferryman of the river Styx.13
This complex bricolage of classical European mythology, US film noir and the multinational crime thrillers of John Woo has its counterpart in a no less diverse array of multinational symbols, ranging from Vladimir’s clever pun on “hi-res” (the term refers to “high resolution”, a reference to 1980s computer screens) to the visual motifs of the cargo cranes, warehouses and port facilities of the Brooklyn waterfront (icons of global trade), all the way to Vladimir himself, who becomes an extraordinarily sympathetic character thanks to Dominic Hawksley’s superb voice acting. Lake took an enormous aesthetic risk with this character, due to Finland’s centuries-old struggle for national independence vis-à-vis Czarist Russia and later the Soviet Union: Finland escaped Stalin’s annexation of the Baltic states in the 1930s thanks only to its ferocious resistance to the Red Army in the 1940 Winter War, and the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.
What is at issue in Max Payne is not Finland’s WW II prehistory, however, but its EU post-history. While Vladimir is identified with his signature black Mercedes, that premier Central European export-commodity and favored transport vehicle of Eastern Europe’s commercial elites, the trope of the Russian gangster is displaced elsewhere, onto the bit character of Boris Dime. This is a subtle but unmistakable reference to the geopolitical transition from Boris Yeltsin’s financial oligarchs to Vladimir Putin’s petro-developmental state. This was hinted at in an earlier cut-scene in The American Dream, where Vladimir’s driver inadvertently causes an oil rig to crash and burn in spectacular fashion, and confirmed in the next chapter, where Max has to escape the flames of Punchinello’s booby-trapped restaurant. Running from successive explosions, Max delivers these great lines:
Punchinello was burning to get me. The feeling was mutual. He wanted to put out my flames with gasoline.
The mobsters had been guarding the real treasure – the way out of this disco inferno.14
In retrospect, the entire second section of Max Payne overflows with references to Second World border-regions, where state-of-the-art technology co-exists with the violence of primitive global accumulation. This suggests that Vladimir is something like the Second World mirror image or structural double of Max Payne, whose presence allows Finland to catch a fleeting glimpse of its own mid-20th century prehistory as a Second World exporter of raw materials and basic manufactured goods in the mirror of post-autarkic Russia’s shotgun integration into the EU. But instead of seeking to displace or neutralize this mirror image via a compensatory neo-nationalism – the limit-point, in retrospect, of Half Life’s Xen levels, which allude to a post-American cultural space the narrative never quite crosses over into – Lake will follow Manke’s lead, and transform a non-American identity-politics into the springboard of the multinational. The Mafia or revenge drama will thus be literally and figuratively cancelled out by the multinational high-tech thriller.
Lake’s key move here is to cite one of the oldest tropes of the information culture of them all, namely Burroughs’ nightmarish vision of global consumerism as a continuum of programmed addictions, in order to portray the nightmarish reality of a post-Cold War neoliberalism which has surpassed the US military-industrial complex which spawned it. This is the genesis of the opening prologue of A Bit Closer to Heaven, which rewrites the character-slot of Mona Sax and the film noir trope of the knockout pill (the professional woman, who is linked to the Mafia but not reducible to such, and 1950s-era pharmaceutical technologies) into Aesir’s Ueber-boss Nicole Horne and the drug Valkyr.
Significantly, this sequence does not begin inside the confines of the Payne family home, but in a dream-version of Punchinello’s private office. A cut-scene displays a wildly careening zoom shot which zeroes in on Max, while Lupino’s chilling line (“The flesh of fallen angels”) echoes eerily against a hallucinatory background of chimes. The office leads to the foyer of Max’s home, where the huge mirror on the wall is stained with blood. Later, a brief vignette showcases Max and Michelle confronting each other. The hall of mirrors or mirror-like frame, neo-Expressionistic lighting, and the private eye are all classic symbols of the noir thriller. What may seem to be a cinematic reference, however, is immediately short-circuited by the reappearance of Punchinello’s office. In this version, rows of heatless flames burn on either wall, while a letter and a ringing phone lie on the desk. The voice on the telephone is Max himself, spouting vaguely Surrealist gibberish, halfway between a poetry slam and a screen test, although Max seems curiously unable to recognize his own voice. Things get truly strange, however, when Max reads the letter:
Max: monologue: There was something disturbingly familiar about the letter before me. The handwriting was all pretty curves.
