By Bob McTague 03/27/2007 It seems like ages since the last Grand Theft Auto was released, but finally we're just a few short days away from the unveiling of the "fourth" in the series. Sure, Vice City and San Andreas were GTA games, and great ones at that, but not since 2001 has a new entry bore a number in its title. For this latest to be called Grand Theft Auto IV, obviously, the game must be a completely new take on the series... right? Rather than speculate ourselves, we decided to give a handful of developers a forum to share their opinions on what we might see from GTA IV, and more precisely, what they'd like to see from the first next-gen 'Auto.
What Could Improve?
Many features from the GTA series have been borrowed by other games, but none has been borrowed quite as often as the open-world "sandbox" mission-based gameplay that made GTA so popular. One of the earliest games to make good use of the system was Treyarch's take on Spider-Man. Perhaps the coolest feature of Spider-Man 2 was the swing system that allowed players to quickly move between areas of the city and, for the first time, truly feel like they were in the suit of the superhero. One of the people who contributed to bringing that feature to life was Jamie Fristrom, formerly of Treyarch and now technical director of Torpex Games.
Fristrom thinks there's quite a bit the GTA team can do to help cut down on load times with its next-gen effort. "We learned we can stream mission data almost as easily as we can stream terrain data -- so you don't need to have 15-30 seconds of load time when you're starting (or restarting and restarting and restarting) a mission." He adds: "Probably my biggest complaint about the GTA series and Bully was those mission load times -- the world was seamless but the game was not."
This logo is the only official piece of media released for the game so far. Come Thursday, all that will change with the release of the game's first trailer.
Not to be outdone by his Marvel counterpart, The Incredible Hulk also made an impact last-gen in the sandbox genre with The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Eric Holmes, lead designer on that game, thinks GTA could benefit from a focus on the main character. "A better job could be done of aligning what most players will do with the character -- if not, have some branching support for what you as a player have done up until now," he says. "It could be as simple as a single line of dialogue switched to indicate he has no problem with the brutal task at hand if the player has proved himself bloodthirsty up until now."
He adds: "For example, in San Andreas I am sure most players' body counts were in the dozens, if not hundreds, after a few hours of play. Yet, sometimes CJ would react negatively to mission suggestions that pushed him to *gasp* hurt or kill someone. While the cinematics were all really well presented, beautifully stylized and had outstanding acting, that kind of kicked me out of the experience."
Similar to Hulk and other recent games like Crackdown, Avalanche's Just Cause caught quite a few people by surprise last year with its vertically oriented gameplay. So naturally, Magnus Nedfors, lead game designer at Avalanche, thinks GTA should look to the skies. "I think that using the vertical aspect of a game world is a key element to get an open-world game to feel next-gen," he says. "Only using the street level of a city can feel old school these days."
Will There Be Multiplayer?
Given the lack of information available on the actual game at this point, one of the popular theories going around is that GTA IV will focus on multiplayer aspects. Rockstar experimented with this in a super-limited form in San Andreas and in a more ambitious manner on PSP, both of which could be seen as tests for what the company will do on 360 and PS3.
Other next-gen sandbox games like Crackdown and Saints Row have tried multiplayer ideas with varying results, but Fristrom, Holmes and Nedfors all agree that multiplayer is one of the key features a next-gen GTA should offer.