The game was based around Miami, so what kind of research did you have to go through to create the environment for GTA Vice City?
The entire team flew out to Miami a month or so after we finished III and spent a week there taking pictures and exploring. It was a lot less organized than the research trips we do these days - we basically just split into groups of two and took as many photos as we could fit onto the tiny memory cards we used to have back then. I remember finding a car with bullet holes in its windscreen down a dodgy back-alley. That was exciting!
This was a big improvement from GTA III. Only two of us did that shoot, and we shot onto 35mm film. I’ve still got an old box filled with the several hundred photos we took for reference for III. These days it’s a very structured affair. Our research team schedules and organizes the artists with guides and off-duty cops and we come back with hundreds of thousands of extremely hi-res GPS stamped images.
GTA III was a darker and grittier affair, so how much did the visuals have to change when it came to Vice City? Was it difficult finding such a different and overt look?
Finding the look wasn’t difficult, things just slotted into place. We were all into Miami Vice, we watched a bunch of them together and the look of the game pretty much came from the title sequence. Ian McQue, then our lead character artist, put together a bunch of character concepts right at the start that nailed a lot of the look on the character side. The environment grew into itself. We had something pretty quickly that had what felt like the right flavor and then we just poked and prodded it along the way.
With GTA Vice City set to launch on mobile devices, are you excited or nervous about a potentially entirely new audience now getting to experience the game?
Both. It’s always the same with every game we do. We put so much into every one, care about each far too much to be healthy. We always push so hard to make each game everything it can possibly be that the release is always incredibly tense. You always feel extremely exposed and raw. I unfortunately do torture myself reading every comment I can find on Twitter or forum which is never good for your headspace.
How do you personally feel about mobile gaming as a platform? It’s so powerful these days compared to not that long ago, and some people consider it the future of the games industry. Do you share those thoughts?
I suppose to some extent the platform is irrelevant, it’s the experiences people want. Sometimes that’s a small bite-sized, convenient experience; sometimes it’s an epic, full-on story-led experience.
Platforms will inevitably evolve but I think there’s always going to be a desire for a more involved gaming experience. What I love about GTA on a mobile platform is that it can be both. You can get engrossed in it as a story and mission-led experience or you can play it for a spare 10 minutes and have a lot of fun messing about in the world.
I really don’t know where things will go hardware-wise though. For me personally I think a console and a mobile device are separate, complimentary experiences. There will always be room for both the experience of wanting something quick and simple for little windows of gaming and wanting something chunkier and more engrossing for extended periods.
Is there a particular place or area in Vice City that resonated with you the most?
When we did the research trip we stayed on Ocean Drive in one of the deco, neon-clad hotels. Each night we all met up in a bar called the News Café. Ocean Drive was pretty much the first area we modeled when we got back to Edinburgh. During development we made the player start in this area each time we ran the game.
You get these little moments when you’re working on something, some (meaning many) days everything is going to pieces and nothing works or feels right, then other days you get one little moment - a hint of what’s there just waiting to be teased out - or something that just works, or that gives you some clarity on what the game you’re obsessing over making actually is. I always start to feel good about a project when the number of special little moments gets enough to calm my nerves about the rough days – it’s a delicate balance - and watching the roller girls we’d just added to the game skate down Ocean Drive passing the deco hotels was one of those moments. It felt like our research trip.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is available to download now from the Apple App Store.