Screw those double uzi-wielding Ballas. Screw that crooked, pyromaniac Officer Tenpenny. And screw that bong-puffing, light switch-fiddling Big Smoke. Despite being hard as nails, 'End of the Line' – the climax of 2004's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – is one of the best storyline missions in the crime series' history. It has everything: multiple stages, the death of key characters, high-stakes shoot-outs, your brother dangling for his life from the half-extended ladder of a moving fire truck. It's the epitome of a blockbuster conclusion, and a masterstroke in GTA mission plotting.
Target13, a key member of the GTA: San Andreas fan-made Design Your Own Mission (DYOM) community, has the same penchant for cinematic flair, and has built his own multi-faceted universe in the 2004 sandbox over the last several years.
"I started creating in DYOM when I was 13, and I am 22 now," says Target13. "I first started getting recognition by winning the very first Mission of the Week, a community contest within the DYOM scene, in the summer of 2013. What I'm most known for, however, is the Target13 Universe – DYOM's first shared universe, à la the Marvel Cinematic Universe."
Centuries in the making
Design Your Own Mission is a longstanding community mod for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that spans three decades. Launched a few years after the release of Rockstar's seminal '90s throwback crime sim by PC players PatrickW and Dutchy3010, the modification lets users create in-game San Andreas missions without writing a single line of script – in essence working as a standalone mission pack. To say that Target13 has built a universe akin to the MCU is an understatement, so rich is the hobbyist modder-meets-storyteller's imagined world.
"The main reason I make missions in DYOM is because I love telling stories, and especially telling them visually," Target13 continues. "I'm not a filmmaker and I'm not talented enough to draw comics (because if I was, I would). DYOM, however, gives me the possibility to tell my stories the way I see, or at least as much as is possible in the GTA: San Andreas engine. That's why I do it. Not necessarily out of love for Grand Theft Auto, but out of a passion for storytelling."
"I not only expand the T13U with each new mission, but I also have a sort of in-universe newspaper going on, where I drop fictional articles about certain events related to an upcoming or ongoing project. I'm very glad to see that I've inspired several others to start designing their own shared universe, and I personally see them all as canon in a large DYOM multiverse. I also regularly update the universe's timeline to include any minor and major events."
That alternate-reality timeline currently stretches from the year 1790 through to 2007, and includes storylines that span the 19th century Old West, the Troubles in 1970s Ireland, and post-9/11 America, among many other threads. In this world, the events of GTA: San Andreas have either played out differently, or have not occurred at all – in turn placing extra onus on the credibility and believability of player-made scenarios and characters. Anyone can create for the Target13 Universe via DYOM, or their own universes for that matter, the best of which are given Target13's seal of approval.
One such Target13-approved architect is RithRake24, whose mission packs, 'What Pain Means' and 'Old Friends Die Hard', exist in the creator's own universe. The latter story-driven pack is the most sophisticated of the two, told over a six-episode-long season, and dealing in themes of politics, criminal underworlds, and socio-economic struggle akin to its source material.
RithRake24's involvement in DYOM is simple: he loves creating, and the processes which underpin filmmaking, animation, and design. "A huge part of what makes GTA: San Andreas amazing is its moddability," says RithRake who notes the value of community feedback. "There's a huge range of interesting things that can be done with a mod like DYOM, as it allows many people to be able to make an idea they have come to life with no coding knowledge. I see DYOM as a no-budget filmmaking tool, for example."
"Target13 is viewed as a pioneer when it comes to presentation – as you can see from his Universe topic and his own self-designed promotion material. I feel like these are skills you can carry forward into the real world. I have been motivated to teach myself good ways to advertise and promote my projects in this community, as well as design eye-catching logos and good stories."
"I also managed to meet a film enthusiast from Finland who I collaborated with for a mission pack. We chat to this day about films, and he has helped me improve my screenwriting a lot so that my dialogues feel more realistic."
With modern day GTA 5's myriad of performance subcultures, often showcased and enhanced via the meticulous Rockstar Editor recording suite, a logical question for the likes of Target13 and RithRake24 is: why San Andreas? With so much on offer in Grand Theft Auto 5 and GTA Online from a creation perspective, why does the DYOM community persist in a dated, almost-20-year-old setting?
