The 1990s were the heyday of organized crime in the entertainment industry. By that we don’t mean sleazy Hollywood lawyers or mafia-type contracts with starlets, but genre films. He brought out masterpieces like Heat, Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction or Hana-Bi. Everybody wanted to be a gangster! Of course, the video game industry jumped on the bandwagon and planted the seeds for the best-selling entertainment product of all time: Grand Theft Auto. You can now find out what characterizes the primordial soup of open-world shooting, why GTA almost didn’t appear and what the whole thing has to do with a space simulation!
Straight outta Dundee
Grand Theft Auto (buy now €17.99 ) looked very different at the beginning of its development. The game was originally supposed to be called Race’n’Chase and was basically a cops and robbers racing game playable over a local network, in which players crash each other off the road. However, it quickly became clear that it was more fun to wreak havoc on the side of the criminals. Nobody wanted to play the police. The first approach was therefore thrown overboard and a classic approach was tried instead. A leaked design document from Race’n’Chase shows that the rough framework was already in place. Three cities should be navigable in the game, which are based on their layout on New York, Venice and Miami.
In addition, if you should have navigated your wheels into the crash barriers, you could get out of the car and steal a new one. Nevertheless, as a player you were limited in your approach. Races went from A to B. Missions in which you served as a getaway driver for a bank robbery, for example, took place in certain areas. That had little to do with Open World.
But that all changed when video game journalist Gary Penn joined DMA as creative director. Penn previously worked at another English game developer, Frontier Developments. There he worked under the supervision of game veteran David Braben, among other things, on Elite 2, whose open approach he wanted to spread to the GTA makers.
It was an open door, because other developers at DMA also loved the new game design, which they had already seen in Syndicate, Mercenary or the elite games.
The result was the first Grand Theft Auto as we know it. A freely exploreable game world in which – if you want – you can accept missions and cause chaos. The environment remains persistent. If we leave behind a burnt car wreck on the freeway during a shootout, it can still be found there later, with the difference that the fire brigade has now arrived and put out the fire.
Such details give the impression of visiting a living, breathing world. If NPCs injure themselves – admittedly mostly by our hands – an ambulance will come around the corner in a short time to nurse the bleeding pixel people.
Source: PC Games
Mama Said Knock You Out
And sometimes, when you’re in the mood for a little bit of madness, the emergency doctor has to take care of masses of pixel people. The level of violence, which was high for the time, and the issue of gangster life put youth protection authorities around the world on alert. Passers-by running away burning and screaming, multipliers and points for pedestrians who were run over alerted the moral guardians.
If you managed to flatten a group of Hare Krishna with the car in one go, you not only got a decent deposit on your points account but also the exclamation “Gouranga!” displayed over the entire screen. This is a term popularized by the Hare Krishna to bring joy and happiness to anyone who hears it. Despite this positive message, a dark lord in the British House of Lords wanted to prevent the release of GTA.
Unlike an evil magician from a children’s book series, his name should be mentioned here. Lord Campbell of Croy got wind of this scandalous video game and described the obscenities a player can commit there during a session of the House of Lords. For the Daily Mail, one of the UK’s biggest tabloids, the subject was a hit, they blew it up enormously.
Free advertising? Right, the whole thing had been arranged well in advance. The publisher of the first GTA was still called BMG at the time and had planned a rather subversive marketing campaign for the game.
They hired the publicist Max Clifford, who in turn told Lord Campbell to speak before the British Parliament about this terrible game, which for God’s sake must not fall into the hands of children. The plan worked out perfectly and excerpts from the House of Lords session were used for GTA radio advertising. Suddenly, the game was known across the country long before its release.