Law & Order is one of the most successful dramatic series on television.  It features realistic crimes that take place on the streets of New York, a detective team that investigates the crimes and a legal team that prosecutes the bad guys.  It has produced two spin-offs:  Law & Order Criminal Intent, and Law & Order Special Victim’s Unit.

The series has also spawned a trio of games that allow the gamer to first play the role of a gritty New York City detective -- and then to play the role of a shrewd District Attorney.  GameBoomers' Becky Waxman talks to Christina Taylor Oliver, Producer of the third game in the series, Law & Order: Justice is Served. 


Law & Order: the TV show is very fast-paced.  Law & Order: Justice is Served unfolds at a slower pace.  When people are accustomed to seeing all the mysteries solved and the perpetrator convicted (or not) in just the space of an hour, how do you keep them glued to the screen for hour after hour through the game?

We think the game remains compelling because the player is the one making the decisions every step of the way and piecing it all together as the story unfolds, rather than just watching the detectives on TV figure everything out very quickly. Also, the plot within our game is far more complex than the ones you would see on the TV show. Our hope is that by adding depth to the story, players will be always motivated to figure out what happens next.  We’re pretty confident that the twists-and-turns we have integrated will keep players glued for a good amount of time!

What is your top priority -- keeping the game true to the TV series, telling a good story, or evoking a realistic world with 3-dimensional, passionate characters?

All three of those are very important to us, and all contribute to a satisfying experience for players, especially if they are Law & Order fans.  Luckily, the Law & Order brand is rich in passionate characters and offers plenty of unique story opportunities, so bringing Law & Order to life within a gaming environment is a natural translation.  We also want to create a fun experience for adventure gamers, so coming up with well-integrated and logical puzzles is a high priority as well.

How did you manage to get Patrick McEnroe to play the part of Elena's coach?

We just asked him!  We wanted to bring in a real tennis personality to lend greater authenticity to the story, and he was at the top of our list. His wife, Melissa Errico, is an actress, so he thought it would be fun to do some acting as well. We’re glad he did!

Did you do anything special to bring the ambiance of New York City into the game?

In the show, New York is almost as much a character as the actual characters!  It’s important that we integrate that into the game as well.  When our production team travels to New York to record voice-overs with the actors, we take lots of pictures of street scenes, buildings, and the skyline.  The skyline pictures often end up being used as textures outside of apartment and office windows, and we use the others as reference.  For example, Yuri's knock-off purse stand was based on real street vendors we photographed on the streets of New York.

Why haven't the Law & Order games included any of New York's fantastic spaces -- Grand Central Station, or The Egyptian wing at the Metropolitan Museum, or the Secret Garden for instance?  Why don't they include famous ethnic landmarks - Ray's Pizza, for instance, or Zabar's?

We haven't created our stories with landmarks in mind, but that's a great idea!  We did base our tennis courts in Law & Order: Justice is Served on images of Flushing Meadows Tennis Stadium.  We're currently developing our first game based on Special Victim's Unit, so we'll see what we can do!


In the Law & Order games, the gamer plays the role of a detective for half the game, then the role of an attorney for the other half.  There are many fictional amateur detectives, but I can't think of even one fictional amateur trial lawyer.  Do you find that gamers find it easier to imagine themselves in the role of a detective than to imagine themselves in the role of an attorney?  What does the game do to prepare the average person to function like an attorney?

I think it is easier for players to identify with the role of detective, since in everyday life we are always trying to figure out what really happened and why someone did something. There are so many great courtroom dramas in movies and on TV that your average person has heard the types of questions that lawyers ask of witnesses on the stand. But really knowing what is legally allowed and disallowed is more knowledge than most people have. Since we obviously don’t want people to feel like they need to go to law school to succeed in the game, we’ve included legal resources in the game that players can consult which explains what kinds of questions are not allowed, like leading, argumentative, and irrelevant.  It also explains terms like probable cause and subpoenas.

