GTA is America "viewed only through movies and advertising"

Rockstar's Dan Houser on media, celebrity, and overcoming indifference

With the 10th anniversary of Grand Theft Auto III on the horizon, Rockstar recently invited us to its New York office to sit down with Dan Houser, one of the co-writers of GTAIII, to talk about the legacy of this seminal open-world action game. The result is a fascinating interview in which Houser describes the game's tepid prerelease reaction from the public, explains why they no longer use celebrity voice actors, and discusses a number of other topics. It's also a gargantuan 4,000-word story, so for those of you who'd rather get straight to the choice quotes, we've got you covered:

On the cool response at E3 2001:

"The early part of showing people the game--including E3 2001--was disconcerting because it was incredibly underwhelming … There was enormous excitement around a few other games coming that fall. We went to E3 and everyone was obsessed by State of Emergency, and no one gave a crap really about GTA III … But E3, I think, isn't the best place to show a game anyway, and that's definitely become solidified in our thinking since then."

GTAIII's legacy has been a substantial one.

On the challenge of moving GTA into a 3D world:

"To begin with we were like, this is going to be easy! We'll just take GTA--which was probably a stronger game than GTA2 vibe-wise--fix the bits we didn't like, make it in 3D, and we're done. Which was probably the most naive idea we've ever had."

On moving away from the silent protagonist:

"Once we realized that the stories could be and were as interesting as we hoped, we realized the next step was that the protagonist was going to have to speak. Even by the end of III, he wasn't just an everyman, and he had a personality. He just didn't speak! So that was a little bit disingenuous."

On celebrity voice actors:

"For the PS2-era games, we were aspiring to something that felt like you were in your own movie or your own TV show. Now we're able to get things that feel a bit beyond that, and having the famous people really distracts you."

On games being taken seriously by the mainstream:

"It's still a young, young medium. I don't think in 1925 or 1930 or whenever movies were the equivalent age to where games are now people were taking movies anywhere near as seriously to where people are taking games right now. You can't expect games to have the same cultural cachet as an established medium because that's not how things work."

Rockstar has never shied away from controversy.

On GTA's representation of American culture:

"The whole thing is meant to be America as if it's the way it's presented in the media. 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."

On the difference between "sandbox" and "open-world":

"To us, it's more sandbox has this idea of throwing things in without any sense of choice over what's going in there, while we were carefully picking features and controlling the experience in a particular way. It wasn't this total freeform experience."

On why they never made a GTA movie:

"We didn't make a GTA movie for a reason, and the choice was ours. We probably could have got most people to do it, but we had no interest in doing it. One of the points about GTA was, it was the first time where if you thought about moving it into cinema, you were condensing it, not expanding it. It wasn't like how do you find all the things you put into the film? It was how do you streamline this into a cinematic experience? That's something where we never figured out the answer to the question."

Click here to read the full Dan Houser interview.

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Discussion

8 comments
R083R70
R083R70

GTA has been beyond influential in both games and culture and it's a shame that it's genius is often overlooked by the immature who play it and don't understand it so it's commonly thought as just a bunch of mindless crime (I can't speak for Rockstar but I personally think that's liking the series for the wrong reasons). GTA V has some enormous shoes to fill but I'm confident Rockstar won't dissapoint, and slightly off topic but I really hope they reconcile with Team Bondi L.A. Noire was SUPERB and I'd hate to see Bondi's huge potential be wasted on one game.

otanikun
otanikun

GTA III is one of the best games ever, I'm still looking forward to a remake or sequel to San Andreas though, with today's console technology that game world would easily double the already massive world.

StJimmy15
StJimmy15

Interview synopsis. Q: "Dan, why are your games so f***ing awesome?" A:"*Just are... *sigh*"

eliebaz
eliebaz

me myself am a movie fan which is a reason why i love to play such games, i wish more industries would take this approach, although not everyone is like me so i guess i understand the balance of nature

Vari3ty
Vari3ty

I have to hand it to Dan Houser, he is in my opinion THE best story writer in the industry. The Grand Theft Auto games have shown this well, but Rockstar's last game, Red Dead Redemption, is where Houser's talent really blew me away. I can't wait to play the games and experience the stories he has a hand in creating in the future.

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

Have to agree with the answer regarding movies. I wish more games companies were in a similar frame of mind, instead of selling out.