Grand Theft Auto IV's hype has just about reached fever pitch. With only days to go until GTAIV's global release, Rockstar's vice president of creative, Dan Houser, spoke to British men's magazine ShortList about the game's development process; the replication of New York as a living, breathing, city; and why GTAIV isn't so controversial after all.
Houser, who cofounded Rockstar with brother Sam Houser, says early on in the interview, "Grand Theft Auto IV will change the way people think about video games...we had to make sure no one thought, 'It's just like the previous one; I could have played this on my old machine.'"
So besides new characters, music, and multiplayer modes, what else is new in GTAIV? Houser says, "the fourth dimension is details...there are about 40 new things in GTAIV, from the new motion physics of the main character to the firearm targeting to the interaction with pedestrians. The overall goal was to make the world feel more alive. Every little detail was researched, analysed, and broken down."
Houser goes on to explain what the main focus was for the 150-strong development team at Rockstar North. "The No 1 thing in all GTA games is that the lead character is the city...Aaron [Garbut, Rockstar North art director] has a lot of responsibility and basically has to build an entire city and make it run and behave like a real place; that's the priority."
The Grand Theft Auto series has always attracted varying degrees of controversy, not least with the Hot Coffee scandal from GTA: San Andreas. While GTAIV has yet to be released, it has still attracted the attention of US administrators, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg's office, and Chicago Transit Authority president Ron Huberman who had advertisements pulled from Chicago's public transport.
Responding to the criticism from politicians and mainstream press, Houser says, "the 'controversy' story gets a bit frustrating...if this was a movie, a book, or a TV show, we wouldn't be having this conversation. We're an easy enemy to divert everyone's attention from the stuff that really matters."
"There's an argument that video games have caused this massive upsurge in youth violence--they haven't, it's actually gone down. So it's got nothing to do with the content; it's to do with the medium. The problem is that video games aren't the medium [of politicians and tabloid journalists]. Well, that's just a social change, and you're a Luddite if you challenge that," Houser adds.
Rockstar's creative guru rounds out the interview by saying, "There are so many freaks and nutters wandering around New York, and we've put them straight into this game. There's a thing there at the moment with people coming up to you and going, 'Do you like hip-hop?' and you say, 'Yeah, sure, why?' so they go, 'Well here's my CD; that's 15 bucks.' The aim of GTAIV was to capture the essence and energy of these maniacs."
To read Houser's full interview with ShortList, visit www.shortlist.com.