Grand Theft Auto Memories

The rare adult game franchise that actually treats its audience like adults.

I have a confession to make: I'm a huge dork for anything Grand Theft Auto-related. "That's unbelievable," you're no doubt thinking. "Hold back with the soul-baring truths there; next you'll be telling us you like Star Wars." Not a particularly shocking revelation given how popular the franchise is, I know, but my fascination with the whole thing goes beyond getting a kick out of the gameplay. I'm not usually the kind of gamer who gets sucked into the lore that surrounds this stuff. I've always found a degree of academic fascination with the amount of detail poured into certain franchises, but I'm rarely invested in it. I appreciate the depth of thought and meticulous detail, but it's only on occasion that I'm drawn in on any kind of emotional level.

Thanks to some very fond memories, both professional and personal, Grand Theft Auto is on a very short list of games that I love to revel in. This week's release of the GTAV trailer enthralled me, not just because of my excitement for a new game next year, but because there's a sense of permanence and consistency to the world it portrays. The places we see in each new game in the series flesh out Rockstar's vision of an alternate America, and we can feel a sense of familiarity. Is that Angel Pine Golf Club in the trailer? Could those hikers be climbing Mount Chiliad? Does this mean the game will stretch out beyond Los Santos' borders and into Flint County? If that's the case, is this a hint that GTAV will be as expansive as San Andreas?

I know exactly whom to blame for my obsessive behavior: James Mielke. Currently he serves as a producer at Q Entertainment in Japan, and you may have seen his name pop up when he served as the de facto spokesperson for Child of Eden. Back in 2001 we were working together at Ziff Davis Media, where I was running the Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine and he was an editor for Electronic Gaming Monthly. As I recall, I'd had some kind of exclusive something-or-other lined up for my November issue (which hit newsstands in October), but it had fallen through at the last minute. In response, James had called me from New York about a week before we were due to go to press and left a message that to all intents and purposes was, "If you don't put Grand Theft Auto III on your cover, you are f***ing stupid and will regret it forever."

Now, you have to remember that at this point Rockstar was far from the publishing powerhouse that it is today. The first three Grand Theft Auto releases (the original, GTA2, and London 1969) were well regarded, but far from blockbusters. Smuggler's Run and Midnight Club had fared well thanks to being part of the PlayStation 2 launch lineup, but the studio had yet to really make any kind of dent in the collective consciousness of gamers. Rockstar had been quite demure about Grand Theft Auto III up until this point, and to be completely honest, none of us in the press had given it much thought. We knew it was "another GTA," and like every other game on the PlayStation 2 at the time, it was being "reimagined in 3D." As blind pitches go, it wasn't exactly awesome or anything.

"It's incredible," James had enthused, before recounting tales of how it sucked in ideas from shooters, role-playing games, and even Crazy Taxi. After a couple of days of almost unbearable enthusiasm and due consideration (I still hadn't seen the game in the flesh), we eventually decided that yes, we would put it on the cover, but much as I hate to admit it, it wasn't because I was being particularly "visionary" or anything. It was more due to the fact that James wouldn't shut up about it, and we didn't have a better alternative.

It turns out we were the only magazine in the United States to put the game on its cover that year, and the issue sold like crazy. The game, of course, went on to sell a hojillion copies and pretty much turned the whole video game business upside down.

While early coverage (ours included) focused on the ambition of the project and the elegant blend of different gameplay mechanics, it wasn't until we'd all played through the thing in its entirety that its true artistry became apparent. Because of its very liberal attitudes toward violent and sexual content, many observers couldn't get past its adult nature and refuse to acknowledge anything beyond its offensive nature to this day. For those of us who actually played it, though, it became clear that something new was happening. "The whole thing is meant to be America as if it's the way it's presented in the media," Rockstar's Dan Houser told us in a recent interview. "And it's still the case now. It might be done in a slightly more nuanced and different way now, but that's still what the gameworld is supposed to be like--this prism of America as if viewed only through movies and advertising."

