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The untold truth of Grand Theft Auto

Grand Theft Auto, better known as GTA, needs no introduction. The series takes its name from the legal term for stealing a car, and is, quite fittingly, all about criminals who mostly commit grand theft auto. In many ways, the game glorifies the criminal lifestyle. Players are encouraged to create mayhem, whether that entails running over pedestrians, robbing banks, or shooting cops. The over-the-top violence found in the series may be a little too much for some, but believe it or not, most of it is there to serve a purpose.

When you examine the GTA franchise as a whole, you'll discover a host of secrets ranging from sociopolitical messages that hide in plain sight (but can fly over the heads of many gamers) to behind-the-scenes development tricks and controversies. You might be surprised to learn just how many skeletons hide in Grand Theft Auto's multitude of closets. Let's examine a few of them now.

DMA drummed up negative press to sell the first GTA

No matter how good a game is, it won't sell well without a strong advertising campaign. Some titles grab the audience's attention with flashy commercials, while others need only rely on word of mouth (or a draw of a big name — we're looking at you, Hideo Kojima). DMA Design, meanwhile, created fake controversy and relied on the ensuing combination of reverse psychology and the Streisand effect to market the original GTA. It was a risky gamble, but it was one that paid off.

A juicy interview in The Times with GTA co-creators David Jones and Mike Dailly revealed how they hired PR maestro Max Clifford to get people talking about the game. Clifford orchestrated a false controversy and planted stories in tabloids. Those original public outcries against the game? They were all his doing.

According to Jones, "[Clifford] told us how he would play it, who he would target, what those people targeted would say. Every world he said came true." His goal was to manufacture moral outrage and keep GTA in the headlines, which worked like a charm given its sales numbers. While Clifford parted ways with the GTA franchise a long time ago (and passed on in 2017), the series continues its proud tradition of producing controversy and selling tons of copies.

DMA wanted GTA online multiplayer back in 1999

Before DMA Design became the more famous Rockstar Games, the studio wanted to explore the world of online multiplayer games. While DMA's dreams wouldn't come to fruition until 2008 with GTA 4's online multiplayer component (and 2013's GTA Online), DMA was still ahead of the curve when it came to foresight.

In 1999, the now-defunct magazine PC Zone teased DMA's then-latest project, GTA: Online Crime World. The game was envisioned as an online free-for-all (not to be confused with free-to-play) version of GTA. Outside of that description, unfortunately, very little information exists about the project. PC Zone announced the game so early that it could only imagine what the game would look like, as demonstrated by the magazine's "screenshot," which featured the caption, "GTA Online could look something like this."

As you can probably guess, GTA: Online Crime World slipped quietly into cancellation. Fortunately, the more modern GTA Online was worth the wait.

GTA takes place in three different universes

Since the GTA library is a long running series full of sequels, side stories, and spin-offs, you might assume they follow some form of continuity. However, the franchise actually works on the multiverse theory, and some games take place in parallel universes.

During a helpful Q&A, Rockstar staff dropped a huge, reality-shattering bombshell that the "world" of GTA is divided into three distinct universes, referred to as the 2D, 3D, and HD universes. According to the GTA wiki, GTA 1, London, and 2 take place in the 2D universe, while GTA 3, Vice City, San Andreas, Advance, Liberty City Stories, and Vice City Stories sit squarely in the 3D universe. Meanwhile, GTA 4, The Lost and Damned, The Ballad of Gay Tony, Chinatown Wars, 5, and GTA Online exist within the newer HD universe.

While the events in the game happen in parallel dimensions, some universal constants remain, such as the presence of a man named El Burro. However, this multiverse explanation unfortunately removes any possibilities of characters like Carl Johnson crossing paths with Franklin Clinton, even though their voice actors are cousins (no, seriously).

GTA 3's development felt the impact of the 9/11 attack

The 9/11 attack shook America to its core. The terrorist bombing of the Twin Towers devastated New Yorkers' psyches, caused widespread panic, and affected the entertainment industry for years to come. Scenes with the towers were removed from movies and TV shows, and in-development stories were subsequently rewritten to remove imagery such as terrorist bombings and plane hijackings. GTA 3 is part of the long list of media changed by the attack.

