Grand Theft Auto (video game)

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Grand Theft Auto
GTA - Box Front.jpg
The cover of Grand Theft Auto, showing the game's logo laid over the Trump Tower in New York City
Publisher(s)Windows, MS-DOS
Game Boy Color
Director(s)Keith R. Hamilton
Producer(s)David Jones
  • Stephen Banks
  • Paul Farley
  • Billy Thomson
Programmer(s)Keith R. Hamilton
Artist(s)Ian McQue
  • Brian Baglow
  • Brian Lawson
  • Colin Anderson
  • Craig Conner
  • Grant Middleton
SeriesGrand Theft Auto
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer

Grand Theft Auto is an action-adventure video game developed by DMA Design and published by BMG Interactive. It was first released in Europe in October 1997 for MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows. It was later re-released on 12 December 1997[3] in Europe and 30 June 1998 in North America for the PlayStation. It is the first instalment of the Grand Theft Auto series, and has led to five main entries and several spinoff games over 16 years, selling more than 150 million units as of September 2013.[5] The story follows a group of criminals in three fictionalised versions of US cities as they perform bank robberies, assassinations, and other illegal activities for their respective crime syndicates.

The game was originally intended to be named Race'n'Chase and to be developed for the Commodore Amiga, starting in 1996.[6] However, it was nearly cancelled due to production issues.[7]

Its successor, Grand Theft Auto 2, was released in October 1999.


A still image of gameplay, showing the top down view in Liberty City

Grand Theft Auto is made up of six levels split between the three main cities. In each level, the player's ultimate objective is to reach a target number of points, which is typically achieved by performing tasks for the city's local crime syndicate. Each level is initiated at a telephone box and has its own unique set of tasks.[8] Successful completion of a mission rewards the player with points and opens the opportunity to attempt harder missions for higher rewards, while failure awards fewer points and may permanently seal off opportunities for more tasks. Completing missions also increases the player's "multiplier", which increases the points the player gets for doing other tasks. When the player amasses the target score (which starts at $1,000,000, but becomes higher in the later levels), the next chapter is unlocked.[8]

There are eight playable characters in the game, four male and four female: Travis, Troy, Bubba, Kivlov, Ulrika, Katie, Divine, and Mikki (the PlayStation version only includes the four male characters, however). In actual gameplay, there is no real difference, since all player-characters wear the identical yellow jumper, although they do wear different coloured trousers and hair colours to each other and have the correct skin colours. Players may also name their character which, with the correct name, acts like a cheat code and alters gameplay.[citation needed]

The player is free to do whatever they want, but have limited lives upon doing so. The player can gain points by causing death and destruction amid the traffic in the city, or steal and sell cars for profit. To get to the large target money required to complete a level, players will usually opt to complete at least some missions to build up their multiplier. Some criminal acts have an inherent multiplier; for example, using a police car for running over people doubles the number of points received. If the player is arrested then their multiplier is halved. Unlike in later games in the series, the player can be killed, or "wasted", in one hit without body armour. If the player is wasted then they lose a life. In both cases the player loses their current equipment. If the player is wasted too many times, they must restart the level.

Even during missions there is still some freedom as most of the time the player is free to choose the route to take, but the destination is usually fixed. It was this level of freedom which set Grand Theft Auto apart from other action based computer games at the time.[9] The PC releases of the game allowed networked multiplayer gameplay using the IPX protocol.[10] Some places in the game have to be unlocked by completing missions.


Grand Theft Auto takes place in 1997 in three primary settings, all of which are modelled on real locales: Liberty City is based on New York City, Vice City is based on Miami, and San Andreas is based on San Francisco. All three suffer from rampant crime and corruption, with constant feuding between the local crime syndicates, random acts of violence from street gangs, organised thievery and murder, and corrupt city officials and police officers.

While Grand Theft Auto: London 1969, Grand Theft Auto: London 1961 and Grand Theft Auto 2 would use different locations, these three cities have been individually revisited as the settings in later Grand Theft Auto games, with differing layouts - for example, Liberty City was the sole city in Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto Advance, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, and Grand Theft Auto IV, Vice City was the city in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, and San Andreas, becoming a state based on regions of California and Nevada, was the setting for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto V.


Mock-up for Race'n'Chase, the original title for Grand Theft Auto.

The development of Grand Theft Auto began on 4 April 1995 at DMA Design in Dundee. It originally had a protracted four-year development, which included a title change and numerous attempts to halt development.[11]

The game was originally titled Race'n'Chase.[12] It was originally planned to be released on MS-DOS, Windows 95, PlayStation, Sega Saturn and the Nintendo 64. However, it was never released for the two latter consoles. During the development of Grand Theft Auto, many people overseeing the game's progress attempted to halt the development, which led the crew at DMA Design to have to convince them to allow them to continue.[11]

There were specific milestones planned for Grand Theft Auto, none of which were met:[11]

  • Development begins: 4 April 1995
  • Complete game design: 31 May 1995
  • Engine: 3 July 1995
  • Look and feel: 2 October 1995
  • First play: 3 January 1996
  • Alpha: 1 April 1996
  • End of production: 1 July 1996

