Original Grand Theft Auto 'almost canned'

Then-series developer DMA Design's Gary Penn says top-down title nearly shelved because it was "awful"; GTA: IV life-to-date sales sit at 17 million.


The Grand Theft Auto franchise is one of the most recognizable brands in the game industry, with the latest entry, Grand Theft Auto IV, scoring a top rating and selling 17 million copies since debuting in 2008. However, the first entry in the series almost never got off the ground.

In an interview with industry site Gamasutra, Gary Penn of DMA Design (which later became Rockstar North) said the original series entry was nearly shelved; not because of politics, but rather because the game was unstable and "awful."

The game that started it all.
The game that started it all.

"It never really felt like it was going anywhere. It was almost canned," Penn said. "The publisher, BMG Interactive, wanted to can it."

"There are probably two key things it fell down on; two critical things. One of them is stability, which is a really boring one, but it crashed all the f***ing time. So even if you did get something in the game, you couldn't really test it."

The other key feature of the title that wasn't operating as DMA Design had planned was the vehicle component to the game.

"Now the other thing that was a problem was the handling; the car handling was appalling. There was a point in it where you used to have a button for opening the doors, and it was just rubbish," he said. "I can't remember if this is true because we used to joke that you even had to start the engine. It was awful; it was too sim-y."

Then, a revelation came in the way of a game error that made police behave erratically, which turned into exactly what the developer enjoyed most.

"Then one day, I think it was a bug, the police suddenly became mental and aggressive," he said. "And that was an awesome moment because suddenly the real drama where, "Oh my God, the police are psycho...they're trying to ram me off the road."

"They're after you. They're trying to ram you off the f***ing road. Everybody suddenly went, 'Hey this is actually pretty cool.' There's something in this; this is working."

The original Grand Theft Auto, which released in 1997, is available for free via the Rockstar Classics Free Download Series. For more on the franchise's latest entry, check out GameSpot's review of Grand Theft Auto IV.

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Avatar image for nathanael69

I remember playing GTA when it first came out, I was immediately hooked, the concept of playing as a criminal was so ridiculously appealing, it never once bothered me that it was top down, it was and still is great fun. The game has evolved from humble roots to be sure, but it's always been great even when it was in the most basic of forms. I spent an entire holiday season hunkered down in a back room running and shooting like it was going out of style, and even without graphic splendor (even by late 90's standards), I can't find fault in it. I still go back and play 1 and 2 sometimes when I have time to kill because beyond just being the start of something greater, the game is just good ol' fashioned fun.Thank God they didn't cancel it, my youth might have been a lot dimmer place if not for that game.

Avatar image for ValHazzard

I was a kid when the first came out and I was loving it...it was something I had never seen before...awesome. But when I first saw GTA III in action I almost p'd my pants...then I played it for like 7 or 8 straight hours.

Avatar image for VaultHunter505

I personally think grand theft auto the first was terrible because it was way to hyped up. Everything just happened too fast when you were in a vehicle. GTA 2 came out and all my friends were like "This game is the bomb!" So i gave the series one more try and GTA 2 totally saved GTA for me. However, i do think that GTA III butchered it since you COULDN'T EVEN AIM! But much like my whole story with GTA and GTA 2, Vice City saved it for me and i have liked all of the games in the series since. Interesting story though. P.S. GO OFFICER TENPENNY!!!!

Avatar image for jasonzilla11

Wow, that's pretty interesting. So, killer police is what saved GTA. Who would've thought? But my favorite Rockstar game has to be Red Dead Redemption. I kinda liked GTA 4, but I always felt that RDR just had something that made it the best.

Avatar image for peanut1229

san andreas FTW!

Avatar image for Amauris96

I started the GTA Saga with Vice City...then I got GTA 3. I love Vice City the most. [:

Avatar image for kuruppath

Please release trilogy for PS3

Avatar image for philippnovikov

<< LINK REMOVED >> will do it, pal

Avatar image for istalo1999


Sure, that would be awesome :D

Avatar image for newbie4lyfe

they should do alot of gta games on the n3ds :D exclusively... no port

Avatar image for Slim-Jim2011

I didn't had a blast with GTA 4 when ya couldn't customize vehicles, not to buy new houses, and only 2 parking spots. GTA 4 is fun only if ya got ballet of gay tony

Avatar image for ValleyofDoom

Started with second one, but quickly stepped down to check out all of them. Awesome.

