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《侠盗猎车手》10年发展历程 发表评论(0) 编辑词条

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《侠盗猎车手》10年发展历程编辑本段回目录

2001年10月22日,Rockstar Games正式发行了《侠盗猎车手III》,为我们呈现了PS2的强大功能。游戏基调较为狂野;玩家在游戏中扮演一个罪犯的角色,并从一个自上而下的角度俯视游戏世界。而《侠盗猎车手III》创造了一个3D世界,让玩家能够在地平面上的城市中自由探索。虽然这并不是第一款结合了不同类型的游戏,但是《侠盗猎车手III》却将所有游戏成份有序地组合在一起:这是一款赛车游戏,同时也包含了第三人称射手,角色扮演游戏中曲折多变的冒险内容以及侦探惊险游戏中的元素。而对休闲游戏玩家可能会认为比起单人电子游戏,《侠盗猎车手III》它更像是一个纯粹的娱乐系统。

《侠盗猎车手III》的出现给电子游戏产业带来了巨大的变化。与2001年11月发行于Xbox上的《光晕:最后一战》一起,被当成是新世纪早期典范转移的核心,并且,有些人会认为“它们创造了一种重要的文化力量”也有些人会说“这仅仅只是昙花一现的风潮”。

Grand-Theft-Auto-3(from popwatch)

Grand-Theft-Auto-3(from popwatch)

在《侠盗猎车手》系列游戏在过去10年的发展中,最让人印象深刻的应该是Rockstar Games针对于这些游戏所做出的各种尝试。游戏开发者一直在朝全新的方向演化《侠盗猎车手III》的游戏系统。例如《侠盗猎车手:罪恶都市》便为玩家重现了80年代的风貌。而《侠盗猎车手:圣安地列斯》更是最大程度地扩展了开放世界游戏体验,同时融合了加利福尼亚的三大城市——洛杉矶,旧金山和拉斯维加斯的特点。

但是《侠盗猎车手》系列所带来的变化不仅局限于技术方面。《侠盗猎车手IV》便创造了分支叙述,并且突出了游戏主角——来自东欧的移民Niko Bellic。而去年《荒野大镖客》的发行也暗示着Rockstar所创造的开放世界登上了一个全新的台阶。这款游戏设于一个空旷,迷离的背景下,这点与总是选择城市环境的《侠盗猎车手》有所不同;它的主基调是哀伤,甚至可以说的沉寂的,这也与《罪恶都市》的华丽喧嚣存在巨大差别;这款游戏的结尾更是电子游戏叙述历史上不可多得的优秀设计。

Rockstar Games创意副总监Dan Houser与其兄弟Sam在《侠盗猎车手III》后的所有该系列游戏开发中扮演着非常重要的角色(游戏邦注:Dan可以说是《侠盗猎车手II》后每一款该系列游戏以及《Red Dead》和《Bully》游戏故事作者或联合作者)。但是Dan却将所有的功劳归因于团队努力。他说道:“我认为《侠盗猎车手》系列游戏之所以能够一直保持创造性和乐趣是因为它们拥有相同的执行制作人,制作人,故事写手,艺术指导,主程序员,音频工作者以及其他工作人员;以及在《侠盗猎车手III》和《罪恶都市》问世后才参与进来的新成员们。我们的合作一直很融洽。”

Houser在接受访问时先是谈到了《侠盗猎车手III》这款游戏开发经历,随后又转到构造世界的相关内容,过去10年里开放世界故事叙述的发展,《侠盗猎车手III》之后发行的系列游戏以及电子游戏的下一个发展阶段。

在创造《侠盗猎车手III》时,从自上而下游戏视角到3D环境的变化是如何影响你们对游戏故事的设想?

当我们在开发《侠盗猎车手III》时也不断涌现出一些新问题,具体来说应该说是一些挑战。在故事方面,我们所面临的一大挑战是自上而下的游戏视角并不存在真正的叙述性,而更像是一种自由理念,即玩家可以随时做自己想做的事。而我们既希望保持这种自由的理念,并在此基础上进行扩展,添加一些对立的理念,也就是我们所说的叙述性。

而真正的挑战是如何构造一个结合自由情节——玩家可以在任何时候,选择是否执行任务,或者做其它事,接触多种故事等,但同时又有一些能够把这些内容相融合的元素。

red-dead-redemption(from popwatch)

red-dead-redemption(from popwatch)

Rockstar的所有开放世界游戏都是基于主要情节主线而嫁接非线形游戏设置。在《罪恶都市》中突出了主角Tommy Vercetti。在《荒野大镖客》中是John Marston尝试着去拯救他的亲人。你们是否想过在《侠盗猎车手》中结合《辐射》的游戏类型,即玩家可以随意朝任何方向走去,并且不需要一个单一的情节主线维系整款游戏?

其实《辐射》与《侠盗猎车手》之间的差别并不明显。《侠盗猎车手》是一款动作冒险游戏,而这类型游戏往往也都是基于角色扮演游戏。特别是对于外行人来说,这两款游戏的差别远不如相似点明显。

而这却是一种有趣的的两难局面。你总是不断地平衡自由以及玩家创造内容的能力。太过复杂的内容会让玩家产生退却心理。人们总是喜欢叙述内容,如果你的游戏移除了更多叙述内容,那就等于移除了指引玩家玩游戏的导航。而最重要的是你必须让玩家在完成任务或者最终完成游戏时能够获得成就感。

观看整个故事的发展过程非常有趣。《侠盗猎车手III》的主角几乎没说过一句话,他甚至没有自己的名字。而《罪恶都市》的主角Tommy Vercetti拥有一个悲惨的过去。《圣安地列斯》的CJ则拥有一个完整的家庭。

