Finally, Grand Theft Auto V is out, and the critical reception has been staggeringly positive. So what has the Rockstar team done to bring its open-world series up to date, and to fully realise the world of Los Santos?
In the second part of our discussion with co-writer Dan Houser, we look at the process of designing a playful city, as well as the influence GTA has had on culture. We also tackle the subject of female lead characters and the future of the series. Will GTA ever return to the UK?
Environment is a massively important part of your games – this one seems to combine the dense city of the earlier titles with the rural isolation of Red Dead Redemption. What challenges does this bring?
When you live in America, after about five minutes you realise that the biggest difference in the country is between town and countryside. In the UK, even if you live in Somerset you have some connection to London. Here, rural areas are a lot more detached from the cities, and this is where many of the political and social schisms are. So we have the wilderness and all the joy and terror that induces in America, and we also have the city, with all the joy, terror and depression that induces. To be able to play on that contrast is definitely interesting.
We did a little bit of that in GTA: San Andreas, but to do it properly was a huge guiding principle to us this time. Plus, you get varied gameplay for a country area with a motorbike, mountain bike or helicopter – and the countryside is great for uncomplicated fun as well – it lets you blow stuff up as well as meet lunatics. But just having the contrast is important, especially in a game because it lasts so long – you need to be able to go in different directions. That's important to us.
How do you research LA?
It's a fascinating city – it's kind of obsessed with itself. It's a 20th century city too: cars and real estate are its driving forces. There's no other reason for it to be there. It's so unlike Britain, that's what's so interesting. New York has a relationship you can understand, LA is nothing to do with Britain. It's alien to me and Sam, who have come over from London, it's like living on the moon. And some of the guys from Scotland adore it, some of them can't stand it – it's very interesting to see their reactions.
It seems to me that the GTA titles have always treated environment as a game design element, rather than just somewhere to place the action – it's something the best action adventure games all share. People talk about the influence of cinema on your games, but it seems things like geography and architecture play a huge part...
GTA is the bastard child of many different parents. It's more urban planning than architecture, though. There's a great skill in doing the first layouts of a map, it's so complicated what those artists are doing – the things they have to worry about. They have to bring a huge section of the world to life, get things working in the right way, make areas that look believable but work well for gameplay and give good roads for car chases and areas for shootouts. It has to be planned out but must still look organic; you have to capture the essence of what's really there in a city, but in a far smaller area. It's a great, great skill.
It's effectively urban planning as narrative really, isn't it? A road has to tell a story.
You begin by saying 'well, this is the area that we want the game map to represent', but in reality the game is going to be a twentieth of that size – so what are the iconic things you have to have? And then we have to organise the map so that it still feels like, say, New York or LA, get the spirit of it in a lot less size. Game design is all about compromise – and making the right compromises is the skill.
I like the way that the "real" world of the GTA games infringes on the action – whatever you're doing, in the background there's a city going about its business. There's a sense that the reality of the game scales...
Yes, it all scales. I remember reading a criticism of GTA IV – they were saying that you can be on a date, or doing something else, and then there's a ridiculous advert outside the window and that ruins it. But that's exactly the way the world is, or the modern world, or the postmodern world, whatever we're meant to call it now. You can never escape this stuff, and it's never going to completely enhance your mood – that's the game doing a brilliant job of what's it's supposed to do.
There's a believability to it – these characters aren't superheroes, they have this griminess to them, these nuances. That's something we wanted to build with Michael, Trevor and Franklin. What are they doing when they're not being action anti-heroes? That's a real strength of the game, a strength of the world and potentially a strength of games in general when they move away from trying to just portray larger-than-life übermensches.
Is it difficult to get away from the underlying structure of open world game missions: go somewhere, shoot people, get something, get out. Is it hard to break that mould with GTA V?
We've thought long and hard about it, but the reality is, structured missions – being given a task and completing a task – they feel like life. In a game, when you're doing missions you're doing a job, and in the open world you do what you want. To us that's the best way to replicate the structure, and the lack of structure, of life. I don't see the benefit of throwing that away.
The trick is not making it feel too mannered and predictable and hopefully we've broken that up. I think players like the combination: things they're told what to do, tasks where they're not told what to do but know they have to achieve something specific, and things where they're able to explore for themselves. We try to give you all of those in a variety of different ways.
The games have always explored the idea of pervasive communication, some felt that went too far with Roman in GTA IV constantly ringing you up…
That became a meme about the game that wasn't really true! It happened a lot less than people said!
But has that sense of pervasive media evolved for this game?
We'd evolved the friend system anyway by the end of Gay Tony, it was fairly subtle but it was working better. I feel that in GTA IV, for the first execution of something, it came out pretty well. Really what it is, from a mechanical standpoint, is a way of giving you someone to do the mini-games with that provides them a bit of extra context – that's all it's really doing. But it's one of those things that GTA IV became heavily criticised for and I never quite understood why. It got talked about a lot more than I expected.
One thing I think we can all agree on is that the games are about macho subcultures – there are a lot of gangsters.
A lot of gangsters – but hopefully we're not glorifying them too much. We try to make things real, to undercut them.
Right, but when you changed to multiple characters did you think of having a woman in a lead playable role?