Avatar image for Crash_WL

Started with Grand Theft Auto 2, by accident, borrowed it from a friend. Loved it, I remember stealing that white, cheap car, the Zaibatsu, the Loony... Memories.

Avatar image for CyberKlown28

Pulling someone out of a car and beating them up. Drive places. Get money. Repeat. Welcome to Grand Theft Auto!

Avatar image for driftster7788

for me, it started at gta3 with riseFM blasting in the car. memories

Avatar image for ersten

I started the saga at GTA3 and I'll never forget the first sunset.

Avatar image for TheJamin

well before when i was referring to the "good life". i was referring to upholding a decent frame rate. if you play games this way for a little while, the migration back to this generation of consoles is very difficult. a good example would be going back to my n64 to play perfect dark, the lag could be unbearable at times. I never worry about minimum specs/hardware issues, probably because its a sector of my profession, but either way that has never been a problem for me. I own all three console platforms and i do enjoy them on occasions, but the thing that really annoys me about them, beyond the low frame rates, shoddy controls and persistent texture tearing, is the fact they (the current generation in particular) are holding back everything to do with gaming. graphical enhancements, engines, AI - the lot. we have the hardware! but consoles wouldnt be cost effective if they used it and now we're just prolonging the life span of them too. - thats another reason why i hate 'em.

Avatar image for Dasim64

@TheJamin I honestly don't understand someone hating consoles. It's a great medium for gaming. My son and I love to play split screen co-op on games like Halo, Left 4 dead, Gears of War, and Borderlands. That just isn't possible for us on the PC. Plus I love the fact I can drop in a disk and play without every worrying once about drivers, or hardware specs, or whether my antivirus is causing issues, or my sound card isn't compatible for some reason. PC gaming can be pretty unpredictable at times. I really got tired of that kind of stuff with PC's over the years. I'm pretty selective about what I play on PC now. Unless it has a lot of online content like Fallout or Oblivion I have to see a pretty positive response from the PC community. Games like GTA IV I avoid like the plague because the response was overwhelmingly negative. But most of the time to be safe I just buy for the console. Plus there are games like Uncharted 2, Little Big Planet, Gears of War, God of War, ect that are console only and I don't want to miss out on them.

Avatar image for TheJamin

@Dasim64 credit wheres it due, you make a very good point. However, pc gaming has moved on a great deal regarding hardware. we both have different views, i hate consoles you love 'em. so again agree to disagree. i don't feel elitist being a pc gamer, i just enjoy the experience and it's very annoying when a developer such as rockstar forgets the fans that made them. i'd love to see a remake of GTA SA, however i don't believe that rockstar would be the best people for the job anymore. i dont ask for pretty graphics all the time, in fact i only ask they don't reduce overall performance in favour of them. so it's quite the contrary.

Avatar image for Dasim64

@TheJamin And to get back to where this all started, would you have preferred they made GTA IV on the old game engine? Hey it's not much of an improvement anyway right? Funny that I see a lot of people saying they would love to see SA remade on the new game engine but I haven't seen anyone say they would like to see another game using the old game engine. Just because it didn't run well on your miracle PC when the PC version first came out doesn't mean it isn't an improvement over the previous games. It ran fine on the 360 and I had fun playing it and every part of it was better than what we had on the PS2 with the old GTA games. Althought, believe it or not, I played SA on my PC. GASP!!! Isn't having fun the real purpose of gaming anyway? It's not always about having the best graphics or killer hardware. Sometimes it's just about the fun factor. You tell me to go stick to consoles like that's an insult but how can it be? I game on the PC, the 360, the PS3, the PS2, the DS, my iPod Touch, my cell phone, and the Wii. I enjoy them all because I'm a gamer and have been since the days pong first hit TV sets in the US and my parents bought us one. I played in the arcades when Asteroids and PacMan first hit the scene. Pretty graphics are nice but I'm not going to limit myself to a PC simply because it has better graphics.

Avatar image for Dasim64

@TheJamin I've been PC gaming for a lot longer than 10 years and I've had top end systems before. My current one isn't because I no longer focus on PC gaming. It's not worth the expense any longer. The only games I play on PC these days are the ones that offer a significant difference in game play over consoles. Oblivion and Fallout are good examples due to the fantastic user created content that extends game play and adds a lot of new content that is unavailable to console gamers. Otherwise, as far as gameplay is concerned, there isn't a significant difference between games on PC and consoles. It's pretty much down to graphics which doesn't bother me. So you don't need to say, stick to consoles buddy, with that PC elitist sneer on your face because I love playing on consoles. It's easy, cheap, and works without a hitch 99.9% of the time. As far as performance, yea it's often down to the developer and not your system. That was really my point. It's easy for even a "lazy" developer to program for a console because it's a single system with known perameters. That's just not the case with PC's. What I do know for a fact is that when I stick a game disk in my console I can be 99.9 % sure it's going to play fine. That's a claim you can't honestly make about gaming on PC's.

