My Writing Setup
Comic Lettering
Science Fiction Writing
DMA Design


Grand Theft Auto

I recycled and adapted some of my answers for various interviews. (Apologies if it was your interview, I lose track of who asked me what!)

Could you go into detail about your role in the game – you mentioned writing dialogue and being present in various meetings?

As part of the Design Department I, and everyone else, had input on new projects even if it was just being in meetings where it was discussed. It was in Feb if 1995 that I wrote in the internal newsletter a paragraph with the heading “New PC Project” which was to ultimately become GTA.

So my favourite claim to fame is that I have my name at the start of the original design document along with a load of others. I wish I could remember the meeting or what was decided and talked about. But the truth was that we had so many discussions about possible games that this one wasn’t even that memorable to begin with.

One meeting, and in the Design Department a meeting could be pretty much just spontaneously gathering in a corner, I remember we were talking about “racing concepts”. We were talking concepts about racing things, of course, and then it became clear that one guy was talking about racing concepts themselves, some abstract Platonic shadows on the cave wall thing. I really hope that was an early GTA discussion. Imagine how that might have turned out. (We couldn’t!)

My main writing task at the time was the background material for Body Harvest, but in late 1996 Gary Penn asked me to do a dialogue rewrite for the pager and voice mission messages. So I spent a few months on that and at the end of it he told me that was all entertaining but they were too big to fit on a pager! I think they went through more rewrites afterwards. I think I detect some of my words still in there, but not enough to warrant a credit. I didn’t, if you’ll forgive the pun, drive the story.

And I did have a lot of discussion with Brian Baglow, so some of my malign influence might have crept in that way. We talked about having a Pulp Fiction style MacGuffin, a suitcase of course. I suggested when you opened it at the end of the story, it would explode, kill you, and tell you “Crime Doesn’t Pay”. Subverting our subversion.

If you don’t mind me asking, why did you leave to go freelance before the game shipped?

Story of my life. GTA at the time was just another project, there was nothing in it which screamed that it would be a hit. In fact a lot of the time it looked to be shaping up to be a disaster. It wasn’t a project I had much passion about, unlike a new remake of Hired Guns which had been a 1993 Amiga game of which I wrote the story and background.

DMA’s US operation was now doing a remake of Hired Guns with me as a writer. It became independent because DMA was bought by Gremlin Graphics and since Hired Guns was a Psygnosis project something had to give. Hired Guns went with the Americans. Either I had to give it up or go freelance to keep working on it. I chose freelance. Regretted it ever since.

What’s your proudest moment about working at DMA?

That’s very hard to say, there were so many highlights. On the trivial end of the scale, I was extremely happy to have managed to write the manual for Uniracers in an entirely atypical style for a Nintendo game (heavily sarcastic, but in a fun way) and not only that but managed to get a whole page of my handwriting in there so that I could prove that I wrote it! (Nintendo weren’t exactly big on lists of credits.) Also with Uniracers, writing a ton of stuff which was printed in Nintendo Magazine. Hired Guns was just one extended moment of pride, as you can guess from my favourite game. And when I wrote the first issue of Not the DMA News, I couldn’t have been more pleased to see everyone enjoying it and laughing at the jokes when reading it in a queue for lunch at paintball event in Edinburgh!

But was it knowing about the 3DO before the rest of the world? Seeing a prototype Amiga 1200? Writing dialogue for the original GTA? Being asked to put together a plot for a potential Lawnmower Man game? Actually putting together a plot for a potential Lawnmower Man game? Appearing on the cover of a magazine (Games-X)? Seeing good reviews for Hired Guns knowing what I’d contributed?

I guess though, overall, it was just the sheer specialness of working for a games company in the days when it was a surprise to most people that such a company even existed. Dammit, this is making me angsty for the past!

What’s your favourite DMA game and why?

Hired Guns, no question. It was the first game I’d been able to write the story for, and I gave it a huge effort, even spending a lot of time at home mulling over what I was putting together, which included creating the characters and an entire star system in which to set it. That star system, Luyten L728-6, is a real star. During the process, some of my ideas began to make it into the game design itself in a smal way, and myself and Scott – the designer and programmer – would spend many lunchtimes talking science fiction, science, games and working out the grand plan.

It was such a potent experience seeing the whole project come together over the course of a few years. By the time it was complete, I’d even worked out plot for a number of followups, seeding some elements in the original which would have had a huge payoff had there been an opportunity for any sequels. (The later Devils Thumb Entertainment version, by the way, was a remake with virtually nothing in common, except being dumbed down considerably and was a very unhappy experience for me.) Despite that, some of the characters remain very special to me and one day I hope to revisit that world since there are some unresolved stories.

Incidentally, I was particularly please this year to hear that there is now a camera which is designed to prove that the images it takes are untampered – a piece of equipment I added to the Hired Guns plot seventeen years ago. I’d made a genuine SF prediction!

Did DMA hire a lot of new staff to develop GTA, or was the team comprised of existing staff?

We were hiring staff all the time, but I don’t think there was any great hiring frenzy for GTA specifcially. I might be wrong about that though.

What were DMA’s expectations for Grand Theft Auto when pre-production began? Did you think it might top Lemmings?

We thought more Lemmings would top Lemmings!

At the time it was definitely the (as it was then) Nintendo Ultra 64 projects which were the darlings. For a time Body Harvest was in contention for for being an Ultra 64 launch title. In retrospect there was a lot of wishful thinking about that. But console development required licenses and money to obtain them and the dev kits to go along with it. PC development seemed attractive because it didn’t have any of those hurdles.

We hoped it was successful of course, but no higher expectation than any other game. I might be reading between the lines here, but developing a PC game was simply an expediency. Mike Dailly had some nice software he wrote for rotating isometric and top-down 3D views - it was nicknamed Legovison - and that formed the basis of the new game.

Dave had a grand vision for games, whole integrated worlds, which he’s spent much of his career trying to achieve, but I only heard him talk about it as a concept after GTA started so I have no idea if it was part of that scheme.

Not sure that answers the question!


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