We didn't really think about it this time. That's not to say that we couldn't or we wouldn't. This character set is just what came to us: it wasn't, "we've got X and Y so we need Z", we weren't trying to do it off a checklist – I don't think that will ever give you something that's believable or engaging. In the future, could we do a game with a lead female character? Of course. We just haven't found the right game for it yet, but it's one of the things that we always think about. It didn't feel natural for this game but definitely for the right game in the future – with the right themes, it could be fantastic. But for GTA V, this was the organic thing that came up, these were the characters what would display the themes we wanted to think about.
GTA 5 is coming at the end of the console cycle. Does the advance of technology interest you? Do you think, 'Oh wow, what will GTA 6 look like on a PS4?'
Of course we're interested. But no, not in terms of GTA, because we're always working on the current game. We look at the tech at a more practical level: what will be ready for which game that we're working on further down the line. We don't have another GTA in development, we don't work on three of these games at a time. That would be phenomenally depressing. So, in terms of GTA, no. We get pitched by the hardware manufacturers on what they're planning to do and our tech guys come up with ideas on how that could be used. Does this influence design decisions? Of course. But we're not sat there fantasising about 10 years down the line. We're so busy with what we're doing right now.
Are you interested in what your peers are doing? Since GTA IV came out, Call of Duty has become the biggest series in the world. Do you watch that sort of thing happening?
Yes and no. Of course, we're aware of Call of Duty – we're not living under a rock. In general, we've shied away from offering opinions on the rest of the industry – I don't think it's appropriate. I've never understood why anyone would want to denigrate someone else's work. Anyone who can make one of these games deserves a pat on the back – or to be locked up. It is so hard and so draining, we applaud anyone who does it, and particularly anyone who does anything new.
We like it that people make lots of different kinds of games. These are the games we like to make, we think we have something to say, but they're not the only kinds of games we think should be made, at all. It's not the Olympics where only one person wins a gold medal. We're not in direct competition with Call of Duty or with anyone. Our job is to make something we're proud of and to return the Take Two investors' money to them – those are the only two things we have to worry about. To hopefully sell a lot of copies of a game, doing something we're proud of – that what we focus on.
People like to think of the games business as a sort of permanent ongoing war...
For us, the more games there are the better, the more they all sell, the better. The industry has got a very strange desire to grade everything and say it's all on the verge of failure. For an industry that seems to be doing pretty well – even its downturns are pretty minuscule – it seems to be desperate for its own suicide. It's great that there are games doing well, and are getting people's attention and there is room for everybody making good games. Call of Duty was great but Red Dead Redemption came out and did fantastically for us.
The rise of the indie scene is interesting, too. Several titles are taking very close inspiration from GTA, the likes of Hotline Miami and Retro City Rampage…
Yes, quite close! Maybe that's not a conversation I want to get into. But in terms of the wider world of indie games, yeah, it's great, but to me, good games are good games and bad games are bad games. There is a desperate need within the games industry to categorise everything. What we've seen this generation is that good games do well and bad games don't. There is no competition between the big games and small games, hopefully people want a variety of experiences. What unites games is interactivity and apart from that there is a very broad canvas and there should be room for lots of interpretations of what that means. That's how we look at it: there's room for everyone who's doing something interesting or saying something interesting. You can't say triple A is failing when Call of Duty is doing crazy numbers, it's all fine.
Talking about influences, it feels to me – and to a lot of other people – that Nicolas Winding Refn's movie Drive was effectively set in, or at least heavily inspired by, the GTA universe...
You think? Even the font was GTA. I thought it was an interesting film, the music was spectacular. I agree, it was impossible to imagine that film without having played GTA. And that's a cool thing. It's a positive thing for us, it's good for everybody.
It's similar to when Vice City came out. I was driving in England on a Friday night, stuck on the M25 listening to Pete Tong, and there were about six songs in a row from the soundtrack. I thought, 'Wow, games are beginning to have an influence.' What people tended to say about that film, as far as I could tell, was that it felt fresh and interesting because they'd discovered a new visual language – and if that was partly inspired by our games, that's great.
And in music, current electronica seems to be really heavily inspired by games and by the chiptune genre. GTA V really picks up on that; I've already discovered some great artists I didn't know about: TransistorCake, GOOSE, Age of Consent...
All the bedroom producers are playing games. Some of the people in our company have phenomenally good taste in music – not me unfortunately – and they're going to find stuff that others are simply not going to know about. I first heard some of the music I love watching movies – it would be odd if people weren't getting that stuff from games now. Since WipEout music has been more and more important in games.
You said that you would finish GTA when it stopped being interesting, but the games industry now depends heavily on its brands. Can you really imagine a future without it?
Well, we don't need to worry about it just yet, because we're not there. I don't think about this, I just do my little bits and pieces so that no one's shouting, "where's your work, you bastard?" That's my day to day. Worrying about the next couple of games, helping to run the business, that's more than enough for me. So far, when it comes down to it… we wanted this game to be one where you'd go, I played San Andreas, I've played GTA IV, I liked them, but I know I'm going to be bored by this one, and then you put it in and say wow. We wanted this game to be jaw-dropping – in terms of its scope, in terms of its design ambition, we're always looking for that.