Voice of Michelle: “You are in a graphic novel.” A composite of various screen-shots of the game appears.
Max: monologue: The truth split my skull open, a glaring green light washing the lies away. All of my past was just fragmented still shots, words hanging in the air like balloons. I was in a graphic novel. Funny as hell, it was the most horrible thing I could think of.15
This is an extraordinary invocation of a key scene in Heiner Müller’s theatrical classic Hamletmachine, which refers to the live video feeds of the global news media as “soundproof speech-balloons”.16 Upon exiting the room, the scene fades to black, and Max enters Punchinello’s office yet again, this time to confront a slightly different letter and phone message. It is here that Lake squares the magic circle of videogame culture, by linking Müller’s dazzling meditation on the birth-hour of multinational politics with the reflexive content of the 3D game:
Max says to himself: There was something disturbingly familiar about the letter before me. The handwriting was all pretty curves.
Voice of Michelle: “You’re in a computer game, Max.” A composite of various screen-shots of the game appears.
Max continues: The truth was a burning green crack through my brain. Weapon statistics hanging in the air, glimpsed out of the corner of my eye. Endless repetition of the act of shooting, time slowing down to show off my moves. The paranoid feel of someone controlling my every step. Funny as hell, it was the most horrible thing I could think of.17
On the telephone, the voice of Alex tries to calm him down (“Don’t lose it! It’s Valkyr! The drug! Snap out of it! Try to remember!”) but Max cannot recognize Alex’s voice , either. After navigating another glowing red maze in the midst of a red snowstorm, this one accompanied by the acoustic backdrop of the baby’s cries and Michelle’s weeping, Max must confront the most dangerous foe of them all, namely himself. In one of the most astounding moments in the history of the multinational media culture, the player-character’s undercover Max and a business-suited Max Payne – the “anti-Payne”, as it were – battle it out in slow motion inside the Payne family bedroom. The sole witness is Michelle’s corpse, lying sprawled on the bed. When the anti-Payne is finally dispatched, triggering the circular pan normally associated with the player-character’s demise, the real Max watches his double fall, and then walks over to Michelle’s body. In the background glimmers a photo of the Twin Towers. It’s worth reiterating that, given the game’s completion in early 2001, this was not a symbol of geopolitical disaster, but rather the most explicitly global of all possible global frames.
The crucial clue here is Max’s subsequent cry of anguish. In fact, the narrative logic of the sequence is driven not by images, but by the sound-track. Michelle’s tears in the void are not merely the promissory note on the tears Max cannot shed himself, they are also the narrative content of that void – the voice of the voiceless, echoing in the shadowy expanse of multinational space like some cosmic background radiation. That is, whereas Lupino’s voice and the hallucinogenic chimes signify a toxic neo-nationalism spawned by neoliberalism, and where the ringing telephone and mysterious letters point to an international communications and postal network disrupted or stymied by globalization, the red maze is bracketed by the bullet-time sound-effect at the beginning, and Max’s own guilty self-accusation (“The killer was smiling”) at the end – the guilt, in short, of global survivorhood. The struggle between Max and his anti-twin is not really a battle between global antagonists, of the sort endemic to the mass-cultural thrillers of the 1970s, e.g. the character-systems of Enter the Dragon or Three Days of the Condor, which still bear the imprint of the Cold War allegories of the past. It is, rather, the first great clash of antagonistic globalizations.
This clash is not a single engagement, but a series of rolling firefights, fought out in three distinct infrastructures. The first is the realm of multinational production, symbolized by Cold Steel rolling mill and the Deep Six drug lab – twin avatars of the global factory which Lake counter-signs with a double citation from the Hong Kong films and the comic book Man of Steel.18 The second is the realm of the multinational service-sector, where the spectacular destruction of automobiles in the Choir Communications’ garage counterpoints the equally spectacular destruction of the archives of the Inner Circle in the Asgard Building (icons of multinational distribution and juridical infrastructures, respectively). Global production and the global service-sector converge in the third and final space: the realm of multinational financial speculation and accumulation, a.k.a. the Aesir corporate tower.