Outside of Metal Gear Solid, very few games of the "PlayStation generation" had dabbled with social satire or political observation prior to GTAIII. PC games had long been trying to say something with their content, but by 2001 it was rare (particularly with Western-developed games) for us to be playing a game on our TV that asked us to do anything more than shoot at stuff, or hit things. GTAIII hid its cleverness behind this facade but was able to successfully satirize an entire society while the majority of people who played it were completely oblivious.

Now, in its eighth iteration, Grand Theft Auto is apparently extremely likely to tackle recent sociopolitical and cultural touch points: the housing and banking crises (which we got a hint of with that foreclosure clip in the trailer), the gaping divide between rich and poor, the vapidity of Kardashian-flavored celebrity, and the treatment of immigrant workers. Given the observations provided by the narrator, perhaps we'll also see something more introspective on the part of the creative team too. It seems the protagonist is a metaphor for the challenges of growing older and adapting to life's changes: fatherhood; existing in a world dominated by younger, hungrier talent; and approaching work differently with the benefit of maturity and hindsight.

It's the fact that we can ponder possibilities like this that I remain such a huge dork for anything Grand Theft Auto-related. It's an adult franchise that, even in its sillier moments, actually treats its audience like adults.

So…there are my Grand Theft Auto memories (I have many more, but would end up writing far too much about it). What I really want to know are yours. What do you remember fondly about the franchise? What about it really speaks to you? Is it just the humor, or is it the action? Or is there something more to it for you? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

John Davison is the vice president of programming for GameSpot. You can follow him on Twitter @jwhdavison.

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Discussion

176 comments
Adreni1ne
Adreni1ne

Finally, somebody who takes the Grand Theft Auto series seriously! A friend of mine debated Grand Theft Auto last year and argued that it was a postmodern commentary that examines the negative influence of capitalism in an indifferent universe wherein one's only value is that of material value. It's an intelligent and thought-provoking depiction of postmodern America. Yet, when I attempt to converse with somebody about it, they comment on how they abuse the sandbox atmosphere and neglect the story entirely. It's very unfortunate. Thank you for your insightful musings.

DougEStyle
DougEStyle

I still think Gta 4 is the best of the best. Can't wait for 5, Love the T.V. show ads, also the radio commercials in 4. wish you could watch the shows that are advertised though. I think Gta 5 will be more fun than chatting with a teen girl onlie! LOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL! You guys are right about when the character yells at the right time its priceless! Best moment while playing 4 is when I was in a police chase, I had to avoid a major traffic jam so I got on the sidewalk, hit a hooker, she stuck on the front of my car just as a cop stopped in front of me I slammed the brakes, the hooker flew off the hood hit a light pole with her arms and legs wrapped around it and slid all the way down the pole while she says F-my @ss! HAHAHA!

GTA-Like_Fan
GTA-Like_Fan

My best memories in GTA games are all when your character says one of his random phrases at the right momments.For examples in S.A. once I had killed 20+ people infront of the starting home and was waiting for respawns and CJ said Bang bang bang ! lol or in GTA 4 when you're in a middle of a shooting and Niko just yell like a maniac or even in VC Story on PSP when you're aiming at someone sometimes he says Yeah, I'm gonna shoot you.Its so fun when the timing is right.Also its funny when you're going somewhere but you have to stop infront of the starting point cause you want to hear the end of the stupid show or ad on the radio.

WCK619
WCK619

I've always loved the stories in GTA. I love how they try to wind through different kinds of plots and such a diverse cast of characters. Through a full playthrough of GTA games you always meet all kinds of different people. People often make the point that GTA IV didn't have enough variety in its missions, but the story was compelling enough to keep it fresh throughout.

coryblaze
coryblaze

People keep bring it up so I thought I'd ask... any word on a bully 2? Loved Bully! GTA V should be top thought but just thought I'd see if anyone else knew anything about it.

