Grand Theft Auto has always been about the power fantasy of breaking society's rules and doing whatever you want, whether that's stealing cars, heisting banks, or spending a Monday afternoon bowling. But there's no greater power fantasy than roaming the city streets surrounded by 70 tons of metal, crushing cars and blowing stuff up.
Since the very first GTA game, the franchise has always included at least one armored vehicle in each game release. But it was a tradition that almost never happened.
In a new interview with GamerHub, GTA 2D artist and animator Stewart Waterson revealed the origins of GTA's first tank. It started, naturally, with Waterson getting hired by DMA Design (which is now Rockstar North Limited) and learning how to work with computers as the 2D artist for Lemmings 3. After that, Waterson helped with a few more games before eventually being presented with what would later become Grand Theft Auto.
GTA was unlike any other game that had come before, judging a player's performance by how much mayhem they produced. Normally, that involved stealing and crashing cars, but Waterson thought that if the goal is to blow stuff up, why not add a tank?
"I think one of the key turning points was when Ian [Johnson, a DMA coder] and I joked about tanks being in the game,” recounted Waterson. “It was so ludicrous. There was no reason for them. There was no concept behind their involvement, apart from that they are almost indestructible, highly dangerous, and a load of fun to smash stuff with."
It also never happened. Waterson's bosses were initially against the idea of adding a tank to GTA as being too over-the-top, so Ian and Stewart had to work after-hours to avoid being discovered.
They also had to get creative with GTA's code. There wasn't anything in GTA even remotely like a tank, so to create one, they started with blowing up the proportions of the standard vehicle model and then splicing pedestrian code into a serviceable main turret.
"Our idea was that if you put a pedestrian on top of a car, and made the car go slower and massively increased the damage of the bullets,” Waterson said, “then you’ve got a basic version of a tank."
Waterson then inserted the code into the game and hoped his bosses wouldn't notice. Of course, they did notice after the QA testers found the tank and started "having an absolute blast, literally."
Since then, you can find military-grade hardware in every GTA game, although lately it's grown to include stealth fighters and attack choppers.
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