Grand Theft Auto History: Part One – Humble beginnings

GTA 1 Screen Top Down Perspective

We take a look at one of the most well-known game series by Rockstar Games, and look back at how it all began.

When you mention the name ‘Grand Theft Auto’ nowadays, it doesn’t garner up thoughts of people stealing cars, it most likely makes you think of the video games from Rockstar Games. In this series we’ll be taking a look at where Grand Theft Auto (GTA) began, where it is now, and where it could be heading in the future.

Like any good History lesson, let’s start at the beginning. It all began with David Jones and Mike Dailly of DMA Design, which would later become Rockstar North in 1999. Jones was the founder of DMA Design in 1988 and had previously created the Lemmings series of games, amongst others; you remember, those little green-haired guys who always tried to get themselves killed. Anyway, shooting forward to 1997 now, and the release of Grand Theft Auto.

After spending two rocky years in development, initially being called Race’n’Chase, and almost being cancelled, GTA was finally released in October 1997 for PC and Playstation; the game was even ported to the Gameboy Color. GTA was met with huge public debate and controversy sparked by the media, due to its violent content. All video games were for kids, right? The fact you could kill anybody you wanted (including police officers), steal cars, and generally run amok causing chaos as you went, with such freedom, was pretty much unheard of back then.

GTA 1 Screen Top Down PerspectiveGTA used a top-down view which would zoom out as you sped along in a vehicle. Image from

Despite, and no doubt because of, all the uproar, GTA went on to do extremely well. I first remember playing it at a friend’s house when I was about 11-years old, and was totally drawn in by the freedom to just do whatever you wanted. Sure, the violence seemed cool as an 11-year old lad, but that wasn’t the most attractive part of it for me. My friends and I would take turns to play; we basically had to cause as much havoc as possible and would pass the controller to the next person once we’d died or were busted. I imagine most people did this, but if there’s any unique ways you used to play the games let us know.

The levels of the game were set out as cities; Liberty City based on New York City; Vice City based on Miami; and San Andreas based on California and Nevada. Each of these cities would become their own focal points of later games in the series. In these cities you would complete various missions for gangs, to amass the target amount of points and move onto the next city. Missions included simple pickups, driving, and murder, amongst others.

You could also listen to Radio stations once you’d entered a vehicle; all had their own theme such as The Fix FM with its Techno, and Head Radio with Pop and Rock. The main theme of GTA was Joyride by Da Shootaz, which you can listen to below courtesy of PLINGMAN777777 -ah, sweet, sweet nostalgia. *WARNING – GRAPHIC LYRICS*

The first mission pack was later released for GTA in March 1999 for PC and April 1999 for Playstation; Grand Theft Auto: London, 1969. As you’d expect, this mission pack was set in London, 1969, and it was the first city to be featured by its own name. Again, you played as a criminal taking on various missions and the London setting came with its own new set of vehicles and missions. The game was full of Cockney Slang too, using phrase like “You’re brown bread!” to let you know you’ve just died.

The second mission pack was another London-based title; Grand Theft Auto: London, 1961. Taking place 8 years before the previous London game, this pack was only available for PC however.

Grand Theft Auto 2 (GTA2) was released in September 1999 for PC, and October 1999 for Playstation, with later ports to the Game Boy Color and the Dreamcast. Set in a place called Anywhere, USA, GTA 2 took on a kind of futuristic backdrop.

This time around there was only one city, but it was split three ways into districts; Residential; Downtown; and Industrial. All of the districts are home to some of the seven various gangs that reside in the city, such as the Loonies, Yakuza, and the Zaibatsu.

Keeping the overhead view from the previous games and much of the same mechanics for taking on missions, GTA 2 didn’t add much to the formula; but if it ain’t broke, why fix it, eh? One notable feature it did add, however, was the ability to complete missions for the different gangs throughout the city, in whatever order you chose. But by doing one gang’s bidding, you would increase the hostility of the opposing gangs towards you.

Grand Theft Auto 2 Army 1You'd be doing well if you survived once the Army got involved. Image from

The city was also given more life; unlike the previous games, citizens would go about their daily business, sometimes grabbing a ride in a taxi, or even mugging people. The police presence was also improved this time round, not only would they give chase in their cars, but as your wanted level increased you would incur the wrath of SWAT teams and even the Army. Multiplayer modes were present too, with Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, amongst others.

Thinking back to how the GTA series began, it all seemed under the radar; I mean, because gaming wasn’t as mainstream as it is nowadays, GTA still felt like a well-kept secret. The only time mainstream media ever picked up on it would be down to its controversial content, not for how fun or ground-breaking it was. Nowadays its making the news because of its huge sales and because more people than ever are playing and talking about it, which is great!

So that rounds it up for the initial games in the series. In our next part we’ll look at GTA’s jump into full 3D environments, and how it came to establish itself as one of the greatest game series of all time.



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