10 Years since Grand Theft Auto III
October 21, 2011 6:12 PM   Subscribe

10 years since GTA 3 Grand Theft Auto 3 was released on 22nd October 2001 and everything we ever thought we understood about videogames changed.

Dan Houser (co-writer on all GTA titles since 2 and involved in the development since 3) talks about how GTA 3 has changed the world of videogaming in the last decade.
posted by jontyjago (72 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I has a roomate at that time. We had a ps2 but no games really. One of us, can't remember which said "We should check out that car game, Grand Theft Auto or whatever" the other one, can't remember which said "That is going to suck, I'm not buying it". We rented it at blockbuster, we played for like 72 hours straight in shifts.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:21 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

This game really did inspire some fierce devotion. I put the map up on my wall so I could see it where I sat - I figured if it were in my peripheral vision, I'd learn the layout faster, and I think this did work.

Also: jetpack FTW.
posted by stinkycheese at 6:27 PM on October 21, 2011

I remember telling my roommate at the time to spend the $50 on Tony Hawk: Pro Skater 3 instead. Simpler times.
posted by 2bucksplus at 6:29 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Awww I was going to make a post but was waiting for midnight. I still remember the first time I played for 10 minutes at someone's house after a rock show. In university I downloaded it for PC but the crack didn't work, so I couldn't save. I would leave the program running for days at a time. When Vice City came out I bought a PS2, my first console since SNES, and now I'm super into games so I guess I have GTA to thank for that.

I actually also kind of have GTA to thank for me being here. I was a lurked since at least mid-2002, but it was this question on San Andreas' flight school that finally made me break out the five bucks.

Finally, 10 years... I think this is actually the first pop culture milestone that is making me think holy fuck I'm getting old.
posted by yellowbinder at 6:32 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

We played this game so much just passing the controller among roommates, and got so good and enamored with the game and its world that we actually spent hours learning to fly the plane with no wings and actually got good at it.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 6:32 PM on October 21, 2011

I bought my first console solely because I wanted to try GTA 3. I wasn't disappointed. And...


The final note in John's story was fucking brilliant. You know you're screwed. By the story. By the game. By the developers. But I'll be damned if when I drew on those motherfuckers if I didn't still think I had a bit of chance. That's getting you into your character.

***Done Now***
posted by Cyrano at 6:40 PM on October 21, 2011 [7 favorites]

Steam sale this weekend on GTA pack-- all(?)many(?)most(?) of the games for ~12 bucks.
posted by exlotuseater at 6:40 PM on October 21, 2011

I believe I lack the gene for sandbox games. I do not like the GTA series at all and while I appreciate the quality of a modded-up Oblivion it simply doesn't hold my interest when there is no significant narrative drive. I'm having trouble thinking of a sandbox game I did like. Too bad because people seem to enjoy these games a lot.
posted by Justinian at 6:41 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

I just came into possession of and xbox and have been playing San Andreas all afternoon. Holds up.

I remember hanging out at my friends house all the time in grade 8 because he had the original GTA on his computer. I don't think we ever followed the missions. For 12 year olds, that game was all about shooting civilians and running from the cops.
posted by auto-correct at 6:46 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

RDR has a lot of narrative drive.
posted by empath at 6:51 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

And amazingly enough, none of you turned into mass murderers.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:52 PM on October 21, 2011 [10 favorites]

that you know of
posted by exlotuseater at 6:54 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, here's the entire GTA collection so far for $13 on Steam.
posted by spiderskull at 6:55 PM on October 21, 2011

RDR would require me to walk over to my XBOX instead of sitting on my ass here at the computer.
posted by Justinian at 6:55 PM on October 21, 2011

I distinctly remember going to my friend's first apartment to hang out. Our buddy Cory was over and had brought over his ps2, with his copy of GTA 3. Awesome, I thought, I thoroughly enjoyed playing the earlier games on my PC for years.

What followed was a minimum of 6 hours where the only thing we did was pass the controller (and the bong) between ourselves while taking turns running from the cops. This game and Tekken Tag Tournament convinced me to buy a ps2 soon after. I've played and finished every single GTA game since.

Btw, the pack on steam contains everything except for GTA: London. Is there a legit way to get this game digitally?
posted by utsutsu at 6:56 PM on October 21, 2011

For 12 year olds, that game was all about shooting civilians and running from the cops.

for me, it's all about driving a police car up and down the boardwalk at coney island at top speed.
posted by sexyrobot at 6:57 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

everything we thought we understood about videogames changed

Yes. For example, we didn't know how willing game companies would be to make play-alike me-too games aping whatever sells the best. Wait, wait, no, we already knew that, from Pong, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Doom, Quake, Madden and SimCity.