你不能总是创造那些“超级英雄起起落落或者死而复生”的故事情节。我们总是努力创造一些更有趣的故事情节。所以在创造《侠盗猎车手III》中我们面临了许多问题。之前还未有人通过唱片传输数据,也未有人尝试过用动态捕捉方法截取过场动画。那时候,你只能够纯粹创造一款赛车游戏或射击游戏。而今天,如果你创造的是一款基于关卡的游戏,你便能够同时融入赛车关卡和射击关卡。也就是所有的这些内容都能够完整地结合在一起。

因为我们在游戏中尝试了许多新内容,所以并没有任何规则手册能够指导我们做这些事。就像我们过去在阐述一个故事(让玩家真正感受到自己沉浸于游戏中),我们的很多理念都是来自自己的创想。就像我们在制作动画时,并不清楚能够让多少角色开口说话等。那时我们的思想还是有所局限,很多现在我们认为理所当然的内容在那时看来都是全新的挑战与尝试。

在《侠盗猎车手III》中,玩家始于Liberty City一个较“低层”的地区,就像是布鲁克林区或皇后区。随着游戏的进行,玩家可能会进入曼哈顿般的市区,最后来到一个非常富有的郊区。你是如何想出这些过程的?

Liberty City并不是特指纽约,它是美国许多城市的综合体,包括芝加哥,匹兹堡,底特律,纽约以及费城。它是一个古老的后工业美国城市。虽然《侠盗猎车手III》描写了美国许多城市,但是《罪恶都市》却完全针对于迈阿密这座城市展开。

根据如此流程,玩家将在游戏中感受从贫穷到富裕的过渡,这是符合逻辑的设置。你将会开始于一个下层社会,那里可能是整个城市中最黑暗最动荡的地区,充满破旧码头等内容。而那些有钱人或黑帮大佬只会出现在郊区或者市中心的高楼大厦里。你将能够在后来的城市中遇到他们。

我们希望能够将最后的郊区场景设置在大坝周围,虽然这种设置不适合出现在电影中,但是却是游戏中一种标志性的结尾。

我还有一个纯技术问题:你们的游戏创造有什么启发过程?你是和合作者共同规划游戏架构吗?所有的这些内容都是源于一个单一的初始理念吗?

我们最初先设定了场所和时间。这是我,Sam,制作人Leslie Benzies以及艺术总监Aaron Garbut共同讨论的结果。然后我们更深入地探讨如何设置主角的身份,我们列出了各种假设:他是一个恶棍;他是刚从监狱里出来的老男人;他可以是白人,黑人,南斯拉夫人等等。

随后我们便开始同时规划故事大纲,游戏功能以及早期任务等。当完成最终的游戏制作时,故事和任务也就是相互维系的内容。任务能够阐述故事,而故事也能够展现任务所揭示的功能。结合过场动画与行动将能够进一步推动故事的发展。随后故事便能够为你揭晓游戏的核心机制。所以游戏体验的过程就是玩家感受故事发展的过程。它们是相互维系的整体。

游戏是一个巨大创作体。你必须同时进行许多创作任务。你需要叮嘱制作地图的人员尽快完成任务,因为设计人员必须基于这些地图才能进行设计。你必须并行地进行各项工作,不论是地图设计,场景设计,角色设计,故事撰写,游戏设计,动画设计等,你都应该尽可能快速地进行并完成这些工作。

《圣安地列斯》真的是一款大型游戏,我甚至难以想象自己到底需要花费多少时间才能完成游戏。你能否跟我们说说你是如何着眼于像《圣安地列斯》这种拥有大量脚本的游戏?或者你们是如何保持整个过程的顺畅进行?

我们将这款游戏的脚本打印出来并堆积在一起,足足有5英尺高!即使是主体游戏脚本,单是任务,过场动画以及主要任务对话也需要好几千页的内容。我们希望脚本中能够整合设计和故事内容。你必须了解每个任务的乐趣在哪里。就像我们希望能够在《侠盗猎车手III》中呈现火箭发射装置或者在《罪恶都市》中呈现高速快艇和直升飞机一样。

看着继《侠盗猎车手III》,《罪恶都市》以及《圣安地列斯》后的Rockstar游戏的故事演变,我明显感受到一些更深刻的意义。后来你也参与了《侠盗猎车手IV》以及《荒野大镖客》的创作,而这几款游戏的故事都采取了一些更加现实且悲壮的表现手法。这些都是你个人的观点吗?

的确,《荒野大镖客》与之前的游戏有所不同,因为我们希望这款游戏能够拥有属于自己的基调。而我们也必须了解当前社会趋势,就像是掌握消费者文化此类内容,去创造游戏氛围。我们希望在游戏中设置一些非法行为,并以此推动游戏的结局。如此看来这种情节本身就带有悲剧色彩,但是其中也包含了一些空想理念。你不能太过于愤世嫉俗。并且也应该适当地添加一些幽默元素。

《圣安地列斯》在这方面就做得很好。关于《侠盗猎车手IV》,我一直认为它会比《荒野大镖客》悲壮,但是最后它的主基调则是基于悲剧与黑色幽默之间。

在《荒野大镖客》中,平均每个玩家都会在游戏中花费十几个小时的时间。游戏中一位主角John Marston的主要目标是为他的儿子创造一个更美好的生活——确保儿子Jack不会再成为像自己这样的罪犯。最后Marston被杀死了,玩家便开始操纵Jack,而他最后居然也步入父亲的后尘!这是你们的有意安排吗?还是说这只是游戏自然的发展过程?

这是我们之前在讨论如何平衡开放世界故事时所涉及的内容。游戏也就是一系列机制的组合。玩家能够开车,射击,与其他角色对话。而我们孤注一掷的做法就是杀死John Marston。因为这么做可能会惹怒许多玩家,但是实际上,这些玩家却愿意因为如此设置而被惹怒:虽然他们并未意识到这点。这么做能够让玩家拥有更深刻的游戏体验,并且让游戏的主题更加具有意义。

从技术角度来讲,我们会如何处理这些从未尝试过的新内容?作为儿子你肯定会延续父亲的做法,并全身心投入其中。最后变成像父亲那样的角色。也许这就是问题的关键。

vice-city(from popwatch)

vice-city(from popwatch)

你所有的设想都很好地实践于这些游戏中。《侠盗猎车手III》中的朝火箭发射装置开火以及运行危险信号;《罪恶都市》中玩家能够盘旋于军用直升飞机四周并挥动电锯。但是最后,当来到《荒野大镖客》时,你们却设置了一些较为零散的任务,也就是教授儿子一些基本技能,如打猎或放牧。你们是如何让玩家半控制一个几近现实的游戏世界?