An original design document, dated 22 March 1995, was posted online by Mike Dailly on 22 March 2011.[13][14][15] The author of the document credited is K.R. Hamilton, and the released version is 1.05. It contained information about elements of the game discussed in various meetings held from 23 January 1995 to the writing of the document which also contains many similarities to the 1986 Commodore 64 Miami Vice. According to the original design document, the introduction to Grand Theft Auto is a pre-drawn/rendered animation. The Windows 95 version was developed using Visual C++ v2.0. The DOS version was developed using Watcom C/C++ v10, Microsoft MASM 6.1 and Rational Systems DOS extender (DOS4GW) v 1.97. The program used to make Grand Theft Auto was said to produce "a 3D array which can [be] used by both the perspective and the isometric engines". It was said to consist of "a grid editor which is used to place blocks on a grid, with a [separate] grid for each level", and "allow any block to be placed at any level". It was said that the world may have had to be 256×256×6 blocks.

The original concept of Grand Theft Auto was "to produce a fun, addictive and fast multi-player car racing and crashing game which uses a novel graphics method".

David Jones, the game's producer, cited Pac-Man as an influence. He noted that the player runs over pedestrians and gets chased by police in a similar manner to Pac-Man.[16]

Gary Penn, creative director of DMA at the time, cited Elite as a major influence, "But I'd been working on Frontier, which is very different and there were definitely other people on the team who had things like Syndicate, Mercenary and Elite very much in their minds as well. That combination definitely led to the more open plan structure there is now. The game as it stands now is basically Elite in a city, but without quite the same sense of taking on the jobs. You take on the jobs in a slightly different way, but incredibly similar structurally. It's just a much more acceptable real world setting. The game was cops and robbers and then that evolved fairly quickly -- nobody wants to be the cop, it's more fun to be bad. And then that evolved into Grand Theft Auto".[17]

In an early 1997 interview, project leader Keith Hamilton commented, "GTA was harder than we thought. We're rewriting the handling of the cars at the moment. We've got the time as we're changing the graphics to 24-bit."[18]


The original Grand Theft Auto was developed for MS-DOS, but then later ported to Microsoft Windows (using SciTech MGL), PlayStation (developed by Visual Sciences using their "ViSOS" framework),[19] and Game Boy Color. The Game Boy Color version was technologically unabridged, which was quite a technical achievement[original research?] due to the sheer size of the cities, converted tile-for-tile from the PC original, making them many times larger than most Game Boy Color game worlds were because of the handheld's limited hardware. To cater for the target younger generation, however, the game was heavily censored, with gore and swearing removed.

The PC version comes in several different executables for DOS and MS-Windows, which use single set of data files (except for the 8-bit colour DOS version which uses different but similar graphics). It was previously available as a free download as part of the Rockstar Classics (alongside Wild Metal and Grand Theft Auto 2), however the free download service is currently unavailable.[20]

Grand Theft Auto was to be released on the Sega Saturn, but due to the console's rapid decline in popularity before development was finished, the project was halted and the game was never released.[citation needed] After the PlayStation's successful release, development began on Grand Theft Auto 64, a port of the game for the Nintendo 64, rumoured to have graphical enhancements and new missions. However, development was cancelled without ever having a public appearance.[21]

Cover art[edit]

The cover art for Grand Theft Auto is a photograph of a New York Police Department 1980s Plymouth Gran Fury rushing through the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, with Trump Tower in the background of the picture. The same cover art was also an alternative cover for Grand Theft Auto 2 in selected markets.[22] There was also a cover featuring a yellow Buick GSX. There are other covers, but the one shown above is the most common.


Grand Theft Auto has seven "radio stations", plus a police band track, which can be heard once the player enters a car; however, each vehicle can only receive a limited number of these radio stations.[23] In the PlayStation port each car only had two stations.

PC players can remove the CD once the game is loaded and replace it with an audio CD. The next time the character enters a vehicle, a song from the CD will randomly play. This can also be done in the PlayStation port.

The game's main theme is "Gangster Friday" by Craig Conner, credited to the fictitious band Slumpussy, and is played on N-CT FM.[23] With the exception of Head Radio FM, the names of songs or the radio station names are never mentioned in-game. However, the soundtrack is listed in the booklet which comes with the game.[23]

The Collector's Edition of the PC version included the soundtrack on a separate CD. The track-listing gives the names of the fictional radio stations, bands and their tracks, and for some of them the fictional album that they are from.