So there's no 10-year plan at Rockstar HQ for GTA?
This was the best game we could make at this point in time – we're not holding anything back for the future. If you said to me now, go and design another GTA, I'd be like, 'Oh what the fuck am I going to do next?' But hopefully, when the time comes, we will figure out what was good, what wasn't, and what could be improved with a bit of tech. The reason the game is still vibrant and exciting 11 years after it went into 3D is because we haven't done that. We've gone all out on every version to try and make the absolute best game we could make at that time.
And yes, we've had to cut features out because they couldn't be done, or whatever it might be, but each time we've been ambitious and pushed ourselves as hard as we could. Of course a part of me would love not to have to worry about GTA anymore, but another part of me goes, I'm so excited to see what the guys have come up with and what we can all do when the time comes. We're focused purely on finishing this – and that's what allows us to maintain some semblance of sanity.
Are we heading toward a future where the barriers between linear and interactive entertainment come down?
Hmm, I don't know, I've not given it a lot of thought. I suppose you will get some form of convergence when the act of watching games is sufficiently fun. And we're getting closer to that. Games like LA Noire and Max Payne are pretty fun and spectacular to watch. A lot of people have said to me that they love playing LA Noire with their partners – that is a baby step toward convergence. Certainly there are areas of the multiplayer mode that are moving in a similar direction. But again, we're so focused on what we have to do this week, this month, we don't have the time to think about that. My job is to get the bloody game done and survive in the process. People often ask why don't you go to games conferences – we don't have the bloody time! This is relentless!
Did you ever think about exploring the UK further in the GTA games? Lots of people remember the GTA London titles quite fondly...
I think for us, my gut feeling is, GTA London was cool for the time, but games were more limited then. These days I think we would love to set a game in the UK, set in London, whatever, but I don't know if it would be a GTA game. I think there are plenty of great stories we could tell about the UK, great environments to showcase, great gameplay mechanics that could have a UK bent to them – I just don't think it would be a GTA necessarily.
There are so many games we'd like to make that we just don't have the bandwidth to make at the moment. But we always think, well the future is long and varied, and that's what the future's for. Speaking for myself – and normally I'd be as militant about saying 'we' as much as possible, because it certainly isn't only me at all, thank god – but my own personal feeling is that GTA is America. With this game, I think, we're very happy with the location. It let us do something iconic.
An approximate 1,000 -person team developed Grand Theft Auto V, an action-adventure video game, over several years. Rockstar Games released Grand Theft Auto V in September 2013 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, in November 2014 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and in April 2015 for Microsoft Windows, as the fifteenth entry in the Grand Theft Auto series. Development began soon after Grand Theft Auto IV's release and was led by Rockstar North's core 360-person team, who collaborated with several other international Rockstar Games studios. The team considered the game a spiritual successor to many of their previous projects like Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3. After its unexpected announcement in 2011, the game was fervently promoted with press showings, cinematic trailers, viral marketing strategies and special editions. Its release date, though subject to several delays, was widely anticipated.
The game's open world setting was modelled on Los Angeles and other areas of Southern California. Much of the development work constituted the open world's creation, and the proprietary Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE) was overhauled to increase its draw distance render capabilities. Key team members conducted field trips around Southern California to gather research and footage, and Google Maps projections of Los Angeles were used to help design the city's road networks. For the first time in the series, players control three protagonists throughout the single-player mode. The team found the multiple protagonist design an intrinsic change to the gameplay and narrative devices. They refined the shooting and driving mechanics and tightened the narrative's pacing and scope.
The actors selected to portray the protagonists invested much time and research into character development. Motion capture was used to record the characters' facial and body movements. Like its predecessors, the game features an in-game radio that plays a selection of licensed music tracks. The game is the first in its series to feature an original score, composed over several years by a team of five music producers. They worked in close collaboration, sampling and incorporating different influences into each other's ideas. The game's re-release added first-person view option along with the traditional third-person view. To accommodate first-person, the game received a fundamental visual and technical upgrade, as well as new gameplay features like a replay editor that lets players create gameplay videos.
History and overview
Preliminary work on Grand Theft Auto V began after Grand Theft Auto IV's release in April 2008; full development lasted approximately three years.Rockstar North's core 360-person team co-opted studios around the world owned by parent company Rockstar Games to facilitate development between a full team of over 1,000. These included Rockstar's Leeds, London, New England, San Diego and Toronto studios. Technical director Adam Fowler said that while development was shared between studios in different countries, the process involved close collaboration between the core team and others. This was necessary to avoid difficulties if studios did not communicate with each other as many game mechanics work in tandem. Game development ceased by 25 August 2013, when it was submitted for manufacturing. Media analyst Arvind Bhatia estimated the game's development budget exceeded US$137 million, and The Scotsman reporter Marty McLaughlin estimated that the combined development and marketing efforts exceeded GB£170 million (US$265 million), making it the most expensive video game ever made at its time.