我们无从判断为何摁下一个按钮,让某人开直升飞机会比让他扫地更有趣。这也算是一种机制。我们认为,如果你能够创造一些有趣的次要内容,如描述或对话,你就能够让这些原本无趣的机制变得有趣。

你可以让任何东西变得有趣,也能够让任何东西变得无趣。特别是在高清产品全面普及的时代,制作一些随机内容看似有趣,但是有时候也会让人感到困惑。游戏本就不属于现实内容。它们的现实性只能体现在我们从电视上看到,听到或者广告中所看到的那种现实,这只是媒体中的现实而非现实中的现实。

你在之前提到,《侠盗猎车手》系列游戏的理念是对消费主义以及媒体作用的检验。而这一观点是否一直贯穿于每一款《侠盗猎车手》游戏?这是否与Paul Verhoeven(游戏邦注:荷兰籍著名导演)看待美国媒体系统的角度是一样的?

我想说,这其实就是游戏的本质所在。从某种层面上看,游戏中充满了对于犯罪小说的敬意。而犯罪小说与消费主义、图像及其呈现方式和销售方式密不可分。而当英国人以局外人的角度去审视这些着眼于美国电影以及美国消费主义的游戏,他们便能从中感受到美国媒体以及美国犯罪电影的疯狂程度。

你谈论了许多关于Rockstar对于创造《侠盗猎车手III》等游戏的最初影响,而在过去10年里,是否有哪部电视剧或者电影也给你带来深刻的影响?在过去十年里,媒体真的发生了巨大的变化,而《侠盗猎车手III》正是出现在《黑道家族》(电视剧)所带来的电视剧热潮时代里。

我并不怎么看《黑道家族》这部电视剧,因为它的内容和我们正在创造的游戏实在太相像了。它就像是《火线》和《混乱之子》。虽然在媒体产业中我们总是相互借鉴着彼此的内容,但是我们也希望能够从不同来源中获取一些更加自由且抽象的理念,而不是总停留在相同的基层上。

电视剧的每一集都是个小故事,每一季是个大故事,而5、10季则是一个更长篇幅的故事。我认为这是一种不错的讲故事方式,因为它能够更深入地将玩家带到故事情节中,让他们更好地了整个故事以及其中的角色,而这也是我们在游戏中所不断尝试的。比起单独一部的电影,游戏的长度更接近一季的电视节目。

如果不是犯罪题材,那你会看哪种类型的电视?

我最喜欢的应该是《广告狂人》。因为我也是一名上班族,所以这种题材的电视剧会让我感同身受。其实这部电视剧的剧情很无聊,也就是办公室生活,但是整体看来却非常具有吸引力。从技术角度看来,这就像是我们为自己设下的挑战:即不管对象是谁,我们都应该尽可能地为他们创造出乐趣并吸引他们的注意。

这是一部主流现代电视剧,在剧中很少会出现威胁到角色生命安全的内容。尽管它主要是在描写广告合同,看上去非常无聊,但是我们却也能够在这种平庸的内容上体现出生与死的内容。

想象一下《广告狂人》,你是否能够制作一款主角都不用持枪的游戏?

我想《黑色洛城》就帮助我们迈出了这样的一步。如果玩家持着枪,那么他扮演的就是刑警的角色,但是这款游戏的核心机制与《侠盗猎车手》或者《荒野大镖客》的核心机制都不同。我们总是在寻找一些新方法能够创造出更有趣的互动行为。而媒体便是我们正在接触的一种充满活力的伙伴,虽然这种合作关系还不甚成熟。

如果以年龄计算,游戏产业现在只有35岁。而当电影也只有35岁之时,它的发展成就却远不如现在的游戏产业。不可否认,今后十年依旧是电影产业的黄金时代,但是其现在的作品却已经不如相对年轻的游戏作品精致了。游戏产业从过去20年,30年以来的发展真的太让人吃惊了。我们真心希望能够作为推动这股汹涌洪流的主力军,将游戏产业推向更高的发展层面。

回首来看,同是35岁的电影产业那时才刚引入音效。而《侠盗猎车手III》的出现更是代表了游戏产业的一大飞跃。从技术上来讲,比起从2D到3D的过渡,游戏产业中还出现了那些巨大的进步?

我想A.I.便是一大进步,即你可以创造出更加活灵活现的非玩家角色。如果我们想创造一个更加生动的游戏世界,我们就必须克服这个障碍。同时需要进行反复的迭代。这并不是打开声音那么简单,需要一步一步进行完善。我想这应该是那些不够逼真的游戏所面临的最大缺陷吧。如今的角色越来越栩栩如生。除了需要完成具有创造性的图像,故事和设计,你同时还需要不断完善游戏角色。

我发现《侠盗猎车手III》之后的游戏都带有浓厚的美国历史气息,而这也是我们很少在电子游戏所看到的。《侠盗猎车手》系列主要体现了八九十年代的美国以及六十年代的伦敦。《黑色洛城》是设置在战后时代,而《荒野大镖客》则是发生于美国西部大开发时期。涵括整个美国历史是否是你们的长期目标?如此我们是否能够在今后的游戏中看到美国独立战争的场景?