Avatar image for TheJamin

@Dasim64 where are you getting all of this from? granted there are many different configs but as long as they build an engine that will scale well with multiple GPU's are a significant CPU overclock its fine. meaning - SLI and crossfire support from day one and not make idiotic mistakes like say, making an engine that on first release that increases shadow depth and shadow resolution with game resolution (oops GTA IV did that) i can agree to disagree with the GTA IV comments, but now you're just spouting nonsense about a subject that you have been clearly misinformed. I've been a PC gamer for the last 10 years, 5 of them i have been injecting quite alot of money into my configs, really high end stuff. "I've had PC games that simply refused to run on the system I had at the time" - by the sounds of things you should stick to consoles buddy because if you cannot troubleshoot little problems like that i wouldn't drop any cash on a pc. A reason a good pc will only better your odds, is because you get lazy dev's like rockstar who won't finish porting a game. other loyal pc devs actually know what they are doing. anyway! lets leave it alone now?

Avatar image for DISavowwED

pretty cool story. I wonder how many other games did get canned due to lack of an iconic moment. I know there are plenty that should have been :P

Avatar image for Dasim64

@TheJamin Even the best PC in the world won't guarentee a game will run perfectly. It betters your odds but that's about it. There are just too many system configurations in the world for programmers to plan for them all. It's all down to how the game was coded and as we've seen with GTA IV, it isn't always going to be flawless. I've had PC games that simply refused to run on the system I had at the time even though I had more than sufficient hardware and up to date drivers. It's the nature of the beast and you know that full well if you are a consistent PC gamer.

Avatar image for Desulated

I remember playing the first GTA years ago. It was a total headache but fun like heck. :P

Avatar image for TheJamin

@Dasim64 i'm not over-exaggerating anything. When you have three graphics card in your pc and each costs the same as a console you expect a certain level of performance. your Rig might have its problems, mine however does not. if you find the 360 version of GTA iv more playable than the pc i can almost guess the spec of your pc. despite its flaws on the PC it still runs and looks better than the consoles versions. people moaned about crysis not being optimised, however now we can see that it was just built for future hardware. we will see GTA IV run smoothly eventually, but it would have come alot quicker if they had actually developed it properly. Anyway lets agree to disagree.

Avatar image for blancobo

This is really cool... I guess this is when they made the star system that made police chase you as you gained "star" notoriety. I remember when Jason West and Vince Zampella recalled that Activision did not want Modern Warfare as a Call of DIty game... imagine that! now Activision bolsters on its pride for the decisions that other made almost against the will of the BK.

Avatar image for KrazzyDJ

I would have missed out on some of the most memorable memories of my life if this game were canned !!!

Avatar image for angelcar

Thank god they didn't can it. i had been dreaming of playing an open world game ever since I hopped on the sand skimmer in Space Quest. I imagined that on SQ2 I'd have free reign exploring the streets of Xenon. Little did I know I'd have to wait two decades for anything resembling that.

Avatar image for boobush

I believe it, that game was a PS generation one, yet it had the graphics of a gameboy color. I guess it was luck when it wasn't shelved, but it WAS NOT LUCK when GTA III came out.

Avatar image for lilflex1

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

Avatar image for lilflex1

if they come out with a new gta they need 2 let the person call the radio station and request a song instead of catching it halfway

Avatar image for Dasim64

@TheJamin I'm a PC gamer as well and please don't overexaggerate the "good life" of PC gaming. PC gaming has it's own issues as every gaming rig does. I game on all the systems and each has it's own advantages and disadvantages. As I said before, the IV port to PC was crap which is why I stuck with the 360 version that came out first. And I feel for the size and scope of the game IV was, they did a stellar job on it considering how much things advanced over the previous games. They just should have done better at porting it to PC. That was a major screw up.