Trial scenes on television rely on human drama to keep them interesting.  How difficult is it to get this to work in the context of a game?  Do the voice actors have to work even harder at it than the TV actors?

It's difficult to create the same kind of dramatic tension in a game, because the player has the freedom to ask questions in different orders, so you don't necessarily know how any given scene will build.  Also, the pacing is different, because the player has to take the time to think about what they want to ask, rather than just watching a complete scene play out like it does on TV.  The voice actors work differently than the TV actors in that they have to communicate everything through their voices...while the 3-D animation is expressive, it is never going to communicate all the subtleties that an actor can convey on camera, so the voice actors often exaggerate the emotionality a bit.  We have to be careful not to push it too far, though, because we want to stay true to the realism of the Law & Order brand.

Law & Order: Justice is Served eliminates some of the more difficult aspects of the original Law & Order game (Dead on the Money).  I'm thinking in particular of the timed element and the necessity to dump inventory items that might be important later on during the trial.  What prompted the change?

Suggestions from players who have played the game!  We are always eager to get feedback from our customers and love to make improvements each time we release a game.  We had heard that there were many players that were unhappy about both the clock and the need to weed out evidence, so those were easy things to eliminate.  What is more difficult is when we get just a few comments about a certain's hard to determine what percentage of players liked or disliked it based on a few comments, as so much of game play preference is really personal.  What one person hates may be someone else’s favorite part!  We have a message board on the Legacy Interactive web site where people will post ideas about what to improve in our games that we read and respond on a daily basis. So we do our best to look for trends and respond when we feel confident that a large portion of our customers want something changed or added.


Often a lone event in Justice is Served generates many items in inventory -- for instance, an incident involving a dog bite might generate an interview with the dog's owner, a background check on the dog's owner, a medical report on the bite itself, an interview with the bite victim, a statement from the dog's vet, a surveillance report on the dog's owner, a sample of saliva from the dog, and a report on the sample of saliva from the dog.  Any hints as to how gamers should identify which items among the many pieces of evidence are vital for inclusion in a subpoena or arrest warrant?

Our goal is always to make the game as logical as possible.  When different items communicate similar information, we try to make the game flexible so that it will accept all of the ones that would make sense.  Many times the arrest warrant or subpoena will consider multiple different items as valid in proving the same thing.

Do you ever base story lines on actual events?  Is there a particular source you use for the story lines?

The story in our Dead on the Money game was based loosely around the general stock market crash and all of the lawsuits and alleged fraud that was being investigated at the time.  The case in Double or Nothing was loosely based on a real organization that is pro human cloning, and a real story about a family trying to resurrect their lost child. Most of the characters in Justice is Served are loosely based on real-life people and events that are part of the crazy world of women’s professional tennis. Just like the TV show, we try to develop stories that feel "ripped from the headlines" and will be topical at the time the game is released.   It's tricky because the development cycle of each game is about one year, so you have to try to predict what will be current in the future!

Why are there so few save slots?

The eleven “save” slots in the current L&O game is the same as the first two games. We really have not heard about players saying they wanted more, but it is something we can certainly consider in the future.

This is a Law & Order "fan" question.  Is there any chance the Ben Stone character will show up in a future Law & Order game?

Wow, you must be a die-hard fan to remember Michael Moriarty’s character, Ben Stone, who was later replaced by the current Jack McCoy character. We are not currently considering using cast members who departed the show years ago, as we like to seem more current.

Will there be a Law & Order 4?

We don't have plans to release a Law & Order 4 at this time, as we are now busy with games based on the spin-offs from the original Law & Order show. We are currently developing a game based on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which will be released in April 2005, and another based on Law & Order Special Victim's Unit, to be released in October 2005.

A year from now, what do you want gamers to remember about your game?

We'd want them to remember that they couldn't stop playing it until they figured out who committed the crime and got a murder conviction…and that they had a lot of fun doing it!


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