New Information. 5/16/07

Posted On May 16, 2007

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 Thanks to  Squiddy  for translating this from the German GamePro Magazine.

The view is fantastic! In one direction the southern head of Manhattan is visible, in the north the Empire State Building reaches into the New York sky. We stand on a deck of a penthouse, which Rockstar Games leased for the exclusive presentation of GTAIV. But instead of enjoying the look-out on the town, we’d like to see the game at once! After all the one-minute trailer from 29.03.2007 raised more questions than he answered: Is the location really Liberty City? Does the protagonist in fact came from eastern Europe? What’s his name, what does he do in town? What does the first next-gen GTA better than his predecessor? Finally we go into the darkend presentation room, and the game begins…

Next-Gen quantum jump

With GTAIV Rockstar has ambitious aims: The “light bulb moment” [aha-effect] from the third to the fourth part shall be as high as from second to third. A courageous undertaking, after all the jump into the 3rd dimension made for ecstasy. But when we saw Niko standing in his living environment for the first time, Rockstar’s plan doesn’t seem to be that overconfident:
Absolutely realistic shadows cast into the small bureau in which Niko is standing. Desk, telephone, chairs – everything feels monolithic and fits the new, dirty look of GTA. From the radio sounds a Russian rock sender. But from the beginning: Who is this Niko?

Grim Nikolaus [Santa Clause]

Niko Bellic comes from eastern Europe into Liberty City, which is inspiered by the real New York. In his country he experienced a lot, now he looks for his fortune in this new world. Anyhow his cousin Roman build up a small taxi business, there Niko gets work and a hideout in the beginning. But soon his past catches up with him and he finds himself in a swirl of crime and violence.
We ask Rockstar chief and founder Dan Houser, why Niko comes from the east:
“The stories about home comers are too overused, but we didn’t made a story about an immigrant yet. Besides that fits with the typical immigrant town New York, that being the ideal of Liberty City. And because we wanted a hard-nosed guy with a grim past, a eastern Europe country leads in.”, reasons Dan.
Additionally that explains why one doesn’t get along in the town at first and loses one’s way. Or did you never questioned yourself, why CJ turned wrong so often in his old home – the Grove Street in Los Santos?
The story about Niko’s adventures in the new world shall be more challenging than the simple “from dishwasher to millionaire” – stories of the predecessors. At first, Niko mainly helps his Cousin Roman, who is hassled by believers. No surprise that both grouch at each other all the time.
Niko meats multitude of characters, including attractive woman like Elizabeta. But who hopes for a love story will be disappointed. “There will be no real romance with Niko”, Dan Houser gives away. “Roman is a more sentimental guy.”

Niko and the City

Back to Niko, who is still standing in the bureau of Roman’s taxi-business. Slowly the camera rotates around the hero, we can look out of the window. Outside the pedestrians scurry, cars drive through Broker, the Brooklyn equivalent.
Niko leaves the bureau and stands – without annoying loading times – on the sidewalk, where he looks around. The streets of Liberty City are much more alive than those before, but above all the pedestrians behave more realistic. We see people talking loudly at pay phones. Homeless who blame about the high rental fees. In a car that is driving past, the driver adjusts rear-view mirror right now. At a building lot workers carry planks, which they drop as Niko bumps into them. One man almost stumbles across the curb, but can cache himself.
That makes the scenery unbelievable alive, we almost believe standing in the real Brooklyn. Next to many new behaviors, Rockstar wants to implement a much improved AI. The pedestrians shall react more on Niko’s actions, for example to bitch or flee, when Niko runs with a pulled weapon along the street.

Criminals and scientists

As Niko makes his first steps on the streets, and even starts to run, the top-notch animations as well as the body physics catches our attention. Niko seems to have a real weight, he doesn’t “float” over the street. When he changes directions, he puts in his whole body. That does not only look extremely dynamic, you get a feeling for the mass and power of the body – just by looking at it.
But the clothes don’t look authentic, more like glued on. But many things in this version aren’t final, so much is still about to change.
As Niko stops on a small wall, he automatically puts his foot on top, and stands more comfortable. Such nice animations aren’t build in by the developers by hand, but the physic engine does this job. She also watches about the underground Niko is running on. Because whether it is asphalt, sand or wooden ground, the step sounds change. Of course this is just a small detail, but it makes the game world become more real.

Lumber comes!

