One of the biggest video game franchises ever is two decades old, so here’s 10 things you didn’t know about the game that started it all.
Grand Theft Auto is 20 years old this month, which is the sort of thing you’d normally expect to be sick of hearing about by now. But not only is Rockstar Games not celebrating it, there’s not even an officially accepted birthday date.
History does not record exactly what day the first Grand Theft Auto was released in October 1997, but whenever it was it set the (stolen) wheels in motion on one of the most successful video game franchises of all time.
One reason there’s no fuss being made about the anniversary is that Rockstar largely ignores the first two top-down games nowadays, with 2001’s Grand Theft Auto III being the real start of the franchise as we know it today.
But the original games still cast a huge influence over the modern game and many of the ideas and traditions that are now taken for granted first started – more or less – 20 years ago today.
1. The first game began development in 1995 and was originally called Race-n-Chase. It was supposed to be released on the Commodore Amiga home computer, but was almost cancelled multiple times. When it was finally released, as Grand Theft Auto, it came out only on PC, with a PlayStation 1 version only appearing a couple of months later.
2. Grand Theft Auto was the brain child of Scottish developer Dave Jones and his team at DMA Design (who, after multiple acquisitions, were renamed to Rockstar North). Jones was originally best known as the creator of Lemmings, but he left DMA Design in 1999 and went on to make the GTA-esque APB and the more successful Crackdown for Xbox.
3. Originally, Grand Theft Auto had a more traditional cops ‘n’ robbers concept, where you could play as both sides. At that point it was just a linear, mission-based game with no emphasis on exploring an open world. That all changed once a bug made the police start ramming players off the road, with the more aggressive play proving to be a lot more exciting. Eventually the developer realised it was more fun to just play as the criminals, and focused on that instead.
4. The main influences for the original game were Miami Vice on the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum, space trading classic Elite, and – according to Dave Jones – Pac-Man. Apart from the top-down view Jones compared controlling the character and running people over to eating dots, with the police taking the role of ghosts.
5. The PC version of the first game had eight playable characters, four men and four women. Although there was almost no visual difference between any of them and they didn’t talk. The PlayStation version only had the men though, and to this day there hasn’t been another GTA with a woman as a lead playable character.
6. The first GTA has no spoken dialogue and you had to use a cheat code to get a super sweary version, despite the game being 18-rated. By comparison GTA V’s story mode drops over 1,000 f-bombs, not to mention prodigious use of the c-word, the n-word, and every other form of profanity known to man.
7. The three unlockable cities in the first game were Liberty City, Vice City, and San Andreas. Although the maps have almost nothing in common the names were later reused for the three PlayStation 2 era games, with San Andreas becoming a whole state rather than just a city (it was originally just a fictionalised version of San Francisco).
8. The PC version of the original game has seven radio stations, plus a police band you can tune into. None of the tracks were licensed, and in the PlayStation version each car only had access to two stations. By comparison GTA V has 17 radio stations, including two for talk radio and over 241 licensed tracks.
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9. On its release GTA was banned from sale in Brazil, but avoided censorship in the UK and became a best-seller. The marketing campaign was organised by now disgraced publicist Max Clifford, who purposefully riled up MPs and newspapers, including planting stories, in order to get free publicity. He is credited by the game’s creators for being instrumental in the early success of the series.
10. The original GTA had two expansion packs set in London, the first in 1969 and the second in 1961. This is the only time a GTA game has taken place in the real world and the only time any of the games have not been set in America. Importantly, they’re also the first GTA games that Sam and Dan Houser worked on – before taking control of the series once Dave Jones left.