City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Video game flâneur

Written in


‘The Warriors’, dir. Walter Hill (1979)

Which city would you resurrect with Rockstar’s city-machine?

Ed. This piece was originally published at on 11 April 2004.

Is it true that Rockstar’s next big game is a version of the The Warriors?

(Ed. Yes, it was.)

Rockstar and others have virtually (pun intended) built the digital infrastructure to generate generic large city forms. All they have to do is drape a particular cultural fabric over it, and the architecture, clothes, music, adverts etc. all just fall into place, as defined by a new form of ‘curator’, perhaps, somewhere between production designer and urban historian.

(Ed. I’ve mentioned this before, after reading about Gangs of New York and similar potential in films; read also about the way Rockstar design this stuff; about some future potential of Rockstar’s city-based games; and Manhattan as muse for video games.)

If it is The Warriors, then just inhabiting a version of New York City in 1979 would be a blast. Yet inspired by the flawed but compelling film Downtown 81, I’d struggle to address any of the usual Rockstar narrative ploys, instead trying to track down John Zorn, Arto Lindsay & DNA, Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel, The Kitchen, James White & The Blacks, Talking Heads, Blondie, Thurston Moore, Meredith Monk, Jean-Michel Basquiat et al. Materialising in the almost deserted early-’80s Lower East Side, I’d probably get my head kicked in anyway — which is standard Rockstar plot device of course.

‘Downtown 81’ (2000), shot in 1980-81

One of the Tate Modern’s first shows, Century City, was built around the notion of particular cities assuming particular cultural importance at particular times: with their usual visual art bias, they pinned New York from 1969 to 1974. Also, Moscow from 1916–1930; Vienna 1908–1918; Rio 1955–1969 etc. We had similar concerns when curating Urbis. (Ed. See also this post on music scenes in cities.)

It’s an alluring thought — if given a video game-based time machine, where would you go back to? As well as NYC circa 1980, I’d also loved to have witnessed the insanity of 1830s Manchester, as the city rises, unfettered by planning concerns, social policy, or old conceptions of ‘the city’, instead seemingly powered by entirely new forms of energy, commerce, and organisation. The city-states of renaissance Italy could be fun. Edo-Tokyo in the 1700s. Weimar Berlin would certainly open the mind.

So, if Rockstar were to ‘open-source’ their city-machines such that any urban forms could created, where to be a video game flâneur?

Ed. This piece was originally published at on 11 April 2004.


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