Sixteen years ago, in November 1997, the original Grand Theft Auto was released for the PC and PlayStation One. Created by DMA Design in Dundee, the game achieved almost instant notoriety, followed by a growing audience which saw beyond the headlines and recognised that the game offered something different to most of the games available at the time. Freedom and fun. The player was free to roam around the three cities of GTA, based loosely upon New York (Liberty City), San Francisco/Los Angeles (San Andreas) and Miami (Vice City), picking up or ignoring missions, stealing cars, exploring, experimenting and in many cases, causing chaos.
The action was viewed from above, the player and pedestrians seen as oval blobs, the city itself, the streets, highways, bridges and buildings were the real stars, with the huge range of cars, trucks and things that go, providing the means for players to navigate and explore. By current standards, it looked crude to say the least, but players adored it.
More games followed. Major releases were complemented by new chapters, additional content and add ons. The action moved from London in the 1960s (GTA London 1969/1961) to Miami (Vice City) in the 80s, to a gang-dominated near future (GTA 2). As technology improved, the top-down viewpoint changed to a full 3D world (GTA III) and with that, the Grand Theft Auto series took a quantum leap into the mainstream consciousness.
Everybody had an opinion on Grand Theft Auto. Celebrities and talk show hosts debated the merits of the game. Politicians, policy makers and lawyers criticised the game as a bad influence. And gamers… gamers bought it in droves.
GTA held a mirror up to contemporary America and reflected back a twisted, tongue in cheek parody of the American dream. Work hard, kid. You too can have everything. Or you can steal and save a hell of a lot of time. Or just steal a car and go have fun. That’s OK too…
GTA V, the fifth major release in the Grand Theft Auto franchise was released today. Shops and stores across the UK and worldwide opened at midnight, to allow queues of eager gamers to buy the game. Despite a few rogue shopkeepers breaking the sales embargo, queues duly formed and punters eagerly snapped up copies of what is likely to be the biggest video game launch of all time.
The game is already scoring very highly, with media and critics around the world awarding their highest review scores. The reviews aggregation site Metacritic currently has GTA V sitting at 98%, based on 36 reviews, which puts the game at the very top of its all time highest scoring games – alongside GTA IV, the previous high score winner.
The media has gone into overdrive, with television, radio, print and online publications all reporting on the launch of the game. Unlike many of the previous GTA titles, the coverage has, in general, avoided the hysteria and outrage which has dogged the franchise since the very beginning. Instead, the media are asking about the game’s potential sales, the ongoing popularity and even the cultural impact of the series as a whole.
By any measure, GTA V is already a success, but the scale of the game and the number involved are so staggering they bear repeating.
The development budget for GTA V was, according to industry analysts, $137,000,000. While this is not at the top end of production budgets for Hollywood (the lamentable John Carter cost around $275,000,000), it makes GTA V one of the most expensive games every created.
The scale of the game is difficult to convey. GTA V is huge. The game world is double the size of the previous two GTA games AND Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption put together. Every single aspect of this world has to be built and created. Every building, every road, every alleyway. All of the buildings, shops, businesses. All of the posters, the advertising, the people. The cars, the vehicles, the missions. It make producing a major Hollywood movie look simple. They only need to create elements of the world they show. Sets can focus on a single room, or building. The story can only be experienced in one way.
GTA changes all of that. The game is non-linear, what the games industry calls a ‘sandbox’. This means players are not only able to explore and experiment, but are encouraged and rewarded for doing so. Without picking up a single mission and ignoring the carefully scripted storyline, players can travel across the entire map as they choose. On foot, in a vehicle, or even flying over it in a choice of aircraft. Every single person in the game has to be scripted, written for, given specific behaviours and lines – for any of the thousands of weird situations which may occur.
It’s a huge achievement. Everything has to work together. Everything has to be tested. Everything is interactive, meaning the player can PLAY with it and the world has to react realistically and consistently from the smallest detail upwards.
Then there’s the actual storyline. GTA V introduces three main characters, which the player can inhabit and move between as the game progresses, choosing the most appropriate skill set for specific jobs. The script for the original game was around 30 pages of narrative, delivered by a virtual pager in blocks of around 120 characters. GTA V delivers a huge, collaborative script, with around 50+ hours of gameplay, all of which can be seen from any of the three different main character’s viewpoints.
It’s clear that GTA V represents one of the biggest achievements of the games industry to date.
While it’s too early to provide reliable sales figures, industry analysts are forecasting sales of 20-25,000,000 units in the first twelve months and generate a billion dollars in sales in the first month. With such positive reviews and the reception thus far, this figure does not seem unreasonable. As of December 2012, GTA IV alone had sold over 25,000,000 copies.
While the vast majority of the GTA series has been set in the USA, the game has been designed and developed in Scotland from the outset. The whole series has a rebellious and subversive dark humour running throughout. It is a parody of contemporary US culture. There’s a particularly Scottish sensibility within each game, clear to those who take the time to play them and which is recognisable to players in everything from area names, business names and elements of missions.
GTA is a global success story which deserves recognition and respect from the rest of the creative world as a staggering achievement and a work of art. In 2006, the series was included in the Design Museum as an example of world class British design, alongside Concorde, red telephone boxes, the London tube map and the Mini.
Globally, the series has sold 125,000,000 copies to date, generating around $6,000,000,000. The games have received almost all of the awards it is possible for them to win and the most recent games are some of the highest scoring in the world.
Made In Scotland.
Congratulations to Les, Aaron and the whole team at Rockstar North. All 350+ of you…