"I play GTA Online too," says Target13. "But I see it as a different game. It's like comparing Call of Duty to Need for Speed, they are different experiences. GTA Online is where I mess around with friends and have a typical GTA experience. San Andreas, for me, is to tell stories and make missions. I haven't touched its campaign in ages."
RithRake24 adds: "The thing about a game like GTA 5 is that it has a more limited reach due to the specs it requires. Despite being extremely moddable, GTA: San Andreas, being a similarly easily moddable game, has a wider reach in that it runs on more devices. I feel like San Andreas also has an advantage when it comes to things like design variety, it has three different islands with different types of terrain and things like that."
"Personally, what's kept me here and not GTA 5 is the community and seeing what others have managed to create with this tool. That and events such as Mission of the Week, created by a fellow moderator Andrej several years ago which still runs to this day."
Mission of the Week
Mission of the Week was founded by DYOM community member Andrej in 2013, and is exactly what it sounds like – a weekly contest whereby players make missions according to a pre-set theme, other players judge them, and one prevailing set-piece is crowned the best of the bunch. Players have five days to design and execute their projects, followed by two days of feedback and voting, whereafter the winner sets the theme of the next contest. Over the years, interesting twists of the formula include mission pack competitions, wherein players strive to continue each other's stories in one continuous tale, and bespoke tournaments, such as hockey games and street car racing events.
Through all of this, like Target13 and RithRake24, Andrej uses DYOM to express himself, but has also grown on a personal level – pushing himself beyond his comfort zone, and challenging himself creatively.
"GTA: San Andreas was one of my favorite games, and I always wanted more – something like GTA: San Andreas Stories, or some other kind of a sequel, which never came," says Andrej. "When I first started playing DYOM, it was far from what it is today. With many features absent, my lack of knowledge and poor grammar, I could barely make a decent mission. Still, I tried and in the end I succeeded in creating my own projects, such as Mission of the Week."
"Doing so felt much more satisfying compared to playing a game. I mean, I'd just created something inside another game? Every time I thought of this, it blew my mind. This is something I could never do in another game, even the likes of GTA Online. DYOM is more than just playing the game, it's a tool that you can use to express your creativity, and, given the fact I've been playing for over 10 years now, it will always be a part of my childhood and growing up."
As Andrej has grown into adulthood, real life obligations have meant he's less active in today's DYOM scene, but he still lends a hand as a moderator, popping his head in from time to time to help other players fix bugs in their current projects, and generally keeping his finger on the pulse of the community from a distance.
Again like his peers, Andrej believes DYOM's magic derives from its sense of community, and it's for that reason he says he'll keep Mission of the Week running for as long as people are still playing. He tilts his hat to the likes of RithRake24 and Target13 who continue to drive the community forward with sophisticated content, and reckons the introduction of Mission of the Year – winners of which get their missions pinned atop the DYOM website – has encouraged players to take the content's weekly guise more seriously, with its prestigious end-of-year awards in mind.
Join the crew
RithRake24 admits that while DYOM isn't as popular now as it's been in years gone by, there is still a solid group of tight but welcoming creators crafting new missions and building upon the MCU-aping Target13 Universe and its many offshoots. And if you fancy that, reckons RithRake24, then you should stop by San Andreas any time. This universe may not have crooked, pyromaniac police officer antagonists voiced by the likes of A-list actor Samuel L. Jackson, but its scope for Hollywood-inspired blockbuster showdowns is just as big by way of creative community input.
"There's nothing to be intimidated by," says RithRake24. "Right now, the active part of the community is small but close-knit, and everyone gets to know each other well and they get along well too. It's a good place to express your creativity, the ideas you have but perhaps don't know how to express them, or are looking for a platform to express them on. Plus, you can hear thoughts from others in the community about missions that you design."
"I feel like the possibilities for DYOM are endless, even now, even with such an old game and a mod with lots of limited features. The community has proven this time and time again by constantly creating new ideas. And that, to me, is wonderful."
Want more community-based Grand Theft Auto-ness? Here are the best GTA 5 PC mods.