zombieshot115
zombieshot115

Bully 2?:) but also this game will be awesome! i hope it has everything from gta sa and more! also i liked in rdr that the world would randomly give you things to do. just take everything from every R* game and put it in gta 5, it wont fail:)

xevilmickx2
xevilmickx2

@cachinscythe All of those games came after GTA3, hard to believe. and I think he was speaking about that time frame alone. and what I meant by having it marketed to Adults is that, even games like Mortal Kombat caved to pressure and added things that would ton down the violence for kids. the ability to turn the gore factor off in a game is the prime example of what I am talking about. some games even made the ability to make the game bloody a cheat. but we also have to look at the fact that ESRB is actually not that old and is self regulated at that. we all remember the amount of heat they took for the HOT COFFEE mod in GTA:SA.

allofthebeamz
allofthebeamz

GTAV will be friggin awesome. Let's put it at that...

brain20035
brain20035

Chatterbox is still my most favorite GTA radio station!

brain20035
brain20035

I liked GTA III, but I always felt the controls were off, the city was too dark, the protagonist didn't make any sense and navigating the city without a full map was so difficult (specially the third island). It wasn't until Vice City that I fell in love with GTA series. I remember back then whenever I played GTA, my friends would find out because I used a lot of vulgar language for a while after I played it :p I also hurt my right arm playing San Andreas for long stretches of time!! I used to play it on my PC and holding the mouse for that long had messed up my arm :D The day that R* announced GTA IV for PC was one of the happiest days of my life (I didn't own any consoles back then). On Dec 2nd when I bought it (Day One) I didn't care about the 45 minutes installation time! I didn't care about the stupid Rockstar Club! Not even the horribly poor performance of the game on my high end system. I was just happy to be finally able to play GTA IV!!

ssdd_again
ssdd_again

Great article, I was 15 at the time and I remember watching previews over and over again(possibly on gamespot) in excitement, wishing I could afford a ps2. That said I couldnt put down GTA London and GTA2 so I was already a GTA dork at that point :). I horded all of my xmas and b'day money, just to get a PS2, as it was the only way to play GTA 3 at the time. . thats how excited I was about it.It was the only game people talked about school. . the DJ's were endlessly quoted - chatterbox fm being the obvious favourite. 'Alright Liberty City you are listening to chatterbox - the show that is the number one reason, for the success of the internet' :) For me, Rockstar arrived when they released Vice City, the cameos, the endless stereotypes, scenes(and characters) inspired by infamous gangster movies. And Rockstar havent failed to deliver yet, I mean with every game I purchase these days I feel a bit ripped off. Developers increasingly seem to care less about the game and more about the money. But not with Rockstar, with them I always feel like Ive got more than I paid for, with them you can see they that they've poured everything they have into it. And that my fellow GTA dorks, is why I cant wait for GTA V.

Soothsayer42
Soothsayer42

Anyone else remember Bully? That game was one my all time fav. Bully+GTA SA = True Masterpiece P.S Hope that GTA V added all those RPG Elements.. *cheers to gaming*

Joy-Stick
Joy-Stick

From an artistic stand point, I think Vice City was the pinnacle of GTA. The city, the characters, the music. To this day, KCHAT and VCPR are my favorite talk stations. San Andreas had a lot more going from a gameplay perspective, IMO just felt over-bloated. I liked GTA IV because it chose to change things up a bit. But definitely, Vice City is the best in the series.

Tornado_Volcano
Tornado_Volcano

@Gamer_4_Fun, In Vice City, I only listened to V-Rock, but at the time I was young and naive, so I enjoyed pretty much everything... When I became a "true metalhead", I played the game once again and realized: "Holy Mother of..., I've been listening to Judas Priest, Megadeth, Slayer and Scorpions for all these years and didn't even know about it!"

