GTA 3(D): how Rockstar Games took Liberty City into the open world

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Rockstar Games hasn’t always been untouchable. To identify the exact moment perhaps the world’s most celebrated video game company became ice cool, check out the trailer for Grand Theft Auto III. Although now inevitably somewhat dated, it endures as a trailblazing, widescreen moment in popular culture. The clip peaks in a slow-motion spectacle of operatic drama as an airborne white sports car arcs into view, outrunning the hapless perusing cops to a decadent soundtrack of the soprano aria O Mio Babbino Caro.

“I see nothing but good things for you, my boy,” Don Salvatore Leone tells the game’s mute anti-hero Claude as he rampages his way up the Mafiosa crime ladder. Destined to become a “made man”, there are direct connections here to Rockstar and its go-to storytelling tropes, which include the lineage of iconic gangster films – The Godfather, Heat, Goodfellas – that permeated the GTA series from this point onwards.

But the foundations of Rockstar, particularly its development antecedent DMA Design, don’t exactly speak of an era-defining and agenda-setting entertainment megacorp that would one day be worth $3.5 billion. Establishing its gaming reputation in the Scottish city of Dundee, DMA’s headline release before GTA was Lemmings, a much-loved but unabashedly daft platformer, where players sought to save gaggles of sleepwalking green-haired rodents from impending pixelated doom.

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