几乎围绕任何时代而创造的游戏都会很有趣。历史故事总是存在着乐趣元素,并且能够引起现代玩家的共鸣。

grand theft auto 3(from popwatch)

grand theft auto 3(from popwatch)

展望今后的《侠盗猎车手》系列游戏,你是否还想要创造另一款国际版游戏?自《侠盗猎车手III》以来这个系列一直是以美国为背景。

我们一直在进行各种尝试。你可以阐述许多有趣的犯罪故事,而且世界上也还有许多城市许多地方可以作为故事描述背景。而这些内容是否适合《侠盗猎车手》这种大量涉及美国文化以及美国媒体的游戏,这还需要我们做进一步调查。

你们是否即将创造下一款《侠盗猎车手》游戏?

还会有一款新的吗?(笑)任何规划都要等到《英雄本色3》完成之后再进行。

好吧,让我们先假设下会有这款游戏的出现。你已经创造了80年代以及90年代的游戏,是否有打算将下一款《侠盗猎车手》的背景设置在2001年?这款新游戏与《侠盗猎车手III》会有何不同?你会添加哪些新内容?你对新世纪早期的故事场景有何设想?

关于这个时代有很多题材可以让我们发挥。2000年早期出现了第一次网络泡沫,尽管如此那时候的英特网还是一种非常火热的新事物。还有刚刚出现的越野车,房地产发展等等都是可以引发想象的重要事件。

还有引人深思的911大事件。如果我没记错的话,这款游戏是发行于911之后的第六周,而游戏背景却是在此之前。在这个特别的时期,除了股票市场的崩溃以及信用泡沫的出现,世界上的大部分人民还是对生活充满着希望,他们仍然期盼着后历史世界的到来。现在看来如此纯真的思想更是我们应该把握住的。

当我们将《自由城的故事》的背景设置在1998年至1999年之间时,我们对于即将出现的Y2K(游戏邦注:千禧危机,当公元2000年的1月1日时,系统却无法自动辨识00/01/01究竟代表1900年的1月1日,还是2000年的1月1日, 所有的软硬件都可能因为日期的混淆而产生资料流失、系统死机、程序紊乱、控制失灵等问题)充满担忧。而到了2001年,当所有危机都解除后,我们开始恢复乐观。但是这时候人们又开始担忧“民主能否取得胜利,经济是否能够恢复繁荣,我们获得的这些惊人的技术是否能为我们创造出惊人的产品”等等。从我们现在的角度来看,那些担忧都是无谓的,因为它们不一定会真正实现。而那些你并未担忧的事情却最终可能成为你需要真正担忧的内容。所以这10年是骚动与多变的10年。

911事件是否影响了《侠盗猎车手III》今后系列游戏的发展?而你们是否因此选择将今后两款游戏的背景设置在过去?

当然没有。它的出现只是让我们所描写的游戏世界更趋向于电视上所呈现的世界。而真正能够影响游戏的还是我们所掌握的技巧。而911事件带给设计方案的影响仅在于我们能够创造出更多具有攻击性的内容,例如设置飞机撞向建筑物。

在过去10年里出现了许多关于你们游戏的争议,你能就此说说你的看法吗?

对于这种争议我们并没有办法避免。时间能够证明我们的观点:如果你的精神有问题,那么你当然不能玩游戏,读圣经等。但是如果你是正常人,游戏对于你来说也就是一种娱乐工具。你在游戏中看到的内容,也经常出现在电影或者新闻中。这才是关键。

你将《侠盗猎车手III》以及其它系列游戏归功于团队的努力,而其中是否有哪个角色是基于你们自己的形象而创立?

我想是没有的。所有的理念都是全体成员共同想出来的。如果真的要说一个与我有关系的角色,那应该就是《Bully》中的主要敌手角色Gary,他是以我的一个小学同学为原型而设立。

网上有很多人在讨论你与《Bully》之间的联系,特别是有人说你与主角极为相似。

我可不这么认为。主角Jimmy的设计者Ian McQue应该也不会认同吧。他是在晚上创作出这个角色。Jimmy是个年轻的英国人,有点像“80年代时期的恶棍形象”,而他来到了美国。这是一个顽强且善良的角色。

最后一个问题:在《侠盗猎车手III》这些游戏出现之前,玩家总是能够清晰地看到游戏中的每个部分。但是在你们的这些开放世界游戏中,即使是最投入的玩家也很难看透所有内容。当你在整合这些世界时你想要达到何种效果?而你们是否达到了这些目标?

我想我们成功做到了,并且我们也将继续探索更多新内容并适当添加到游戏中,而激励玩家不断进行挖掘与探索。而我们会在原先设立的整体主题基础上去嵌入这些新内容。

我想对于玩家来说这种方法能够带给他们更多乐趣。他们能够从非线形游戏描述中体验到惊喜,娱乐,耐人寻味甚至是愚蠢简单的内容。这是一种有趣且非常有效的方法,并且是专属于游戏领域的一种方法。作为游戏制作人,我们总是在寻找一些你们在电影,电视剧或者书籍中不能够使用的独特方法。

所以非线性方法就是我们的选择。不只是简单地完成某些任务即可,我们更需要深入去感受并理解整个游戏世界。我们总是投入更多精力和时间去探索虚拟世界,寻找更多能够让玩家在此进行探索的新事物。

因为人们总是喜欢接触那些完全陌生的新事物。

游戏邦注:原文发表于2011年10月21日,所涉事件和数据均以当时为准。(本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译,作者:Darren Franich)

‘Grand Theft Auto III’ turns 10 years old: Rockstar Games’ Dan Houser discusses the ‘GTA’ decade

by Darren Franich

Oct 21 2011

On October 22, 2001, everything we ever thought we understood about videogames changed. Gamers were looking ahead to the oncoming arrival of the next generation of consoles. Nintendo was one month away from the North American release of the GameCube, an adorable candy-colored travesty that would usher in a half-decade in the cultural wilderness. Microsoft — still the Evil Empire in those simpler, bygone days — was going to release its own system the same week: A brutal tank-like abomination called the Xbox, which came equipped with a controller that looked like a blunt instrument used by cavemen to crush mammoth skulls.

