It is likely that if we pronounce the acronym ‘GTA’ many of us think of ‘GTA V‘, the smash hit from Rockstar Games. Older users will probably also think of ‘GTA: San Andreas‘, one of the great games of the franchise for PS2, but few will fall into that ‘GTA’ is a franchise whose first installment dates back to 1997.
Back then, video games were quite established and we had titles on the market like the legendary ‘Final Fantasy VII’, ‘Quake II’ and ‘GoldenEye 007’. We have to go back to 1996, when DMA Design, who came from blowing it up with ‘Lemmings’was the protagonist of a report in Working Luncha BBC program, broadcast on May 15, 1996 that addressed the development of his new game: ‘Grand Theft Auto’.
Today, courtesy of the BBC, we can access that clip and see how was the development which, without a doubt, was the germ of one of the most popular franchises in history.
It’s a game of stealing cars
The report takes us to Dundee, a coastal city located in the east of Scotland and home to DMA Design. DMA Design was founded by David Jones and managed to generate attention among critics and users with ‘Menace’ and ‘Blood Money’. However, it wasn’t until the early ’90s that the studio released its first big peach: ‘Lemmings’, which sold 20 million copies and was released on 21 different systems.
Back then, DMA Design had about 100 workers (today Rockstar have over 2,000) and was working on his next game, a title that Rory Cellan Jones (the reporter) describes as “a car chase through the streets of a fictional, probably American city.” He wasn’t wrong. The three cities were Liberty City (based on New York), Vice City (based on Miami), and San Andreas (based on San Francisco).
First of all we meet Dave, software designer and in charge of the main mechanics of the game: that the cars move, that the pedestrians react, the physics of the objects and that the city seems alive. It already makes it clear that one of the keys to the game is get out of the car, steal another and do missions.
Then we go to the sound department, where we see that the music was made with real instruments. Players who have played it will surely remember that, back then, the game had different musical stations that changed when changing from one car to another. As a curious fact, all the music was composed in the studio and the same can be said for the sound of crashing cars.
Next we find the motion capture zone, where we see a person punching the air. Although it is true that it does not have the curious costumes that we see today, this served to capture the movement and process it to animate the characters. It is true that the game had a top view and that the animation was not as colorful as any of ‘GTA V’, but it starts with something.
We also meet testers Gordon and Fiona. The reporter says that his job is to “play GTA all day”, although the reality is rather different. The testers test the game and work closely with the developers to check, among other things, what’s fun and what’s notbecause something might be fun in the programmer’s head, but not so much when the player tries it out for himself.
And the rest is history
‘Grand Theft Auto’ was published by BMG Interactive, which made it difficult, but not impossible, for DMA Design (purchased in 1997 by Gremlim Interactive) becomes part of Rockstar Games, a subsidiary of Take-Two. Rockstar subsequently purchased DMA and renamed the company Rockstar North in 2002.
Under this name, the studio, along with other company studios, launched the rest of the saga that we know today, as well as titles like ‘Red Dead Redemption’ (one and two), ‘Manhunt’ (one and two ) and of course ‘GTA V’, Rockstar’s goose that lays the golden eggs.
GTA V, in the absence of the new installment that is already in development, is the culmination of the company. It is the second best-selling game in history with 160 million units sold throughout the globe. Only Minecraft surpasses it, with 238 million units. Not bad for something that started out as “a car chase through the streets of a fictional, probably American city.”