Today marks 25 years of Grand Theft Auto. On November 28th, 1997, DMA Design unleashed the game on PC, a title which would become a milestone in the development of the 'sandbox' video game (the PlayStation version, ported by Visual Sciences, would follow on 12th December 1997 in Europe and 30th June 1998 in North America).
Even before it was released, GTA was no stranger to controversy; discussions took place in the British House of Lords regarding the possibility of it being banned from sale. However, this created the kind of publicity that money simply couldn't buy, and – when combined with the game's humour, incredible playability and wonderful sense of freedom – resulted in a smash hit.
GTA has, under the auspices of Rockstar Games, become one of the world's biggest-selling entertainment brands, but the groundwork laid down by the team at DMA Design – also famous for creating the global smash Lemmings – should always be recognised.
We caught up with some of the key players to discuss how they feel about GTA turning 25.
Mike Dailly (Developer, Graphics Engine)
GTA has become a global phenomenon, which looking back, no one would have ever thought would happen.
When we started it back in late ’94, it was unrecognizable even to the first version released, but as the team chipped away at it and came up with all the fun and crazy ideas that would make it what it is; we were all too busy having fun to really care where it might one day end up.
We all just wanted to make a fun game people would enjoy, that’s all any game creator really wants.
One of the few games that were truly designed by everyone on the team, the core game mechanic hasn’t changed in all this time. It’s a testament to Dave [Jones, DMA boss] and the team’s perseverance that not only did it finally manage to come out, but gave it such solid roots; it was able to grow into the mega-game that so many gamers love.
It’s a game we are all proud to be part of.
Keith Hamilton (Team leader / Lead Programmer)
We had no idea that GTA would become the phenomenon it is now. We just set out to create a game that we would want to play ourselves.
We were too focused on simply getting the game released at all to be thinking any further ahead than that; a lot of late nights and last-minute bug fixing!
We knew that it was a risk to be putting all this investment into a relatively retro-looking game. All the CPU cycles and development time went into gameplay and simulation rather than into graphics, which was an unfashionable direction at the time.
We knew the risk would pay off when we released a small demo version, and the feedback was amazing – people loved it.
Colin Anderson (Music)
What can I say that hasn't already been said, really?
I wish I'd known I was making history at the time because I would have taken better notes. Like remembering to write down what date it was released!
We knew really quickly that we'd created something a bit special. As soon as we saw the magazine reviews coming in. That gave us the confidence we'd get to do a sequel, which was as much as we could hope for back then.
It wasn't until well after Grand Theft Auto III was released and it started to cross over into the mainstream that it began to dawn on anyone that this wasn't just a game anymore; it had become a cultural phenomenon.
Even then, I don't think anyone would've seriously been imagining that people would still be talking about Grand Theft Auto 10 years down the line, never mind 20 or 25.
Steve Hammond (Writer)
By the time I left in mid-1997, I had no idea it would be any kind of success, let alone the size it became. I think the hand-wringing articles in the local paper were the first sign it had become something greater. Which is true.
However, the truer answer is that by that point, I was doing everything in my power not to think about the games industry. Freelance was a disaster, I'd been screwed over, and that was that. A new industry for me.
Jon Wilson (AKA Robert De Negro)
At the time, I had no idea that we’d be doing something that would cement us into pop culture history. GTA broke rules and made a new playbook. Even better, it showed the world that us Scottish folk have some swagger. Dundee dun good!
Brian Baglow (Writer)
I don't think anyone involved in the first Grand Theft Auto game could ever have imagined that people would still be talking about it 25 months later - let alone 25 years on.
I'm entirely delighted that the game is not just relevant but still having such a huge global impact.
It's a testament to the team behind the game that it's retained its dark sense of humour and focus on gameplay, immersion and empowerment.
I've no doubt at all we'll all be here in another 25 years talking about the latest instalment of the game. We'll just be doing it in the Metaverse, and streaming it live to Mars. I can't wait.
Happy birthday, GTA!