Sony had already released its own next-generation console one year earlier. The device was called the PlayStation 2. It would become the best-selling videogame console in history. It would initiate a massive shift in how the culture thought about videogames, and how videogame players thought about themselves. And if you want to pinpoint a specific moment when the industry began that massive shift, you could do worse than pointing to October 22, 2001, when Rockstar Games released Grand Theft Auto III into stores.

GTA III was a showcase for the powerhouse PS2. Earlier games in the series were fun, prankishly rude ditties; you played a criminal, and observed the gridlike world from an omniscient, top-down perspective. GTA III created an entire three-dimensional world, setting you at ground level in a city that could be freely explored. It wasn’t the first game to combine different genres into one, but the component parts of GTA III‘s gameplay were well integrated: it was a driving game, a third-person shooter, an RPG-inflected adventure, a crime thriller. The Casual Gamer — a primordial notion, five years pre-Wii — probably thought that GTA III was less a single videogame than an entire entertainment system unto itself.

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GTA III kickstarted whole host of changes in the videogame industry. Along with Halo: Combat Evolved, released in November 2001 as an Xbox launch title, it’s a central to the paradigm shift in the early ’00s that transformed videogames either into “a legitimately cool and important cultural force” or “that annoyingly fashionable Hot New Thing that meant Lindsay Lohan attended the launch party of Saints Row The Third” — depending on your perspective. (I’ll never forget watching The O.C. and noticing that Seth Cohen had a Rockstar Games poster up in his bedroom.)

But the most impressive thing about the decade since GTA III was released is the amazing run it kickstarted at Rockstar Games. The developer has continually evolved the GTA III system in madcap new directions. GTA: Vice City practically created the neverending ’80s revival. GTA: San Andreas expanded the open-world experience to a fanatical extent, rebuilding a bizarro-California with Fake Las Vegas thrown in for kicks. (If it’s possible for one of the best-selling games ever to be considered underrated, then I’d say San Andreas counts: The game’s gonzo cocktail of gangster street grit and jetpack absurdity makes it one of videogamery’s great weird entertainments.)

But the GTA series was never just about technological leaps. GTA IV brought branching narratives to the franchise, and also starred its most endearing protagonist: Eastern European immigrant Niko Bellic. And last year’s Red Dead Redemption suggested an entirely new stage in the Rockstar open-world experiment. It was set in a sparse, almost meditative landscape, where GTA always preferred urban environments; it was elegiac, even ruminative, a far cry from the glitzy snark of Vice City; and it featured one of the great endings in videogame narrative history.

Dan Houser  – Vice President of Creative at Rockstar Games — has taken central roles in the development of all the games in the GTA series since GTA III, along with his brother, Sam. (Dan is actually credited as a writer or co-writer on every GTA game since II, as well as Red Dead and the prep-school curio Bully.) However, in conversation, Houser is quick to describe all the games as a team effort. “I think one of the reasons, hopefully, that Grand Theft Auto is still innovative and interesting,” he tells EW, “is that it’s it’s still got the same executive producer, producer, writer, art director, lead programmer, audio guys, and a bunch of other guys that have been on it since III, and then a bunch more that came on for Vice. We’ve always worked well together.”

Houser sat down with EW recently to talk about the creation of GTA 3, and the conversation quickly spiraled into a freewheeling discussion about the nature of world-building, the growing possibilities of open-world storytelling in the last decade, the development of the series from GTA III onwards, and the potential next stage of videogame evolution.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Going into Grand Theft Auto III, how did the knowledge that the gameplay was going to evolve from the top-down perspective into this whole new 3-D environment affect your ambitions for the game’s storyline?

DAN HOUSER: As we were making GTA III, new problems would constantly present themselves. Not problems, but challenges. On the story side, one of our main challenges was that the top-down games had had really no narrative at all. They’d been based around the idea of freedom. You could do what you wanted, when you wanted. We wanted to keep that idea of freedom and expand on that, and also put in what could be seen to be a somewhat contradictory idea, which was narrative.

The real challenge was figuring out a way to structure the game that combined freedom — freedom to do seemingly anything at any time, to do a mission, not do a mission, to do something else, to work multiple storylines at once — but also have some kind of coherent narrative that brought it all together.

All of Rockstar’s open-world games graft the non-linearity of the gameplay onto one overarching plotline. In Vice City, it’s the rise of Tommy Vercetti. In Red Dead, it’s John Marston’s quest to save his family. Would you ever want to do a GTA more in the style of Fallout, where the player can go in any number of different directions, and there’s not necessarily that single overarching plotline as a backbone?

The differences between us and a Fallout are not that pronounced. GTA started out as an action-adventure game. Games like that started out as RPGs. But if you looked at them now — where they all ended up — to a layperson, the differences are much less profound than the similarities.

But in terms of your core question, that’s sort of an interesting dilemma. You’re constantly balancing freedom, the ability for people to generate stuff themselves. Making it too complicated takes it away from a large part of the audience. People also love narrative, and removing strong narrative removes a lot of their guidance through the game. The sense of accomplishment, the sense of finality with the game: That is important.

It’s interesting to see how that storytelling has developed. The main character of GTA III doesn’t speak — he doesn’t even have a name. Vice City‘s Tommy Vercetti has a shady past. San Andreas‘ CJ has a whole family unit.

You try not to make the stories always the same “Rise and Fall and Rise Again of a Superhero Bad Guy.” We try to make it more nuanced and interesting than that. In Grand Theft Auto III, we had so many problems to solve. No one had ever streamed in data for disc. No one had ever done motion-capture cutscenes in the way we were doing them. No one had ever had this seamlessness between the modes. In those days you had a driving game or a shooting game. If you had a level-based game, you might have a driving level and a shooting level. And we were suddenly saying it was all of this. All of these genres were gonna be combined in a completely seamless way.

