GTA Vice City was supposed to be an expansion to GTA III. This is just one bit of information covering the development of on GTA Vice City which has been recently revealed. We also learned about some of the glitches and other quirks found in these classic games.
All of this fantastic info is coming from a former Rockstar Games employee that started a blog, “inside rockstar north”, this month. Obbe Vermeij, a former technical director at Rockstar North, worked there from 1995 to 2009. Obbe had quite a career spanning several big titles at Rockstar. Some of the games that he’s credited for include GTA III, Vice City, San Andreas, GTA VI and more.
As we are set to revisit Vice City in GTA 6, just ahead of the first trailer, it is fitting we get to learn more about the classic game. In one blog post titled Development of Vice City (2002), Vermeij shares some thoughts and memories.
How Vice City started out
Two decades ago, it took longer for games to be put onto discs and sent out across the world. There were also no day one patches. For GTA III this took six weeks and the period was used by the developers to take time off after working unhealthy hours and the dev cycle.
This was needed for burning the cd and distribution. In those days you couldn’t patch so there was no point hanging around. The company gave the team some time off and most people took some extra time also.Obbe Vermeij
Rockstar New York had the idea of Vice City being the next project to begin after GTA III’s production. They had a vision of this 80s Miami-set content pack for GTA III. That’s right, Vice City was originally intended to be a mission pack to the recently released third game.
After about 6 months the success of GTA III was apparent and this is the reason for Vice City changing as a project according to Obbe Vermeij. A call was made to not release it as an expansion but rather a fully-fledged game. The fact this was done after half a year into development is interesting.
Another thing taking 6 months was Rockstar North’s PC port of GTA III. As this did not require developers such as designers and artists, they moved onto Vice City. Programmers were the ones doing the GTAIII port and Obbe says why this worked quite well for the games. Both of these titles did not have many changes to the code; it was mostly the map and missions. The developers who were responsible for things like textures, models and missions used GTA III’s codebase whilst they were busy on the GTA III PC release.
A couple of programmers were brought in to help make Vice City a network game but that didn’t pan out due to the lack of time. More on the limited gap below.
Jetting off to Miami
To really understand the city, Rockstar Games took a company wide trip to the The Magic City. The studio’s employees slept at a hotel on the beach and many spend their week at the next door bar during their stay. As you’d expect, the artists were taking photos of the location to use in textures and such.
We stayed in a hotel on Miami Beach and it was a total blast.Obbe Vermeij
It wasn’t all paradise
Despite the relaxing trip to Vice City IRL, Vermeij describes development on the game as “more stressful than GTA III.” It’s a real shame that these developers were put through tough times. They were given just 12 months to see the project through to completion. The continued success of GTA III also raised the bar of what would come next. This tight schedule between GTAIII, the PC version and Vice City is why there would be a longer time for development next time round. Now we are 10 years out since the release of GTA V and GTA VI is still awhile away…
Coming out the other side
Vice City’s development was similar to GTAIII due to how close the games worked. The main difference was the missions which was to bolster the light story. To really make the game stand out, Rockstar New York enlisted celebrities for its characters.
To get Ray Liotta to voice the main character was huge. In those days actors still considered games a step down from movies. Liotta was prefect for the part.Obbe Vermeij
Why did I move here? I guess it was the weather
Vermeij recalls how the game was transformed and it was “amazing to see how the feeling of the game changed completely with just some minor changes. The weather was more sunny, the frontend was neony, the city looked more southern and the 80s music.”
In terms of weather, the former developer shares some info on how their system worked.
Every in-game hour, the next weather type is picked from a table. The table is 40 (or maybe 34, can’t quite remember) entries long. If it is raining now, it will be raining again in 40 in-game hours. The visual effects for the weather type will transition over the hour.
At 2:00 it would be 100% sunny.
At 2:15 it would be 75% sunny and 25% overcast
At 2:30 it would be 50/50
The table frequently has the same weather type for several hours so the weather isn’t always in-flux.
There are script commands to override the weather type. This allows the level designers to force the weather type for a particular mission or cut-scene.Obbe Vermeij
Limitations for cars
The former technical director at Rockstar North also explained some of the limitations they faced how they dealt with them.
Even though the PS2 possessed hardware that enabled incredible games, memory on the system was still limited. Developers always want more RAM! The lack of memory is the reason why you could only get around 7 vehicle models at any given time despite their being a pool of 80 or so to choose from.
Except to many people it would appear as if only a couple of models are being shown. Obbe reveals why this is.
He says the game was frequently required to load certain vehicles for various reasons. One example was when you were wanted. At 6 stars, the FBI car and helicopter would spawn. Previous levels would have brought SWAT team vans and police cars so it took that into account as well. The game would also send out ambulances if NPCs were hurt. When you total these up the game only had enough memory to support two or even just one NPC vehicle model.
Another example is when a quest would need multiple different vehicle assets. The player could potentially bring various in close proximity leading once again just a couple of models for NPC vehicles. How memory was freed up was making use of garages, this removed vehicles.
The Moon that changes when you shoot it
In some of the GTA games, if you shot the Moon, it would change in size. The reason for this has now been details by Obbe.
The artists never got back to me so I just left it in. It was still there in SA.Obbe Vermeij
Artists presented him with a Moon texture during GTA III’s development which he then put into the night sky at a size deemed fine. Several days later, 4 artists ran to his desk asking him to change the size of it which he responded with “no problem”.
An issue occurred from this. The artists could not settle on a size for the rock in the sky. Two believed it needed to be smaller for realism whereas the other two said it should be bigger for cinematic reasons. Obbe wanted to make the Moon size adjustable in the game which ended the argument of the size. This came at the time we was working on the sniper rifle so he made the Moon cycle through three sizes of small, medium and large whenever a player shot at it. The four artists never came back to Obbe for changes and he left it in; this also remained in San Andreas too.
Obbe Vermeij’s blog is rich in new inside information; it is a treat and worth a read.