But whereas the wall-pics we analyzed earlier still bear the marks of the archaic photograph and cinema reel, these particular infrastructures are no longer tied to a neo-national or even international content. The heritage of visual realism and modernism passes over into 3D multinationalism, and this is why neither Aesir’s streamlined furniture and designer offices, nor the abstract paintings and sculptures decorating Nicole Horne’s penthouse suite, are the late modernist anachronisms they seem to be. Rather, each of these things becomes an informatic symbol in its own right. The furniture and sculptures serve as impromptu barricades, the paintings become stylized data-prints, while the office cubicles turn into battle-stations in the global free-fire zone of information capitalism. If the truth of the great science fiction narratives of the 1990s, ranging from Evangelion to The Matrix, is that the working people of planet Earth have become data-grunts in the war of the informatic landscapes, then Max Payne is the post-American Neo, leading the counter-attack against the total system on its own global terrain.
The key moment of this counter-attack is the reappropriation of the very first wall-pic presented in the game, namely the mysterious Valkyr logo tattooed on the wall of Max’s New Jersey home. This logo now turns out to harbor the single most shocking retroactivity of them all: deep in the bowels of Deep Six, Max discovers that Valkyr was designed and tested as a means of boosting the combat performance of soldiers by a secret 1991-1995 US Army program called Project Valhalla. Though the horrific side-effects of the drug eventually led to its cancellation, the Aesir corporation continued the program as a private venture, using New York City’s junkies as involuntary test subjects:
There was an old Army bunker under the steel mill. I knew the military plaque on the floor. I had seen a thousand variations of the insignia on crumbling brick walls everywhere in the city, the sword replaced by a syringe. Project Valhalla. V for Valkyr. All of a sudden it read like a crackpot conspiracy theory.19
The logo of the Cold War state corporation is rewritten into an icon of the neoliberal or corporate state. This insight triggers one of the greatest lines of the story:
The chemist had been using the workstation when he died. The half life of the lab rat had ended online, his password blinking: 665 – the neighbor of the beast.20
This is a crackerjack pun on the biotech industry, the computer workstation industry, and the online multi-player genre spawned by Half Life, all sealed by an oblique reference on the Biblical number of the beast, 666. Lake comes remarkably close in this passage to Bourdieu’s epochal diagnosis of neoliberalism as a kind of financial fundamentalism in the latter’s Acts of Resistance, something confirmed by a later scene where Max runs into Mona Sax (“Like religious fanatics or loyal samurai Horne’s private army was coming at me”).21
It is precisely at such moments that Lake’s post-American narrative framework pays its richest dividends, by sidestepping one of the key limitations of the videogame culture of the late 1990s. This is its dependence on the Cold War media culture for its narrative forms, e.g. Half Life’s Black Mesa lab facility, or Gordon Freeman as the secret agent devoid of a secret agency. Instead of citing the national security state as a form, Lake turns to the spy agency’s historical successor, namely the multinational corporation, as a source of narrative material. The key contribution of the Valkyr sub-plot, in other words, is that it hardwires the machinery of the global credit superstructure directly to the institutions of multinational accumulation.
This is subtly relayed by Valkyr’s packaging and mode of transmission: the canisters of the drug glow bright green, and are typically located next to green bundles of US currency. The final clue is relayed by the television announcer Max sees on the TV sets scattered throughout the game, whose name is “Kyra Silver”: Valhalla (the military-industrial complex) plus Kyra (global marketing and distribution) equals Valkyr (the product of the Aesir Corporation). The irresistible suggestion is that Valkyr is a kind of liquid currency, whose ultimate referent is nothing less than the US dollar – the world currency of the late 20th century, and the central instrument of neoliberalism’s toxic rule.
What is most extraordinary about Lake’s script is that instead of merely diagnosing the destructive effects of neoliberalism, the storyline pushes still further, in the direction of the global resistance to such. These are rooted in the bodies poisoned, brutalized and destroyed by Aesir’s Valkyr-fuelled drive to global hegemony. The most obvious example are the members of Max’s family and his friend Alex, though one could also cite the Valkyr junkies – ciphers of the volatile global reserve army of labor spawned by neoliberalism, eking out a precarious living in favelas and shanty-towns. Somewhat further afield, the members of the Inner Circle symbolize the various comprador and national bourgeoisies liquidated by the onslaught of multinational capital.