The proprietary Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE) was overhauled for the game to improve its draw distance rendering capabilities, and the Euphoria and Bullet engines handle further animation and environment rendering tasks. The team found they could render the game world with greater detail than in Grand Theft Auto IV because they had become familiar with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360's hardware. Art director Aaron Garbut said that while the consoles' ageing hardware were tiring to work with, the team could still render detailed lighting and shadows and "maintain a consistent look". Vice president Dan Houser agreed and felt that working on Grand Theft Auto IV with relatively new hardware was a challenge, but added "now we know what the hardware's capable of, so it's become a lot easier to move things along and a lot more fun, too". The PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions fit onto one Blu-Ray Disc; Xbox 360 copies are distributed on two DVD discs and require an 8 GB installation on the HDD or external storage device; while the Microsoft Windows (PC) version takes up seven DVD disks. The team asserted that any differences between the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions would be negligible.
Research and open world design
Initial work on Grand Theft Auto V constituted the open world creation, where preliminary models were constructed in-engine during pre-production. The game's setting is the fictional U.S. state of San Andreas and city of Los Santos, based on Southern California and Los Angeles respectively. San Andreas was first used as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' setting, which featured three cities separated by open countryside. The team thought that the ambition of including three cities in San Andreas was too great, as it did not emulate the cities as well as they had hoped. Houser felt that "to do a proper version of L.A. ... the game has to give you a sense of that sprawl—if not completely replicate it", and that dividing the budget and manpower between multiple cities would have detracted from capturing "what L.A. is". Garbut said that PlayStation 2 era technology lacked the technical capabilities to capture Los Angeles properly, such that San Andreas' rendition of Los Santos looked like a "backdrop or a game level with pedestrians randomly milling about". The team disregarded San Andreas as a departure point for Grand Theft Auto V because they had moved on to a new generation of consoles and wanted to build the city from scratch. According to Garbut, with the move to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 hardware, "our processes and the fidelity of the world [had] evolved so much from San Andreas" that using it as a model would have been redundant. The team's focus on one city instead of three meant that they could produce Los Santos in higher quality and at greater scale than in the previous game.
Los Angeles was extensively researched for the game. The team organised field research trips with tour guides and architectural historians, and captured around 250,000 photographs and many hours of video footage. Houser said, "We spoke to FBI agents that have been undercover, experts in the Mafia, street gangsters who know the slang—we even went to see a proper prison". He considered the open world's research and creation the most demanding aspects of the game's production.Google Maps and Street View projections of Los Angeles were used by the team to help design Los Santos' road networks. The team studied virtual globe models of the city, census data and documentaries to recreate its geographical and demographic spread. The team opted to condense the city's spread into an area that players could comfortably traverse, and captured "the essence of what's really there in a city, but in a far smaller area", according to Houser.The New Yorker's Sam Sweet opined that the "exhaustive field work ... wasn't conducted to document a living space. Rather, it was collected to create an extremely realistic version of a Los Angeles that doesn't actually exist. The map of Los Santos is familiar but its contents are condensed". Garbut noted that Los Angeles was used merely as a starting point and that the team were not "dictated by reality" while building Los Santos.
The open world includes vast tracts of countryside around the city proper. Research took the team to California's rural regions; Garbut recalled a visit he took with Houser to Bombay Beach that inspired them to set Trevor's initial story against the Salton Sea. The team wanted a large world without open, empty spaces, and condensed Southern California's countryside into a diverse and detailed playing space. The game world covers 49 square miles (130 km2)—about an eightieth of Los Angeles County. Its scale is greater than Rockstar's previous open world games; Garbut estimated it is large enough to fit San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption's worlds combined inside. To accommodate the world's size, the team overhauled the RAGE to improve its draw distance rendering capabilities. The large, open space permitted the re-introduction of fixed-wing aircraft, omitted from Grand Theft Auto IV because of its relatively smaller scale. "We wanted somewhere big [to let players] fly properly", Houser explained. The team populated the world with wildlife; lead producer Leslie Benzies felt that "because of the scale of the map and the different kinds of areas involved, a countryside without animals would feel quite hollow".
Grand Theft Auto V's multiple protagonist design was envisioned to improve the series core mechanics. The team sought to innovate game storytelling and negate stale familiarity by not evolving the gameplay's core structure. "We didn't want to do the same thing over again", said Houser. The multiple protagonist idea was first raised during San Andreas' development, but contemporaneous hardware restrictions made it infeasible. Garbut explained, "It didn't work from a tech point of view because the three characters need three times as much memory, three types of animation, and so on". After Grand Theft Auto IV's release, the team developed The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony, episodic content packages that followed new protagonists. The three interwoven stories received positive remarks, so the team structured Grand Theft Auto V around this model.
The development team found that players experienced greater freedom when controlling three characters in missions. Lead mission designer Imran Sarwar felt they opened up more strategic manoeuvres. He cited a combat scenario with the lead protagonists where Michael De Santa sets up at a sniper outpost and provides covering fire for Trevor Philips, who makes a frontal assault on the enemy position while Franklin Clinton manipulates flank points. Benzies felt that character switching streamlines the interplay between free roam and linear mission gameplay, as it eliminates San Andreas' cumbersome long distance drives to mission start points. Players may "explore the whole map without having to worry about the long drive back", according to Benzies. Houser noted the mechanic's use during missions negated long drives as well. The open world's dynamic mission content is a feature borrowed from Red Dead Redemption, where it was received positively. Dynamic missions present themselves while players explore the open world, and may be accepted or ignored. The team implemented dynamic content all throughout the open world. In Los Santos for example, players may encounter an armoured van and try to intercept it to steal its contents.
