Grand Theft Auto III made its mark on pop culture in more ways than one. Not only was it the best-selling video game of 2001, it caused quite a stir within the industry and beyond for its violent and sexual content. Critics loved it, overbearing parents hated it, and Australia even banned it (for a while, and then replaced it with a censored version). GTA III wasn't just the first game in its series to make the leap from 2D to 3D; it was also the first widely successful open-world, sandbox-style videogame to give you the freedom to explore, steal cabs, pick up prostitutes and then kill them and take their stuff – among other things.
Whether or not you were a fan of the game’s content, Grand Theft Auto did change the way people perceived games, and influenced how developers approached game design. With the game now approaching its 10th anniversary this Saturday, we asked some of the brightest minds in the industry to share their experiences with the game, as well as their thoughts on how GTA III has influenced gaming.
Folks sometimes forget that Dave Jones lovingly crafted the formula that Rockstar then took to the next level. Few games have had the influence – or the reach – that this epic series has had. It not only has been a financial success, it's also been a cultural phenomenon which has helped bring the industry to a new level of visibility.
--Cliff Bleszinski, Design Director, Epic Games
Very few games (or books or movies or songs or paintings) change things – change the way we perceive a medium, stretch the boundaries of what we think is possible, expand the audience to reach people who’d never thought about a medium before. Grand Theft Auto III did all of those things.
I remember seeing the earlier 2D iterations of the franchise and thinking, “Hey, that’s kinda cool… Not my cup of tea, exactly, but interesting.” Seeing the third entry in the series, in glorious 3D, left me dumbstruck. Here was a game so open-ended it put the rest of us “sandbox,” player-driven designer types to shame. Yet at the same time, here was a game that told a modern, relevant story. GTAIII really did allow players to “make their own fun,” something many games aspire to, but few achieve while making them feel they were inside a movie. From a design standpoint, GTAIII was state of the art and then some. From a content standpoint? Well, um, yes, er, you see, sigh…
I’ve never been wild about the content of the GTA games – the thuggishness, the brutality, the tongue-in-cheek treatment of issues I probably take too seriously… that all leaves me cold. But you can’t deny the attention-grabbing quality that content gave the game – and, by extension, by grabbing all that attention, GTA III got the mainstream thinking about games, talking about games for the first time. That, in my mind, may have been the game’s most important contribution – it paves the way for our surprising and ongoing march toward mainstream acceptance. It’s not at all clear to me that without GTAIII, with safer, tamer games leading the charge, we’d be the cultural force we are today.
So, GTA III was a design revelation that influenced many, maybe most games that came after. It proved to be a cultural pivot point. Plus it made a TON of money! No game developer could ask for more, and no game could have delivered more to the medium. My hat’s off to everyone involved in its creation.
--Warren Spector, Creative Director, Junction Point Studios
Regarding GTA III, it's an interesting game. I loved the game a lot, and played it a lot because it's the first open world game that gave me such a strong sense of immersion and empowerment. But the reason this game is particularly special to me is the controversy it generated from the mainstream media. In an attempt to create the opposite of what GTA III to show the society that games can be about good and beautiful things, we accidentally created the student game Cloud, which is the game that gave me a vision and the calling for what I do up till today.
--Jenova Chen, co-founder, Thatgamecompany
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