THE MAKING OF GRAND THEFT AUTO
RICK LANE TRACES THE ORIGINS OF ONE OF GAMING’S BIGGEST NAMES
Grand Theft Auto is one of the game industry’s most recognised titles. The 11 games released under the name amount to the fourth biggest-selling video game franchise on the planet, succeeded only by Mario, Pokémon and Tetris. The series prides itself on being at the technological cutting edge, with Grand Theft Auto V offering astonishing environment design and virtual life simulation.
This has been the case right back to the original Grand Theft Auto, released almost 20 years ago in October 1997. To the untrained eye, this statement might come as a surprise. At the time of its launch, Grand Theft Auto seemed at odds with the rest of the industry, presenting players with a 2.5D, top-down perspective when everyone else was trying to rob the 3D bank.
But as Mike Dailly, co-creator of Grand Theft Auto, explains, what Grand Theft Auto achieved would have been impossible in 3D engines at the time. ‘The whole thing with GTA is this living engine, this living city, and you just would never have got that if it had gone 3D,’ he says. ‘We wouldn’t have got the hundreds of pedestrians and cars, because you just couldn’t draw that much back then. The top-down view, as retro as it looked, gave the game its life.’
The story of Grand Theft Auto begins at the end of 1993, not long after DMA design had completed work on Lemmings 2. Dailly then had some time to experiment with different rendering techniques, and began working on an isometric game engine. Isometric engines weren’t uncommon in the early 1990s, but Dailly’s idea was to create one the player could rotate smoothly, rather than snapping instantly from corner to corner.
‘I had a basic cube world that I rendered as an isometric view, and then instead of drawing tiles for each of the cubes, I basically texture-mapped the side and top to allow me to kind of spin that isometric view,’ Dailly explains. ‘So I had a little sample of a city view, like a block with some buildings and streets in it.’
Dailly showed this prototype to Dave Jones, founder of DMA design, who decided to build a game with it based around two rival gangs fighting in a city. A similar premise
Looking back now, it seems quaint that GTA generated such a furore