Rockstar Research: Revisiting the Ghosts, Goons and Graveyards of NJ & NY in Max Payne 3

Posted on August 15 2012, 2:03pm | Author: R* A | Filed Under: Games

Walton's Bar in Hoboken where Max has a fateful and violent encounter - a fictional bar inspired by many such gritty real-life watering holes throught Northern New Jersey and New York.

Like Deja Vu All Over Again

Corporate greed, nightclub shootouts, helicopters, vertigo-inducing rooftops, pill-popping, even Captain Baseballbatboy — the more things change for Max in Max Payne 3, the more they stay the same. Our beleaguered NYC cop pursues the promise of a fresh start working in São Paulo, Brazil, but as a couple of turning point flashback sequence levels reveal in the game, this descent into the volatile South American city's chaos is sparked by a chance encounter that took place back in the snow and darkness of New Jersey — where the butchering of his family many years ago began Payne’s downward spiral — and with death-dealing gangsters again in hot pursuit. In Max Payne 3, we find our protagonist planted on a barstool at Walton’s Bar near his Hoboken hovel, busy drowning eight years of horrific memories in drink. A dispute with a young hothead from the local DeMarco crime family rapidly escalates to pistols drawn, then gunfire and a mob of angry Mafiosi out for Payne’s blood.

But what else is new?

Fantastically moody and atmospheric, glimpses of a couple of Hoboken's bars from our original research scouting trips.

"From that moment, I was dead in that town..."

In between traveling thousands of miles to extensively research, document and collect assets to inspire the environment and level design of Max’s new Brazilian home, Rockstar's Research and Development teams also invested invaluable time scouting a bit closer to home, gathering appropriate reference material from his old stomping grounds in New York and New Jersey. A dozen locales across Hoboken, Newark and New York City were visited for the vibe and inspiration of a gritty bar where trouble could start at any moment. Some of these charming points of interest had acquired a degree of infamy thanks to their histories as former Prohibition speakeasies, or for hosting notorious Irish gangsters and with them, instances of many fistfights and shootouts over the decades.

From our tour of East Coast dive bars, highlights included our Hell’s Kitchen stops with venerable places like the landmark Rudy’s Bar and Grill, the over 100-year old McCoy’s, the now-shuttered Scruffy Duffy’s and Smith’s Bar — made famous in Scorsese's Bringing Out The Dead — that still teem with the dark, gritty ambiance, smart-mouth regulars and divey décor of classic East Coast watering holes. Further downtown, we canvassed Little Italy's Mulberry Bar, a historic 'old neighborhood' bar that was used for the opening mob lunch scene in "Donnie Brasco" - and the Ear Inn further west, drenched in underworld folklore since it's days as a Prohibition speakeasy and brothel. Across the Hudson River, we visited Newark’s homey Ironbound neighborhood spots like the Portuguese pub Flor Do Minho, patronized by die-hard locals and tough truckers. And in Hoboken proper, a range of places were toured from stubbornly old-school, “classic old-man bars” (to borrow a term from Anthony Bourdain) like Mario’s Bar and Wilton House, or newer symbols of gentrification like the Black Bear, packed with dozens of flat screen TVs and yuppies, to the chagrin of the BnR (or Born and Raised Hobokenites).

The home of mob-affiliated cantor Frank Sinatra, Old Hoboken once evoked images straight out of On the Waterfront — a gritty port and factory town with a strip called the Barbary Coast where Bethlehem Shipping’s dockworkers, Maxwell House and Lipton Tea’s workers, sailors, merchant marines and other assorted toughs could find a warm bed, a stiff drink, and any other vice that might need to be sated to take the edge off a long laborious work day. Much has changed over subsequent generations and the now-trendy area has seen median household incomes have risen above $100,000. But stray too far from the proverbial path (or the literal PATH) into the outskirts of town, and Hoboken can be just as seedy and dangerous as it ever was. The game depicts an illegal chop shop near Max’s apartment, junior mobsters in training harassing him as he sips booze — and this too is the real Hoboken. Its violent crime and property crime rates are actually higher than New Jersey’s overall averages, and in some places shiny new luxury condos lie just a stones throw from notorious public housing projects right across the street. That’s no knock on Hoboken, a great town with many great spots and some not-so-great spots like any other city, especially one with Hoboken’s population density, the third-highest in NJ. Besides, as we know, trouble tends to follow Max no matter where he goes…

Left: Max visits the gravesite of his slain wife and baby daughter; Right: At the famous Calvary Cemetery in Queens, gravestone of a child murdered by NYC's infamous Black Hand mob in the 1920s. 

