The American Dream Gets Jacked: Celebrating Grand Theft Auto IV
In 2007, the shift over to next generation consoles was in full swing. Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 had been on the market for some time and developers were getting comfortable working with the new and more powerful machines. Rockstar North in particular had still been running on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Liberty City Stories, and Vice City Stories in 2004, 2005 and 2006 respectively without a true foray into the then-next generation. Rockstar North wouldn’t stay quiet forever though and just a couple years later, it would come forth with one of the most substantial updates to the Grand Theft Auto formula since its transfer to 3D space with Grand Theft Auto 3. Today, we celebrate Grand Theft Auto IV’s arrival on shelves in North America and the standard it set for next-gen open world games going forward.
Work on Grand Theft Auto IV actually began immediately following the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, with much of the core team that had worked on Grand Theft Auto 3 leading up the project. The goal from the beginning was to take the new capabilities of high-definition gaming and explore the space. Rockstar North writer and game director Dan Houser spoke to PlayStation Official Magazine (UK) in the June 2007 issue about exploring the HD space. Houser stated that the challenge and opportunity was “not just in terms of graphics, which obviously we are achieving, but in terms of all aspects of the design.” Houser would go on to say that it was about “trying to make something more realistic, more held together, but still retaining the overall coherence that the other games had."
To this end, the several parts of the development process had Rockstar North traveling from their home location in Edinburgh, Scotland to New York City to research everything from street design and building architecture to community ethnicity and culture from place to place. Each Grand Theft Auto starts with this type of research, but Grand Theft Auto IV had far more research involved than any other Rockstar title at the time, with a permanent team even being stationed in New York City to correspond with the home studio on numerous design decisions. This kind of dedication would go into every part of Grand Theft Auto IV, from writing, voice acting and motion capture to musical licensing for the game’s radios and media. In fact, in an interview with MTV, GTAIV musical director Ivan Pavlovich claimed to have reached out to around 2,000 contacts in order to get the rights for all of the music in the game.
What all of this dedication amounted to was an entirely new level of cinematic and immersive integrity, the likes of which had never been seen in a Grand Theft Auto game before. The game tells of Niko Bellic, an Eastern European immigrant and war veteran who comes to Liberty City in America to escape a rough past and chase the American Dream. What he finds is a slew of new problems plaguing his somewhat half-witted and unlucky cousin Roman. Simply protecting Roman leads Niko deep into the depths of Liberty City’s criminal underworld. The story plays out serious, but the game is also filled with Rockstar’s trademark spoof of Urban and Industrial America. Add to this that Liberty City has more richness and depth to it than any previous environment in the series and you had a game that would keep many players playing for hours and hours.
The dedication to the creation of Grand Theft Auto IV was immense and it shows in-game and on record. By the time of its release, it took over one thousand people and three and a half years to make. It was also the most expensive games ever produced at the time, with over $100 million going into its total cost to release. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, it was worth every penny. Within a week, the game sold over six million copies, producing a revenue of around $500 million worldwide. Grand Theft Auto IV set a high bar for every other open world adventure going forward and though we never want to go bowling with Roman again, the game still stands as an all-time high of Rockstar’s illustrious catalogue.