The team overhauled the game's shooting and driving mechanics to match the standards of its contemporaries. Public reception to the team's previous games (such as Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3) was considered during the process. To increase the pace of shootouts, the team removed hard locking—a central mechanic in Grand Theft Auto IV that instantly locks onto the enemy nearest to the crosshair. Associate technical director Phil Hooker found hard locking "too disorientating" and immersion-breaking, "as you didn't have to think about enemy locations". He said that Grand Theft Auto IV players "just rely on holding and shooting until a target is dead", so Grand Theft Auto V introduces a timer that breaks the lock on a target after a few seconds. The team refined Red Dead Redemption's cover system for the game, with increased fluidity moving into and out of cover. Regarding the reworked vehicle mechanics, Houser felt the game took influence from racing games and corrected Grand Theft Auto IV's "boat-like” driving controls.
Story and character development
Further information: List of Grand Theft Auto V characters and Trevor Philips
A single-player story revolving around three lead protagonists was one of Grand Theft Auto V's earliest design objectives. Garbut felt that such a deviation from the gameplay's core structure was a risk, and recalled team concern that a departure from Grand Theft Auto's traditional, single lead character set-up "might backfire". Early game conceptualisations would have told three separate stories through different protagonists. Later, Grand Theft Auto IV's stories inspired the concept that story trajectories would meet throughout the game. Eventually, the concept evolved into three interconnected stories that intertwined through the missions. According to Benzies, the team made the multiple character formula "integral to the structure of the gameplay as well as the narrative". Houser opined that Grand Theft Auto V is their "strongest plotted game because the characters are so intertwined" and that the "meeting points [between the characters' stories] are very exciting".
The game's central story theme is the "pursuit of the almighty dollar". Missions follow the lead characters' efforts to plan and execute complicated heists to accrue wealth for themselves. The team focused on money as the central theme in response to the 2007–08 financial crisis, as its effects turn the main characters back to a life of crime. "We wanted this post-crash feeling, because it works thematically in this game about bank robbers", Houser explained. The positive reaction to Grand Theft Auto IV's "Three Leaf Clover" mission—in which an elaborate heist is coordinated and executed by lead protagonist Niko Bellic and accomplices—encouraged the team to develop the story around the heists. Houser said that while "Three Leaf Clover" was well-received, the team had not captured the thrill of the robbery to their best abilities and wanted Grand Theft Auto V to achieve it. He explained, "We wanted to have a couple of really strong bank robberies ... It felt like that was a good device that we'd never used in the past. Repeating ourselves is a fear when we're doing games where part of the evolution is just technological".
The team wrote each character to embody a game protagonist archetype; Michael embodies greed, Franklin ambition and Trevor insanity. Houser felt Michael and Trevor were written to juxtapose each other, with Michael "like the criminal who wants to compartmentalise and be a good guy some of the time" and Trevor "the maniac who isn't a hypocrite". He considered that the three lead characters helped move the game's story into more original territory than its predecessors, which traditionally followed a single protagonist rising through the ranks of a criminal underworld.Ned Luke portrayed Michael, Shawn "Solo" Fonteno portrayed Franklin and Steven Ogg portrayed Trevor. Fonteno first became aware of the acting job through his friend DJ Pooh, who worked on San Andreas and was involved in Grand Theft Auto V's music production. When Luke's agent advised him of the casting call, he initially did not want to audition for the part because it was in a video game. After reading the audition material and learning more about the project, he became interested. He reflected, "I went immediately after reading the material from 'I'm not doing it' to 'nobody else is doing it'. It was just brilliant". During the initial audition process, Ogg noticed an on-set chemistry between him and Luke, which he felt helped secure them the roles. "When [Luke] and I went in the room together we immediately had something", he explained. While the actors knew their auditions were for Rockstar Games, it was not until they signed contracts that they learnt it was a Grand Theft Auto title.
Work for the actors began in 2010. Their performances were mostly recorded using motion capture technology. Dialogue for scenes with characters seated in vehicles was recorded in studios. Because the actors had their dialogue and movements recorded on-set, they found their performances no different to film or television roles. Their dialogue was scripted such that they could not ad-lib; however they sometimes made small changes to the performance with directorial approval. To prepare for his role as Michael, Luke gained 25 pounds and studied Rockstar's previous games, starting with Grand Theft Auto IV. He considered Michael's characterisation to be an amalgamation of Hugh Beaumont's portrayal of Ward Cleaver in the American sitcom Leave It to Beaver (1957–63) and Al Pacino's portrayal of Tony Montana in the 1983 film Scarface.
