Grand Theft Auto: Part I

Right off the bat I have to say that Grand Theft Auto (GTA) is one of my favourite gaming franchises ever, if not THE favourite.

Here is where I look back on the franchise from my own personal experiences…

£511.8 million ($815.7 million) of sales within 24 hours of release, and 3 days later £624.45 million ($1 billion) in sales. Making it the fastest entertainment IP in history to reach $1 billion. The fastest and best selling video game so far.
Several Guinness World Records broken…
1. Best-selling action-adventure video game in 24 hours.
2. Best-selling video game in 24 hours.
3. Fastest entertainment property to gross $1 billion.
4. Fastest video game to gross $1 billion.
5. Highest grossing video game in 24 hours.
6. Highest revenue generated by an entertainment product in 24 hours.
7. Most viewed trailer for an action-adventure video game.

Those figures are just from one game in the series, GTA V.
The whole franchise has sold over 185 million units worldwide and that was before the remastered re-release for the PS4 and Xbox One and the long awaited PC release of GTA V.
With impressive figures and records like that, one can safely say that GTA is a huge franchise in the gaming world. But were you aware this all started due to a simple programming bug?

Let’s go back to the very beginning…
DMA Design, founded in 1988, were a small game development studio that made quality products from the amazing shooters: Menace and Blood Money for the Amiga to the puzzle lead: Lemmings. The company grew and they released their first ever console game: Uniracers for the SNES in 1994.

In 1995, DMA began work on a racing game for the PC titled: Race n’ Chase. The game was to be a simplistic top down racing game with a twist, a feature where you would be pursued or chased by police, ergo; Race n’ Chase.
During development, the game hit a snag. Playtesters noticed the police were being overtly aggressive and instead of just slightly hindering the player from racing as they were meant to do, they were actively trying to ram the player off the road. Deciding against trying to work this problem out of the game, DMA abandoned Race n’ Chase and decided to use this “bug” of aggressive police as the springboard for a new game where you would play as a criminal and the very first GTA was released in 1997 for the PC where it was a huge hit and was then ported to the Playstation and even the Gameboy Colour…and so a gaming franchise was born all from a programming bug of aggressive police which is now a staple of the entire franchise.

GTA cover

GTA: Released in 1997, this was my very first experience with the franchise, on my older brother’s PC. While not the first “open world/sandbox” game, it was one of the very best with DMA’s polish and style. Though the graphics were average at best for the time as this was the early era of 3D games and environments. With games like Tomb Raider II, Gran Turismo, Goldeneye and others showing what 3D gaming environments could do, GTA opted for a top down view and simple 2D sprite based graphical style. But it was not GTA’s graphics that were it’s selling point, but more it’s open world, do anything style gameplay that other games at the time just could not match.
GTA blew me away in 1997 and is still a good solid title even now.

Allowing you to play as one of eight characters; Travis, Troy, Bubba and Kivlov were the four males with Ulrika, Katie, Divine, and Mikki being the other four and female (and people say GTA has never done a female playable character…they’ve done four). Although the Playstation port only (strangely) allowed you to play as one of the four males.

The game setting was spread over three cities; Liberty City (based on New York), San Andreas (based on California) and finally Vice City (based on Miami). Starting in Liberty City, you the player would have to take part in a variety of crime based missions from simple stealing of cars, to being a getaway driver to even murder. Completing a mission would add to your score multiplier and obtaining a set score would advance you to the next city. There was no real story to follow, just missions to complete and a high score to try to beat to advance.

Looking back and replaying the game today, one can see the basic GTA staples in place here that still carry on even in the newer titles.
What made this game stand out, aside from it’s violence, was the open world approach. Giving the player freedom to roam the huge (for the time) city causing havoc at will, including stealing and driving any of the 20 vehicles to just going on killing rampages, or even just exploring the maps and their diversive areas.
GTA also even offered relative freedom within the missions themselves, giving you the option to complete missions in various ways as long as you achieve the goal. This added plenty of replay value as you could play the same missions again differently…and replay I did several times.
As previously mentioned, the graphical style of GTA was “dated” for the time as many games were going for a more 3D, polygon style while GTA had a 2D sprite based environment. But while the graphical style of GTA seemed a bit “old”, the maps where not only big and fun to explore, but they also felt “alive” and held plenty of detail within. From pedestrians walking the street and reacting to your actions, police and fire services turning up at the scene of an emergency (that you probably caused) to even traffic acting “realistically” with vehicles adhering to basic road rules and stopping at red lights, etc. Yeah sure, the graphics of GTA were not the best for the time…but the world and environment was like nothing we had seen before.
Also of note was the soundtrack via radio stations which would play when you got into any car or even the police band you could listen to when in a police vehicle.

