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What devs think of Grand Theft Auto III

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

Continue to the next page for Yoshinori Ono, Todd Howard and more!

5 comments

  • azureguy - October 20, 2011 5:55 a.m.

    I'm shocked that nobody is adressing the game's flaws it had. Was I the only one who thought that the controls weren't any good back then? After playing Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War, there is no going back for me to the PS2 GTA controls. Also, the radio music wasn't as groundbreaking as in Vice City or San Adreas. The story was better in these two as well, and they had a more interesting worlds (80's and nature!). I'll accept that GTA III came first and it made the open world/sandbox setting popular, but each subsequent sequel was miles better than it. If anything, the replayability just isn't there in GTA III, whereas I play the other games just because of their music.
  • presc1ence - October 19, 2011 9:13 a.m.

    I think your all getting confused. it wasn't until vice city that gta3 was really any good, as it managed to tie together the massive crazy world with and an actual narrative framwork. Before this it always felt a little bit like and empty sandbox.
  • Felixthecat - October 18, 2011 4:23 p.m.

    GTA is my 3rd favourite series ever and I've been playing them since a fairly 'early' age (I was always told to put the TV on mute, mind you). I love GTA3 and everything you could do in it in comparison to the other games around that period. I loved the life that the game had and how cinematic it was. Thinking about it, I think games would be in a fairly different position if GTA3 hadn't been born and made every other developer step up their own game.
  • Turboash - October 18, 2011 4:09 p.m.

    They're probably all thinking... "Wow, look how little hand holding there is! And what's this? No QTE!? Blasphemy!"
  • flabslapper - October 18, 2011 1:27 p.m.

    Yeah this game was what got me to buy a PS2, I played it at my friend's house and the threat of the game getting pulled from store shelves (ultimately a rumor) got me to buy the game before I even had a PS2 to play it on lol

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