According to a statement by Rockstar Games (archived by Unseen64), the 9/11 attack affected GTA 3's development on two fronts, the first of which was the game's actual development schedule. The attack threw all of New York City into chaos, and since Rockstar is headquartered in the heart of NYC, development slowed to a crawl. Moreover, Rockstar's statement indicated that the pre-release version contained "certain small contextual references" and "rare gameplay instances" that were "no longer appropriate" and had to be removed. While the statement did not elaborate on the references, it implied they could have been viewed as distasteful 9/11 references, hence their removal.

While the GTA franchise tests many limits, nobody can say the developers at Rockstar are tone deaf.

We almost got Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn ports

When you think about the GTA series, which consoles come to mind? The franchise usually sticks to the PlayStation and Xbox lines, as well as PC. While the series had brief stints on the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS with GTA Advance and Chinatown Wars, respectively, those titles are outliers. However, Rockstar did propose ports for other consoles, even though those ideas never came to fruition.

Unseen64 has enough archived data on canceled games to overflow the Los Santos landfill, including information on canceled GTA ports for the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn. The ports, which were originally covered by IGN, would have been remastered versions of the PlayStation rendition with new graphics, levels, and other unnamed features. However, information on the ports is scarce, as IGN only reported on them early in development — so early that the outlet couldn't even obtain screenshots to show off the N64 version's purported "souped-up graphics."

More importantly, the ports were quietly canceled — no announcements or reasons given. One can only imagine how the N64 and Sega Saturn ports would have fared or affected the future of the GTA franchise. We could be playing GTA 5 on the Nintendo Switch had that N64 port been released all those years ago.

Some games contain a hidden heaven of building interiors

For all you burgeoning game developers out there, you might think it's easy to make an open world game. Just build a city layout, populate it with buildings that players can explore, and voilà, you have a game world ready for use. That might be feasible today, but space was much more limited on consoles like the PlayStation 2, and developers had to utilize quite a few tricks to create their open world titles. If you want to learn about some of these shortcuts, look no further than GTA: Vice City, San Andreas, Liberty City Stories, and Vice City Stories.

These games use what the GTA wiki colorfully refers to as the "hidden interiors universe." Everything from purchasable houses and cutscene-only areas to cut locations are found in this pocket universe, so long as it's a building interior. Players can't access the hidden interiors universe through normal methods, but with a bit of creative glitching — or just using modifications — they can begin exploring this hidden area. However, interiors are divided into areas called "heavens," and each game features multiple heavens. If you want to explore the hidden interiors universe in its entirety, you might need a guide.

Rockstar was in hot water with Hillary Clinton over Hot Coffee

The "Hot Coffee" controversy is one of GTA's most famous debacles, if not the most famous video game controversy ever. GTA: San Andreas was supposed to include an explicit sex mini-game dubbed "Hot Coffee." The mini-game was cut from San Andreas, but a modder discovered the remnants of its code and created a mod to access the mini-game in its entirety. Even though Rockstar Games was not responsible for the modder's actions, the company was at the center of the ensuing controversy.

Because of the mod, lawmakers swooped into action, including then-New York Senator Hillary Clinton. She demanded the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) take action, and that the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) reassess and change the game's Mature rating to Adults Only. As a result, Rockstar and Take-Two had to patch San Andreas to keep its Mature rating.

Rockstar has probably never forgiven Mrs. Clinton, which could explain why GTA 4's Statue of Happiness bears her likeness (as demonstrated by ZacCoxTV's video) and wields a cup of hot coffee. Why the statue houses a giant beating heart, though, is anyone's guess.

GTA 5's torture scene was meant to be uncomfortable

The GTA franchise is no stranger to legitimate controversy. Every entry includes features and scenes that are bound to offend someone, and one of the most recent examples is GTA 5's torture scene. Nevertheless, the scene provides a powerful message, as long as you don't examine the scene in a vacuum.

For those of you who never played the game, GTA 5's torture scene involves one of the protagonists torturing a man to extract information regarding a potential terrorist at the request of a government agent. Players have to subject the man to electrocution, waterboarding, and other grisly torments, all to obtain information he would have readily provided without torture. Many reviewers and critics were horrified by the scene, but according to people like Forbes' Erik Kain, that's the entire point.

"The torture in GTA V isn't fun as gameplay, has no mechanical similarity to the rest of the game, and is ultimately carried out for no reason and no gain," explained Kain. "And all of that is intentional. It's satire both in terms of narrative and game mechanics."

