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How Grand Theft Auto 5 found its heart of darkness

"It was eye-openingly depressing." Rockstar co-founders Dan and Sam Houser speak to the influences, themes and aspirations of the upcoming successor to their most franchise, Grand Theft Auto 5.
Rockstar co-founders Dan and Sam Houser can be found behind each of the main Grand Theft Auto entries to date, as well as Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne and L.A. Noire. With GTA's latest installment, Grand Theft Auto 5, now on the horizon and expected to outsell its predecessor, the Houser brothers expect to brave unfamiliar territory within the open world genre. Here are some choice quotes from Dan and Sam Houser concerning Rockstar's latest.

On creating authenticity

"The single longest process is always creating the world," Dan Houser tells The Guardian. "We spent a minimum of 100 days in Los Angeles on research trips, probably more... a lot of first-hand research. We spoke to FBI agents that have been undercover, experts in the Mafia, street gangsters who know the slang -- we even went to see a proper prison." "It was eye-openingly depressing."

On using the strengths of interactivity

"We don't need to hark back to film when technology allows us to produce our own response to real places," Dan Houser continues in The Guardian piece. "It's much easier to imagine GTA as a TV series, as the form is closer, but I still think we'd be losing too much to ever actually do it... How do you condense [a game] into a two-hour or 12-hour experience where you take away the main things: player agency and freedom?" He continues:

"Like all fiction, games are transportive, yet what makes them unique is that you follow your own eyes through the world.... Games are, at one level, a progression on from a film -- you jump off a cliff rather than a stuntman jumping off a cliff -- but open-world games are actually more than that. It's the being rather than the doing. You're going to see different things than another player, and when you walk up a hill yourself and see the sun setting on the ocean, that's a lot different to me taking a camera up there and making you see it."
"We love games and we think we've got something to say in games, and that games have plenty to say. So shouldn't we just continue doing that?"

On saying something interesting

"We're evolving. These kinds of things don't happen overnight," Sam Houser tells The Sunday Times. "We are still 10-20 years from all people in governance or authority understanding that it's the same as any other art form and should not be singled out. [But] gamers are growing up." Back with The Guardian, Dan Houser explains GTA 5's character-driven exploration. "The concept of being masculine was so key to this story," he says. "Having three protagonists allows us to create nuanced stories, not a set of archetypes," he continues. "We liked the idea of a protagonist retiring with a family, and how awful that would be. We've never done anything like that and you don't really see it in games - to feed into these concepts of parenting and pseudo-parenting." "We've all seen Hearts of Darkness," Sam Houser says in The Sunday Times, referring to the behind-the-scenes documentary to Apocalypse Now which parallels the film's narrative with its troubled production. "We're definitely in that realm of excitement and misery at the same time. It's not supposed to be easy. Each time, we push everything to its limit. I don't think it's conscious, but it's sort of how it has to be. It has to hurt more. You want to find Kurtz every time."

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