Ogg felt Trevor's characterisation developed over time. He said, "Nuances and character traits that began to appear—his walk, his manner of speech, his reactions, definitely informed his development throughout the game". Ogg cites Tom Hardy's portrayal of English criminal Charles Bronson in the 2008 biopic Bronson as a strong stylistic influence. He opined that while Trevor embodies the violent, psychopathic Grand Theft Auto anti-hero archetype, he wanted to evoke player sympathy to Trevor's story. "To elicit other emotions was tough, and it was the biggest challenge and it's something that meant a lot to me", Ogg explained. Fonteno felt that growing up in South Los Angeles and being exposed to drug trafficking and gang culture authenticated his portrayal of Franklin. "I lived his life before ... He's been surrounded by drugs, the crime, living with his aunt—I lived with my grandmother—so there was a lot of familiarity", Fonteno said. Having not worked as an actor since portraying Face in the 2001 film The Wash, he sought counsel from Luke and Ogg to refine his acting skills.
See also: Music of Grand Theft Auto V
"Welcome to Los Santos"
"Welcome to Los Santos", the game's main theme, was composed by Oh No. He collaborated with several other musicians to produce original music for the game.
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Grand Theft Auto V is the first game in its series to use an original score. Music supervisor Ivan Pavlovich summarised the original score idea as "daunting", because it was unprecedented for a Grand Theft Auto game. Like most previous series entries, the game uses licensed music tracks provided by an in-game radio as well. Pavlovich hoped that the original score would enhance the licensed music use, not detract from it. He further noted the balancing act between the score's "ambient subtext and tensions" and the game's onscreen action. To work on the score, Rockstar engaged The Alchemist, Oh No and Tangerine Dream with Woody Jackson, who had previously worked on Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire and Max Payne 3's music. The team of producers collaborated over several years to create more than twenty hours of music that scores both the game's missions and dynamic gameplay throughout the single-player and multiplayer modes.
Early in the game's development, the music team were shown an early build before starting work on the score. Their work was mostly complete later in development but they continued composing until its final build was submitted for manufacturing. Edgar Froese, Tangerine Dream's founding member, initially rejected the offer of producing music for a video game. After he was flown to the studio and shown the game, he was impressed by its scale and cinematic nature, and changed his mind. Froese's first eight months of work on the score produced 62 hours of music. He recorded with Tangerine Dream in Austria but further work was conducted at Jackson's United States studio, which The Alchemist and Oh No used as well.
Jackson’s initial role was to provide score for Trevor’s missions, and he took influence from artists such as The Mars Volta and Queens of the Stone Age. When he learnt that the team would be building off each other’s work, he voiced concern that the finished product could be disjointed. After sharing his work with the team, he was particularly impressed by Froese's contributions. "Edgar evolved the music, made it into a whole other thing", Jackson said. Froese had interpolated funk sounds with Jackson’s hip-hop influences. Froese and Jackson then sent their work between The Alchemist and Oh No, who heavily sampled it. The Alchemist opined, "We were sampling, taking a piece form here, a piece from there ... We pitched stuff up, chopped it, tweaked it. Then we chose the tracks that worked and everyone came in and layered on that".DJ Shadow then mixed the team's creations together and matched it to the gameplay. Pavlovich considered "how to make the hip-hop and rock score not sound like they were instrumentals of songs on the radio, but rather something unique to the score" a challenge.
Pavlovich found that while Rockstar assigned the team missions to write music for, some of their random creations influenced other missions and sparked inspiration for further score development. He discussed a "stem-based" system used to make music fit dynamic game factors where the team would compose music to underscore outcomes players could make immediately after completing missions. Each of these stems, Froese reflected, included up to 62 five-minute WAV files, which were sent to Pavlovich in New York. "He then created, very professionally, a mix down for each of the eight stems needed for a mission and sent out the material to the other artists involved", Froese elaborated. Oh No drew from scenes within the game to make his work feel contextually pertinent with the action onscreen. The iconographic introduction of Los Santos early in the game, for example, inspired him to "create a smooth West Coast vibe that embodied" the city. He supplied horns, electric and bass guitars, and percussion parts to fit with the car chase scenes. "We wanted everything to set the right tone", he explained.
The Rockstar team wanted to synergise the game world's depiction of California with the radio stations by licensing tracks that imparted an appropriate "Cali feel". Pavlovich noted that Los Angeles' cultural saturation of pop music necessitated the Non-Stop-Pop FM station; he said that "the first time you get off an airplane in L.A. and you hear the radio and the pop just seeps out ... We wanted that. It really connects you to the world". He felt that greater discernment was required for licensed music choices than in Grand Theft Auto IV because Grand Theft Auto V's music plays a pivotal role in generating Californian atmosphere. Music "reflects the environment in which the game is set", he said. Initially, the team planned to license over 900 tracks for the radio but they refined the number to 241. The tracks are shared between fifteen stations, with an additional two talk-back stations and a radio station for custom audio files on the PC version. Some tracks were written specifically for the game, such as rapper and producer Flying Lotus' original work composed for the FlyLo FM station he hosts. Pavlovich noted how the team would first develop an idea of what each station would sound like, and then select a DJ to match the station’s genre, such as Kenny Loggins who hosts the classic rock station Los Santos Rock Radio. He felt that to strike a balance between the radio and the score was a meticulous process, and cited a scenario where players would drive to a mission objective while listening to the radio, with the score taking over once players left the vehicle and proceeded to the mission's next stage.