So I guess you could say I'm not overly impressed with this messianic view of GTA3. It did some great things yes, but it wasn't a world-changer, except in the way that every very popular game ends up being a world-changer.
posted by JHarris at 7:03 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Sorry to steal your thunder yellowbinder. I bought GTA3 on OS X a couple of days ago and was looking for a walkthrough to remind myself where the garage that bought cars was, and I came across this article. I hadn't realised it was 10 years old.

It really does hold up as a game. I'm going to finish the story mode and then work my way through Vice City and San Andreas. Can't fucking wait.
posted by jontyjago at 7:04 PM on October 21, 2011

I kind of liked the cartoony thing GTA3 and Vice had going on - San Andreas kind of lost something for me.
posted by Artw at 7:07 PM on October 21, 2011

weaponsforall plus itsallgoingmaaad FTW.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:08 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

jharris I disagree... GTA 3 for a lot of people (me included) was the first time an open world game actually felt like an open world. it was so captivating seeing it at my friends house ... just the simple act of rioting was so tremendously entertaining. I bought a PS2 just to play this game and I know I'm not the only one. it really had a huge impact on one's expectations of what was possible
posted by jcruelty at 7:19 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I managed to avoid reading anything about Grand Theft Auto III until the day it came out. I was pretty heavy into RPGs and horror games, so it's easy to see how it slipped under my radar. It wasn't until the day it came out, when a friend on AIM mentioned it, that I actually bothered to look into the game. I went to IGN, watched a few video clips, read a few articles, and decided I really wanted to play the game. The following Friday, I convinced my step-father to buy the game when me and my sister went to his house for the weekend. We played until 11pm, and then we realized we had forgotten to eat dinner.

It was a pretty novel experience. I've purchased every Grand Theft Auto game to come out since, though, I haven't put too much time into any of them after III. I find them to be kind of boring unless I'm playing with other people, and I don't really ever get a chance to play video games with other people.

Hard to believe that was 10 years ago.
posted by Redfield at 7:20 PM on October 21, 2011

Something modern games can fail to live up to...

Stop Teasing Me With Fake Freedom
posted by Artw at 7:21 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

I could never get into the 3D GTAs. When I was a kid I used to obsessively play the original GTA demo, and I can't get used to the 3 dimensions. The games feel oddly empty.
I loved Chinatown Wars.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:23 PM on October 21, 2011

Red Dead, though... best story in a game.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:24 PM on October 21, 2011

Artw: San Andreas had you breaking into a military base with a jetpack to steal a container of alien goo for Peter Fonda and had you being chased by a semi-truck through the LA Aqueducts on a motorcyle. It was still quite cartoony.
posted by Grimgrin at 7:24 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Steam sale this weekend on GTA pack-- all(?)many(?)most(?) of the games for ~12 bucks.

Must... not... click... DAMMIT. My library of games I have no time to play grows again.
posted by Artw at 7:27 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is going to suck without a controller, isn't it?
posted by Artw at 7:28 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

the first time i played the game, i was at a friends house. we got stoned, and he fired up the ps2. he had already been playing for days, and had figured out how to fly the cessna that didnt have real wings (it comes up as part of a mission). i had never seen a game where playing wasn't really the point. it was more fun to ignore the gameplay and explore.

I don't fully understand why, but every time is play that game I'd eventually wind up on a roof with unlimited weapons, decimating the entire constantly regenerating police force. having previously aroused their ire by knocking down pedestrians with the sniper rifle.

I fully expect that I could climb into a helicopter and be cruising at 700ft in under 5 minutes based on the amount of time I spent hovering around liberty city, miami, and the California. I can land on moving cars,

I loved liberty city, but as soon as I got vice city, the flying was all I was interested in.

my one remaining goal is to make it to the top of Mt Chilliad with a tractor/trailer rig. it takes so much freakin patience!

i think I just don't have the patience for video games anymore.
posted by ninjew at 7:33 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

One of my all time favorite games. Blew my conceptions of what a video game could be out of the water. Lazlo on the chatterbox radio station was hilarious.
posted by thescientificmethhead at 7:34 PM on October 21, 2011

I played GTA3 so much that once, when going into a convenience store, I actually thought about stealing the police car parked out front! Then I realized it wouldn't have the familiar keyboard/mouse interface, so I passed.

I still don't know how I managed to get a PhD.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:34 PM on October 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

Artw: Actually, if you are used to keyboard and mouse controls for the typical shooter game, then many parts of the games become a cakewalk. Headshot after headshot, with just about any weapon.