GTA was not without its controversy…another staple of the GTA series. With the game being “condemned” due to it’s “excessive violence” in Germany, France and even it’s own place of origin, Britain. Plus it was outright banned in Brazil.
But even with the controversy (or maybe due to it) the game became a bestseller and met to largely positive reviews. Many reviewers noted the average graphics however.

The first steps on the path of this franchise had begun…

The first GTA had two mission expansion packs.

GTA london cover

London 1961 and London 1969: Both of these expansions were released in 1999 and they both used the same basic gameplay style of GTA just switched to a 1960’s setting/theme set in London. The one and only time a game in the GTA series has used a real city instead of a city inspired by a real city. Also of note London 1961 makes this the earliest GTA game chronologically.

Along with the new London setting also came very stereotypical (and often funny) London/English parodies and references. From your character being named: Sid Vacant, by default (though you could change the name). With the Sid Vacant name being a reference to Sid Vicious of The Sex Pistols fame and one of their songs: Pretty Vacant.
You would work for The Crisp Twins, a play on The Kray Twins. There was also use of a lot of Cockney Rhyming Slang, a chance to run over “Mods” with the message “Quadrophenia” being displayed and even a James Bond parody character.
The two London addons never really expanded on the gameplay of GTA and just provided us with a new environment to enjoy.

Not as big or expansive as the original GTA, but still really good fun to play with a wicked sense of humor. The two expansion packs were just something to occupy your time with and get more of your GTA fix while we all waited for…

GTA 2 cover

GTA 2: Also released in 1999, GTA 2 was the full sequel to the original GTA. This time the game was set in an unspecified time frame, but the game choosing to use a retro-futuristic graphical style. Plus the city was also never named and just referred to as being “Anywhere, USA” .
While the time frame was never “officially” stated, there has been some contradiction as an in-game radio host mentions the “coming of the millenium”, which would set the game around or pre-1999. But fictional entries made by the developers on the GTA 2 official site mentioned the year 2013, but the game’s manual simply states “three weeks in the future”.

While GTA 2 used the same basic gameplay style and mechanics as GTA, it also added plenty of new concepts and ideas.
The maps were just as “alive” and detailed as before, but now you had more to do in them, including working as a taxi driver to running and jumping on and over rooftops and even specific gangs to work for. Plus for the first time in GTA, different times of day to play the game. Though not dynamic times as in recent GTA titles as you could simply chose to play at either noon or dusk.
Unlike GTA, GTA 2 only featured one city but that city was split into three areas. Each of the three areas would feature three of the seven possible gangs.

The three areas and gangs consisted of:
Downtown area which was home to the Loonies gang, mentally ill people who have taken over the city asylum and use it as their hideout and the Yakuza, a typical Japanese gang.
The Residential area housed the SRS Scientists gang as well as the Rednecks, who lived in a trailer park and would drive around in pickup trucks with Confederate flags on top.
The third area was the Industrial area which contained the Russian Mafia and the Hare Krishna gangs.
The seventh gang were the Zaibatsu, a corrupt corporation, and was the only gang present in all three areas along with the other two gangs per area. Meaning a total of three gangs on each of the areas.
Each of the gangs has their own special characteristics, vehicle, and behaviour.

As the GTA 2 tagline would state: “Respect is everything”. An interesting concept would be that working for one gang could gain you respect, but would also earn distrust for another gang.
So for example, if on the Downtown area you decided to work for Zaibatsu, this would annoy the Loonie gang. Then by extension working for the Loonies would upset the Yakuza and working for Yakuza would earn distrust from Zaibatsu. So as each gang had their own rival, you had to be careful who you worked for as when you upset a gang too much, they would set out to kill you.
This was also an element improved over GTA, as with the original game you would only have the police come after you. In GTA 2, not only would you have gangs trying to kill you (if you annoyed them enough), but also the police, SWAT, Special Agents and even eventually the Army.

GTA 2 didn’t really try to reinvent GTA but just add to it, and they certainly did that as GTA 2 took everything that GTA offered but “turned it up to eleven”.

GTA 2 when released met with (again) positive reviews and was praised for it’s gameplay improvements and variation over GTA. But again, the older 2D styled graphics were brought into question even more so this time around. Especially with the release of: Driver on the Playstation also in 1999 which did use a fully 3D open world environment.
When would we get a 3D GTA?

At one time Rockstar offered both GTA and GTA 2 for free download on their Rockstar Classics site, but at the time of writing, they seem to be “unavailable”…but the site still exists. So I hope they return soon as they are still great games to play today.

This ends the first generation of my GTA retrospective, see you in part II


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