The single most important of these bodies, however, is that of Max himself, and in particular, the “maximum pain” to which the storyline frequently alludes – the experience, in short, of corporeal negativity and suffering. This negativity is by no means a mere metaphor, but is anchored in a genuine layer of historical experience. The crucial piece of information here is the temporal frame of the Valhalla program, i.e. the period 1991-1995. The early 1990s was the nadir of Finland’s post-Cold War economic crisis. Thanks to the collapse of lucrative Soviet export markets and a recession in continental Europe, the country experienced a full-blown economic depression.
Finland responded with the equivalent of an economic miracle. It paid down its massive foreign debts, bailed out its banking system, and preserved its welfare state, while powering up its economy for the 21st century – a process exemplified by Nokia’s transformation from a lumbering consumer-goods conglomerate into the Ueber-beast of the cell-phone biz. Yet if Max Payne marks the moment when the personal became the geopolitical, in the sense that Max’s one-person battle against Aesir recounts Finland’s epic battle against neoliberalism in 3D form, then the reverse is also true: the geopolitical has become the personal. The guilt of Max’s survivorhood is global guilt, driven by the recognition that Finland escaped the neoliberal wrecking-ball by the skin of its teeth, at the same time that nearby Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Russia, through no fault of their own, were being pulverized. What transforms Max’s personal crusade into a collective project, on the other hand, is the fact that bodily suffering calls forth not vengeance, but justice. This is anticipated by a searing line in Chapter 6:
I had dreamed of revenge. These dreams were always nightmares, of coming close and failing.
Now I was close. I had a name to guide me.
I had nothing to lose.22
If all dreams of revenge do ultimately turn into nightmares, this is because vengeance is the mere reiteration of the original trauma, and not its cessation or healing. But the juxtaposition of the objective name of the total system and the subjective condition of total expropriation points in a different direction, that is to say, towards the shadowy, utopian realm of global justice.
Subtle references to that realm abound in the very last chapter of the game, whose title, “Pain and Suffering”, is bracketed by the opening shot of the sheer, blank face of an anonymous skyscraper, and by the closing showdown on the literal and figurative roof of the world. In fact, the entire Aesir tower sequence is saturated with reflexive puns on the action-adventure genre – e.g. the killer suits comment on everything from their favorite action movies to the invention of bullet-time, while Nicole Horne plays manager to her hirelings, who are demoralized by Max’s relentless assault – as well as a host of informatic signifiers, ranging from the Aesir security computers to Nicole Horne’s personal laptop, to the green-screen wall-map of Aesir’s corporate subsidiaries in New York, Houston, Sydney, Berlin and Helsinki.
These mediatic and informatic registers converge in the final scene, which cleverly displaces the stereotypical finale of the Hollywood blockbuster as well as the traditional “boss” sequence of the videogame genre. Unable to attack Horne directly, Max must topple the radio mast at the very top of the Aesir building onto Horne’s helicopter before it can take off from the landing pad. After he does this, the helicopter plunges to its fiery doom, against the backdrop of a circular pan of downtown Manhattan, with the Empire State Building and the Twin Towers prominent in the background. This leads to the finale:
Shot of Max against sky. Max continues: And then it was all over. The storm seemed to lose its frenzy. The ragged clouds gave way to the stars above.
Noise of police chopper. Bravura: “This is Deputy Chief Jim Bravura from the NYPD. We’ve got the building surrounded. Thrown down your weapons and lie down with your hands behind your head.”
Shot of Max, the pained sneer now a weary smile, against the background of the clearing sky. Max: A bit closer to Heaven. The cops’ voices were distant and muted.
First cop: “Freeze!”
Second cop: “NYPD!”
Third cop: “Hold it right there.”
Max: My ghosts released me from their haunting. Down below, New York City glittered like diamonds on black velvet.
Bravura: “You gave us one hell of a ride. Take him down to central booking.”
Fourth cop, hustling Max into a patrol car: “You heard the man.”
Max in back of police car: Woden was there in the crowd, standing by the sidelines. It wouldn’t be over till the man with the patch would say so. He’d say the right words. I knew he would. He’d better.
Woden grinned smugly. It was the grin of a winner.