Driving is serviceable but takes practice. Flying a chooper is very hard.
posted by utsutsu at 7:36 PM on October 21, 2011

Weapons? In GTA? Madness! I never go into any combat situation where I can't win by repeatedly backing over people.
posted by Artw at 7:37 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

The consummate period-pieceness of Vice City (and San Andreas, though I didn't enjoy it as much) makes me forget how incredible the atmosphere in GTA3 was. Walking through a crowd of lowlifes on the sidewalks of the red-light district, the rain and the neon XXX signs, the pickpockets, the hookers, the jazzy intro. They really captured the "gritty New York" style of the movies. My friend and I would stay up all night, passing the controller after every death. It was the first game that introduced me to the concept of "video games as black hole".
posted by Pope Xanax IV at 7:38 PM on October 21, 2011

I'm with Lovecraft In Brooklyn. Although I did eventually adapt to the 3D it took a while because of all the time spent on GTA 2. It was also very disappointing that GTA 3 did not have the crazy deathmatch multiplayer mode that GTA 2 had. If it did, that probably would have been enough to fail me out of school.
posted by chemoboy at 7:39 PM on October 21, 2011

IGN had a bunch of anniversary coverage this week, including another interview with Houser, reflections from other developers on the game's impact, and features on the radio stations, Easter eggs and the open world genre.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:43 PM on October 21, 2011

San Andreas had you breaking into a military base with a jetpack to steal a container of alien goo for Peter Fonda and had you being chased by a semi-truck through the LA Aqueducts on a motorcyle. It was still quite cartoony.

San Andreas was just fucking masterful.

It starts out thin, austere and narrowly focused and the plot gets fantastic so gradually that you barely notice. But it ends up ludicrous and it works because of the constant, subtle elevation.

It has three fleshed-out cities, suburbs, and hick towns. It has forests, desert and canyons and even has a well-crafted mountain.

It has a great range of cars, bikes and especially aircraft, and you can actually use the aircraft because the map is so big.

I've played a good number of games since then, but it's the best game I've ever played by a longshot. GTA 3 was a revelation to me (and the reason I bought a PS2), and Vice City was a decent step up from that. San Andreas was a revelation. I bought a PS3 because I had to play GTA 4 after loving San Andreas. I thought it was a very good game, but it didn't match SA. I don't know that anything ever will. I liked Red Dead Redemption a lot. It's probably my second favorite game, but it's a distant second.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:49 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've always been fascinated with the GTA games but never was any good at them. Both the targeting and driving were so finicky at times that I would eventually hit a wall and just stop. With San Andreas it was a motorcycle chase. With GTA IV it was mission involving accurate shooting.
RDR was the first open-world Rockstar game I was able to finish. Autoaim was my friend. And you're less likely to crash a horse in a traffic jam - although you can still fall off a cliff or get jumped by a cougar. Thanks to where it came out in the current console life-cycle RDR had a polish to it that GTA IV lacked (see San Andreas and even Vice City vs GTA III in the previous generation). I even spent more time slogging through LA Noire (different dev house, I know) than I did with GTA IV.

I'd love to play GTA 4.5 or whatever you'd like to call it set in the relatively present day with RDR's control scheme and visual polish.
posted by thecjm at 8:26 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm genuinely relieved that the Steam sale is Windows only. I was on the edge of some bad things there.
posted by COBRA! at 8:26 PM on October 21, 2011

GTA:III owes an enormous debt to Carmageddon, a gleefully insane demolotion derby from England with free exploration and smooshable pedestrians. GTA without the guns and with cars that looked more like Monte Wolverton meets Matchbox.
posted by zippy at 9:01 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

With GTA of course being Scottish. Leith links!
posted by Artw at 9:14 PM on October 21, 2011

MetaFilter: I still don't know how I managed to get a PhD.
posted by thescientificmethhead at 10:06 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm with Mayor Curley. San Andreas was f*cking fantastic. That game owned several months of my life. I loved how even though you might be technically on a mission, you could do whatever the hell you wanted. If I was in the mood to start something, I'd wait for a cop car to show up and then fire a couple of shots into the gas tank to blow it up. Instant chase and the stars started to rack up. From there it was a race to the safe house.

Sigh. I miss my XBox.
posted by azpenguin at 10:23 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, here's the entire GTA collection so far for $13 on Steam.

