Rockstar Games – they never stick to the trend of other developers and consistently revolutionize the video game industry. Controversy and criticism surround their games, yet they continue to produce groundbreaking titles that stand the test of time. Rockstar Games is solely responsible for elevating open world gaming to where it is today. Gamers around the world impatiently wait for the next step of their hit open world franchise. With GTA 5 arriving for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 near the release of the PlayStation 4, all eyes are on how high Rockstar will set the bar leading into the next generation. The competition will challenge Rockstar’s success with games such as Volition‘s Saint’s Row 4 and Ubisoft‘s Watch Dogs in the near future. However, in remembrance of who and what set the groundwork for these games, a flashback is in order. A flashback to who Rockstar Games is and their revolutionary contributions to the industry.
Midway’s Mortal Kombat is responsible for the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The brutal and graphic nature of Mortal Kombat was unheard of in video games. The problem is that video games are interactive. Putting the player in control of the violence made parents concerned with protecting their children’s innocence. Politicians and activist grew concerned that such violence would serve as a gateway and influence to acts of violence in the real world. It was a big issue in 1992 and in 1997 the release of the first Grand Theft Auto fueled controversy that would continue to surround the blockbuster title and Rockstar Games into the present day. The original GTA title was a top-down action game. Unique to GTA titles, the original one allowed players to select from 8 different characters with customizable names that could double as a cheat code. The mission was to complete objectives while gaining points (displayed as $) by killing civilians and generally stirring up civil unrest. Players could traverse the map on foot or gain bonus points for actions while driving in a plethora of cars. Taking place in three cities – Liberty City, Vice City and San Andreas – Grand Theft Auto encouraged vehicular transportation as opposed to using the ol’ Footmobile. In 1999 two expansion packs were released, London 1969 and London 1961, but the next big step came from Rockstar’s release of Grand Theft Auto 2.
Shunning the nonbelievers and disregarding the controversy, GTA 2 released in 2001 on PlayStation One, PC, Gameboy Advance and Sega Dreamcast. Sporting improved graphics, a new and unspecified city and gang affiliation, the game put players in control of Claude Steel. Fresh out of prison, Claude Steel’s objective is to make a name for himself while acquiring money and power. Though running people over no longer warranted bonus points, it did not make the option any less appealing to most players. GTA and GTA 2 didn’t use the soon-to-be-familiar stars to indicate Wanted Level, instead heads were used. However, in GTA 2 the heads would begin to shake as if in disapproval of the player’s actions when police knew their location. The second installment of the series was the first to use “six” to indicate the highest Wanted Level. GTA 1 used four heads, but the difference between Wanted Level 1 and Level 4 was minimal. Also new to GTA 2 was the ability to operate at night time.
Grand Theft Auto 1 and 2 were huge successes despite all of the negative attention they drew in. Rockstar Games produced titles outside of Grand Theft Auto in the pre-3D days of their studio with Wild Metal Country, a Sega Dreamcast and PC release themed around Tank-on-Tank violence and Thrasher, a skateboarding title that was overshadowed by Tony Hawk but presented realism and a more technical and difficult control scheme that would set the foundation for EA’s SKATE. The world was taken aback by Rockstar’s entrance and what the company had in store for the following generations of gaming would shape a console and take the company to places that no one dared touch. The 3D and HD eras of Rockstar will go down as one of the greatest eras in gaming… but that’s for A Rockstar’s History: Part 2. For now, the original Grand Theft Auto titles are available as free downloads on Rockstar Games’ website.