To shed more light on the new media being featured in Episodes From Liberty City, resident Rockstar jokester Lazlow Jones asks himself the tough questions in this hard hitting self-interview:Grand Theft Auto IV took the in-game media distractions to new extremes with the addition of TV and an entire in-game Internet the player could surf. There were even comedy clubs and a cabaret. Why does Rockstar go to so much trouble to create these additional layers of media?
One of the best quotes we saw was from a reviewer who was playing GTA IV and stopped at the Internet café and surfed the spoof internet we created and said something like “I’m trying to find the bottom of this thing, and I can’t.” It goes right to the heart of the philosophy of designing our games: we're trying to make the most detailed and immersive worlds we can. We want the world to feel lived in and constantly surprise you. When you meet people who have played our games, there is a deep emotional response. They talk about things they experienced in this world, how the storyline affected them, and when you create these living breathing cities, you have to not only populate the streets with characters that react to their surroundings and your actions, but replicate all the things we experience in our lives. Media is a huge part of that. So we work to make the radio you hear in the car, what you see on TV, the news tickers that rattle by in Star Junction, email, text messages and websites you visit in game all tie into this. It creates that slightly overblown reflection of reality and commentary on the media that gives Grand Theft Auto games their unique vibe. Weazel News is a good example - everyone recognizes that kind of ridiculous, alarmist kind of news that American media has turned into on cable news channels, or a shock jock radio DJ or pundit crying fake tears over some imagined new threat to the American way of life. We look at the media and do our best to make fun of it in a way that spoofs the left and right with equal enthusiasm.
Was creating hours of TV content a challenge?
It’s much more involved than the radio shows that are a trademark of GTA games.
Radio is such an intimate medium. That’s one of the reasons we’ve made it so prominent in the games. When we were working on GTA III – and we have the same core team working on GTA now that we did then, which I think is a testimony to how tight a group we are and how much we love doing this – we worked really hard to make the radio feel like it belonged in the city, and spoof all the things that are ridiculous about American radio. Friends that played the games said they would pull over to the side of the road in the game and listen to the radio. Or just drive around and listen. It was like, wow, people are playing a game and doing this? So when the next generation of consoles came along we were chatting with the guys and said, “We gotta make TV shows.” It’s great to hear from people that say they are playing GTA IV or the Episodes which have new TV content in it and say they took Niko back to the apartment, saved the game, chilled out watching TV for an hour then got up from the couch and went out exploring more of the city. For Episodes from Liberty City, there’s all new TV shows to watch, radio to listen to, radio news updates that bust in when you’re driving and report on a shootout that you were involved in – that makes the city feel real and locks that emotional connection.
What can we expect from Episodes from Liberty City?
It’s great that Episodes from Liberty City is two full games – you get to see the city from different experiences. One as a biker gang in this gritty kind of vibe, and the other as this dude that’s involved in the glamorous nightclub life of Liberty City. And your partner in the company is this guy Tony Prince who is messing about, partying, and keeping his eye off the ball. So you’re trying to keep these businesses going and there’s the celebrities coming into the club and these chicks that hit on you and get your number and call you later on when you’re in the middle of something else. That’s one of the things I really love about playing The Ballad of Gay Tony. You’ll be in this intense situation and your phone rings and it’s your mom. It’s like, do you ignore it and be a bad son or do you answer? It’s those kind of decisions that make the game - from phone calls and text messages to radio commercials and TV shows - it all comes together.
Talk about some of the new stuff you did for Episodes from Liberty City?
Well, for every game we make lots of new media – new radio shows, DJs, new stations, new spoof commercials, TV shows, websites, etc. We’ll kick ideas back and forth with North about websites, shows, outdoor billboards. The continuity is serious business. It’s all got to tie together. We’ll make a billboard we think is funny for a spoof TV show. Then we’re making a radio commercial about that spoof billboard/TV show, and next thing you know we’re like, let’s just make the TV show too. So it all ties together. We made this cartoon called Republican Space Rangers in GTA IV, and in Episodes from Liberty City we made two more episodes. We’ve got this great animation team that does it all from start to finish. Then we were like, what other cartoon can we make? That’s when we got the idea of Princess Robot Bubblegum. On the radio in GTA IV we did these movie trailer radio adverts for a fictional anime cartoon called Princess Robot Bubblegum. You know, making fun of anime for being creepy, obsessed with women that have unhuman characteristics, big eyes, misogynistic overtones. It really needed to be made fun of. At the launch party for GTA IV, where everyone dressed up as GTA characters there was this amazing woman with pink hair and incredible anime outfit who came up to me and said, “I’m your creation!” We were like, we gotta make this a real cartoon. Anime needs to be spoofed proper. If you are in the safehouse in EFLC you can turn on the TV and check it out.
Tell me about the soundtrack.
The music in GTA is something that’s obsessed about for well over a year before the game comes out. That ties in again to the fact that we’ve got this core team that has been working on the GTA games since the beginning. With the two games on the disc of Episodes from Liberty City, we put some hardcore metal on the LCHC station, plus we worked with Iggy Pop, who hosts another station to sort out some deep rock tracks that make the game come alive. There are some great electronic and dance stations too. The Crookers did a phenomenal mix. We also did a great mix of bachata music featuring Henry Santos Jeter, the lead singer of Aventura.
What about talk radio?
There’s a new show called Conspire! that showcases the paranoid thoughts of loudmouth left and right-wing political extremists. Some bits in there make me laugh out loud. One great surprise is the return of Fernando to host some classic yacht rock on Vice City FM - that's where you'll find tracks like Roxette's "The Look," which we used in our second trailer. Fernando is amazing. He’s a character but also a friend of ours who inspired the character. And then new material we did for Integrity 2.0 which is a show my character hosts, walking around Liberty City and broadcasting. Plus we spoof shock jock radio on a show called the Martin Serious Show. That was a lot of fun.
Anything else we’ve missed?
There’s a load of stuff I haven’t really talked about. The thing with the radio, TV, Internet, and stuff in game is that you want people to stumble upon it, discover parts of this world we created. That makes it feel like you’re in this cinematic experience. So we don’t spell everything out. Every GTA game has new stuff to experience and discover. I hear from friends that say when they complete the final mission in a GTA game they feel like they have to leave this town they fell in love with and lived in. It’s like, wow, we made this emotional connection. In GTA IV you were this immigrant named Niko Bellic who just arrived on the shores of America. The cool thing about Episodes from Liberty City is that you’ve got two new amazing games that let you experience the Liberty City in new and different ways – and it all connects together