That made two of us.23
This is the moment when the national juridical system of the prototypical global city touches base with its multinational successor. Where Nicole Horne is clearly the name of a previously nameless neoliberalism, and where the Aesir tower is the embodiment of a hitherto bodiless multinational capitalism, Alfred Woden is clearly the representative of a multinational authority somehow complicit with globalization, and yet antagonistic to Wall Street neoliberalism. This can be nothing else than the world’s first multinational democracy and newest superpower, namely the European Union, and there is a sense in which Woden’s role in the storyline is reminiscent of the EU’s mushrooming array of economic, political, cultural and regulatory agencies. These latter covertly aided Eastern Europe in its life-and-death struggle with neoliberalism in the 1990s, and did not openly intervene on their behalf until their formal accession into the EU in the 2000-2004 period.
It is extremely significant that whereas Half Life concluded with the Administrator’s offer of entry into an interstellar job market, Max Payne concludes with three specifically anti-market constellations. The first is revealed by Max’s comment, “A bit closer to Heaven” – the sublation of the Aesir corporate logo displayed on the company’s billboards into an informatic pun (the computer bit is the smallest recordable unit of data, which signifies either a 0 or 1). The second is the reference to Max’s ghosts, which suggests the emancipation of the concept of justice from the realm of the nation-state, the Cold War superstate and the multinational corporation alike. The third and perhaps most interesting of all is the end of the blizzard, the uncanny premonition of the end of the thirty-year Ice Age of neoliberalism. Yet if one could catch a glimpse of the sky above Manhattan, one constellation would stand out: twelve stars in a circle, the emblem of the European Union, glimmering in the frosty night air like the unquenchable promise of global justice itself.
1. Note that the Playstation 2 version of Max Payne was hobbled due to hardware requirements, with the result that certain scenes were shortened into smaller segments, and any number of significant sub-elements had to be eliminated altogether. This analysis relies on the PC original. For reference purposes, the full original chapters and titles are as follows:
Part I: The American Dream
Chapter 1 Roscoe Street Station
Chapter 2 Live From the Crime Scene
Chapter 3 Playing It Bogart
Chapter 4 The Blood Veins of New York
Chapter 5 Let the Gun Do the Talking
Chapter 6 Fear That Gives Men Wings
Chapter 7 Police Brutality
Chapter 8 Ragna Rock
Chapter 9 An Empire of Evil
Part II: A Cold Day in Hell
Chapter 1 The Baseball Bat
Chapter 2 An Offer You Can’t Refuse
Chapter 3 With Rats and Oily Water
Chapter 4 Put Out My Flames With Gasoline
Chapter 5 Angel of Death
Part III: A Bit Closer to Heaven
Chapter 1 Take Me to Cold Steel
Chapter 2 Hidden Truths
Chapter 3 The Deep Six
Chapter 4 Backstabbing Bastard
Chapter 5: In the Land of the Blind
Chapter 6: Byzantine Power Game
Chapter 7: Nothing to Lose
Chapter 8: Pain and Suffering
2. Max Payne. Part I, Prologue. Note that all citations from the text are formatted as follows: the original text in the game is in normal font, while my own descriptions are in italics.
3. It’s worth pointing out that Woo’s films have their own intriguing geopolitical provenance. Hong Kong in the 1980s was a rising Second World city-state which lacked an autonomous self-sufficient political and cultural identity; it was precisely the contradiction between its exploding entrepreneurial wealth on the one hand, and its cultural and symbolic subalternity vis-à-vis Britain, the US and mainland China on the other, which generated that unique window of historical opportunity seized by the Hong Kong film industry. The reason that Woo could recombine the 1970s Hong Kong wuxia films and the 1980s sci-action blockbusters of James Cameron on the specific grounds of classic film noir (defined as the span from Michael Curtiz’ Casablanca (1942) to Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958)), is that Hong Kong in the 1980s went through the same process of consumerization which the US experienced in the 1940s and 1950s, Western Europe in the 1960s, and Japan in the 1970s: the arrival of a vertiginous, mystifying and mediatizing prosperity.
4. “About halfway into the PC development of Max Payne, we realized that Max is the perfect console game, and from that point onward, we were careful to design it as a console-style game, even though it was going to debut on the PC. You can see this in the simplicity of the controls, the easy-to-understand interface, and the upward scalability of the graphics, which only top-of-the-line PCs can take advantage of, but all Xbox players will see in full detail and action-packed glory.” Interviewer: Anonymous. Respondent: Petri Jarvilehto, Remedy project leader. Gamespot, 2001 (online magazine). Source: <http://gamespot.com/gamespot/stories/previews/0,10869,2828189,00.html>. Note that this website is no longer freely available to the public, due to CNET’s policy of charging admission to view Gamespot archives.