Falling planks, nice animations – but that doesn’t fully load a real physic engine. You surely have more planned with this, right Dan? “Of course”, laughs Houser. But more information this mystery-monger doesn’t reveal, but grins according to our speculations. Niko could let containers or balks crushing on his enemy’s heads. Or he makes a framework collapse by shooting a supporting beam.
Anyway the world of GTAIV will, thank to the physics, seem more realistic as the one of earlier parts.

Liberty City from top

Even though that Liberty City will not be bigger than GTA:San Andreas, you will get much more to see. Because in opposite to the comparatively flat rolled federal state on the west coast, Liberty City stretches vertical too. This means that there are many more things to explore below bridges or in basements. Fire ladders invite to explorations of the roofs. As if to proof that, Niko climbs a telegraph pole at the roadside, true to the GTA-motto: “Go anywhere, do anything”. During the climbing we admire his shadow, which the rising sun casts on the ground. Arriving on top, our hero can look around on a intersection and there surrounding from a higher perspective.
There are multiple stores, many pedestrians and – of course – the humorous GTA-typical billboards. But those will become a little less in GTAIV – this comical humor doesn’t fit this new, serious dirty look of GTAIV.


Physical correct promenades nice and good, but what really made the fun in GTA are the breckneck drives. So Niko carefully approaches a car to steal it. On button press he breaks the side window with his elbow, leans in and opens the door to sit in the car. Rockstar is planing a multitude of such breakup-animations, and of course the previous car owners will complain loudly.
The developers don’t want to change a lot on the simple-fun drive physics of previous GTAs. Indeed some cars will control very differently, but they won’t be really challenging. Again there is a rudimental damage model, which primarily affects the visual appearance. By the way: Niko’s stolen car looks fantastic. Twinkling chrome parts, reflecting paint and detailed wheels really make you want to cruise around.
And for another time the physical realistic animations impress us: the damper fold abit while driving over caps on the street and spring back.
As Niko turns the car abrupt, the whole thing leans into the curve.

The Best of the 70s, 80s, 90s and from now

On the way Niko turns a bit on the car radio. We listen to east European rock music, jazz, hip-hop, light pop and others. But the tracks aren’t final at all, all songs served as representative placeholders for the later genres.
Different from GTA: Vice City and GTA:San Andreas, the soundtrack of GTAIV will not necessary contain licensed songs from real artists. Rather they want to concentrate on finding the most suitable music for the scenario. Funky oldies from the 70s may be found in modern Liberty City as well as 80s jazz or modern rap. Especially we are anxious if we can listen to ethno-rock from Niko’s home in the final version too.
Dan Houser promises: “We ever had voluminous soundtracks, but this one is going to be even a bit bigger!”
But Dan didn’t want us to reveal if – as in the predecessors – well known speaker will take the rolls of the protagonist and radio moderators. We recall: Guns’n’Roses frontman Axl Rose moderated rock sender DST in San Andreas, movie star Samuel L. Jackson spoke the nasty police man Tenpenny.
Dan Houser: “So much for now: In this moment the recordings for GTAIV are in working, hard work!”

Mission via phone

Finally Niko arrived at the goal of this drive, the old Twitchers sugar fabric at the waterside of Broker. This building is – as well as many in GTAIV – made after a real prototype, the Domino’s Sugar fabric in Brooklyn. Niko gets out of the car, goes to the quay wall and enjoys the view over the river and Liberty City’s skyline.
Then it is time for some seriousness: Niko pulls his cell phone from his jacket and calls a friend. Maybe there is some job? Because the old equation “Letter on Map = Mission” does not work every time in GTAIV. Often Niko has to call a friend in order to know about a possible job. Actual logic: When GTAIV plays in the now, surely modern technical devices should be used too.
The canvass of clients would look a bit too outmoded. In general, the mission structure will be more open than in previous GTAs. You have the choice between several clients and can even ignore jobs completely.
But if Niko got a cell phone, will the integrated camera, scheduler and SMS-messages be used too? After all the display shows these menu items.
Dan Houser laughs: “Good find! But I can’t say anything about it yet”. Okay, Dan, we draw our own conclusions: Jobs are imaginable, where Niko has to take a photo of a target with his handy, or even make a video. Or his scheduler reminds him of regular tasks like collecting protection money. And via SMS he gets new information during jobs – many possibilities!

Niko and his Brothers

Besides the story-jobs there shall be coop-missions for online players – almost must in times of Xbox Live and Playstation Network. Those jobs will at most be loosely connected to the main story and not influencing it, perhaps like Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2. Details for the missions weren’t revealed by Rockstar, but nobody said “No” when we speculated about back robberies or illegal car races.
It’s not decided what you get from solved coop-missions in the single player mode. Maybe additional cars or weapons, perhaps only successes and gimmicks like cheats get unlocked.