We had so many things that we were doing for the first time in that game, that we had no kind of rulebook to follow. The way we were trying to tell the story — to give you the sense of being in this world yourself — it just seemed simpler to say, “Well, he’s not going to speak, everyone else will speak to him.” Partly, because of the way that we were doing animation, we didn’t know if we could have more than one person speak! It was so limited. No on had ever done stuff that people now take for granted. It was brand new then.

In GTA III, you begin in the lower-class corner of Liberty City, a kind of Brooklyn/Queens area. Over the course of the game, you expand into the Manhattan-ish downtown, and then finally into the wealthy suburbs. When did you hit on that as the progression for the game?

That Liberty City was not particularly meant to be New York. That was meant to be a hybrid of a generic American city: Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, New York, Philly. An old, post-industrial American city. [GTA III] was America, whereas Vice City was clearly Miami.

In terms of flow, you wanted to start out feeling poor and work to being richer. That made logical sense. You also wanted to start in the underworld, so it had to be the roughest, ramshackle bit of the map. Rundown docks, that kind of stuff. And then, if you’re gonna meet rich guys and gang bosses, they were gonna be suburban, or in the downtown high-rises. That made sense for later in the game.

We always wanted to end with that big suburban scene around the dam, which obviously doesn’t fit into any particular movie, but seemed like it would be a kind of iconic way to end the game.

I have a purely technical question: What’s the initial process of putting these games together? Does it start with you and your co-writers drafting out a structure? Is there one single room somewhere where it springs out of from?

The beginning thought is the place, and the time period. Which will really be a conversation between Sam, myself, Leslie Benzies, who’s the producer, and Aaron Garbut, who’s the art director. We’ll start discussing some broad ideas for the protagonist: He’s gonna be a gang kid, he’s gonna be an older guy who just got out of prison, he’s gonna be white, black, Yugoslavian, whatever it might be. Just sort of loose ideas for that.

From there, we’ll begin working on a story outline, a feature set, and some early missions, all at the same time. The story and the missions are the same thing, hopefully, by the time the game comes out. The missions tell the story, and the story shows off the features that the missions unlock. The combination of the cutscene and the action moves the story forward. The next bit of story unlocks the next core mechanic for you to play with. The experience of playing the game is also the same as going through the story. They’re not separate things.

The rest of it — the games are sort of big. There’s so many bits you have to be working on at once. You get the map guys working as soon as humanly possible, because the design guys can’t really do anything till there’s bits of map made to do it in. You have to work everything in parallel. Map-building, interior-building, character-building, writing, game design, animation: You want them all moving as soon as possible.

Thinking about how massive San Andreas was — I can’t imagine how many hours I spent playing it, but probably several dozen — is there any point where you’re looking at an actual massive script for a game like that? Or is it a more fluid process?

Mercifully, it’s sufficiently ramshackle-slash-organized in some abstract way, that we’re not looking at a massive pile of script. We did print out the script for GTA IV. I’m a bad record-keeper, so for once I wanted to print out all the scripts and keep them somewhere. It piled up about five feet high. Maybe more. The pedestrians, there’s thousands of pages just of them, and they’ve each got ten pages each just to speak. Even the main game script — just the missions and the cutscenes and the bits of mission dialogue for the main game — is thousands of pages long. Again, it helps to bite it off in chunks. We want it to feel integrated between design and story. You want to know what’s going to be fun about each mission. We want to really show off this rocket launcher in GTA III. [In Vice City], you want to show off a speedboat, a helicopter.

Looking at how the storytelling evolved in the Rockstar games after GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas feel to me like they’re a little bit more satirical. Then you get to GTA IV and Red Dead, and the storytelling seems to adopt a more realistic, even tragic note. Is that evolution something that’s been on your guys’ minds?

I think Red Dead’s a little bit different, because we wanted it to have its own tone. You still wanted to cast a somewhat knowing look at society at that time, because it would be odd not to. It’s still kind of the birth of consumer culture and that kind of stuff, it’s quite interesting to look at in the periphery of the game. The theme of what we were trying to explore in the game, I guess, was what it meant to be an outlaw in the days [when] outlaws were coming to an end. So that is probably [in] it’s nature [a] sort of tragic, somewhat romantic concept. You can’t make too cynical. It still hopefully had some humor in there.

In some ways, San Andreas was stepping into that direction as well. With GTA IV, I still think that it’s more than Red Dead, it’s still halfway between a tragedy and a black comedy. The world is still comic. [Niko's] na?veté — he’s a tough guy, but equally sort of country bumpkin na?veté — is in some ways comic and in some ways tragic.

[MASSIVE SPOILER AHEAD FOR RED DEAD REDEMPTION. Click here for the next page]

In Red Dead Redemption, the average person plays the main story game for dozens of hours. One of protagonist John Marston’s main goals is to build a better life for his son — to ensure his son isn’t an outlaw, like him. And then, in the end, Marston is killed, and the player takes control of Jack, who becomes an outlaw like his father! Was that always the plan? Or did it come later in the development process?

It’s sort of back to that discussion we were having earlier, about the challenge of balancing story in an open world game. Mentally, the game is a series of mechanics. I can ride, I can shoot, I can speak to people. The gamble — and the argument, and the sort of complex thing for us to follow through on — was to kill John Marston. We figured, it’s gonna annoy people, but it’s gonna annoy people in the way that they want to be annoyed: They just don’t really realize it. It’s gonna make the experience have a lot more weight. It’s gonna make the whole theme of the game make sense.

From a technical standpoint, what do you do with all the stuff you haven’t done? Well, you’ll carry those on as the son. But then the son’s all wrapped up in them. He’s essentially become the father. Maybe that’s the point.

There’s a quality of wish-fulfillment to all these games. In GTA III, you get to fire a rocket launcher and run red lights. In Vice City, you’re flying around in a military helicopter and waving a chainsaw. But then you get to the final act of Red Dead Redemption, where you have a series of very spare missions, teaching your son very basic things like hunting and cattle-ranching. How do you balance these games between letting players be demi-gods and forcing them to operate within a realistic world?

