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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

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