If you have/can find a British friend it's 5 euros/8 dollars. EIGHT DOLLARS. Ridiculous deal.
posted by graventy at 10:29 PM on October 21, 2011

Hmm... WASD car driving is a pig, but I am now a god with small arms. I guess that's not a horrible tradeoff but it feels like an odd shift of focus.
posted by Artw at 10:49 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by tumid dahlia at 11:10 PM on October 21, 2011

Buggy Saint's Row: The Musical
posted by jcruelty at 11:18 PM on October 21, 2011

I've never played Saints Row, but I'm planning on purchasing Saints Row 2 when I get paid. I hear it's quite good, and I figure, it's only about $20, so why not?

Hopefully it won't disappoint too much.
posted by Redfield at 11:19 PM on October 21, 2011

I am just running through San Andreas again, after playing it when it was first out a few years back. It really is excellent.

And the graphics are just fine... I don't get the drive to ever better graphics. Give me graphics this good, and put the effort into bigger worlds and more stuff.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:29 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wonder if the creators of the original GTA had played New York City on the C64?
posted by Anything at 12:27 AM on October 22, 2011

If you're buying the UK steam pack, the Complete Collection (with GTA4) is actually cheaper than the Classic Collection (without). You don't get a gift copy of GTA 4 though.

I've bought GTA4 three times now because of this type of thing
posted by fullerine at 12:29 AM on October 22, 2011

Count me in as a GTA:SA player who started there as a casual gamer and fell in love, but never found the time or another game as good thereafter. I played Knights of the Old Whatever and I'd love to have another experience like GTA, but ugh I can't give that much of my life to Red Dead or LA Noir and I kind of hate that.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:39 AM on October 22, 2011

I bought a PS2 just to play GTA III, and it was awesome. The gritty feel of it all, the music, the story, and the humour, it all balanced out very nicely. Then Vice City came out and it motorcycles and helicopters and stuff and it was awesome too, but they had lost a few things along the way (you can often drive around in that game and there is no other car or pedestrican on the road). Then San Andreas came out and it was technically perfect, and the story telling was awesome; however it was very very gritty - no mafia humour, just drugs, prostitution, and murder. Then GTA 4 came out and driving the cars was no longer fun, they were far too realistic and the driving missions were far too hard. Plus they had changed the camera angle and you couldn't change it back. And every sentence had to have a swear word, seriously the F-word is everywhere in that game!

So, for me GTA III was the pinnacle, and everything after was one notch down in terms of experience. However I do still love all of the 3 series. GTA 4 made me return the PS3 and give the game away, blah.
posted by Vindaloo at 5:46 AM on October 22, 2011

... he had the original GTA on his computer. I don't think we ever followed the missions. For 12 year olds, that game was all about shooting civilians and running from the cops.

Surely there must be more to human development between 12 and 22 than just me preferring to run over the Hare Krishnas?
posted by cromagnon at 5:48 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks to Steam I've now purchased three copies of GTA IV, the second time was to get the expansion packs, and now to get the older games that I used to play on the console. You can't regift those extra copies with this purchase BTW.

GTA III was the first true sandbox game in my opinion. Growing up with video games the most thrilling thing about some of the games of the 90s was always when you could interact with the environment in ways that weren't central to the mission. Mention Duke Nukem 3D and people still comment on the little stuff like offering strippers cash to flash the player. GTA took that to a whole new level by making a game where everything seemed to allow you to interact with it even if it wasn't necessary. GTA III was the first game in ten years that made me want to own a console again.

It's very disappointing to hear that Red Dead Redemption isn't coming to PC, and the next GTA isn't as well. I can't really see the point of purchasing an expensive game machine to play a handful of games.
posted by inthe80s at 5:59 AM on October 22, 2011

Also, GTA Vice City is probably the first video game I ever wanted the soundtrack and actual music from. I found instructions for copying the radio stations from the PC version of the game. and I do occasionally listen to an entire hour of a GTA radio station like "The Wave".
posted by inthe80s at 6:20 AM on October 22, 2011

There were sandbox games before GTA... the one that comes to mind is Hunter, a largely forgotten Amiga game thta my mates and I were kind of obsessed with - it was very GTA like in that you got to steal vehicles and roam around an enviroment causing mayhem, though the setting was a chain of of war torn islands rather than a city.

There was also the awesome Mercenary series.
posted by Artw at 6:48 AM on October 22, 2011

The Making Of: Grand Theft Auto IV (actually covers the whole series)
posted by Artw at 6:50 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I got an Xbox just to play Portal 2 when it came out after seeing the trailers and whatnot online.

I finished the one-player version and on my brother's advice, downloaded RDR. The HL series was pretty much the high-water mark for games until I got the hang of RDR, which has managed to blow my mind completely. I know I'm nearing the end of it so I went ahead and purchased the Undead DLC just last night though I haven't started it yet.