There’s no intrinsic reason why pressing a button to make someone sweep a floor should be more or less boring than pressing a button to make someone fly a helicopter. It’s still a mechanic. We look upon it as: If you make the peripheral stuff — the characterization, the dialogue — interesting, you can make seemingly the most boring mechanic fun. Making Table Tennis was a huge technical challenge, but also really fun.

You can make anything fun, or anything boring. Particularly in the high-definition era, it may be more about making random things seem fun, and putting a weird variety of things in there. Games aren’t supposed to be reality. They’re supposed to be the reality if reality was what you see on TV, and listen to, and how advertising is. It’s the reality of the media, not the reality of the reality.

You’ve brought that up before — the notion that the GTA games are examinations of consumerism and the media. Was that always present in the conception of the Grand Theft Auto series? That they were kind of a Paul Verhoeven-esque cockeyed look at the American media system?

It’s completely in the DNA of what the games are. At one level, the games were, and still are, homages to crime fiction in all its guises. But crime fiction is indivisible from consumerism, and images of things, and the way those things are presented, and the way those things are sold as being important. They can acquire this sort of metaphysical importance advertising gives them. The series, apart from anything, [started from ] looking at American movies and American consumerism from Britain — some British guys here, some Scottish guys in Scotland — looking at everything from the perspective of outsiders. It was about the madness of the wider American media as much as it was about the madness of American crime films.

You’ve talked a lot about Rockstar’s initial influences in creating GTA III and the other games of its generation, like crime films or Miami Vice. Is there anything you’ve read or seen on TV or on film in the last ten years that you think has equally influenced you going forward? Thinking about how the media has changed in the last decade, GTA III came out right around the time that Sopranos was opening up this notion of what TV could do.

I didn’t watch much Sopranos, because it was too similar to what we were doing. The same with The Wire and Sons of Anarchy. Everyone steals from everywhere, but you want to be bringing in random and abstract ideas from different sources, rather than something that’s treading over the exact same ground that you’re treading over.

I think in general what they’ve done with those long-form TV shows in the last 10, 12 years has made them far more interesting a storytelling medium than movies. You have the short story of the episode, and the long story of the season, and the even longer story of the whole five, ten seasons, whatever it is. I think it’s an amazing form of storytelling — putting you in a world, and letting you learn about a character — that probably is quite close to what we’re doing in the games, in some ways. The games, the length they are, are more akin to a season of a TV show than a single movie.

What kind of TV do you watch, if not the crime series?

Loads of rubbish. Of those kind of shows, my favorite is definitely Mad Men. I work in an office, and it made it seem like it was exciting. [Laughs] That was a good challenge. They took something that was nominally very boring — office life — and found a way of depicting it that’s horrific, but incredibly engaging. From a technical standpoint, I admired that, because it’s one of the challenges we set ourselves: How do we make this interesting and engaging, no matter what it is?

That’s the one major modern TV drama where there’s never really the threat of death for any of the characters.

The odd character dies in it, but no one’s getting murdered. That guy got ran over by a tractor. Even though they’re arguing about advertising contracts — which is incredibly banal at a certain level — they still make it seem like it’s life and death.

Thinking about something like Mad Men, can you conceive working on a game where the main character never holds a gun?

I think we took a big step in that direction with L.A. Noire. Obviously you did hold a gun and you were a detective, but I think the core mechanics were not the same as the core mechanics in GTA or Red Dead. We are always interested in exploring new ways of making interactivity interesting. You are still dealing with a medium which is hopefully exciting and vibrant, but still in infancy.

Games are 35 years old. Movies, when they were still 35 years old, were nowhere near as sophisticated. Admittedly, they were about to go on a ten-year golden era, but they were nowhere near as sophisticated as games are now. The evolution of games from 20, 30, 30-plus years ago is amazing. We, hopefully, are one of the companies at the vanguard of pushing that stuff forward.

At this point in movie history, sound had just been introduced. GTA III also represented a huge generational leap forward. Technologically speaking, are there any gigantic evolutionary steps, comparable to the move from 2D to 3D worlds?

I suppose A.I., when you can make the non-player characters seem even more alive than they do currently. That’s probably the biggest hurdle to making the worlds seem like they’re alive. That will be iterative. It won’t be like turning the sound on. It will be something that happens step-by-step-step. I think that’s probably the biggest single weakness in games or where games are the least lifelike. The characters all look as close to lifelike as you’re gonna need them. There’s thousands of little graphics innovations and narrative innovations and design tweaks you can do, but you’ve kind of got very interesting bare-bones there to evolve around.

The post-GTA III games show a real interest in American history that I don’t think people often associate with videogames. GTA has explored the ’90s, the ’80s, London in the ’60s. LA Noire is set in the post-war era, and Red Dead is a western. Is the long-term goal to do some full sweep of American history? Are we gonna see the Revolutionary War at some point along the way?

Pretty much any era can be made interesting. You can find interesting aspects to it, interesting things that were going on, debates that people were having, things that either resonate or appall a modern audience. That’s obviously a massive part of the pleasure of watching Mad Men. They make a world not that long ago seem barbaric in some ways, and far more sophisticated in other ways. The problem is there’s too many things we find interesting. Here, in Britain, in the world, there’s so many things you can do that would be interesting.

Looking forward with the GTA series, would you want to do another international edition? You’ve been in America since GTA III.

We go backwards and forwards on it. There are very interesting crime stories and other stories you can tell about anyplace in the world. Whether that would work with Grand Theft Auto — when so much about Grand Theft Auto is about the Americana, about the American media — is something I’m not sure about.

Are you looking to the next stage of the GTA franchise?

There is gonna be one? I don’t know. [Smiles] I know nothing about anything after Max Payne 3.

