Even if you’ve never played the original Max Payne, chances are that you’ve seen screenshots of the titular character with his determined, squinting face, looking like he’s ready to take on the world. It’s a rather dramatic look, and you wouldn’t be alone in wondering what on Earth prompted face actor Sam Lake to produce it.
In a new Q&A session with Eurogamer, Lake, who was also the writer of Max Payne 1 and 2, explained the backstory behind the iconic facial expression. The 2001 shooter uses a static 3D model for Max’s face, with swappable facial expressions pulled from photographs of Lake. These are switched around in the game to match whatever's going on. The squinting face is the expression that’s shown every time Max fires his gun, so needless to say, players see a lot of it.
“To me, the mental process was like: okay you're a tough guy, you are in a dark night and you are trying to see,” Lake said, thinking back to when the photo was taken. “And then with the gun there is this big muzzle flash, so you need to be squinting hard, you know, and it's a tense situation.”
Lake also has a theory of why this particular facial expression has made such an impact over the years. “The thing is, this is not the character-model's face all the time. It's just when you are firing the gun,” he stated. “But what was really impressive back then was the 3D particle effects of the muzzle flash, so what ended up happening is that we wanted to show that in all the screenshots.
“So all the screenshots for Max Payne are when he's firing the gun and you see the gorgeous muzzle flash,” he continued. “But that's also when the script triggers his firing expression, and that's what everybody saw endlessly! So that's kind of etched in everybody's mind.”
Last year, Remedy Entertainment announced that remakes of the first two Max Payne games are in development. However, in Eurogamer’s interview, Lake said it was “too early” to say if his likeness will be used again.
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Catherine is a News Writer for TechRadar Gaming. Armed with a journalism degree from The University of Sheffield, she was sucked into the games media industry after spending far too much time on her university newspaper writing about Pokémon and cool indie games, and realising that was a very cool job, actually. She previously spent 19 months working at GAMINGbible as a full-time journalist. She loves all things Nintendo, and will never stop talking about Xenoblade Chronicles.