So, my question for the GTA enthusiasts is this: never having played any of that series, which of the series would be a good one to move to after RDR? I've been completely immersed in the environments (I actually really liked the Mexico sequence), music and pacing - do any of the recent GTA games come close? Should I look at Noir instead? I"m already starting to dread the end of this, since I'm not really sure what I'll sneak off to play in the evenings when the kids are in bed, and as much fun as Halo is, I like games I can take in small doses with varied side missions, good narrative and aren't a constant RUN/SHOOT LIKE HELL sort of deal.
posted by jquinby at 9:23 AM on October 22, 2011

Somewhat related, I bought San Andreas yesterday based on a recommendation from this Ask Meta question last year and I found it on sale for $3.95. The only reason I'm here answering this is and not playing it is because my partner asked me to work a show with him today and I'm reading MeFi on my phone. He's working the same show from 8:30 to 7:30 tomorrow and I have every intention of making up for lost time then.

Waking up early to play before leaving the house was something I considered and will probably roll out of bed when he leaves to do that tomorrow. Anything that makes me act like I did when my Atari 2600 was new 30 years ago is a sign of something, perhaps my insanity but I prefer to think of it as the game is doing something right.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:56 AM on October 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Shortly after I was married, my husband came home from whatever late and night and found me playing SA. He always knew I could swear, but apparently had no idea. And then I has to explain that CJ was in his tighty whities because I get killed and busted all the time and just don't have time to go to a safe house and dress him.

Have not told him that RDR is my plan for the Xmas holidays....
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:45 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

GTA III was the first true sandbox game in my opinion

Not to get all "kids these days", but you've never heard of Elite ? or Privateer ?

GTA was/is a good game, and took the lessons from it's predecessors well - no question. But it managed to reach a little further by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Fuck it. Kids these days...
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:00 PM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

For me, San Andreas was always the one that got away. I played the crap out of GTA III, Vice City, and GTA IV when each of them came out, but I only got four or five missions into SA before my brother took it to college and got it stolen within the first week when he fell asleep playing it on the PS2 in his dorm's common room. We didn't repurchase the game, so I never got to really play it.

But! I just realized that I bought a GTA collection from Steam forever ago, that includes San Andreas, and I completely forgot about it until this post! Now I get to fill the gaping San Andreas-sized hole that's been gnawing at me for years!

posted by maqsarian at 9:48 PM on October 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

The first time I played GTA 3 I kept it on for about 72 hours before it glitched out on me (I had rented the PS2 and the game with some friends so I didn't have a memory card). I kept it on while I slept not wanting to lose my place. I remember watching in despair as the train I had boarded wasn't stopping.

No game has had that effect on me since, and that is why it definitely deserves this post.
posted by Defenestrator at 1:15 AM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Games aren’t supposed to be reality. They’re supposed to be the reality if reality was what you see on TV, and listen to, and how advertising is. It’s the reality of the media, not the reality of the reality."

Reminded me of this bit from Charlie Brooker's Gameswipe.

I played GTA3, Vice City, and San Andreas with my brother. I loved all the callbacks and easter eggs in those games, and those crazy moments of impossibility. I even loved the cheats and glitches, which were a great way of relieving stress after getting stuck on a mission.
posted by Kaleidolia at 1:37 AM on October 23, 2011


I just bit the bullet. Getting the entire GTA set now via Steam. That's 44 gigs, to be downloaded over the next 22 hours. Here's to my Deepavali break!
posted by the cydonian at 8:00 AM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wish somebody could figure out a way to merge Grand Theft Auto with Need for Speed World.
posted by republican at 8:26 AM on October 24, 2011

The Steam sale ends in about ten minutes, people. RAPIDO!
posted by grubi at 9:49 AM on October 24, 2011

This thread had me getting out my PS2 GTA games for the first time in many years. Memory card still worked for Vice City, but San Andreas was gone, boo hoo. The idea of going through all that again just to get the jetpack is pretty daunting.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:11 PM on October 24, 2011

Rockstar Announce Grand Theft Auto V
posted by Artw at 10:24 AM on October 25, 2011

When I heard there was a non-top-down GTA, I was like: what is this heresy. The movement was wonky, though by the time we got to SA, the ability to climb and whatnot made it work. I've always wanted to play LC & VC with CJ's controls.

I can't imagine playing the games with a controller, though. Is there any way that's not hell?

Including the original game, I've probably spent a month of hours (maybe thousands?) playing GTA games. And I still haven't tried 4.
posted by Eideteker at 3:29 PM on October 25, 2011

While I love me some recent GTA games... The original top down ones were AWESOME. Getting a GOURANGA! was my favourite achievement.
posted by antifuse at 12:46 PM on November 1, 2011

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