Partnerships Start as They Mean to Go on

After Max and his friend Raul Passos manage to shoot or shake the various gangsters on their tail, they escape the Hoboken streets with their pistols still smoking. Passos assures him he has friends there that can help them dodge the heat for a few days until they can flee to South America. Max decides to bid one final farewell to his wife and daughter’s graves at Golgotha Cemetery (named after the site of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion) before his self-imposed exile. Max’s bad luck is as reliable as ever, and he finds DeMarco muscle laying in wait for him there. A ballet of bullets is unleashed in a furious shootout, littering the snowy cemetery with shells and bloodstains.

Gothic and beautiful and eerily quiet, our Golgotha Cemetery map was inspired by many of the New York's massive and historic cemeteries - some of the largest in the United States. These sites included lower Manhattan's Trinity Cemetery; Trinity’s original site near Ground Zero in NYC dates back to 1697, while its sister cemetery uptown in Washington Heights (established in the 1840s) has interred some of New York’s historical elites. Among them are famed naturalist and painter John James Audubon, who formerly owned the land, various members of New York’s regal Astor family, and Eliza Jumel, ex-wife of former US Vice-President Aaron Burr. (It is even rumored that Mrs. Jumel’s ghost still haunts the nearby Jumel Mansion.)

Top: A sprawling view of the real-life Calvary Cemetery, one of the largest in the United States. [Wikimedia Commons]; Bottom: Max Payne 3's fictional Golgotha Cemetery.

Across the East River in Queens, our developers took in the amazing sprawl of majestic Jewish burial grounds like Mt. Zion and Machpelah, the home of gifted magician Harry Houdini’s ornate grave; and of course the area's largest of all - Calvary Cemetery, once the biggest in the U.S. and the burial site of over 3 million people. Stunning and awe-inspiring with views straight across of the Manhattan skyline, there are of course tons of notable burials scattered throughout the masses of graves - amongst them some of NYC's most legendary and infamous capos and dons from mobs like the Five Points Gang, the Genoveses, Bonnanos and the Luccheses; political bosses like Governor Alfred E. Smith and Carmine DeSapio; and even New York’s first and most famous mob-busting cop (Joseph Petrosino). A tough old gang buster like Joe would understand: when push came to shove at Golgotha, Max and Raul had no choice but to wage war atop those hallowed grounds inspired in part by his own final resting place.

Behind the Scenes of Max Payne 3's Voiceover, Mo-Cap & Scanning Sessions
The Rarefied High Life in Max Payne 3's São Paulo Metropolis
The Weapon-Wielding Gangsters and Special Police Commandos of Max Payne 3

  • SladeForellyon August 19 2012, 10:39pmReplyFlag
    Hey rockstar, there would be more pictures of research team in São Paulo?
  • ViperSRT87on August 19 2012, 9:52amReplyFlag
    Great article. It's great to read a bit about the creative process!
    • DixieGunThugon August 18 2012, 7:38pmReplyFlag
      Great stuff! And this is why Rockstar is still unlike any other. Gracias!
      • NYPDMAXPAYNEon August 18 2012, 3:17pmReplyFlag
        Rockstar, now that it is all said and done, are you proud of Max Payne 3? All the time and effort put into the project, are you happy with the finished product?

        • R* Aon August 19 2012, 2:17pmReplyFlag
          @NYPDMAXPAYNE Absolutely. We’d also like to thank you for all your longtime support for Max. We’ve got more DLC updates coming along with continuing improvements on the technical side to Multiplayer via title updates and tuning. Cheers.
        • NYPDMAXPAYNEon August 19 2012, 10:22pmReplyFlag
          @ Very happy to hear that, you guys should feel extremely proud of Max Payne 3. I have said this before and I will say it again it is the greatest game ever made. I am looking forward to the DLC later this year, hope it is coming along well. Also no need to thank me, because you guys are the ones who deserve fans like me, thank you for all your time and effort to make Max Payne 3. I know I have enjoyed every second of it.
      • batik89on August 18 2012, 1:06pmReplyFlag
        Hey R*, about the UFE headquarters, is that also based on the real Sao Paulo police station? I mean the interiors look so authentic.
      • DANIEL3GSon August 17 2012, 4:54pmReplyFlag
        Great Pictures the Picture where Max is on the Grave Yard has something special i mean the City in the Background
      • BorisBlackon August 17 2012, 7:38amReplyFlag
        Great stuff! Fun to read.
        Still wonder wich song is playing in the backround in Walton's Bar.
        It´s kind of a Rock/Blues track. It´s awesome, I need to know! Please!
      • WhatMakesUsHumanon August 16 2012, 10:35pmReplyFlag
        The extremely high atention to details and the level of effort you guys put into researching every aspect of the locations and atmosphere of your games to recreate them perfectly are some of the reasons why all of your games are so damn good. Thank you very much and keep up the excellent work!
      • kristopherm3on August 16 2012, 7:09pmReplyFlag