5. An anonymous interviewer on the Max Payne fansite Payne Reactor has this to say:
“I’ve heard there are some people from the old demoscene working for Remedy, if it’s true, who is it?
That's true, the following old sceners are working in Remedy (in alphabetical order). Thanks to Peter Hajba for giving me that info.
Peter Hajba (Skaven / Future Crew) - graphics artist
Kiia Kallio (Lance / Aggression) - Illustrator
Saku Lehtinen (Owl / Aggression - level designer
Markus Mäki (Henchman / Future Crew) - general manager
Aki Määttä (Marvel / Future Crew) - level designer
Jussi Räsänen (Juliet / CNCD) - programmer
Markus Stein (Stone / Dust) - lead programmer
Sami Vanhatalo (Reward / Complex) - lead graphic designer
Samuli Viikinen (Prager / Fascination) - lead level designer.”
6. In fact, Remedy borrowed several other elements of the film, including Max’s signature trench coat; the slow-motion explosion near the end of the Roscoe Station sequence; the corporate mercenaries or “killer suits”, who are variants of the Agents; and of course the Aesir corporate lobby, which is based on The Matrix’ lobby.
7. Max Payne. Part I, Chapter 6.
8. Max Payne. Part I, Chapter 8.
9. Max Payne. Part I, Chapter 9.
10. Heiner Müller. Life of Gundling Lessing’s Sleep Dream Cry. Berlin: Rotbuch Verlag, 1983. (My translation.) The scene in question is a tour of a madhouse by a smug professor and his well-born students in the era of Frederick the Great, who rationalize one horror after another as the height of Enlightenment reason (Müller had Kant in mind, of course). At the end, the following takes place:
PROFESSOR A madhouse. QED, quod erat demonstrandum. Let us go, gentlemen.
Professor and students exit.
ZEBAHL whispers: Yes, I created the world. I am the Fool, I am the Criminal. I can tear my eyes out and still see you. If only I could die. I killed my son. I Filth of my Creation Vomit of my Angels Suppuration in my Harmonies. I am the Slaughter-Rack. I am the Earthquake. I am the Animal. The War. I am the Wasteland. Shriek. Black angels populate the audience-chamber and fall silently on the theater-goers.
11. Max Payne. Part I, Chapter 9.
12. See the “Prussian Games” sections of: Heiner Müller. Life of Gundling Lessing’s Sleep Dream Cry. Berlin: Rotbuch Verlag, 1983.
13. Max Payne. Part II, Chapters 1-2.
14. Max Payne. Part II, Chapter 4.
15. Max Payne. Part III, Prologue.
16. Heiner Müller. The Hamletmachine. Berlin: Rotbuch Verlag, 1979. “I hang my uniformed flesh by the feet. I am the soldier in the tank-turret, my head is empty under the helmet, the strangled cry under the chains. I am the typewriter. I tie the noose, when the leaders are hanged, kick the stool away, break my neck I am my own prisoner. I feed my data into the computer. My roles are spit and spittoon knife and wound teeth and gum neck and gallows. I am the data-bank. Bleeding in the crowd. Exhaling behind the double doors. Wordslime bubbling in soundproof speech-balloons over the battle.” (My own translation).
17. Max Payne. Part III, Prologue.
18. “The bad trip had put me in a crazy mood, adrenaline pumping through my aching veins. Staggering on the mill roof in ice and snow and wild wind, I was a ninja, my kung fu was strong. I wasn’t kidding anybody. At best I was Superman on kryptonite about to fall through a skylight, down to where it was all going down.” Max Payne. Part III, Chapter 1. Kryptonite, for readers unfamiliar with the comic strip, is a radioactive ore which renders Superman powerless; here, the trope clearly anticipates Payne’s discovery of the true history of Valkyr.
19. Max Payne. Part III, Chapter 3.
20. Max Payne. Part III, Chapter 3.
21. Max Payne. Part III, Chapter 7.
22. Max Payne. Part III, Chapter 6.
23. Max Payne. Part III, Chapter 8.