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GameSpot Interview with Dan Houser About GTA III

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On the heels of IGN's interview, GameSpot also managed to get an interview with top Rockstar name, Dan Houser. Read up on what went into Grand Theft Auto III and the rise from being ignored to one of the top games of the decade. There's also some insight into the development of the series as a whole. Some excerpts below...

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"DH: ... About a year out--maybe 10 months or so--we first had the city, the cars, some of the weapons, and an enormous reservoir of problems that we hadn't figured out yet. We were like, "If this could get to where we think it should get to, this is going to be amazing. Now how the hell do we solve those other problems?" And then, the early part of showing people the game--including E3 2001--was disconcerting because it was incredibly underwhelming. Because we thought it could be magical. Not the Holy Grail, but this thing that was 3D but open and expansive, combining elements of hardcore action, driving, adventuring--all these genres. Very cinematic and story-driven gameplay, this experience that's really unlike anything you've seen before. And people were scratching their heads around it! We were all, 'Are we wrong?'

There was enormous excitement around a few other games coming that fall. We went to E3 and everyone was obsessed by State of Emergency, and no one gave a crap really about GTA III. State of Emergency we thought was interesting, but not without its flaws--some of which never got resolved. But GTA III was already running, and we thought, "This is amazing!" But E3, I think, isn't the best place to show a game anyway, and that's definitely become solidified in our thinking since then.

The second half of 2001 changed people's perspective with some success. But still, it didn't really happen until consumers got their hands on it. I definitely think we were convinced the game was going to be pretty successful and we would make another one. Assuming Take Two didn't go bust because it was under enormous pressure. We'd begun to realize there was something really interesting in this kind of game. All of 2001 we sort of realized, hey, there's something really interesting here--are people going to see it? But we were very passionate about it from that point on.

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GS: It seems like one of the biggest changes in storytelling is that you guys have moved on from the silent protagonist. Was that change brought about by more technical resources for added characterization, or was it simply a narrative decision?

DH: It was a combination of the two. We were solving so many problems the first time. How would you bring a 3D world to life? How would you make a game that combines these seamless modes? How would you make a story that's both linear and nonlinear at the same time? And I guess we, quite consciously, came to the realization that…how would you make a player speak in an open world? We can't bother. We can't figure that out right now. We didn't even know if the narrative was going to be interesting enough to warrant it. We spent a lot of time on Vice City solving that riddle.

Once we realized that the stories could be and were as interesting as we hoped, we realized the next step was that the protagonist was going to have to speak. Even by the end of III, he wasn't just an everyman, and he had a personality. He just didn't speak! So that was a little bit disingenuous. It ended up feeling like it worked, but it could have been better if he'd spoken. It was a natural progression.

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DH: ... Going back to what I was saying before about what the game was trying to be, it wasn't trying to be reality. It was trying to be the reality of a movie world. And Britain's relationship with America is so odd because you consume so much American entertainment. To someone who grew up here it would seem incredibly banal, but it's stuff that seems exotic when you don't live here. It's set in Hollywood, which is amazing and exotic! Or it's set in New York, which is this boiling cauldron of insanity! But of course, when you actually move there you realize it's not that different from Britain and is less insane in many ways. So the whole concept of the game and the conjecture of the game was definitely based in an outsider's view of America, yes.

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DH: ... On a more structural level, because we found a way of doing music that was unique to the game in that the music was entirely environmental. Not only were you given a choice of what you'd listen to, but you were playing these games for so long you were slowly learning the music and falling in love with it. So the great pleasure for us was introducing songs that people hadn't heard of.

People might begin by going, 'I don't even want to listen to that station! I just want to listen to rock!' The rock station and the contemporary hip-hop station always get hit the most [early on], and over the course of playing the game players begin to discover all these weird bits of music we put in there and fall in love, hopefully, with some of the songs. You can look at some of the songs we've used in the games--you look at them on YouTube and realize people are going, 'I first heard this music in GTA!'

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DH: We didn't make a GTA movie for a reason, and the choice was ours. We probably could have got most people to do it, but we had no interest in doing it. One of the points about GTA was, it was the first time where if you thought about moving it into cinema, you were condensing it, not expanding it. It wasn't like how do you find all the things you put into the film? It was how do you streamline this into a cinematic experience? That's something where we never figured out the answer to the question. It was something that didn't exist in 50 different media. It was a game property, and that was something to cherish and not be embarrassed by."

Read the full interview here. and join us at the Grand Theft Auto V forums!
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