Grand Theft Auto was very much the talk of the playground when I was a kid, since the 1997 top-down sandbox game blew up in the UK before it got huge in America (that came with the later 3D entries). It was characterised as a cool, edgy game that featured shocking situations like stealing cars and running over pedestrians—if you kids of the late '90s thought Die Hard Trilogy and Syphon Filter were adult, wait until you see this!
Over 20 years later, Rockstar has sold more copies of GTA 5 (opens in new tab) than there are people in the United Kingdom, by quite a long way. This week, the BBC tweeted out a little snippet of archive footage that went behind the making of the original game in 1996. Rory Cellan-Jones visited DMA Design in Dundee, riding high on the success of the Lemmings games, to get the inside scoop on its newest project. In this video (via Ellen Rose on Twitter (opens in new tab)), you'll see (who I believe is) programmer David Kivlin talking about the premise of the game, then Craig Conner discussing GTA's music. Then you'll see Cellan-Jones meet QA testers Fiona Robertson and Gordon Ross, which the presenter refers to as a 'dream job'.
#OnThisDay 1996: Rory Cellan-Jones was busy distracting the developers of a new game called Grand Theft Auto. GTA didn't ship in 1996. Thanks Rory. pic.twitter.com/SihuPGhKgEMay 16, 2019
Cellan-Jones referring to the studio as a 'plant' is pretty funny, and each encounter is a bit awkward, which I can empathise with given how I react when people bother me at my desk. It doesn't help that he stereotypes the developers as nerds in one question, either, but developer Gary Timmons seems to take it in his stride. Cellan-Jones also seems convinced that someone there had to be paid to play games since he mentions it twice, which is an extremely dad take. The game was meant to come out in June 1996, but eventually arrived in October 1997.
The popular top-down sandbox game provided the basis for everything that would follow: stealing cars with a single button press, explorable fictional versions of American cities and the series' irreverent tone. I don't want to call these humble beginnings—DMA was already a success at that point, and had an office pool table for god's sake—but obviously no one would anticipate that GTA would be a phenomenon on the scale it is now. No one could've predicted GTA Online's heists, Niko Bellic's monologues, or Shark Cards!
You used to be able to download the original GTA for free from Rockstar's website, but now it seems to be gone, and it's no longer sold on Steam either (opens in new tab). Hopefully it and GTA London end up on GOG at some point, but you can download GTA: Chinatown Wars on pretty much any phone if you want a more modern version of what the 2D games offered.
Want some more retro GTA goodness? PCG's Andy Kelly linked me to this amazing behind-the-scenes video of the celebrities from Vice City performing their voice acting, circa 2002: