This article first appeared PC Gamer Magazine Issued May 2021, issue 356 delves into the lineage behind iconic games and studios each month as part of the “DNA Trace” series.
The Hauser brothers were born as heirs to the world of gangster cinema. Their mother, Geraldine Moffat, was a charming actress who rescued Michael Caine in a sniper convertible. “Did you know there was a fairy godfather?” She yelled at the wind and the sound of the engine, then rushed Kane to the multi-storey car park and killed her next mission, the criminal boss.
My brother Sam Houser grew up on a movie diet like The Getaway and The French Connection. The 70’s car chase movies were cool and brutal and lacked the clear moral center of the Hollywood thrillers that came before. When he was five or six, Sam’s wealthy lawyer’s father took him to a jazz club in London to meet Dizzy Gillespie. “My son, what do you do when you grow up?” Asked the legendary trumpet player. “Are you going to be a bank robber?” Sam would do better than that and enable millions of bank robbers around the world.
Grand Theft Auto But it didn’t start in London. It was born further north in the DMA Design Dundee Office. Titles like Menace and Blood Money may suggest a malicious Steve McQueen flick, but they actually make the fortune of early game development mogul like DMA founder Dave Jones. It was a side-scrolling space shooter that was part of the post-arcade culture of the 80’s.
But the studio’s first international success wasn’t GTA, but Remmings, a dark comedy yet family-friendly puzzle platformer. Remmings was an Assassin’s Creed at the time, producing sequels and spin-offs throughout the 90s (Oh No! More Lemmings, All New World of Lemmings, Lemmings Paintball, Holiday Lemmings 1994). We also funded multiple teams, motion capture studios, and even a team of in-house musicians. GTA was, in most cases, vast enough to be developed by a team that had never shipped a game before.
Jones wanted to build a terrarium for digital lemmings and upgrade it to a virtual living city. Dynamic hatching on the street where pedestrians walk and cars ring. As with many such simulation concepts, the problem was to figure out the purpose of the players in it: the GTA team initially strove for a moral center missing from the French connection and at the signal. Cast the player as a stopped and punished policeman hunt down civilians.
However, according to David Kushner’s GTA biography Jacked, some have internally rejected the game as a “Sims Driving Instructor,” a simulation to recreate the boring reality. The project found direction only when the team implemented the carjacking animation, and the player was given 100 points. Suddenly, GTA became transcendental. The reversal of roles quickly made sense for Sam Houser, then the producer of the DMA publisher. As a kid, he played a typical PC simulation elite as a “space mager.”
GTA was a hit and was the first crack in the philosophical division. Jones, a well-known Scottish businessman, was uncomfortable when early rock stars hired the infamous spokeswoman Max Clifford to promote the game. Clifford whispered in the ears of a British politician, and GTA was accused before being released in the House of Lords.
State of mind in NY
Since then, Rockstar North’s leadership has clearly come from the New York loft office, where the Hauser brothers founded the publishing label. This transatlantic setup defines the tone of the series, as Sam’s younger brother Dan was founded as a co-author of GTA. Hausers have long loved American excesses, and now they have front row seats. They had nothing to do with criminals suffering from GTA’s cash flow. At a public school in St. Paul’s, London, Sam was a classmate of future British Prime Minister George Osborne. However, the brothers’ status as expatriates, while close enough to make them perfect satirists and observers, had a distant perspective that allowed them to easily identify the absurdity of the country.
That view was reflected by the Edinburgh team. “It’s like living on the moon,” Dan Houser once said in an interview with the Guardian about Los Angeles. “Some Scottish people love it, others can’t stand it.” That tension was evident in all of the 3D world Rockstar North created for GTA: superficially. Beautiful, tremendous fun, and morally bankrupt. The studio celebrated national pop culture through radio stations and distorted the media and businesses. GTA tends to yell out the quiet part (“Weasel News: Check Your Prejudice”).
Rockstar North was able to do that in both ways, most of the time by raising the mirror to American society and bringing the distorted fantasy to life. However, its most extreme game, Manhunt, caused almost a rebellion within Rockstar, as it was all considered undefendable due to the choking of plastic bags and genital mutilation performed by the player. The high scores given for these killings could have been a logical extension of GTA’s carjacking points, and white supremacist victims were the studio’s attraction to America’s ugliest side. Further proves. However, it turned out to be a reflex that was too unflinching and a form of bait that was too obvious for Clifford’s first engrossed brigade of dignity.
The same was true for Trevor, the main character in GTAV’s Psychopath. Murderous, unpredictable and unsanitary, he was a GTA player’s behaviour, and not all players liked what he saw. But GTA V also had a DMA heritage, a round of golf, and a cable car that took us to Mount Chiriad. It is a simulation of every day life. After all, there may be a little Dave Johns left in Rockstar North.
Rockstar has sold millions of dollars in Scottish natural exports of dark comedy.
SourceRockstar has sold millions of dollars in Scottish natural exports of dark comedy.