Magazine article Filmmaker

Game Engine

Magazine article Filmmaker

Game Engine

Article excerpt

Heather Chaplin gives kudos to Rockstar Games.

On April 28, 2009, game developer-extraordinaire Rockstar North (a subsidiary of Rockstar Games) released the latest installment of its notorious Grand Theft Auto series. On that first day, 3.6 million people bought copies, shattering any videogame records that had come before. In its first week Rockstar had grossed $500 million on an estimated 6 million copies sold. Less than a year later, 13 million people had bought copies.

You get the idea. The game is popular. Cultural phenomenon-popular.

If you're not familiar with Grand Theft Auto, let me fill you in: It's the series that lets you drive around recreated American cities like a maniac, running over pedestrians; having sex with prostitutes for power-ups; and shooting as many policemen as you can get in your range. Not surprisingly, Grand Theft Auto gets mentioned on the news a lot. More than one politician has seen fit to use it in an antivideogame crusade.

The games have been wildly popular ever since 1997 when the first installment came out, and players have journeyed from Miami to Los Angeles to New York City. The plot always runs along the same lines of drug dealers and hustlers; the gameplay always consists of an open-world style that gives players freedom to follow the plot line or simply engage with the digital city to their hearts' content.

Part of the magic of the games is that they're not traditional gamer fare. I'll never forget seeing one of the Rockstar execs, Jeronimo Barrera, get up on stage to receive an award for GTA III in 2001. He was wearing a zoot suit (not typical game designer fashion, which runs more to jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt) and he raised his fist in the air and shouted, "This proves that videogames don't have to be about hobgoblins, elves or trolls!" Or something to that effect. In a room full of Dungeons & Dragons fans, it was a bold statement.

Grand Theft Auto IV, the aforementioned game with the record-shattering sales, was the story of Niko Bellic, a shifty, seen-it-all character from an unspecified Eastern European country, newly arrived in Liberty City, a.k.a. New York City, to settle an old score and make it big. The model of New York City in which the game takes place simply blows away any city replications that have come before. There was the Brooklyn-Queens-Expressway in all its pothole glory, Times Square, Central Park, Prospect Park, Chinatown, etc. …

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