There's something incredible about running around this world in first-person, glancing down at Trevor's hands, now your hands and seeing the tattoos, the dirt under his nails ... And then with a click you're in third person and there's your character again in front of you—it's a whole other new experience.
At E3 2014, a re-release of the game was announced for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. This enhanced version features an increased draw distance, finer texture details, denser traffic, upgraded weather effects, and new wildlife and vegetation. It features more than 162 new songs across the game's radio stations. Players may transfer Grand Theft Auto Online characters and progression between some platforms and gain exclusive content like activities, weapons and vehicles. The re-release features a new on-foot first-person view option that players may configure to personal preference (for example, by making the view toggle to third-person when taking cover). Animation director Rob Nelson said that a first-person option was raised during PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 development, but their relatively smaller banks of memory were already being pushed, such that adding new first-person animations would have inhibited the open world render. According to Nelson, the first-person view required more development effort than simply repositioning the camera, because of the need to adapt combat to a different view. The weapons were upgraded to a higher resolution, and new animations including weapon recoil, reload and switch were added. "I think we created 3,000 animations on weapons alone", said Nelson.
The PlayStation 4 version uses the DualShock 4's touchpad to navigate camera options and speaker to play smartphone calls, while the Xbox One Controller's "Impulse Triggers" may rumble while players use vehicles. The PC version features the "Rockstar Editor", a replay editor that lets players create video clips of their gameplay. It features a "Director Mode" that lets players record footage with various characters that speak and perform contextual actions at will. Players can adjust time of day and weather settings, and use cheat codes to access more cinematic effects. An editing suite lets players add music from the game's soundtrack and score, and access various depth of field and filter effects. Finished works may be uploaded directly to YouTube and entered into Rockstar Games Social Club contests. Later, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions received the Rockstar Editor through a free title update, which added various features such as expanded sound effects and text styles libraries across all three platforms.
Art director Aaron Garbut said that the addition of first-person inspired the enhanced version's graphical upgrade. Remodelled cars feature interior effects including functional speedometers, fuel gauges and dashboardhandbrake lights. The team added new particle and lighting effects, "like fireflies at night in the countryside, or ambient light pollution over Los Santos at night", according to Garbut. Red Dead Redemption inspired the team to add more vegetation to "break up the hard edges [and] straight lines" of the open world. The original version's vegetation was replaced with more detailed equivalents in the enhanced version. An upgraded weather system lets tree branches and leaves blow realistically in the wind. The team hand placed weeds along fences and walls, and placed grass over many of the open world's terrains. They then layered flowers, plants, stones, leaves and litter over the grass. An upgraded screen space ambient occlusion (SSAO) system renders dynamic shadows that may cast through weather effects including volumetric fog, and particle effects including light reflections in water bodies or neon reflections in cars at night. The ambient light pollution over nighttime Los Santos may dissipate in poor weather. A dynamic depth of field system sharpens and softens images to emulate camera autofocus, and improved shaders produce new colours in skin and terrain textures.
Preliminary work on the PC version began during initial development with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but gave way to focus on the console releases before returning later to the PC. Because the team had planned a PC version from early on, they made technical decisions in advance to facilitate later development, like support for 64-bit computing and DirectX 11. The art team authored their source art at high resolutions even though they needed to be compressed on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, with the foresight that PC versions would display these assets uncompressed. These early decisions aided the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions' development as well, due to their similar system architectures to the PC. Their similarities helped the team "ramp up" to the PC version, where they could push the visuals and technology further than before. The PC development team consisted of members of the original team and PC specialists from Rockstar's other studios who had brought Grand Theft Auto IV, Max Payne 3 and L.A. Noire to the platform. The PC's recommended specifications are based on the game running a native 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second (fps); the team suggested 60 fps as the optimal performance benchmark. The PC build supports 4K resolution and uncapped framerates as well. The team opted to give players the choice to configure the game according to their individual system specifications. Players may configure LOD draw distances, anisotropic filtering, textures, lighting, particle effects, reflections and so on. A population density slider effects the density of street-walking pedestrians and cars on the roads.
Rumours and announcement
During a September 2009 earnings call, Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick was asked about Grand Theft Auto V, the purported next game in the series. He replied, "We're not going to announce it, we're not going to announce when we are going to announce it, and we are not going to announce a strategy about announcing it or about when we are going to announce it either, or about the announcement strategy surrounding the announcement of the strategy".
That November, Houser discussed with The Times his work on the series and the process that would be undertaken for the next Grand Theft Auto game. He expressed plans to co-write a thousand-page script and said that, when developing a new game, the team typically created a city and then from that developed the lead cast. In July 2010, Rockstar North posted seven job advertisements related to a new title. The company wanted to recruit environment artists, physics programmers and character animators—the latter advertisement asked for recruits with "professional experience developing a third person action game". Journalists wrote that the job listing was indicative of Grand Theft Auto V's existence. In June 2011, anonymous sources allegedly close to the developer told GameSpot that the title was "well under way", with a 2012 release date likely.
