Where were you when Grand Theft Auto III came out in October 2001? I was standing at GameStop browsing new PS2 releases when it caught my attention. On the kind recommendation of the store manager, I bought the game and took it home. The rest is history.
Twenty years later, it’s almost impossible to overestimate the impact of Rockstar Games’ open world crime saga on the gaming environment. And it all started with GTA III, a bold transition from top-down action to a fully 3D open-world epic intertwined with unparalleled interactivity. I remember being struck by Liberty City itself: an expansive cityscape filled with cars, colorful characters, challenging side missions and the ubiquitous cops. I’ve never seen anything like it.
The launch of GTA III has sparked a wave of excitement across the gaming industry, captivating gamers and inspiring game developers to take a different approach to game design. To mark a big 20-year milestone in the pioneering game, we reached out to creators at PlayStation Studios and leading third-party developers to discuss the launch of GTA III’s megaton.
All screenshots in this article are from Grand Theft Auto III – Definitive Edition, coming November 11th.
“GTA III changed the way I think about what makes games fun. Games have always been about jumping, killing enemies, solving puzzles – completing tasks designed for you by the designer. GTA III was the first game where you really enjoyed yourself. It made me rethink how the exploration and open use of gadgets and weapons at Ratchet & Clank can allow players to find their own entertainment and approach gameplay in their own way. “
– Brian Hastings, Head of Creative Strategy, Insomniac Games
“GTAIII was a game with an amazing degree of freedom, released at a time when we were struggling to create a one-way game within the capabilities of the PS2. I was impressed with how the game was made. He embraced the realities that come with the open world concept, rather than limiting the gameplay to avoid all potential disruptions that might arise. The Japanese version of the game was released by Capcom, and I remember thinking, “I’m glad I’m on their side.”
– Hideaki Itsuno, Director of Capcom
“I grew up playing 2D side-scrolling platformers that had a clear path from A to B that could be worked through through trial and error. What really stood out for me in GTA III was the freedom it gave you to play the way you wanted in a game world that felt believable. Gone are the automatic loading, transitions between levels and the completion of the mission. You are not getting out of the car … you are not advancing. You transitioned seamlessly from driving, running around town and entering buildings to complete the next mission at your desired pace. In some ways, the freedom was overwhelming, but the opportunity to play in my own way and thereby change the tone of the game was not lost for me. This was probably one of the first major shifts in independent play in game design. “
– Tara Saunders, Head of PlayStation London Studio
“I remember walking into Remedy’s office in early November 2001. I was excited, a little worried. This was my first day at work. The first thing I saw was a group of people watching the TV. Some laughed, others stared speechless. They played GTA III. It was provocative, unexpected, infinitely fun, and impossible to refuse. A tectonic shift in games that laid the foundation for my career and has influenced my work to this day. “
– Mikael Kasurinen, Director of Control Game, Remedy
“GTA III showed me the incredible sense of immersion that comes from being able to act freely and see how the world responds to your actions – this unique experience is something that only games can deliver. And as the expressive power of gaming has grown over the years, immersive gaming design has become the standard for AAA games. GTA III set that standard and I’m sure it will continue to influence creators for years to come. “
– Yuya Tokuda, Director of Monster Hunter World, Capcom
“I remember learning about GTA III during our Siphon Filter 3 press tour. The game was so frenetic it was impossible to match, right !? So wrong. I couldn’t believe everything you could do in this game. Really opened our eyes to what is possible. Rarely is there a game that changes the way you look at the industry. This game was GTA III. “
– Ron Allen, Game Director, Bend Studio
“GTA III impressed me as it was a quantum leap in video game design. He set the bar for living in open worlds full of procedural systems that worked together to create an emerging playground with limitless possibilities. “
– Richard Franke, Lead Designer, Media Molecule
“GTA III really shattered my understanding of what a large team with a strong technical vision can achieve. The highly detailed live open world was a huge leap forward, with a lot of hand-crafted content all constrained by the technical constraints required for invisible streaming for the player. We also saw how physics technology can drive a variety of brilliant non-linear missions. The combination of music, humor and pure freedom made GTA III one of the greatest games of all time. “
– Steve Walker, CTO, Firesprite Games
“It wasn’t the scale or the freedom that struck me, I already felt it in The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. Instead, I had a group of three friends and we spent a lot of time together playing games. And when GTA III came out, we played it all the time. The fact is that we did not complete any storyline or side missions. These were days, weeks and months of fussing in the city, telling stories to themselves, chaotically reacting to the living world and setting tasks for each other. And the most magical thing was that every time a visitor appeared outside of this main group, he was naturally involved, not necessarily playing, but commenting, asking the player to try something … This experience opened my eyes to the power of the resulting gameplay and stories seeing games, perhaps for the first time, as a truly expressive environment, beyond the choice of a character in a fighting game or combo lines in a figure skating game, and that the stories he created were something that could appeal not only to the players, but also to the audience. [It’s] something that has become intertwined with the environment with the growth of gameplay streaming, and in particular with the amazing GTA Online scene, with its role-playing streams, this time with more than one player. “
– Dinga Bakaba, Game Director, Arkane Lyon
“At the time, I had not yet joined Capcom and was proposing the project to an American publisher.
I wanted to make a game that would expand on the Tenchu sandbox, but GTA III went beyond that.
I remember thinking, “How did they make a game like this on PS2?” Not only in terms of gameplay, but also from a technical point of view. In response to the subsequent development of open world games, I decided to do the exact opposite and make a small, tight, tight horror game, and so Resident Evil 7 was born. In a way, Resident Evil 7 could have been born because of GTA III. Thank you and congratulations on the 20th anniversary of GTA III. “
– Koshi Nakanishi, Director of Capcom
“When I was young and the concept of an open world was not yet in place, senior developers often said, ‘If you aspire for a game that allows you to do whatever you want, you will get a game that allows you to do anything.’ nothing.’ It was a warning to remind myself of the distance between ideal and reality. But when GTA III came out, I remember being shocked by the fact that a game was implemented in which “anything is possible and fun.” I don’t need to tell you that he set a new standard for the gaming experience. Another shock I experienced in GTA was that “grand theft auto” meant “car theft.” I am Japanese, so I thought that this name has a more grandiose meaning … “
– Kazuhiro Tsuchiya, Producer, Capcom
Ready to visit Liberty City, Vice City and San Andreas again or explore them for the first time? Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition launches on PS4 and PS5 on November 11. Grand Theft Auto III – The Definitive Edition will be available on PlayStation Now on December 7th.