Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Animation Q&A

As part of our ongoing series of Vice City interviews, we sit down with Rockstar North senior animator Alex Horton.

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It won't be long now. There are only a few weeks separating today from the day that Grand Theft Auto: Vice City will finally be released in North America. The sequel to our console game of the year last year is taking the best elements of Grand Theft Auto III--specifically, jacking hapless drivers and then repeatedly running them over--and placing them in a setting that's reminiscent of 1980s Miami. The entire game will have a look and feel that's distinctly Miami Vice, with a little bit of Scarface thrown in for good measure. You can expect to find more of everything in Vice City: more cars, more weapons, and a number of new moves for your character. To find out more about the animation that went into creating all of the game's upcoming moves, we sat down with Rockstar North senior animator Alex Horton.

GameSpot: What is your favorite animation in the game?

Alex Horton: I have to say there's no one element I prefer over any other. We've got so much animation in there, from the vast number of in-game assets, to the 70 minutes of cutscenes with up to 22 characters, to all the facial animation work that's on top of those captures. It's all part of the bigger picture. I'm happy we've improved on Grand Theft Auto III, ironed out any of its shortcomings, and come back with so much more. My favorite piece of hand animation I've done myself is the chainsaw moves.

GS: How much of the game's animation has been reworked, and how much is taken from Grand Theft Auto III?

AH: I think we're new across the board. There's a couple of the original Grand Theft Auto moves still in there, but for the most part it's all new. It's got to be 97 percent new, at a guess, and when you consider the variety of physical activity the player can get up to as he or she interacts with the city and its inhabitants, it was a pretty ambitious task, and we are really happy with the results.

GS: Describe the process used to create the animations found in Vice City. Did the same actors do the motion capture and the voices? If not, why?

AH: We use both motion-capture and stop-motion animation techniques. The cutscenes are motion-captured and in-game moves are a combination of both. Either way, all animations have a lot of hand tweaking done on them to make them right for our needs.

GS: What did it take to ensure that the new motorcycle-related animations looked and felt realistic?

AH: That alone was challenging. Obviously, the player model's body behaves differently than when he drives a car. You see more of it, and getting on and off different bikes, as well as riding different bikes, made the whole process huge. Ultimately, it involved lots and lots of adjustment of numerous little animations that chain together to make the whole experience. Gus Braid, one of the animators, spent a long time on this aspect of the game, working with lead programmer and motorcycle enthusiast Alexander Roger, trying different approaches until it was right.

GS: How many new weapon animations are in the game? How will the screwdriver animation differ from that of a standard knife?

AH: There are a lot of new weapon-related animations--it's hard to tell how many, exactly. All I can say is each weapon has a number of new attacks.

GS: Hand-to-hand combat has been expanded a bit in Vice City. What sort of new punch and kick moves will Tommy have in the new game?

AH: Hopefully ones that the enemies don't see coming! Tommy's covering attacks in all directions now, so you'll see elbows and back kicks in there, plus a wide range of new variations.

GS: Are there any animations that you wanted to get into Vice City, but didn't have the time or resources to implement?

AH: There are a million animations I wish we could have fit in there, but that's what the future projects are for. There's always space for improvement and innovation.

GS: Thanks for your time, Alex.

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