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3 Things Game Designers Can Learn From GTA V

Rockstar North's latest iteration of the Grand Theft Auto franchise has already been almost universally hailed as the "greatest video game of all time" by numerous gaming sites and publications. . It's the culmination of nearly five years' worth of design

Rockstar North's latest iteration of the Grand Theft Auto franchise has already been almost universally hailed as the "greatest video game of all time" by numerous gaming sites and publications. It's the culmination of nearly five years' worth of design and $115 million worth of development efforts spanning between multiple studios and nations.

Given that upcoming game releases will likely be compared to GTA V for the foreseeable future, there are at least a few takeaways that designers can garner from this highly anticipated title. Here are a few of the major ones.   

Gaming Masterpieces Happen When Consoles are Nearly Obsolete

Image via Flickr by Ferino Design

It seems like gaming masterpieces are always released shortly before their consoles become obsolete. This was the case with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, for example, which premiered on the PS2 and Xbox not to terribly long before the release of the current generation of game consoles. As BloombergBusinessweek Technology writer Joshua Brustein observes, the best games seem to come out for consoles precisely because the "hardware is so mature" in terms of how developers have learned to utilize it. 

With the next-gen consoles, Brustein further argues, there's going to be a fairly significant learning curve for designers. The audience will also take time to develop, because adoption of new technology can be a lengthy process. All of these are some fairly compelling reasons why game companies choose to develop for soon-to-be-outmoded consoles.  

Adult Gamers Love Violent, Explicit and Sexually Charged Video Games

Although this shouldn't come as a revelation to most gamers, it still came as news to many people who read reviews of the game in the Guardian recently. As writer Keith Stuart explains, however, this attitude is really a relic of video games' bygone era, when they really were played primarily by children and young adults. 

The video gaming industry has come a long way since those days, though. Filled with explicit violence, sexuality, and drug usage, games like GTA V appeal to adult gamers for much the same reason that shows like Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, and the Sopranos do. These are worlds without tangible consequences (at least for the gamer) -- players can safely explore these darker parts of the human experience and engage in all sorts of simulated hedonism without having to check into a 12 Keys addiction treatment facility as a result.  

Designing a Sandbox Game is Far Different from filmmaking

With its array of voice actors, though, the game includes some truly spectacular theatrical-calber performances. It also utilizes some motion-capture filmmaking techniques to better depict facial expressions and physical mannerisms. All of this does lead one to believe that a filmmaking approach is completely in play when it comes to games of this ilk. 

Due to the sheer size of a game like GTA V, though, it would be a mistake to design it with the expectation that gamers will be playing through a movie. Even if they just follow the main storyline, it takes 40+ hours to finish all the requisite missions to complete the game -- in and of itself, that is distinctly different from a feature film. As Rockstar vice president Dan Houser explained at the New York Film Festival, "long-form television and novels" are better analogues to how the narrative and gameplay should be shaped. 

With all of that being said, the true takeaways from this game for designers might not become fully apparent for years. What kind of lessons do you think game developers could learn from this game? How do you think it will (or will not) shape your own game designs? 

 

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