Work & Play

In general, Rockstar will keep the balance from “Work & Play” (as Dan Houser expressed it), meaning the story and side missions. Indeed Dan didn’t want to go into further details, but we assume a return of stunt jumps or collecting packets. Also the common Taxi-, Fire brigade- and Police minigames should be on board.
However the real missions shall be less sharp separated from the pony farm, to get you deeper into the game world.
Does that mean, that you can do something else during a job in the future, Dan? “It doesn’t make sense to buy a pizza during a shootout. But the differences between missions and pony farm will be less intense.”
Yet even Dan can’t say how the difficulty level of GTAIV will look like, because the balancing of the missions will be done in the end of the production.

Unlimited liberty

Liberty City is a huge town, which is divided in several areas, just like the real New York. Rockstar isn’t confident if Niko will have access to all areas from the beginning or not, or if, like in GTA:III, GTA:Vice City and GTA:San Andreas wrecked bridges and tunnels will block the way.
“Both has advantages and disadvantages”, Dan Houser mentions and doesn’t want to commit. If you let the player go over the whole town, he might get lost somewhere and will be bored in yet uninteresting areas – even if he enjoys the freedom.
In a limited start area you might feel constricted, but the developers can make a more thrilling storyline.
This question might be answered, when Rockstar discusses the reports of the test players.

Locked doors

Another decision has already been made: Niko will not be able to enter every building in Liberty City. “That wouldn’t make sense regarding gameplay”, Dan Houser explains. Of course: What means the pretended freedom, if only some flats in this huge town are interesting? Furthermore the level designer would have to create plenty of rooms, which would lead to similar looking interiors. Therefore Rockstar concentrates on relevant flats, but making those more prettier.
There will be no loading times when changing between inside and outside, GTAIV gets data from the DVD all the time.

Properties goldfish

While Tommy Vercetti could afford a Villa inspired from Scarface in the end of GTA:Vice City, Niko lower one’s sight. He will own an apartment sometime in the game, but won’t buy properties in great style.
Dan Houser: “That wouldn’t fit to Niko. Here it’s all about surviving, you try to avoid trouble all the time.”
Whether and with what means Niko will expand his imperium, Dan didn’t want to say.
One thing is for sure, in Niko’s apartment will be wardrobe. That’s good, then he doesn’t have to wear those greasy clothes from the trailer. Similar to previous games in some missions the clothes will play a role. That way Niko may sneak into a building or collect information under a false identity.

Clever police man

Of course the Liberty City Police Department won’t be inactive during Niko’s actions. In opposite, the cops shall behave more intelligent as their colleagues in GTA3 – it isn’t as easy as 20 years ago in the times of GTA:Vice City. For example it will be more difficult to get rid of chasers.
Will there be the old star system for the wanted level in GTAIV, Dan? “I think so, but we didn’t decide finally.”
Rockstar tries to abandon colored markers, arrows and other “non-gameworld-elements”. Dan Houser: “Formerly we had to put an arrow above every bad guy, to separate him from normal pedestrians. Now we maybe just give him a red shirt, which will be clearly noticeable, thanks to the new graphic.
Also new: Similar to True Crime: Streets of LA every street will have its name, which will be displayed, once you enter a street by foot or car. That helps the orientation and allows jobs like “Walk into the 154. street and look for a green door!”.
But Rockstars test players will decide, if a colored marker on the sideway will be better or not.

No download swindle

Rockstar will use the online capabilities of the new consoles. At least for the Xbox 360 additional content was confirmed to be available for download.
But you don’t have to fear a swindle like Oblivion’s horse armor.
“We don’t know what we will offer. Maybe some things for free, some for cost. By all means we’ll only do things [through downloads] that really serve the game.”, promises Dan Houser. “Simply pulling 5 dollars out of someone’s pocket – that’s too cheesy for me.” Imaginable are additional cars, weapons or even mission clients. But there aren’t any real plans, on how the download will be. “First we get the game finished”, Dan grins. For sure he can confirm, that the XBox360 and Playstation will differ minimal – if they differ at all. If that’s true we can check on 19.October 2007 – until then Rockstar wants to have GTAIV in stores.



Posted On May 12, 2007

Filed under GTA IV

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Thanks to Wehmer for the scans. Credit goes to him.