How well do you know Vice City? At launch, way back in 2002 – a number which, in the year of 2022, reads like a typo – I played so much of Rockstar's Scarface-aping crime simulator that I knew its palm tree-lined boulevards like the back of my hand. From Downtown to Little Havana; Escobar International Airport to Fort Baxter; Prawn Island to Viceport – I was as familiar with faux Miami as I was with my hometown of Glasgow.
For game developer Rob Wass, the same applies. But after hanging up his tools over a decade ago, the once prolific GTA modder has returned for the city of sun's 20th anniversary to turn Tommy Vercetti's tale on its head, tearing our collective muscle memory a new one, and making Vice City as we otherwise know it unrecognizable. Tightened Vice modifies every single one of the game's main missions, and the majority of its optional ventures. Wass says his project aims to "completely destroy the game's difficulty curve and troll speedrunners".
Wass first started modding in his teenage years, spending most of time tinkering with Grand Theft Auto 3. The idea of being able to put his own slant on a familiar world, with his own characters and stories, within an established set of rules, blew his mind, and while he's since evolved his skill set to work in game development proper – Wass is currently hard at work on 3D platformer Clive 'N Wrench – GTA modding has always been something close to his heart.
"Just as my current game project started winding down its creative side a few months back – moving into areas like QA, localisation and the likes – my artistic 'need' began to feel less catered for, and I often found myself unwinding by watching speedruns of games I love in my down time. Players making something new out of something familiar is an idea that's always appealed to me, and one of my favorite communities for this is GTA."
"One of the most notable mods in the wider Grand Theft Auto community is the 'GTA 3 Toughened' mod, a much older project that seeks to strip GTA 3 back to just its core missions, and then make them ridiculously hard. Ultimately, this is what inspired me to delve back into the modding tools I'd downed a decade earlier, to see if maybe something similar for Vice City would be possible."
Wass says that once he realized he "still had it", he got in touch with English Ben – a prominent GTA speedrunning community member, and one of Wass' own favorites – in order to gauge interest, and thereafter set to work on rebuilding Vice with a challenging twist. "One very large change I would say is with the final mission," Wass continues, "it introduces an entire extra phase to the 'boss fight(s)' on top of the already increased enemy count, weapon strength and other difficulty and phase tweaks. On the smaller side are missions like 'Riot', whereby now you are forced to change into the outfit the mission specifies – lest the objective location become fenced off... although, of course, people have quickly found new creative ways around that limitation already!"
Wass reckons that by tweaking the fundamentals of Vice City, Tightened Vice can undo years of muscle memory, whereby even players with an intimate knowledge of the game will struggle – including, rather hilariously, Wass himself. And while Vice City was given a shot of adrenaline last year with the arrival of the buffed and polished third-party-developed Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition, Wass believes Tightened Vice will likely appeal more to older audiences who played the original game the first time around.
To this end, Wass' biggest praise of OG Vice City is the way in which it straddled the "very special middle ground" between its open structure and tight narrative scope with optional distractions. He says: "This is something I strongly feel the GTA series has lost over time, as it's become more linear. The fact Vice City was a period piece with a very distinctive style at the time of release helps it to feel perhaps less outdated than other games from around the time; it just oozes style."
Back and forth
Beyond its flashy, neon-soaked aesthetics, one of the most satisfying things for Wass is watching players play Tightened Vice – all the while noting what they struggle with most and suggesting ways in which the mod might be better or more streamlined. If sticking to the mainline story missions, the original Vice City can be finished in around 20 hours, and Wass reckons, depending on how well (or not)you adjust to his reworked order, Wass reckons players can expect Tightened Vice to clock in around the same time.
As it stands, speedrunners are already flocking in their droves to take on Tightened Vice – the mod itself still being in its beta phase – and Wass sees the project as one "by the community, for the community". His favorite part? Watching players audibly hate on him live on-stream. The biggest challenges of making the mod have been mainly tied to navigating around some of the clunkiness inherent to an older title. This feels especially true given a good amount of the original knowledgeable modding community members I knew back in the day have moved on. But where there's a will, there's a way."
"Throughout all of this, my favorite part of creating Tightened Vice has been watching people play it – and curse my name the entire time!"
If you fancy checking out Tightened Vice, you can do so here. If you fancy checking out Rob Wass' incoming 3D platformer, Clive 'N Wrench, you can learn more on its official website and Steam page.