Dan Houser is the vice president of creativity at Rockstar (along with his brother Sam). They created the Grand Theft Auto series but are notoriously shy of the press so when they talk it’s a big deal. Here’s everything Dan has to say on GTA 5.
On the three main characters
Dan Houser: “Within the story you’re going to know information about a character before they know it because you’re going to know what the other people know when you play as them”.
On GTA 5′s heists
Dan Houser: “We really wanted to make heists a big theme in the game based on missions not just from GTA 4 but from previous games people really responded to. People are in love with doing bank jobs, particularly when they feel like they have prepped the bank jobs. We never felt we’d done a great job with a bank job so we decided, ‘Let’s properly invest the story and mission design for some of the mission into making some of these built-out series of heists. That was a huge part of the story missions – trying to set the game apart from games we’ve done in the past”.
On playing missions with multiple characters
Dan Houser: “We want to move from having one character in a mission to having two of three. This makes the missions feel distinct in that they feel very high action but they will have a very different tone depending on who’s on them, how many people are on them and how much we’re using switches to make it feel different”.
On the character switching mechanic
Dan Houser: “We have a design issue that all games have – the games are at some level about doing stuff, you being in charge of the mechanic. When you are only one character, it means they always have to be driving is when the driving is fun, shooting when the shooting is fun, flying when the flying is fun and parachuting when the parachuting is fun. It can lead to things being a little ridiculous – having a lot of time spent climbing ladders, or a lot of segues from moment to moment that can end up slightly contrived. With [multiple simultaneous protagonists] we can get past that and also cut out a lot of the transitional moments to just always put you in the action”.
On how how multiple characters affect the plot
Dan Houser: “We’re starting to feel that’s it’s our strongest plotted game because the characters are so intertwined. When you’re advancing Michael’s story you’re also advancing Trevor’s story in a different way, and the meeting points are very exciting. I think making that work as certainly been challenging given our inexperience and lack of skill, but we’ve done our best to come up with something we think is giving this much more densely plotted experience that we couldn’t have pulled off when you always need the lead character for every moment”.
On side missions and pacing
Dan Houser: “What we really wanted to do focus on in mission design is a huge amount of diversity. We wanted to use the characters and use the rest of their lives – be it Michael’s family, Franklin’s crazy friends or Trevor out in the desert with access to planes very early on – to quickly get you into a lot of action and a lot of different kind of things. You can go from being in a heavy shootout as you ever seen in a GTA game to doing yoga with in a matter of missions. Hopefully it feels very nice, consistent and held together, but you’re being pulled around into a lot of different activities by the story and a really fun and interesting way”.
On hobbies and separating the characters
Dan Houser: “We’re still ironing out all the details, but we want one or two key minigame activities per character to really help the characters get separated from each other. We just want the world to feel different for whomever you’re playing. If you’re Trevor, you’re more likely to find the world antagonistic than if you’re not.”
On dropping the romance
“I don’t think [we'll have romance], simply because of the nature of the characters . We weren’t sure it would work, and we’re definitely doing lots of other new stuff. We definitely would bring it back in the future. It just felt it would be overly complex [with three protagonists].
On in-game cameos
Dan Houser: “The five PS2 games are one universe, and this is the high definition universe, so they don’t co-exist. You would never see CJ or Tommy Vercetti. They would be like mythical characters in this world who never existed.
On the in-game economy
Dan Houser: “We are definitely going to have a very vibrant and fun economy, from earlier in the game to after you’ve completed everything. There won’t be property but there will be loads of other stuff.”