Pumpkinhead3
Pumpkinhead3

Probably a little over looked is Phil Collins in Vice City Stories. He was a great character and the fact that you could watch "In the Air Tonight" was that much cooler.

cachinscythe
cachinscythe

@xevilmickx2 If he didn't mean it the way I thought he did, then I apologize. It's just that there's a whole lot of crap talk in entertainment about how developers are cynical or lazy even though there is no clear, indisputable evidence that this is the case. I recently read an article that praised Pixar for like the millionth time in the last 5 years. He claims that the reason Pixar continues to succeed is because it doesn't cave in to Hollywood cynicism about subject matter and content. He claims that it's because Pixar has respect for the audience, unlike the head honchos and other film developers. No consideration that this "cynical" content is just what the creators wanted to include; we didn't enjoy it, so they must be pessimistic jerks. God forbid they should actually ask the developers themselves, lest it cut into their fantasy about evil Hollywood executives. THAT'S the type of thinking that makes me angry, and it's hardly just present in Hollywood criticism; it's all over the gaming industry too. I'm honestly having a hard time reconciling what you say he means with the wording. If GTA is the "rare adult franchise that treats its audience like adults," then what's Call of Duty? What's Devil May Cry? Gears of War and Halo? Everything you said about GTA3 is accurate IMO, though. It DID pave the way for a lot of great things. It birthed the sandbox genre so we could have games like Crackdown, Spider Man 2, Assassin's Creed...the list is almost endless actually.

Entropy2k
Entropy2k

One memory that sticks out for me is the websites in GTA 3. Just seeing that they took the time to craft functioning websites mentioned in the game in real life was a shock to me. That extra connection the game had with real life was novel in 2001, something that doesn't get mentioned enough IMO.

babamaal
babamaal

Most remembered game GTA SA. roaming in suburban far away from the chaos of city. soothing music in countryside.

shrink45
shrink45

The suit guy in the trailer totally looks like Duck Phillips from Mad Men.

YellowSockGuy
YellowSockGuy

if theres one thing to take away from all this its not to drop acid

xevilmickx2
xevilmickx2

@cachinscythe I think the point he was trying to make was that they weren't affraid to make a game for adults that ACTED like it was for adults. during that time, even games that were for adults made a lot of noise about being able to tone down the violence for a younger audience. when that game was still being developed, there weren't a lot people that thought of adults as gamers. and those of us that were were thought to be slackers, stoners, or people with little ambition and the inability to grow up. Adults weren't seen as a viable market for the gaming industry. what this game did, however, was prove that adults were. it also opened the door for other sandbox style games. Games like Crackdown, Saint's Row, and InFamous wouldn't exist today if it hadn't been for this game. Sure, someone would have come up with it eventually, and they probably still would have been made, but I am willing to bet that if you go to any of those developers and ask what their insperation was, and GTA III will be listed among them.

xevilmickx2
xevilmickx2

I would have to say my favorite part of the Grand Theft Auto franchise is the off the wall humor, every where you looked. it was somewhat lacking in GTAIV, but 3 through San Andreas, the satire was present everywhere you looked. it was even funny to open up into a crowd of people and just see them scream and run, because when the ran, they looked hilarious. even the story line was funny. MAJOR SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVE NEVER BEATEN GTAIII. even the ending of the game is great. you go through all of that major fire fight and battle just to save the woman, and then shoot her because she won't shut the hell up. that was the best. to this date, that is the best ending to any of the GTA games. I wanted to shoot that woman from the first time I saw her.

MN121MN
MN121MN

I still can't believe it would only be on PS3 and Xbox. Yes, it's not written in the trailer, but sources have confirmed it...

Khoo1992
Khoo1992

I remember I first played GTA in 2002, when Vice City released. My dad and uncle allowed me to play the game, but warned me of the consequences of doing those stuffs that I do in the game in real life would be really bad. After hearing their lessons, I put my cousin's Vice City into my PS2. I was hooked instantly. I also remember how significant the impact of the open world mechanic the game has for the game industry. Many games since then feature open world.

