GTA: from an angry dinosaur to absolute success

For those who haven’t played the series before Grand Theft Auto III, it may seem that it always had the style that has accompanied it to this day, with the action taking place in vast open worlds in three dimensions. However, the first GTA it was conceived as a very different game and for some professionals who worked on its creation, there was even the suspicion that the game would not be very successful.


Credit: Reproduction/byReqz/Reddit

With the game created by DMA Design (now Rockstar North) completing 25 years, the BBC invited programmer Colin Macdonald to tell some interesting stories about the development and the guy did not disappoint.

According to him, it all started as a technical demo proposed by Mike Dailly, who wanted to know how buildings would look in a game with an aerial view. To make the experience more fun, the programmer put us in control of a dinosaur that could destroy the city and although the people who tried that creation liked the idea, something was still missing.

The project would only gain momentum and go in a very different direction after Dailly invested in making the city livelier by adding cars to the game. Then, “someone had the bright idea to see what it would be like to drive one of those cars instead of the dinosaur and suddenly it changed to a car game instead of a dinosaur game,” revealed the interviewee.

Macdonald claims that for a long time the game was known internally as Race ‘n’ Chase, until a new idea proposed by another studio employee made them rethink the development. For the person, it would be nice if the player could leave and enter the vehicles whenever they wanted, with that being considered the point at which the GTA approached the form we came to know.

Credit: Reproduction/vear/MobyGames

Conceptual changes during the creation of a game are commonplace, but perhaps not even the most pessimistic inside DMA Design could imagine where they were going. According to Macdonald, “You’ve developed code that is no longer doing what it was originally supposed to do, so there are all kinds of problems — the game becomes very buggy and crashes a lot.”

Faced with so many problems and with the team realizing that it was no longer creating what was originally asked of it, the impact on motivation did not take long to be felt. Being impossible to play more than a few minutes of GTA without the title crashing, an internal survey showed that, of the seven games the studio was creating at the time, that was the one that people least believed would be successful.

However, the scenario changed as errors were corrected and those professionals began to understand what really worked. “They also had time to polish the game, so they started doing things like adding skid marks, shadows, nice sound effects and radio stations — all these things that really brought the world to life,” said the programmer.

And the result of the progress could be seen on a day-to-day basis. After spending so much time working on creating a game, usually the last thing the professionals involved want is to see it in front of them. Even so, DMA Design employees were using their lunch hours to play what they were creating, a clear demonstration that the title was fun and with the potential to win over the public.

“We knew we had something special — the fact that the team was playing at their own pace was a strong indicator of that — but there are countless games released every year that are creatively and technically brilliant but just don’t sell well, for whatever reason, explained Macdonald. “Most people don’t even hear about them — they don’t capture the spirit of the moment — and the Grand Theft Auto could easily be another one of those. It’s been quite a surprise to see that he’s still doing so well a quarter of a century later.”

GTA Online, a money making machine (Credit: Disclosure/Rockstar)

And Colin Macdonald is absolutely right to make that claim. With the franchise having sold over 385 million copies since then — 170 million of which have gone to the GTA V — it has become one of the most powerful brands in the industry. In addition, the last chapter of the series has turned into a real gold mine for Rockstar, with its online portion having brought US$ 595 million to the company’s coffers in 2019 alone.

What makes these numbers more impressive is the fact that we are talking about a game that was released in 2013, originally with versions only for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Grand Theft Auto V appeared on the PC and was revamped in the two following generations, always arousing enormous interest in the public and consequently maintaining excellent sales.

Furthermore, venturing into the GTA Online it’s exercising a level of patience worthy of Tibetan monks, after all we will have to deal with some bugs and a flood of cheaters. Even so, millions of people around the world spend hours and hours having fun with the game, mainly playing different roles on the game servers. GTA RP🇧🇷


Credit: Playback/Fjonan/MobyGames

Today we know that none of this would have been possible if it hadn’t been for the bets made by some of the DMA Design employees. From the guy who imagined a dinosaur destroying a city to those who dared to defy the board by adding a war tank to the map of the first GTAmuch of the anarchy we like to live in the series is present from the first moments of its creation.

However, that was a very different time, where most developers and studios were taking advantage of their independence to worry more about having fun and less about filling the coffers of a large publisher. Maybe that’s why we never see a new birth of something like the Grand Theft Autobut as long as there is a developer working without the constraints imposed by a giant, the spirit of resistance will remain ready to start another revolution like that.

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