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IGN: Dan Houser Talks Grand Theft Auto III

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Only places like IGN can get the most exclusive interviews with the most mysterious and silent professionals of the game industry. They've managed to get a rare interview with Dan Houser, one of the VERY top people at Rockstar Games for their article "Dan Houser Talks Grand Theft Auto III". The interview discusses GTA III's developement as well as the controversies it created and overcame. Some excerpts from the interview are below...

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"At what point did you realize that Grand Theft Auto III was going to be a really big deal?

I think in late 2000, when we got the map up and running and the character moving around the map. Once that was there it was like, well, if we execute the rest of this correctly this could be amazing.

You can't go in there thinking, 'I want this to be the biggest game ever,' which it pretty much was at the time, give or take.

We would never need to please everyone, we just needed to please a bunch of people. Our expectations were not that it had to sell 15 million copies, it was that it had to do well. Our expectations were that we would make something that was really cool.

It reviewed well, but not spectacularly. It got some great scores, but some very respectable magazines gave it six out of ten.

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When you made the jump to 3D, was there a discussion of 'is this too real?' There were rampages and then there were these prostitutes...

Did we think it was too violent? No. We put it out and we were proud of it. Were we conscious that some people might [be offended]? Absolutely. We were very careful to make sure we never marketed it in a way that exploited that. There was no violence or content in it that you wouldn't see in a TV show and see in a movie.

To us, it was like 'well, this debate doesn't make sense,' but we could sniff that it would probably come. We obviously never could have predicted that it would become as overblown as it did over the next four or five years.

Ten years on, society may be in a bit of a mess right now but it definitely isn't video games' fault. The one thing you cannot argue empirically now is: In the last ten years there hasn't been a massive societal collapse based on these games. You know, you spend tons of time not doing anything violent. There's far less violence in the game than in an average first-person shooter.

Do you think that reaction was amplified by the fact September 11th had just happened? You guys delayed the game because of it, right?

It was not just the content, it was also practical. We were trying to finish Flatout and Smuggler's Run II, both were in submission and we were working around the clock here and around the clock [at DMA Design] in Scotland.

Obviously, the guys in Scotland could continue working but we couldn't come into the office for five days because there were roadblocks up. It was a practical issue, we couldn't do any work.

It was a very strange time, but we were very close to 9/11, far closer than the vast majority of people, and therefore I believe we were capable of making sensitive judgments about what was appropriate and what wasn't appropriate.

I think one mission got removed. There was a non-interactive jumbo jet, just to give some life to the sky, that looked like it could pass through a building. That got adjusted, and a few lines of radio dialogue in the talk show. We were really very sensitive to stuff though because we'd watched on our doorstep, you know?

The only other thing that changed that not really many people in the U.S are aware of, is the box. So there was an old box that you can still see online because it was the packaging in Europe. It was the same drawing style but done like an old movie poster with a blown up bridge and some police firing in the air and some helicopters and a bunch of the characters are different sizes. We thought, 'that's a bit heavy, actually, it doesn't really gel.t And so the artist came up with a couple things, and he just came up with a new one overnight. What's become the very staple of our marketing and presentation was done in an evening as a response to 9/11.

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Is this how GTA III started?

With GTA III we did a hybrid city that was an empty city but it wasn't meant to be New York. It was a post industrial Midwest slash east coast generic, a deliberately generic feeling, American city. But making that we realized, actually, if you base this more on a real place you have a lot of things you can say about it. So that was one thing we learned. I suppose everything we learned about making the games we make, we really learnt one way or another from GTA III.

One of the things we take very seriously and really push ourselves on is to make sure the games are distinct. To make sure they feel different from one another in as many ways as possible, while retaining some core mechanics. But you evolve, innovate everything as much as possible so they feel like very different experiences, or it will just get very stale very quickly.

We really have never released a GTA that we weren't very proud of and we'll do our best never to do that."

Read the full interview here.

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