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GRAND THEFT AUTO: A BRIEF HISTORY

The first GTA game was released in 1997, and as of 2010 the franchise is still going strong. Very few videogame series have enjoyed the kind of staying power that the GTA games have had with their audiences Lara Croft, Resident Evil and Medal of Honor are the only comparable series. Looking at other media, this longevity seems even more remarkable. Not many music artists get to ten years in the business still enjoying good CD sales and concert tickets.

1. GRAND THEFT AUTO (1997) Experience for yourself every classic car ever seen. Race at breakneck speed through a living city, out-running and outwitting rival gang members, mercenaries, hired killers and an entire force. Drive dozens of varied vehicles around three of Americas toughest cities. Only the best tame the fastest cars. (from the packaging of the game itself) Considering that GTA has become synonymous with the media violence debate, its interesting that the first game was marketed more as a racing game rather than one where the narrative and objectives of the game require the player to be a career criminal. Significant omissions: the player as criminal, the RPG (role playing game) element of GTA and the beat em up elements. These would become more heavily featured as the series progressed. The Daily Mail still called for a ban. 2. GRAND THEFT AUTO 2 (1999) When releasing any sequel, you need to persuade prospective buyers that the new product offers something new and different to what you already have. The game itself is similar to GTA the narrative structure and style of game design was identical but the marketing for GTA2 was very different. Prove your criminal instincts to warring gangs, carjack innocent victims, assassinate rivals, steal drug shipments... (from the packaging of the game) Tagline: Go anywhere. Steal anything. Jack anyone. These were not new elements of the game: carjacking was a vital part of GTA as well as GTA2. GTA2 was a triumph of marketing over game design.

3. GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 (PS2 2001; PC 2002; XBox 2003) A massive leap forward in the franchise, mainly due to the shift from 2D to 3D gaming. This shift matches the move from PS1 to PS2 (5th generation to 6th generation consoles see your notes on the history of videogames). In terms of overall objectives and game narrative, not much had changed since GTA, but the style of the game was a massive breakthrough in the videogame market it was 2001s top selling game and regarded as a huge influence within the games industry. It was also massively controversial. The symbiosis between hardware manufacturers and software manufacturers is obvious here. For consoles such as the PS2 to work commercially they need games which can pull big audiences; likewise, games publishers such as Rockstar need good and improving hardware if they are to be able to develop their products.

4. GTA: VICE CITY (PS2 2002; PC & XBox 2003) The bestselling videogame of 2002 the formula was successful and the basic operation of the game remained the same. The key difference was location, shifting from Liberty City (New York) to Vice City (Miami). [Compare this with the successful CSI franchise, which launched spin-offs in NYC and Miami to accompany the Las Vegas based original series. All the programmes share the same formula and narrative. In the same way GTA: Vice City is more of a spin-off from GTA3 than it is a sequel.] The success of GTA3 meant a bigger development budget for Vice City the game has a bigger explorable city (Vice City is over twice the size of Liberty City and has double its missions) and more money was spent on the voiceover artists. Ray Liotta, well known for his role in Goodfellas (1990), one of the best films in the gangster franchise, played the character of Tommy Vercetti. This was a step up from Travis in the original GTA, a reference to Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver who bore no physical resemblance to Bickle nor had the voice of Robert De Niro who played the character in the film. The reputation and scale of the game had grown along with its commercial success. More sophisticated hardware meant the player was more involved or immersed in the game. Other voice overs in the game came from Dennis Hopper, Burt Reynolds and Philip Michael Thomas (Tubbs in the TV show Miami Vice, an obvious influence on the game). Videogames were now starting to make a significant mark on popular culture and this was echoed in knowing nods to films within the game itself. Other additions: more character moves, greater intelligence from the characters encountered on the street (they no longer simply screamed and ran away). The game was set in the 80s and featured music

from the period, thus broadening its appeal to an older audience as well as teenagers and hardcore gamers. 5. GTA: SAN ANDREAS (PS2 2004) More is more the game is now set in an entire state featuring three cities (based on LA, San Francisco and Las Vegas). The sheer size of the game and the wealth of acting talent providing voice-overs (Samuel L Jackson, Ice-T, Peter Fonda star of Easy Rider) reinforce the point about deeper connections between videogames and other spheres of popular culture. The game sold over 5 million copies in two months alone in the US. It is the third best selling game of all time. Controversy: the Hot Coffee minigame was discovered when a mod was released for the PC version of the game. This allowed access to the previously inaccessible minigame, which involved sexual intercourse between the main character and his girlfriend. The minigame was subsequently found on the PS2 and XBox versions of the game and caused considerable controversy. In the US, the game was re-rated as an adult game and pulled from the shelves of many retailers. A new version of the game with the minigame totally removed was released, enabling the game to be re-rated yet again. Rockstar claimed the minigame was the work of hackers but it was proved to be an original part of the games code.

There are, of course, other spin-off GTA games (see below for the full list) such as Vice City Stories, which brought in multiplayer options, or Liberty City Stories for the PSP. You can find out more about these on Wikipedia amongst other websites.

We will be looking at GRAND THEFT AUTO IV in more detail as one of our main case studies for this unit.