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20 years on, Max Payne is as stylish as ever -

You've got to give it to Remedy: they know how to start a story off with a bang. As Max Payne opens, our antihero is on the summit of a skyscraper while sirens wail in the gloom below. "They were all dead," Max says with that famous frown. "The final gunshot was an exclamation mark to everything that had led to this point."

We go back a few years next, to the brutal double murder of Max's wife and newborn child, then follow his revenge mission (guns do the talking, and two wrongs do indeed make a right). By acts two and three, the guns are bigger and the body count has mounted while the web of lies are slowly untangled. The next thing you know, the dénouement comes again - Max back on his perch above the tinny whine of those police cars.

Starting at the end and coming full circle means Max is able to narrate the entire tale: a classic literary trick that more games ought to use. The meat of Max's bone-dry narration overlays graphic novel panels that come at the chapter breaks and during levels as well. I spoke to Kiia Kallio, who was in charge of bringing the panels to life. "Initially there were ideas for doing video cutscenes," Kallio tells me, "but there was no budget for that, so graphic novel panels were used as an alternative method of storytelling."

The first few storyboards were made by putting photographs beneath watercolour paper on a light table; the watercolour was added by hand, and then everything was scanned back into Photoshop. "This was adequate when the script contained about 50 pages," Kallio says. "But when the graphic novel pages grew beyond 100 - with no end in sight - and more and more story was getting written, it became obvious that hand-painting everything was not an adequate solution."

As is common in game development, levels would also change at the last minute. The upshot was that Kallio had to keep redoing his work. The solution? A custom watercolour filter developed for Photoshop that would produce the right look without needing an artist to painstakingly paint everything. The multi-layered image could be adjusted on-the-fly, enabling the team to make changes and work faster.

About 250 pages appear in the final build and I'd argue they're essential to the Max Payne experience. This might be a classic third-person shooter on the surface, but the novel storytelling techniques and occasional hallucinatory dream sequence make Max Payne feel like the work of independent artists trying to do something new. Traditional cutscenes - even if executed well - would have robbed the game of this charm.

Still, we can't go any further without talking about Bullet Time. The mechanic, which drew parallels with The Matrix, was rare in games. Yet it was relatively easy to achieve: a simple matter of setting the time scale while ensuring the camera and cursor were unaffected. "Seeing how cool it looked," Peter Hajba tells me, "we were going to have some shootouts that would occur in slow motion. But then Scott Miller and George Broussard of 3D Realms suggested we turn it into a gameplay mechanic that can be controlled by the player instead. And thus Bullet Time was born."

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