You can't judge a video game by the number of discs it ships on—not unless you're prepared to declare the four-disc Lost Odyssey as the best Xbox 360 game of all time. You can, however, judge the intent of the developer to give you a whole lot for your dollar.
The folks at Rockstar, never ones to skimp on the amount of content they put on a game disc, have made, in L.A. Noire, a game that spreads across three discs on the Xbox 360, the company confirmed to Kotaku. The forthcoming game about being a detective in 1947 Los Angeles fills a single-layer, 25 GB Blu-Ray disc on the PlayStation 3.
In fact, the developers made so much game that it spilled over into downloadable content.
"L.A. Noire was always going to be a massive game, from the size and detail of the world to the length of the cases, and of course, the sheer amount of MotionScan data required for the faces of over 400 actors in-game," Jeronimo Barrera, one of the company's top people, told me. "To tell the story and make the game we wanted to make, we knew that it was going to take an entire single layer Blu-ray disc and three Xbox discs."
"This gave us a powerful main story, and left us with quality extra content that we wanted to put out as DLC."
Rockstar doesn't tend to ballpark the number of hours it will take to complete their games, and the number of discs on this one doesn't exactly mean the game will take, say, three times as long to play as the single-disc Grand Theft Auto IV. It does indicate, as Barrera explained, that the MotionScan data—the heavily-promoted new technique for rendering realistic facial expressions from the game's actors—requires a significant amount of storage.
The only down-side to a multi-disc game is that it could require a lot of disc-swapping. You don't want to play, say, the two-disc Mass Effect 2 and want to keep changing discs. Not to worry, Barrera said. "Since the game is built around the concept of progressing through individual cases from desk to desk, players on Xbox will find disc-swapping is hassle-free. In fact, players will only need to swap discs twice at natural breaks between cases without interrupting the flow of the game."
I've seen several of the game's cases, each of which is presented as a discrete episode, though players can diverge and tinker with some side-missions. Rockstar and Team Bondi people who worked together on the game have likened L.A. Noire to a couple of seasons of a TV show. And it turns out they made some episodes they didn't have disc space for. "Throughout development, we created lots of great cases, the bulk of which were central to the main story of Cole Phelps and his rise through the ranks of the LAPD, alongside other cases that felt more like strong stand-alone episodes," Barrera said. "This gave us a powerful main story, and left us with quality extra content that we wanted to put out as DLC, that would slot seamlessly into the existing game."
L.A. Noire is sounding like another massive Rockstar game. Will it rival the length of the dozens-of-hours-long GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption? It probably doesn't matter. But if for some reason you were wondering if L.A. Noire was a small experiment or a tiny game, that's not the case.