Aaron Garbut & Leslie Benzies Talk Vice City

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With the 10th Anniversary of Vice City underway, Producer Leslie Benzies and Art Director Aaron Garbut took on questions from a few digital media outlets. They provide some insight to the creation of Vice City and even look forward in a few spots. Some select quotes below...


"CraveOnline: It’s been exactly ten years since you helped develop Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Looking back, what is your fondest memory while working on it?

Aaron Garbut: ... For Vice City, there were a lot of moments that just clicked. When we first blocked in the map and drove about it for the first time; when we put in the helicopters and flew over the city; seeing the dancers in the club; driving down Ocean Drive at night; putting in the hardware store for all the less conventional weapon; the first time we had the player change clothes; driving over ramps in boats; smashing up a car with a hammer for the first time; being chased by golfers as I ran off in their golf cart; seeing the models of Love Fist for the first time; driving around on a moped the day they went in… It’s 10 years ago but these and so many other moments are still clear. It’s fantastic seeing a game evolve, especially when it happens quickly. Seeing everything click into place, having the opportunity to poke and prod it, try things out and learn from it all. Tiny things can be seminal moments.


Can you maybe detail some of the research you did in order to nail the feel of the 1980s?

Our research time supplied the artists with a huge volume of reference on everything from clothing to technology, and the rest was based on our own photos from the time that we all spent there. The entire team flew out to Miami not long after we had finished work on GTA III and tried to soak in as much as we possibly could – it’s very different from the kind of meticulously planned research that we do these days, back then it was just splitting up into small teams and roaming the streets looking for the kind of atmospherics we were after, whether it was iconic lighting, architecture or simply just a cool feel. There was a lot of watching Miami Vice to get in the swing of things. And I do remember finding a car in a side alley with bullet holes in it – definitely nailed the vibe for me.


As they say, hindsight is 20/20. So, is there anything you would have changed about the game? Or anything you would have done differently looking back?

We had talked about doing the Everglades. I think we even roughed some of it in. That would have been great. Basically expanding out of the city into the surroundings would be good, you get such good contrasts, but that was something that we devoted a lot of energy to in the later games."

Full interview at Crave Online here.

"T3: Vice City launched in 2002 on PS2 to incredible critical and commercial acclaim. What do you think it was that made it so popular with people and resonate so widely compared to everything else out at the time?

Aaron Garbut: Long enough had passed by the time we launched that people had stopped hating the ’80s and were ready to love it again: the style, the attitude and especially the music. Mostly though, I think it was popular because it was filled with energy and possibilities. Like every Grand Theft Auto since, we gave the player a time, a place and a story to exist within and a lot of things to do and see. We were doing something pretty different - it took the open world template from III and expanded on it; it was brasher; the characters were more engaging and we pushed as many toys into the world as we could. I think it was simply fresh and fun. We were energized by GTA III’s success, it gave us confidence but it also set a high bar that we felt we needed to surpass. That’s something that’s constantly driven us since, we’re always very conscious of pushing forward and delivering something that exceeds not just what people expect but what any right-minded game developer would be trying to deliver…

What were the biggest changes you wanted to make with Vice City after working on GTA III?

For me, the exciting thing was the contrast of sun and beaches with the concrete inner city we’d just finished on III. I still remember how happy it made me when I put the first palm trees around the map. We’d seen how people had somehow managed to fly the wingless plane we’d put in III and we were really keen to add flight to the game. That was challenging, building a world that was entirely solid and could be seen from any angle. It was worth it though, it gave us so many new experiences. Looking back, I think Vice City was when the story really started to grow into a much bigger part of the experience.


How do you personally feel about mobile gaming as a platform? It’s so powerful these days compared to not that long ago, and some people consider it the future of the games industry. Do you share those thoughts?

I suppose to some extent the platform is irrelevant, it’s the experiences people want. Sometimes that’s a small bite-sized, convenient experience; sometimes it’s an epic, full-on story-led experience.

Platforms will inevitably evolve but I think there’s always going to be a desire for a more involved gaming experience. What I love about GTA on a mobile platform is that it can be both. You can get engrossed in it as a story and mission-led experience or you can play it for a spare 10 minutes and have a lot of fun messing about in the world.

I really don’t know where things will go hardware-wise though. For me personally I think a console and a mobile device are separate, complimentary experiences. There will always be room for both the experience of wanting something quick and simple for little windows of gaming and wanting something chunkier and more engrossing for extended periods."

Full interview at T3 here.

"Crave Online: ’80s-era Miami is a very specific point of reference to ground GTA: Vice City in. Where did that come from? What other locales did you toy with as possible sources of inspiration for your GTA3 follow-up?

Leslie Benzies: In the early design meetings there were very few cities and regions on Earth that didn’t get pitched as a potential setting. We thought about revisiting London and a few other places but Sam was very keen on Miami with his love of the Miami Vice series.

We didn’t want to just pick a new city and change the color scheme, we wanted to go somewhere that had both similarities and differences to New York [Liberty City], and that’s what brought us to Miami. New York is busy and bustling, a real merchant city, whereas Miami is a party town, all sun and sea and sex, but with that same dark edge underneath. Also just like New York, it has been used as a setting for some classic film and television, so it was really the perfect fit.


Vice City’s voice cast is overflowing with recognizable Hollywood names, an approach that has been avoided in more recent Rockstar efforts. Can you speak a bit on how the attitude at the studio has changed with regards to casting? What advantages do you think the Hollywood-heavy cast brought to the table at that particular moment in time?

The main issue for us, especially when choosing voice-actors for main characters, is that if you choose a celebrity with a distinctive voice, it can damage the player’s immersion. They’re not thinking “ok, this is CJ,” or “this is Niko,” they’re thinking, “that’s Morgan Freeman.” It’s like when a well-known actor turns up in a cameo in film or TV, you are suddenly very aware that you’re watching a fiction. Because of this we have steered away from celebrity in recent years.


Any chance that Vice City might return in a future GTA?

It is always a possibility. There are a few references to the city in our current-gen GTAs so it is part of that HD universe, and it is certainly somewhere we would love to revisit. However Vice City, perhaps more than any other GTA game, was as much about the era as the setting. Miami in the 1980’s is so iconic it would feel strange to revisit the city in a different time period.

Of course at some point we would like to have one big world containing all our cities and let the player fly between them and revisit their favorite areas, and in that context reimagining Vice City would be very interesting.


Can fans look forward to seeing additional mobile development initiatives from Rockstar moving forward? Perhaps even something in the realm of all-new original content?

There are certainly a number of our previous titles we would like to see on tablets and mobiles, since it is essentially a whole new audience for them. Also the power of mobile technology is increasing so rapidly it is hard to imagine the kind of games we could be releasing for them in years to come. Whether these are repurposed versions of existing games or entirely new IPs I couldn’t say, but if you look at Chinatown Wars you can see that we are always up for the challenge of designing games for new technologies and making the most of all their features, not just their processing power."

Full interview at Digital Trends here.

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