With the imminent arrival of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition (try wrapping your tongue around that after one too many Pisswassers), GTA fans are preparing to return to the 3D Universe's slant on Liberty City. The faux NYC cityscape that first dazzled in 2001 is in for a visual polish and scale ahead of its launch on current-gen hardware, and, for some players among us, this will mark their first visit to Grand Theft Auto 3's historic playground.
For GTA 3's longstanding Chain Game community, however, they never left.
"The Chain Game is what we call a community-based relay game," says GTAKid, the Chain Game's long-serving commander-in-chief. "What it basically is, is a non-real time version of multiplayer. Players take it in turns to make progress in GTA 3 by sharing a save file. We start each round with a save file that I post, someone else downloads that save file, makes some progress in the game, and then re-uploads it for the next player. It continues like that until we reach the goal for the round, which is usually 100% completion. Ultimately, our aim is to 100% the game in its entirety."
At the time of writing, the Chain Game has completed 123 rounds, with 95.45% of GTA 3 in its entirety completed so far.
Same city, new friends
Born from the long standing fan site GTAForums, the Chain Game has been in operation since 2010, with GTAKid taking the reins in 2013. Straddling Twitter, a dedicated Discord server, a Steam group page, and its all-important Chain Game Lounge on GTAForums itself – the group's defacto meeting hub – the Chain Game is an open community who welcome players from all over the world, inviting them to chip in as much or as little as they like at any given time.
Rules are simple but thorough, to ensure fairness and maintain structure. Players can play for up to three hours at a time, for example, wherein they can complete one story or payphone mission, and as many side missions as they like against the clock. During this time, they can't get busted, wasted, or fail at any stage, lest their progress get wiped and their turn invalidated. And, after completing their turn, they must wait for two or more consecutive turns to be completed by other players before starting another round of their own.
Pass-the-save set-ups like this exist in other PC communities, of course, but what makes the Chain Game especially interesting isn't just the fact that GTA 3 itself is 20 years old with a still active player-base, but also the variety of missions it offers. 100%-ing the crime sim's story ventures is one thing, but working as a tireless taxi driver, extinguishing house fires, or delivering injured civilians to the ER for three hours-straight sounds pretty painstaking.
"It can be, yeah," admits GTAKid, "but that's part of the deal when you're chasing that coveted 100%. Listen, you can jump on some days and just have the worst luck, I mean, really, an absolute nightmare! And I've done it myself – you're seeing the clock ticking down, and you're thinking: I've got to do something here! It all happens in isolation too, so you post the turn to the community, you've spent two hours doing the simplest thing because it's just all gone so wrong, and you expect a few raised eyebrows."
"But at the same time it can be great fun, and there's definitely a bit of friendly rivalry between players. There was one round I did a while ago with another community member, we did 600 taxi fares each and were constantly trying to better each other. It was like a rap battle. The requirement for this round was 100 taxi fares, but in the end we submitted over 1,300 between us, it was crazy!"
Well over 100 contributors have lent their GTA 3 expertise to the Chain Game since inception, and this sense of community is one of the main reasons GTAKid returns to Liberty City time and time again. Another prolific Chain Game contributor who feels the same is Wes Hampson, who also reckons hand-holding has let modern GTA games down, and the expert balance of idiosyncrasy and anonymity found in GTA 3's Liberty City is what makes the game so appealing 20 years on.
"Simply put: GTA 3 is a challenging game," says Hampson. "It's a game that doesn't have ropes to guide you. You're given an abstract objective, you have to fulfil that objective, and there are often lots of ways to do it. We sometimes livestream the Chain Game, and it's fun to see what other players do and the choices they make in the moment. In turn, the open-endedness of the game is what makes it perfect for something like the Chain Game, where you can drop-in and drop-out, doing your bit little by little towards that 100% goal."
"There isn't a lot of dialogue, players are given loose objectives and then need to work things out for themselves, and the city is perfect for that. Vice City, for example, has a lot of shine, but GTA 3 has a city that perhaps lacks an identity. You can almost ascribe your own thoughts and ideas to what might be going through the protagonist's head. In GTA 5, like a lot of modern games, I feel the developers try to tell you how to feel in certain moments. That doesn't happen in GTA 3, which is why I keep coming back for more action."
Now running its 124th round, the best example of players being called back to action came when the Chain Game hit a century of set-pieces. To mark the occasion, modded easter egg hunts – where players were sent around Liberty City in search of special vehicles – ran alongside regular base-game fare, and otherwise inactive players returned to celebrate the 100-round mark much to the delight of the wider community.
"Round 100 was incredible for us," GTAKid adds. "It was a special round that we did, three years ago now in 2018. It was the most played round we've ever done, and we had players coming in from all different periods of the game – some of which hadn't taken a turn in six years, but wanted to join in to mark the century. We had several special features for that game, and it was great having community members, past and present, helping us shape some of the games, meeting new and familiar faces, and that was just lovely to see people jumping on, taking a turn, then passing it on."
Hampson continues: "That's the thing: we've kind of turned it into a multiplayer game, which is pretty cool. I remember growing up as a kid, when I played GTA with my friends we'd always take turns and pass the pad. We'd play until I died, and until another one of us died, and then until another one of us died, you know, and we'd just have this cycle."
"With the Chain Game, it's sort of the same but in a different way. It's one person playing at a time. But it's multiplayer in the sense that you can spectate if you're livestreaming, or you can take turns playing the game, which is kind of cool. It's kind of a remote way to do that, you know, especially during these pandemic times – that sense of community and collaboration has been vital recently."
The arrival of the Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition marks yet another new dawn for Grand Theft Auto 3 and its older main series siblings, GTA: Vice City and GTA: San Andreas. For many of us, these games are rooted in nostalgia. And, while this is also true for the Chain Game community, a collective who've been steadily chipping away at the 2001 crime sim for well over 10 years, the fact that they still play on a weekly and monthly basis means they view GTA 3 with a degree of familiarity other players don't.
If you fancy helping them out on their final stretch, you should. But even when they do hit that elusive 100% mark, there's a good chance they'll find another way of prolonging their time in Liberty, the city they love so much. GTAKid, for one, certainly thinks so.
"I really enjoy it, I love the community, and I love doing what I do. It's definitely time consuming," he says. "It's been a difficult couple of years, and trying to maintain the community track and maintain that positive spirit and keep going can be definitely difficult, but we manage. I have a couple of people that help me out, and the community is just so lovely. They don't mind if I have an off-round or if I don't have data lists up straight away. It's that support that gets you through it, and with that, we're happy to continue for many years."
"Just today, I've been talking to somebody from Romania. And I've got a really good friend who helps with work on the Chain Game, he lives in the United States way over in Seattle. We've got people playing from all around the world, and not necessarily people that you'd bump into in real life. The Chain Game and GTA in general brings us together, and while there is and always have been a lot of negative headlines about the series, these don't really focus on what these games do so well – and that's bringing us all together."
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