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Ign money part 3!


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October 25, 2002 - There's little doubt about it. In Grand Theft Auto 3, the primary driving forces behind the game were plain to see: Ribald revenge, power and greed all play equal parts in your drive to the top. Rockstar Games is so addicted to the continued evolution of these ideas in its series (GTA 1 and GTA 2 didn't sway from these topics either, by the way), Grand Theft Auto: Vice City brings new spices to the mix.


But what kind of spin can we expect? What do the transparent, fast-paced, lawless '80s add to the mix besides Blondie, cocaine money and big hair? What corrupt tangle of human power mongering can we expect to see played out in polygonal form? Today we have a chat with Dan Houser, the VP of Creative, who answers with all sorts of great questions with regard to the characters, script, the music, and the production level that went into making thsi game so strong in so many areas.


IGNPS2: Who is responsible for the script writing and what were the biggest influences which helped to capture the 80s vibe?


Dan Houser: The script is a joint effort involving mainly James Worrall, one of the level designers at Rockstar North, and myself for the cutscenes and mission briefings; Lazlow and me for the radio stuff; and a whole group of us in New York and Edinburgh who work on the pedestrian comments. The most important bit, obviously, is the mission briefings, which we wanted this time to play like short scenes from movies, with certain bits feeling like TV shows.


The plot and characters come first, along with a long list of missions from all of the level designers at Rockstar North, and then this is slowly turned into a script so the cutscenes can be built. In order to keep it as authentic as possible we did a lot of research into the '80s. It was tough, but somehow I managed to survive watching all those movies and reading all those books.


IGNPS2: How does the storyline tie into the missions in the game?


Dan: In Vice City, we set out with the objective of making the storyline and the missions the same thing. By that I mean the story is not some incidental and irrelevant background thing but something that propels you through the game as you follow, or cause, the trials and tribulations of Tommy Vercetti. What happens in the first cutscene is resolved in the last and the game is always building and developing and introducing you to weird characters.


The challenge was to make a story that interests you for more than a 100 hours or more of playing time, unravels over several months of game world time, and is non linear but compelling. I think we managed to achieve this thanks to a combination of our experience on Grand Theft Auto 3, the fact that our main character was now speaking and some other new innovations, such as Tommy's cell phone, which is great fun and really makes the player feel involved in the world.


IGNPS2: How did you decide on which actors you wanted to do the voice work for characters in the game?


Dan: Well, the characters come first. The characters are everything and are developed by the whole team, with James and myself putting words in their mouth and Ian McQue creating the way they look. Then we send Jamie King, our VP of Production, off to Hollywood and see what happens. We aren't interested in famous people, we want great voices that will bring the scenes to life and make the game more involving. So we make a list of actors we think will work, then put movies of theirs on and listen to them without watching them. If the voice really grabs us, we try to use that actor. Nobody will buy a game because it has a famous voice in it, but it helps people playing the game enjoy it more if the voices and the acting are fun and believable.


IGNPS2: Where was the voice recording done? Was it all recorded at once with all the actors together or as individual parts?


Dan: Mainly in New York and Los Angeles with little bits in London, New Orleans and Edinburgh [scotland, where Rockstar North resides]. We do it line by line as we have to match the voice work to animation and it is very fiddly and time consuming. Again, this means good actors work better because they are adaptable and don't mind working in unusual circumstances. Then the scenes are stitched together by the animation and audio teams at Rockstar North so it sounds like everyone is talking to each other. The process of recording all of the audio is very time consuming, as we need every line to be perfect, so we have to work with every actor individually.


IGNPS2: The cut scenes are much more full of movement - much more dynamic than previously, how is the animation matched to the voice?


Dan: As I said, slowly and painfully. The rough animation is done first, then the audio guys make a rough edit of the audio, and then everything is tweaked and manipulated for months. Alex Horton and Navid Khonsari spent months fiddling with the cutscenes and doing new things with cameras so they have a more cinematic feel than is usual in games. The whole process of mo-capping 5 or more actors at once, which is the basis of the scenes, is very new.


IGNPS2: How long did the Vice City script take to write?


Dan: James Worrall and I spend several weeks in a room together doing a rough draft at the start of the project, then keep changing things to suit the game, adding new bits for new missions and removing scenes for bits that don't work, until nearly the end.


We try to make the cutscenes and the banter in missions as fun as possible without ever losing sight of the fact this is a game, and the cutscenes main role is to set up the missions. Cutscenes have to be short and engaging. Too long and people skip them, and too dull and people ignore them. Our job is to entertain people as much as we can for the small sections of the game experience where they aren't entertaining themselves by interacting with the city.


IGNPS2: How different is it to write a script for a videogame to a script for a movie?


Dan: I don't know. I've never written a full length movie script, but from what I understand of it, the main difference between say a Grand Theft Auto script and an action movie script are that our story has to unfold in a non linear fashion, over a long time, and a film is far more linear and can't really exceed a couple of hours, and that we make sure all of the action in our story is interactive.


The script sets up the interactivity. As the characters are now also talking during the missions, you can experience the characters development while playing the game. To a great extent movies and games are different disciplines. The one thing we have really learnt from movies is the need for great dialogue and we?ve tried to insure the characters are strong, with some great lines.



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