        Hey Rockstar could you give me the number of the girl from the bar, I don't use spray-tan so I think we'll get on just fine?


      • ROCKSTAR_THEBESTon August 16 2012, 5:38pmReplyFlag
        By now, you know very well new york city, eh?
      • AmosJAMcLovinon August 16 2012, 4:12pmReplyFlag
        I'm not talking about mods because I have it on ps3 I wish you could just put a number in the phone and cheats like that can happen
        • gman33on August 16 2012, 3:18pmReplyFlag
          Heyyyyyyyyyyy forget about it i love the stages especially in mulitplayer makes me feel like i took a small trip to new jersey minus the stinky swamp waterlol great job rockstar they always try to bring realism to their games in some way.
        • Brunno_182on August 16 2012, 2:48pmReplyFlag
          Max Payne in Liberty City !
        • Walnuttyon August 16 2012, 2:42pmReplyFlag
          Nice article it reads like the blue's they play in some of those bars.Its gotta be one hell of an adventure to explore all those locations i imagine Brazil's favela's arent the safest place to chill.Maybe in 2077 you can do some research on the Moon or Mars for Gta 17 hope so.
          • R* Aon August 16 2012, 5:15pmReplyFlag
            @Walnutty Ha - btw if you want to read more about some of the research and production trips that were happened down in São Paulo, definitely check out the articles linked in the Previously section of the above.
        • herons2on August 16 2012, 12:59pmReplyFlag
          R * watch this video please.

          Ps:Am newbie yet, but someday I'll be good and I will work in r *
          • Sprunk1995on August 16 2012, 1:20pmReplyFlag
            @herons2 I love the RAGE logo
          • R* Yon August 16 2012, 3:02pmFlag
            @herons2 Cool, please be sure to send this sort of thing to in the future though, as it's a bit off topic here
        • LewisMilleron August 16 2012, 12:36pmReplyFlag
          Rockstar your patch has completely fixed any issues I had with PSN Max Payne 3! Me any so crew buddies had no freezing or disconnection.
          • Tom543on August 16 2012, 1:23pmReplyFlag
            @LewisMiller Must be nice. Us here in USA are still getting disconnected. Hopefully we'll have the update soon, because this truly is a great game.
          • louis1993on August 16 2012, 1:53pmReplyFlag
            @LewisMiller i don't know the connecting issues has to do something with where you live but last time i played one day after the patch every time i got disconnected in a gang wars game. team deathmatch worked well.
        • FeelThePayneon August 16 2012, 12:02pmReplyFlag
          Fav song in Max Payne 3! What do ya'll think?

        • FeelThePayneon August 16 2012, 12:01pmReplyFlag
          I just love the start of the Cemetary Level in Single Player. Its cool how it starts with Max looking at the grave and then three of the goons confront him and one of them says 'Max' 'Payne'... and then an instant shootout insues. God, I love this damn game! @R* Also, did you research 'Panama?' Would be cool to get a few screens of that.
          • R* Yon August 16 2012, 12:07pmReplyFlag
            @FeelThePayne Might have some more information on the research we did for Max Payne 3 in the future, thanks for asking
          • FeelThePayneon August 16 2012, 12:16pmReplyFlag
            @ Awesome! Also, I'm currently playing on Old-School Difficulty and was wondering if you got any tips? I need help. lol
          • NYPDMAXPAYNEon August 18 2012, 3:12pmReplyFlag
            @FeelThePayne One of the greatest games of all time, It is a masterpiece. I hope to see more of Max in the future, but the chances look slim. What rank are you now in multiplayer?

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