GreyViper
GreyViper

@YellowSockGuy Saints Row 2 is a mix of San Andreas and Just Cause together. It basically continued the path started in San Andreas while GTA4 went more serious approach. Meaning it didn't take itself to seriously, was fun to play, lots of chaos and mayhem. What made it even better was the recently released Gentlemen of the Row Saints Row 2 Super Mod, it just amplifies the whole GTA experience.

cachinscythe
cachinscythe

I remember playing GTA3 for the first time as a kid with more politically correct, snobbish attitudes towards the franchise, and walking away realizing for about the thousandth time that I needed to keep an open mind with my entertainment. Honestly, I never viewed the game in the same revolutionary fashion that so many others did, as it seemed to me much of the basic idea--complete missions, get money, find collectibles--was taken straight out of the platform genre, but 1) that didn't bother me because platform games continue to be one of my favorite genres today and 2) I could still see how dynamic the world of the game was and how it would react to my actions. However, Mr. Davison, I must object to your suggestion that this is a rare adult game that treats us like adults. That implies the majority of other franchises are filled with development teams that insult gamers and are condescending, elitist, or cynical towards them. Basing our opinions of the intentions of developers strictly upon how we view their content instead of actually asking them, "What was your intention with this stuff?" is presumptuous and unfair. (IMO)

xpudy
xpudy

I hope there are more fun cheat codes this time

cloudMiks
cloudMiks

"LOVE FIST" PEOPLE... LOVE FIST!

shansss123
shansss123

san andreas was best then vice city for me.The story and missions were amazing.

gamefreak316
gamefreak316

i thought that GTA4 was the best of all with San Andreas being 2nd best.cant wait for GTA5, hopes its better than San Andreas and GTA4

ChaosUndivided
ChaosUndivided

I like the way they the stories in the GTA 3,Vice & San Andreas have some missions which link the stories together without going to much into it making you think "so thats what happened"

illagueril1
illagueril1

GTA III was great, Vice City was alright, but even though I love Scare Face and such I jus couldn't connect with it that much, San Andreas is the best by far, with GTA IV coming in second. The main thing they need to bring back is character and car customization with multiple garages. I grew to like and even love Niko, but not being able to grow stats or custumize Niko seemed like a step backward from SA. They also need to make melee combat better, more in-depth,

Gamer_4_Fun
Gamer_4_Fun

GTA Vice City's V-Rock station made fall in love with heavy metal, thus a metal head was born

Deadly_Nemesis
Deadly_Nemesis

In my humble opinion GTA 2 and Vice City are the best in the series. GTA2 was just so fun and off the wall cartoony. And Vice City pretty much took what GTA3 was trying for and perfected it. Ever since then everything has been the same except the graphics have become "prettier" and...you can go more places...yay...

paulliddell
paulliddell

theory: Has anyone even noticed who the protagonist is. he looks erely gta3 esque this is buggung me because i feel like I'm the only one

DeathRaiderut2k
DeathRaiderut2k

cant wait, grand theft auto is one of the only reasons i still game, because it shows that a game company out there actually cares about creating a world that i can get lost it, a story thats fun and exciting, and gameplay that goes beyond the in game story, thanks rockstar games your the best!

yoursensei
yoursensei

i loved the code that makes your car fly lol.

cream_assault
cream_assault

Are there gonna be animals now in GTA V? There was a dog in the trailer....

AlfaRomeoLover
AlfaRomeoLover

San Andreas was amazing. GTA IV was amazing too, but the unlimited bugs "killed" it. I believe GTA V will be the best game in the series. I love GTA! The best game series ever existed! =)

khoofia_pika
khoofia_pika

I've played GTA III, GTA: Vice City, GTA: Advanced, GTA: San Andreas, GTA: Liberty City Stories, GTA: Vice City Stories, GTA IV and GTA: Chinatown Wars till date, and each and every one of them has been downright awesome. So all of you who say the series' quality has gone down, just shut the f**k up.

khoofia_pika
khoofia_pika

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Kid_Notorious07
Kid_Notorious07

Gta has always been a major staple in my game collection and from the moment i played gta1 all those years ago on my ps1 i knew this was a series id love for a long time.

Gamey_Lord7
Gamey_Lord7

when i was playing san andreas with my little brother and my friend and i went to the washroom then when i came back. my little brother and my friend was telling me stuff like "WE SAW BIGFOOT HE IS REAL" i actually believe them at the time even tho we were playing on my ps2. that's how i spent my grade 6

Jimbowesker
Jimbowesker

It looks great!! Anything GTA is amazing to me anyways. And it appears this time they are putting even more depth into it. Back to San Andreas!! Bring it on!!