The PlayStation 2 version of GTA San Andreas debuted in 2004, and the PC and Xbox versions followed the same year. Numerous people adore the GTA franchise, especially the San Andreas game, and now a former director of Rockstar Games has disclosed some GTA San Andreas development secrets. These comprise the first choices they made on the map and how their own self-confidence started to suffer.
Former Rockstar Games dev reveals GTA San Andreas development secrets
Former Rockstar North technical director Obbe Vermeij discussed the making of GTA San Andreas and the decisions that went into making the game in his most recent blog post.
From 1995 until 2009, Obbe was employed by the Scottish firm Rockstar, where he contributed to multiple high-profile games. His credits include GTA III, Vice City, San Andreas, and GTA VI, to name a few. Now his most recent blog post, titled “Development of San Andreas (2003-2004)”, which naturally focuses on SA details the development decisions.
The development time of San Andreas
To begin with, the GTA Vice City had a negative impact on the developers. According to Vermeij, the Miami-based game’s production was “more stressful than GTA III.” Vice City required fewer iterations than Grand Theft Auto III because it was completed in just 12 months. San Andreas was given an extended length of development time to ensure that innovation could be accomplished.
The extra time to develop the game gave the Rockstar North team confidence that they could improve upon open-world games. And according to Vermeij, the Rockstar team was aware that San Andreas wouldn’t succeed if a new area was just built on top of Vice City without any significant changes.
Vermeij said, “Vice City was a mad dash to get done in time. Everybody was worn down and it was clear another one year game was not an option. It was obvious that Vice City hadn’t innovated that much and another ‘re-skin’ wasn’t going to fly.”
Decisions on San Andreas Maps
Vermeij claims that he “still [has] nightmares about” a meeting that revolved around GTA San Andreas sites and maps and that he was trying to create a more creative and enhanced Grand Theft Auto.
He reveals that implementing the cities that would become Los Santos, San Fierro, and Las Venturas was a challenge for Rockstar, as they intended to include three cities in the game.
He said, “We had a meeting where 3 people wanted the cities to be on different maps. This would save memory as the models for the skylines of the cities wouldn’t need to be in memory at the same time. [GTA 1] had 3 cities on different maps. The player would take planes/buses/trains to travel between maps.”
He further added, “I wanted the cities to be on the same map as it is important to be able to drive between cities. Even if this meant we’d have to find some memory elsewhere.”
According to Vermeij, a fifth decision team member sided with him and persuaded the others that putting all of the cities on a single map was the best course of action during a follow-up meeting the day after the first one.
The base and features of San Andreas
Vermeij reveals Rockstar made a number of changes to GTA Vice City even though it will serve as the basis for San Andreas. Nevertheless, when developing the game, the developers ran into some difficulties in one specific area.
In order to bring down the Golden State, Rockstar Games also took the team on an additional trip. This meant taking a car from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and on to San Francisco. The artists made sure to gather as many images for reference as they could.
“They hired a bunch of town cars and we drove between Vegas, LA and San Fransisco. The artists took pictures. It was loads of fun. [Moreover,] the RPG elements caused real problems. If the player ate too much, CJ would be too fat to climb certain walls or run fast. This made certain missions impossible. QA had to catch all these cases,” Vermeij said.
He added, “When the player got hungry, his stomach would rumble. Players started going onto Mount Chiliad to look for big foot (one particularly persistent rumour). Many players thought they could hear big foot not realizing it was their rumbling stomach.”
Vermeij claims that the choice to add so many additional features to GTA San Andreas was made simply to make the game “unnecessarily hard.” He attributed it to being overly arrogant and ambitious.
“I particularly remember sitting in a meeting where we decided to include stealth in the game. We didn’t need it as we had so many new features already. Nobody was particularly passionate about it but we did it anyway,” the ex-Rockstar developer said.
Difficulty in development and the fruitful result
A significant problem in game development is feature creep. More features mean more bugs to be implemented. And hence, more developers were brought on board to help with the problems, and after that game was completed, the Manhunt crew became engaged.
Counting the QA crew as well as the production and QA personnel in New York, the final count of the GTA San Andreas team was eighty.
Vermeij said, “At the end of SA we had about 80 developers plus the test department in Edinburgh. New York also had testers and production people. For most of the time development was manageable. Certainly less stressful than Vice City. To finish it off a good stretch of crunch was required. The company got a chef to provide a good meal for those working late. That really helped.”
Nothing can really make up for lost work time, but Obbe still remembers going to a big video game store for the midnight release with fondness:
“I didn’t expect it to be too busy but there was a line of 50 meters or so. I bumped into 2 artists from the office doing the same thing. We were standing there looking at all these people being so excited. People got their game and hurried straight home to play the game we’d made, all through the night. It was magical.”
Well, certainly the long and hard journey of developers paid off, and San Andreas is still one of the most-liked video games in the long run.
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