Rockstar Games first confirmed the game's existence on 25 October 2011 in an announcement on its official website and Twitter feed. Take-Two Interactive's share price subsequently increased seven percent. Journalists said the announcement ignited significant anticipation within the gaming industry, which they owed to the series' cultural significance.
The game was extensively marketed through video trailers and press demonstrations. On 3 November 2011, a week after the announcement, the debut trailer was released. It is narrated by Michael and depicts the open world accompanied by the song "Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake" by English rock band Small Faces. A press release published the same day confirmed the game's open world recreation of Southern California and Los Angeles. Almost a year later, Game Informer ran a Grand Theft Auto V cover story for their December 2012 issue. Rockstar intended to release the second promotional trailer on 2 November. However, these plans were hampered by Hurricane Sandy, which cut power supplies to Rockstar's New York offices. The trailer was eventually released on 14 November; it introduces the lead protagonists' back-stories and features the song "Skeletons" by American musician Stevie Wonder.
To unveil the cover art, Rockstar contracted artists to paint a mural on a wall in Manhattan on 31 March 2013, followed by the artwork's digital release on 2 April. It showed English model Shelby Welinder portraying a blonde beach-goer. Three trailers were released on 26 April, each focusing on one of the protagonists. The songs "Radio Ga Ga" by English band Queen, "Hood Gone Love It" by American rapper Jay Rock and "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" by American musician Waylon Jennings are used in the Michael, Franklin and Trevor trailers respectively.
A trailer released on 9 July features the first gameplay footage. It demonstrates the shooting and driving mechanics, and the ability to instantaneously swap between characters.Grand Theft Auto Online was unveiled in a trailer released on 15 August. The video displayed activities like bank heists, small robberies, "traditional" game modes, purchase of property and bicycle-riding. The final pre-launch trailer was released on 29 August, intended to be a television advertisement. The song "Sleepwalking" by American band The Chain Gang of 1974 was used in this trailer.
Viral marketing strategies were used to promote the game. Visitors to the website of The Epsilon Program—a fictional religious cult within the Grand Theft Auto universe—were offered a chance to register for that group. After filling in an online membership form, the terms and conditions revealed that the site was a casting call for five people to appear in the game as members of the fictional cult. The official Grand Theft Auto V website was redesigned on 13 August 2013 to show a preview of activities and locales within the open world and an examination of the lead protagonists' stories. More information was released on the website on 24 August, 6 September, and 13 September.
To spur pre-order sales, Rockstar collaborated with several retail outlets to provide special edition versions of the game. The "Special Edition" includes a unique case packaging, a game map and unlock codes for additional content in the single-player and multiplayer modes. The publisher collaborated with Sony to release a 500 GB PlayStation 3 console, which includes a copy of the game, a 30-day trial membership for the PlayStation Plus service and a set of Grand Theft Auto V-branded headphones. All game pre-orders granted the purchaser an access code for the in-game Atomic Blimp aircraft.GameStop held a promotional raffle with the chance to win a real-life Bravado Banshee sports car (the game's counterpart of the Dodge Viper). Rockstar collaborated with West Coast Customs to build the vehicle.
|Features||Standard||Special Edition||Collector's Edition||Re-release|
|Access to Atomic Blimp||Pre-order only||Pre-order only||Pre-order only||Yes|
|Steelbook with "V" logo artwork||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Blueprint map (Los Santos and Blaine County)||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Special ability boost||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Stunt plane trials||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Bonus outfits, tattoos, etc.||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Security deposit bag||No||No||Yes||No|
|Grand Theft Auto V key||No||No||Yes||No|
|New Era cap||No||No||Yes||No|
|Custom Grand Theft Auto Online characters||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Unique vehicles and garage property||No||No||Yes||Yes|
Shortly after the game's release, the iFruit application was released for iOS devices. It lets players customise vehicles, create custom license plates and teach Franklin's dog Chop new tricks, which unlocks additional in-game abilities. Upon its launch, some users reported problems connecting to the application's servers; these problems were resolved with an update on 25 September 2013. iFruit was released for Android on 29 October, and for Windows Phone devices on 19 November.
Delays and leak
Grand Theft Auto V did not meet its original projected March–May 2013 release date. By 30 October 2012, promotional posters had spread to the Internet and a listing by the retailer Game had leaked the projected release date. Rockstar announced that day that the release was scheduled for Q2 2013, and the company began accepting pre-orders on 5 November 2012. On 31 January 2013, the company announced the release date had been postponed until 17 September of that year. "It simply needs a little more polish to be of the standard we and, more importantly, you require", Rockstar stated in a press release. It was released in Japan on 10 October 2013. The PC version, initially scheduled for simultaneous release with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions, was delayed three times: first to 27 January 2015, later to 24 March 2015, and again to 14 April 2015. According to Rockstar, the game required extra development time for "polishing".
On 23 August 2013, reports stated that some European PlayStation 3 users who had pre-ordered Grand Theft Auto V were able to download parts of the game, including its soundtrack and some character dialogue. Details of the game were leaked later that day and on following days before Sony removed the pre-order file from the European PlayStation Network and released an official apology to Rockstar and its fans. In response, Rockstar stated it was "deeply disappointed by leaks and spoilers being spread in advance of the game's launch".