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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 (5
th
generation to 6
th

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 voice-
over 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.
6. GTA IV (PS3, Xbox 360 2008)
Set within the fictional Liberty City (based on New York City), the single-
player story follows an Eastern European war veteran (Niko Bellic) and his
attempts to escape his past while under pressure from loan sharks and
mob bosses. The open world design lets players freely roam Liberty City,
consisting of three main islands.
At release, it was acclaimed by many reviewers, with praise particularly
directed at the game's narrative and open world design. The game was a
success, and is considered one of the greatest video games of all time.
However, the game also received controversy, with criticism directed at
the game's depiction of violence, and the ability to drive under the
influence of alcohol. Grand Theft Auto IV broke industry sales records and
became the fastest-selling entertainment product in history at the time,
earning US$310 million in its first day and US$500 million in its first week. It won year-end accolades,
including Game of the Year awards from several gaming publications.
Grand Theft Auto IV saw a shift in the series to a more realistic and detailed style and tone, partly a
result of the transition to consoles which offered high-definition graphics and the new and improved
capabilities of such consoles.
The first downloadable episode The Lost and Damned has a brief scene containing full-frontal male
nudity, uncommon in video games.




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.

7. GTA V (PS3, Xbox 360 2013)
The game is the first main entry in the Grand Theft Auto series since 2008's Grand Theft Auto IV. Set
within the fictional state of San Andreas (based on Southern California), the single-player story follows
three criminals and their efforts to commit heists while under pressure from a government agency. The
open world design lets players freely roam San Andreas, which includes open countryside and the
fictional city of Los Santos (based on Los Angeles).
The game is played from a third-person perspective and its world is navigated on-foot or by vehicle.
Players control the three lead protagonists (Michael De Santa, Trevor Philips and Franklin Clinton)
throughout the single-player mode, switching between them both during and outside of missions. The
story is framed by the heist sequences, and many of the missions have shooting and driving gameplay.
The player character's criminal activities may incite a response from law enforcement agencies,
measured by a "wanted" system that governs the aggression of their response.
At release, it was acclaimed by many reviewers, with praise particularly directed at the multiple
protagonist design and open-ended gameplay. Critics were polarised by a scene depicting torture and
the game's treatment of women. Some labelled the game inherently violent and misogynistic. Grand
Theft Auto V broke industry sales records and became the fastest-selling entertainment product in
history, earning US$800 million in its first day and US$1 billion in its first three days. It won year-end
accolades, including Game of the Year awards from several gaming publications.

GTA V is our case study through which to explore the GTA franchise. Make sure you are familiar with
its plot, characters and gameplay before we continue.