DMA devs disagree over the dinosaur-based origins of the first GTA [Updated]

An image of Michael from GTA 5, his head overlaid by that of Barney the Dinosaur.
(Image credit: Rockstar)

Update: The designer of the original GTA prototype disputes this account. Speaking to PCG, Mike Dailly said that "There was never any Dinosaur tech demo". Instead, the  first version of GTA 1 contained a chunk of code originally made for an earlier prototype of a game called Attack, "based on Cavemen and Dinosaurs," which is why it ran off a .bat file named "Dino". Somehow, that got distorted by memory into a much more twisty story of a dinosaur tech demo becoming GTA 1.

Original story: Imagine a better world with me. The sun is shining, the wine is sparkling, and rather than starring men doing crimes, the Grand Theft Auto series is about a massive dinosaur. Who is probably also doing crimes, technically.

It's a world we could have had, if the original prototype for the first GTA had gone differently. According to Colin Macdonald, a former dev at DMA (now Rockstar North) who spoke to the BBC to mark the 25th anniversary of GTA 1's release, the original GTA game was just a tech demo where you played a "dinosaur roaming around and destroying the buildings". Kind of like a top-down The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.

Even though Godzilla Theft Auto would be an obvious hit, the devs at DMA changed its focus when someone chucked some cars into the game. "Someone had the bright idea to see what it would be like driving one of the cars rather than controlling the dinosaur," Macdonald told the BBC, "and suddenly it changed into a car game, rather than a dinosaur game".

And so, GTA was born. It wasn't long before someone else wondered what would happen if players could exit the car and jump into others, and "at that point it morphed into Grand Theft Auto". Even though the devs weren't optimistic that the game would take off, they still ended up playing it during their lunch breaks, a sign that there could be something to this dinosaur-free version of the game.

Apparently turning your dino tech demo into the start of one of the most recognisable series in videogame history entails some trouble, though. The bugs that were introduced when the game suddenly snapped from being about a stompy dinosaur to being about hijacking cars made for a "very frustrating process" for the team. But it didn't stop them from taking the time to add in stuff like sound effects and radio stations to liven up the world a bit.

The rest is history. GTA is a behemoth that makes more money than some countries, and we all live in a world where we don't get to turn Liberty City into Jurassic Park. A shame, but who knows? Maybe the GTA 6 leaks missed the part of the game where you stop playing as Lucia and Jason and start playing as Barney. It's not too late, Rockstar, you can still get this series back on track.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.