Avatar image for TheJamin

@Dasim64 well i first bought GTA IV on the xbox but couldnt even get into because of how blurry it was, that and the very poor framerate made it big no in my books from the offset. as for the buttery smooth experience you had that i cannot comment on, i guess i'm just to used to the good life, us pc gamers generally don't see a low frame rate! Im certainly not used to it thats for sure! Dont get me wrong, i enjoy the game still, i guess i'm just pissed off at how poorly it was developed. No SLI or Crossfire support for example... ho hum! either way, in 3 years time when we get some beasty hardware to max it out above 60fps constantly without a hickup - i'll agree with you.

Avatar image for chainsawscourge

well i personaly dont like gta but if gta would have been "canned" that whould probably mean that RDR wouldnt come out that good because rockstar wont have the money... so few...

Avatar image for monson21502

i liked the first 1. i also like the first 3d one. now lets have something new. im not taking new city i want a whole new game!

Avatar image for bigM10231

rockstar should remake it in 3d. call it gta remix edition

Avatar image for Dasim64

@TheJamin Well we agree to disagree then. Considering the large scale of the game world and all the detail in it I could understand the look of the graphics on the consoles. They had to deal with hardware limitations and even then they did a great job. By the time Gay Tony came out they had reduced the blurring a bit and improved the overall look of things. Not sure what performance issues you are talking about on the console because it ran smooth as butter on my 360. Regardless the blur in the background never bothered me to be honest. And SA looks like total crap in comparison with its squared off cartoony features and total lack of detail not to mention all the rehashed textures and blocky graphics. I never played IV on PC because it was a poorly executed port and that's about all we seem to agree on. Console wise there is no comparison between the old games and IV. IV trumps them in every regard. I even like the story and characters more than anything from the previous games. Argue all you like but I'll never feel the same about it as you. IV was a huge step forward for the series.

Avatar image for jimy1475

yeah the name says it all, theres no one who doesnt know about gta, gamer or not

Avatar image for Phil-teh-Pirate

I remember getting this and entering the ever so tasteful Bstard cheat.... Fun times.

Avatar image for gamerpipe

That's ironic, because the first time I played GTA 1, my heart started pumping for love. I immediately knew that's the game that I always hoped for. this is what I was always talking about (with myself) . and when GTA 3 fell on us. damn wow. I said this is a game we can believe in. 3d and you can do whatever you want. Rockstar north = gamers who can make games, know what they are doing. Sadly they still haven't done Bully 2.

Avatar image for TheJamin

@Dasim64 oh im sorry, did you just say graphics? are we playing the same game here? GTA IV - especially on the consoles, is probably the worst looking game i have ever had the misfortune of buying. its a step forward in some respects yes. but they had a bloody long time to work on it. and adding insult in injury the game looks like a blurry mess. the game is unoptimised on every platform and THEN when they decided to port it over to the pc they hired a monkey to manage the migration because somehow they made it even worse. now rockstar could be slightly forgiven by releasing a series of performance patches since release, but then they went and released the expansion packs with a new update that made it run dog slow again even on the fasted of PC's. so to sum it up. worst graphics i've seen. GTA SA with super sampling AA actually looks better in my opinion. - Unoptimised - hot/cold performance due to patches. crappy performance to start off with on the consoles. that is NOT a step forward.

Avatar image for x-2tha-z

The first GTA wasn't the best game ever made, but is was unique. That's what made it special. I've still got fond memories of hunting for the orange gang, usually you could hear them chanting before you seen them, and attacking them with a flamethrower or my car. Good times.

Avatar image for Pete5506

Where would gaming be today without GTA?

Avatar image for Alkpaz

I remember playing GTA 1 when it was released and it DID crash a lot, but I always thought it was my PC and not the game. Guess, it was the software after all.. *shruggs*

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

Ooh... Miracles do happen in video game design anyway; one doesn't see bugs turning into actual gameplay design that often.

Avatar image for missonrs

.....Dang to picture no gta thats scary.

Avatar image for shenron43

I have some good memories playing the first two GTA's when they were on the Gameboy :)

Avatar image for Shardz7

They must have had multiple 48-hour debugging sessions before it went retail because this game never crashed on me once...ever. I played the first GTA until my fingers wouldn't bend and the only thing that crashed was my vehicle into crowds of screaming pedestrians; the way it should be. This game was just plain fun all around and that's what makes good games.

Avatar image for LAboy06

To be honest,, I could never have fun with the original GTA. I understand its significance becuase it started it all, but I just didnt like the first one. I though it was bc I hate the top down view, but I loved China Town on the DS. and every other PS2, PS3 GTA as well.