If you played GTA 5 and squirmed during the torture scene, then the game successfully pulled a Hideo Kojima and used torture to show why torture is bad.

Jack Thompson tried to ban GTA, but GTA banned him

In the world of video games, nobody is more reviled than the self-proclaimed activist Jack Thompson. He has a history of targeting video game publishers/developers in order to ban their "murder simulators." One of his most common targets was the GTA franchise, but in an ironic twist, his obsession with the series became his undoing.

Thompson's involvement with GTA is long and storied. He temporarily represented the families of people killed by Devin Moore, a teenager who was "obsessed" with GTA 3, in a lawsuit against Sony Entertainment (Strickland v. Sony). Thompson eventually decided to voluntarily withdraw from the civil trial, but the judge rejected his request and kicked him off the lawsuit instead, stating, "Mr. Thompson's actions before this Court suggest that he is unable to conduct himself in a manner befitting practice in this state."

In 2008, disaster struck Thompson like a bolt of angry lightning. He was found guilty of numerous Florida bar violations, including making false statements and harassing/intimidating people. He eventually was permanently disbarred from practicing law, and moreover, he committed some of these violations during the Strickland v. Sony trial.

The irony of Thompson committing crimes in a crusade to prove that GTA drives people to commit crimes is not lost.

The making-of-GTA docudrama doesn't have much to do with the making of GTA

The title "The Gamechangers" can refer to one of two documentaries. One film, The Game Changers, is a 2018 documentary about the benefits of a plant-based diet, while The Gamechangers is a 2015 docudrama about the creation of GTA: San Andreas and the ensuing legal battle between Jack Thompson and Rockstar president Sam Houser. These two documentaries are otherwise completely unrelated, or at least they would be if they both weren't regarded as wildly inaccurate.

While The Gamechangers is supposed to be based on true events, staff members at Rockstar lambasted the movie when it first aired (and many of their critical tweets are archived at The Guardian). Criticisms included The Gamechangers' portrayal of game development, historical accuracy, and most important, its portrayal of Thompson as a "calm, intelligent guy fighting evil."

Not only did Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games have nothing to do with the movie's production (as demonstrated by its inaccuracies), the companies also "filed suit against the BBC for trademark infringement" during its production, as reported by IGN. The lawsuit did not stop the BBC from filming or airing the movie, though.

GTA 5 is more successful than Hollywood

The GTA franchise remains lucrative despite all its controversies. Actually, the series is more than just lucrative. Each new entry outsells the last (with the exception of GTA 4), and GTA 5 surpassed all expectations.

According to Market Watch, GTA 5 is "the most financially successful media title of all time," and that includes blockbuster movies. As of April 2018, the game had sold over 90 million copies, which was approximately as much as GTA 3, Vice City, San Andreas, and 4 sold combined. That put GTA 5's revenue in the ballpark of about $6 billion. For the sake of comparison, Market Watch states that Star Wars and Gone With The Wind both had amassed around $3 billion, accounting for inflation.

Granted, GTA 5's gargantuan sales figures are likely due to its myriad of platform versions. The game is available on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC, while GTA 4 is only available on the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. Nevertheless, no amount of semantics can diminish GTA 5's success. At the end of the day, $6 billion in revenue is still $6 billion in revenue.

GTA 6 might return GTA to its roots

Before DMA Design finalized the original GTA, the game was a very different beast. It still utilized a top-down perspective and an open, explorable world, but players could sit on both sides of the law. Originally called Race'n'Chase, the prototype let gamers commit all sorts of crimes, as well as drive police cars (without stealing them) and chase down criminals — hence the name. While this iteration eventually gave way to the full-on crime simulator of GTA, Rockstar might possibly return the franchise to its cops and robbers origins.

While the number of rumors revolving around GTA 6 are more numerous than NPCs who hate Trevor Philips, one of the more fascinating rumors concerns players potentially roaming the upcoming game's streets as a cop. This speculation, reported by sites such as Inquisitr, is intriguing given the popularity of GTA police mods. However, as of writing this article, it is nothing more than a rumor and should be taken with a grain of salt. Until Rockstar confirms or denies this buzz — or releases GTA 6 — we won't know for certain if the game will let players live out their dreams of stopping crimes instead of committing them.