Aggregate score
GameRankings(PC) 79%[24]
(PS) 68%[25]
(GBC) 57%[26]
Review scores
Game RevolutionB[24]
GamePro2/5 stars[25]
GameSpot(PC) 6.4/10[24]
(PS) 8/10[25]
Next Generation4/5 stars[27]
Nintendo Power6.2/10[26]

The game was a best-seller in the UK.[28] By November 1998, global shipments to retailers of Grand Theft Auto's computer and PlayStation versions had surpassed 1 million units combined.[29][30] At the 1999 Milia festival in Cannes, it took home a "Gold" prize for revenues above €17 million in the European Union during 1998.[31] The game was a commercial success, though it received mixed reviews upon release.[citation needed]

GameSpot's 1998 review for Grand Theft Auto said that, although the graphics may look "a little plain", the music and sound effects are the opposite, praising the radio stations and the sound effects used to open and close vehicles. They also praised the freedom of the game, favouring it over other games that make the player follow a specific rule set and complete specific missions in a specific order.[32]

IGN were critical of the graphics which were said to be "really quite shoddy" and dated. They were also unimpressed by the "fast-food programming and careless design", including the controls. Overall the game was considered to be fun but with problems which could have been fixed.[33]

Next Generation reviewed the PC version of the game, rating it four stars out of five, and stated that "It is quite easy to accuse Grand Theft Auto of being all style and no substance, but the charge doesn't stick. Of course, we don't condone the acts within, but there is no denying that the game itself is well-executed and quite enjoyable."[27]


  1. ^ Ported to PlayStation by Visual Sciences.


  1. ^ Gentry, Perry (23 March 1998). "What's in Stores This Week". CNET Gamecenter. Archived from the original on 17 August 2000. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  2. ^ "The making of Grand Theft Auto - from Race 'n' Chase to GTA".
  3. ^ a b "Games Guide". Computer Trade Weekly. No. 667. United Kingdom. 8 December 1997. p. 24.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Stephen McGinty (20 September 2013). "Grand Theft Auto V: Scottish game conquering world". Archived from the original on 23 September 2013. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  6. ^ Wallis, Alistair (21 December 2006). "Playing Catch Up: GTA/Lemmings' Dave Jones". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on 26 May 2012. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  7. ^ TreeFitty; DuPz0r (1 February 2011). "Original GTA almost scrapped". iGrandTheftAuto. Archived from the original on 20 August 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  8. ^ a b "The complete history of Grand Theft Auto". Gamesradar. Future. 25 April 2008. Archived from the original on 23 December 2015. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  9. ^ Mac Donald, Ryan (6 May 1998). "Grand Theft Auto Review". GameSpot. Archived from the original on 25 April 2009.
  10. ^ DMA Design (1997). Grand Theft Auto PC Edition Manual. Take Two Interactive. p. 4.
  11. ^ a b c The Guardian (16 September 2013). "The making of Grand Theft Auto: 'Like nailing jelly to kittens'". YouTube. Archived from the original on 11 October 2013. Retrieved 26 September 2013.
  12. ^ Ransom-Wiley, James (22 March 2011). "Race'n'Chase: Original GTA design docs posted". Engadget. AOL. Archived from the original on 27 March 2016. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  13. ^ Dailly, Mike (22 March 2011). "GTA - a set on Flickr". Flickr. Archived from the original on 13 May 2011. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  14. ^ Walker, John (22 March 2011). "Dailly News: GTA's Original Design Document". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Archived from the original on 23 April 2012. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
  15. ^ Purchese, Robert (22 March 2011). "Original Grand Theft Auto design docs". Eurogamer. Archived from the original on 10 May 2012. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
  16. ^ Brian Ashcraft (16 July 2009). "Grand Theft Auto And Pac-Man? "The Same"". Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 8 March 2011.
  17. ^ "Gamasutra - Gary Penn interview". Archived from the original on 28 July 2014.
  18. ^ "NG Alphas: Gamespotting". Next Generation. No. 28. Imagine Media. April 1997. pp. 100, 102.
  19. ^ Fu, John; Hughes, Prof. Thomas (1 March 2000). "Marmalade, Jute, and Video Games". History 274B. Archived from the original on 15 March 2013.
  20. ^ "Rockstar Classics". Rockstar Games. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  21. ^ IGN Staff (29 March 1999). "Grand Theft Auto". IGN. Archived from the original on 14 October 2007. Retrieved 31 July 2007.
  22. ^ Miles, Stuart (23 December 2004). "Rockstar give away GTA2 for free". Archived from the original on 11 December 2007. Retrieved 29 October 2007.
  23. ^ a b c DMA Design (1997). Grand Theft Auto PC Edition Manual. Take-Two Interactive. p. 13.
  24. ^ a b c d "Grand Theft Auto for PC". GameRankings. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 11 October 2011. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  25. ^ a b c d e "Grand Theft Auto for PlayStation". GameRankings. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 12 January 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  26. ^ a b "Grand Theft Auto for Game Boy Color". GameRankings. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 11 January 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  27. ^ a b "Finals". Next Generation. No. 42. Imagine Media. June 1998. p. 144.
  28. ^ Gallup UK PlayStation sales chart, May 1998, published in Official UK PlayStation Magazine issue 32
  29. ^ "Grand Theft Scores a Million". 26 February 2000. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  30. ^ " News Briefs". 1 March 2000. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  31. ^ Staff (12 February 1999). "Milia News; ECCSELL Awards Name Winners". GameSpot. Archived from the original on 30 August 1999.
  32. ^ "Grand Theft Auto Review". GameSpot. 24 March 1998. Archived from the original on 26 October 2013. Retrieved 13 February 2013.
  33. ^ "Grand Theft Auto". 10 July 1998.

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