Sunday, April 20, 2008

Variety interviews with Dan Houser

Posted by Andy at 18:45. Category: General

Variety's Ben Fritz recently sat down with the ever-elusive Dan Houser to discuss the finer things in life (this, of course, includes Grand Theft Auto IV). The article is yet another addition to Fritz's (relatively) extensive work covering all things Rockstar, and it's admittedly quite a hefty lump of text.

From the article:

"...imagine him talking in his British accent as I present some extended excerpts from our interview. And when I say “extended,” I mean “extended.” This isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. Frankly, I just think everything in here is really interesting and worth sharing. I’ve got him talking why “GTA IV” is the first truly original game in the series, why storage capacity is more important than console power, why Rockstar doesn’t make first person games, why he doesn’t want to make a “GTA” movie, why he considers the upcoming episodic content an “experiment,” what he has to say to critics of “GTA’s” sex and violence, and why he thinks his games deserve to stand beside movies, not other videogames (amongst many other topics)."

If you're willing to dive into it headfirst, feel free to go ahead -- it's definitely a great read. For everyone else, we've tossed together a summary of some key GTA IV bits from the interview:

  • GTA 3 through San Andreas focused on removing restrictions; GTA IV focuses on implementing things that make sense for the location or for the character.
  • In GTA IV, Rockstar aims to recreate the feeling of jumping from GTA 2 to GTA 3. It's not just an improvement; it's something completely different. GTA 2 to GTA 3 was 3-D; GTA 3 to GTA IV is a phenomenal increase in detail.
  • Physics in GTA IV make the game feel more alive; greatly improved graphics make emotions easier to convey. It's all about making the game more natural.
  • The story reflects the gameplay. The more realistic the game looks and feels, the more realistic the story can be.
  • Rockstar's dream with their games is to always make everything a flowing, completely integrated experience.
  • The development process for GTA IV was professional yet unstructured. The team hasn't really changed since GTA 3, so the process is largely intuitive.
  • The original Liberty City (from GTA 3) was never meant to imitate New York City; it was just "vaguely East Coast-ish".
  • As with previous Grand Theft Auto titles, extensive research was done to capture the true essence of New York City.
  • When coming up with the concept of Niko, Rockstar wanted someone that was tough yet foreign; he's both battle-hardened and innocent at the same time.
  • It took approximately six months to come up with a rough design of what represents New York City. Actually building that representation of New York (Liberty City, in this case) took years to complete.
  • As the city is created, the story begins to develop with Dan bouncing ideas off of Sam and Leslie Benzies. The story begins to be developed, artists start to work on the characters, and the designers begin to break down the story into missions.
  • Developing the actual Grand Theft Auto experience is a daunting task; although the game isn't linear, Rockstar sets it up in such a way that any given situation is predetermined. From the article: "We know where you can move around the map. We know when you can unlock everything. So although the thing to you playing game is non-linear because at any point you might have 15 things you can do, we can track on a huge multi-tiered doc, where you can be. So we know at that point can’t see other things. We’re trying to tell a story, design a videogame and take you on a trip around the world all at the same time."
  • While San Andreas and Vice City took influence from films, GTA IV does not. With the Rockstar team being based in New York City (and much of the team having lived there their entire lives), it makes more sense to base the game off of their own first-hand knowledge and experience of the city.
  • The main reason that we haven't seen multiplayer Grand Theft Auto in the past is technical limitations; the hardware just couldn't handle the strain that a full GTA multiplayer experience would dish out.
  • For GTA IV, the multiplayer experience isn't meant to be revolutionary or completely innovative; it's simply meant to be the best multiplayer GTA experience possible.
  • Multiplayer recreates moments while singleplayer creates narrative; it's all a very cinematic experience.
  • The storytelling experience in GTA IV is far beyond anything we've seen in any Grand Theft Auto title to date.
  • When we look at Niko's situation in GTA IV, we see him as a serious individual with problems that he most overcome; the world that he's stuck in, and the issues of those around Niko, are considerably ridiculous by comparison. It's this tone that defines the game.

There's far more to the interview than what has been outlined above, including some history behind the Grand Theft Auto team, the creation of GTA 3, and more. Dan also touches on the Take Two controversy, stating the following:

"There’s been so much drama over so many years and we’re still here. I guess we’re reasonably immune to it. Sometimes it gets irritating and sometimes you feel bad for the people involved because things get out of control.

There have been so many CEOs since I worked here, some were fantastic and some not so. But it never stopped us and I don’t think it’s going to. I’m so used to it I can’t imagine any other environment. If I freaked out every time this is going on, we wouldn’t be coming up on 10 years. There must have been 20 dramas in that time. It’s what I associate with being in America: corporate drama.

The one thing that whoever is in charge of Take-Two has been cool about is understanding that we do good job of running Rockstar.

I must sound like a broken record by now, but as always, you can discuss the interview on our forums.

Related Links: Dan Houser Interview, GTAForums Topic

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