Okay, let’s get theoretical here. You’ve had the ’80s-era game, the ’90s-era game. Say you want to do a Grand Theft Auto that is set in 2001, when Grand Theft Auto III came out. How would the new game be different from GTA III? What kinds of stuff would you want to incorporate into it? What’s your vision of the early 2000s?

I think we got pretty close in some ways. We had things that seemed very important then, like absurd websites. That was just at the end of the first dotcom boom. The bust had happened in early 2000, but the Internet was still hot new news. And things like SUVs… Now, they’re completely acceptable, but that was when suddenly everyone was beginning to drive SUVs, and not worrying about their fuel bills anymore. That was a big issue. Real estate was becoming a big issue. It really hadn’t fully kicked off in 2001.

And that was before 9/11. The game came out about six weeks after 9/11, but was set before 9/11. If my memory serves me correctly, in that particular period — apart from the stock market collapse that was then obscured by the credit bubble — there was very little pain in the world. People were still believing it was a sort of post-historical world. To mine some of that — what now seems like naiveté — you couldn’t not do that now.

When we did Liberty City Stories, that was set in ’98 or ’99, so we did a lot of pre-millennial tension: Y2K, the world’s gonna end! By 2001, that was all over. You had this optimism. But also, people were almost bored. “Democracy’s won, the economy’s gonna boom, we’ve got this amazing technology that’s gonna do incredible things.” I guess [looking back] now, things you were worried about seem stupid because they didn’t come true. And things you weren’t worried about, you should have been worried about, because they did come true. It’s been a very tumultuous decade.

Did 9/11 affect how the series evolved after GTA III? Was that part of the reason the next two games moved into the past?

No, not at all. Did it change the series? No. It just made the world we were depicting in the games seem more like the world on television. The world seemed to move more in that direction, rather than the other way around.  In terms of our skills, or complete lack of skills, in depicting America — of course it changed that. Did it impact design decisions? Only in terms of things that would be overtly offensive, like planes that could fly into buildings.

[Our offices] were even further south [in Manhattan] than we are now on the day. I think we were in tune for what would be offensive or inappropriate in that bizarre period.

After its release, there was plenty of controversy surrounding the content of GTA III, and that controversy built up a few years later with San Andreas, when you had Hillary Clinton denouncing the “Hot Coffee” stuff.

Yeah, and Joe Lieberman, and a lot of them.

That all seems to have died down now, though. Do you guys miss being controversial?

I suppose the main thing is, in the intervening 10 years, maybe society has sort of collapsed. But it wasn’t our fault! Time has justified our main theory, which was: If you are completely clinically insane, you probably shouldn’t play this game, or consume any culture, or read the Bible, or do anything. However, if you were normal, the game was a completely valid form of entertainment. There was nothing ever in the games that you couldn’t see in movies, or watch on the news. That was the point of it.

We never really understood [the controversy]. I think that certain people like to vilify convenient enemies, and maybe some of those people have found that their traditional enemies were robust at defeating them — or generous at funding them. So they turned on to some new people, and they particularly focused on videogames, and that rap music. It didn’t really prove a massive winner for them, and they were eventually forced to move on. Whether it will come back to us or not, who knows?

It was games, and it was movies, and it was comics. Maybe everyone has their turn of destroying society, and society rumbles on. Or maybe gets better.

Grand Theft Auto III and all these games are massive, and you’ve described them as a real team effort. But are there any parts of these games that — for you personally, or you and your brother — feel particularly autobiographical?

I hope not. Hopefully it’s all a product of a wonderful communal imagination. The only one that really springs to mind is a character in Bully that was completely this kid I went to school with. The kid Gary, the nasty little bully, the main antagonist. He was exactly a kid I was at junior school with.

I have to tell you, there are some theories online about your connection to Bully. Specifically, that you seem to bear a slight resemblance to the main character.

No, no, I don’t think so. The guy that was doing the character designs [on Bully] couldn’t get the [Jimmy Hopkins, the main character of Bully] right. Then we got Ian McQue, who does the character designs and concept work on GTA. He just did Jimmy in an evening. That young, British, kind of early ‘80s thug look, but moved to America. He worked well, because he looked rough, but he looked like he wasn’t a bad guy. You wanted this guy who could be tough, but was good-hearted.

Not like Gary.

Who was the better-looking guy, and more charming, but really liked punishing people. One of those kids who comes from a very nasty home. There’s probably rich sadistic parents.

One last question for you: Before games like Grand Theft Auto III came along, it felt like players were fundamentally meant to see every part of the game. There were little Easter Eggs or secret levels, but that’s nothing to compare to the size of these open-world games, where even the most devoted player might not see everything. How granular do you feel like you have to get when you’re putting these worlds together? Where does the world-building stop?

I suppose we make it, then just do a bunch of passes on it, and try to find as many different forms of content that can be put in there sensibly, that will reward the player for exploring, if they’re that kind of person. And we build in to it the overall themes that we’re trying to push in the game — the ludicrousness of advertising, whatever it might be.

It’s something that’s hopefully enjoyable for people. It’s a way to experience amusing, entertaining, thought-provoking, idiotic, whatever-they-might-be little bits of content in a non-linear fashion, spread around this map and across all these ways that people are speaking: on the radio, and then in later games on the TV. It’s something that I think is interesting and potentially very powerful, but is totally unique to a game. We who make games, we’re looking for ways that games can do stuff that you can’t do in a movie, or you can’t do in a TV show, you couldn’t do in a book.

And that non-linearity is really key to that. You can actually be. It’s not just about doing the stuff — which obviously is great, working your way through the story as opposed to watching a story — but also the more passive idea of exploring this world, and just being there. Soaking up the stuff. Having your adventure in this place that doesn’t really exist. I think that’s really powerful and fun. We do as much as we have time for and can think of. We go a little bit crazy on that stuff, and are constantly trying to find new little things that people can discover.

You want it to feel like you’ve not seen everything. Like it feels like you’ll never know a city, really.(source:popwatch

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