A few years after the launch of Grand Theft Auto 4, I read a newspaper interview with LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy within which the esteemed frontman spoke about the music that'd shaped his formative years. I'm paraphrasing – I think the interview was conducted in 2011, maybe 2012, definitely before the launch of GTA 5 – but when asked about the songs and bands that first sparked his desire to leave his family home, Murphy cited The Velvet Underground; suggesting that while he was sure he'd outgrown his hometown at that time in his late teens, he later realized the folk he grew up with were perceivably more interesting than the people he eventually mixed with in New York City.
No shade on NYC, but I don't think it's a massive stretch to suggest elements of this sentiment are reflected in GTA 4 protagonist Nico Bellic's beleaguered pursuit of the American Dream. In the game's faux-New York City, Bellic's path is driven by hedonism, granted – not to mention self-destructive, violent and regularly introspective behavior – but the Yugolslavian's (mis)adventurous journey often portrayed the GTA 4 antihero as swimming against the tide in his bid to fit in. Pushing that link further still, Nico's trans-Atlantic pilgrimage was first properly defined, for me at least, by that LCD Soundsystem-scored trailer in early 2008. To the tune of the group's 2007 Kraftwerk-aping hit, 'Get Innocuous!', the promotional video saw Bellic continuously walking towards the camera while the virtual Liberty City backdrop chopped and changed around him in dramatic fashion.
From the hustle and bustle on the ground at the LCPA Dock, to yoga classes in Middle Park, a high-end Columbus Avenue suit store, a violent shootout on the steps of the St Pat's-mirroring Liberty City Cathedral, and a lot of explosions – all seamlessly edited and pieced together with in-game footage – it was perfect. So much so that it's still my favorite pre-release video game trailer of all time some 15 years later.
For Shawn Alexander Allen – director at Treachery in Beatdown City developer NuChallenger, and ex-Rockstar employee who helped bring Nico's LCD Soundsystem short to life – the trailer's legacy still inspires him today. "It's one of my favorite trailers to have worked on, and I have a lot of nostalgia for it," says Alexander Allen. "Like, everyone was firing on all cylinders, and I remember having a good time even if they were long days."
"I personally dislike CG trailers, and I really don't like when they get 'best trailer' awards, because animating a trailer to some sweeping score is... fine? I've worked in CG, you really just make what you need. But making dozens of shots (and many that don't make it in) that cut together like one of the best music videos is just a different artistic accomplishment. One I use in my own work these days."
If I can make it there
All eyes are, of course, on the GTA 6 trailer at present, which Rockstar has promised will air at some point in "early December". This means we might see the next promo slice of the enduring open-world crime sim series before the end of this week, if not next or shortly after. These shorts tend to offer scant glimpses of their source material, often teasing their contents across 30-90 seconds. And, in comparative scale terms, Alexander Allen reckons it's impossible to quantify how much goes into the in-game footage concept trailers Rockstar favors (and therefore the amount of work that ultimately hits the cutting room floor), but hails the magic of the editing process in pulling everything together.
"I honestly don't know, it's been a while," says Alexander Allen when asked about the possible similarities between his LCD Soundsystem GTA 4 trailer, and what's coming soon for GTA 6. "I do know we worked with folks to make a lot of improvements to the capture process after GTA 4. But the magic here was less technical, and more just very edit focused."
"Of course, having a dope song is always good, and having a song with energy is important. Get Innocuous definitely has this cool repetition that keeps building that I'm sure the editors appreciated. I've worked on some trailers with songs that I didn't like, with barely any progression and it's a lot harder. At the end of the day, the edit (of the song, and the video) is what makes a trailer just good or timeless. I don't think folks really appreciate editing that much, but amazing editing is like game feel – imperceptible, but everyone senses it."
Another thing to consider about that GTA 4 short, says Alexander Allen, is that the trailer cut is around six minutes shorter than LCD Soundsystem's original track – meaning it's the editing of the trailer that makes the song make sense as it underpins the footage.
"There's also the match cuts (where Niko's head does one thing, and cuts directly into the next shot with the same face/head bob/whatever)," Alexander Allen adds, "and you can see a lot of meta stuff, like guns shooting edited to drums playing, explosions happening to specific music cuts, etc. I was very impressed by how it all came together. I hadn't done a ton of editing in my life at that point, I was more a pure game capture person then, and the editing on this trailer inspired me to want to edit more."
Having gone on to work on the launch of GTA 5, Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne 3, and L.A. Noire during their time working at Rockstar; and having since founded Nuchallenger, whose first commercial venture was 2020's Treachery in Beatdown City, Alexander Allen now has a wealth of hands-on industry experience across many disciplines. Still, that GTA 4 LCD Soundsystem trailer from 15 years ago still holds a special place in their heart.
"I forget how and if I first saw the trailer in the wild, because it was initially an Xbox Europe spot. I was very proud of this one, so it always stuck with me," says Alexander Allen. "There were other trailers I worked on that when we saw them on TV I was like, oh yeah that's cool. But having people see this one felt like a great accomplishment."
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