What were the difficulties you faced in following up GTAIII?
We were following up a game that had surprised us all. We started the game immediately after we’d finished GTAIII and as the months rolled on GTAIII became more and more well known and was winning a lot more awards, so the pressure on Vice City went up and up and up, along with the expectation. So that definitely made things harder. The other thing is that we effectively made Vice City in nine months, start to finish. If you think about it, it came out in October , and although the team were creating 3D models for it at the end of the previous year, it really kicked off at the beginning of 2002. So if you think about what was made in nine months, and then commercially what it went on to be, it was a pretty amazing thing. It was a very fast, aggressive development process. It was so fast that it was nerve-wracking, and we were also in a situation where we were still a small company and [parent company] Take-Two was very reliant on the game, so it kind of had to be out when it was needed. But at the same time we wouldn’t be able to release it if it wasn’t good enough.
I remember being in a very dark place towards the end of the production. I was punishing to live with. I was murder because we all felt the expectation and the pressure of the audience so much, and I was like: “I never want to let those people down. I’d rather they didn’t buy it than let them down”. I don’t mean to sound pompous or anything but it’s a real responsibility and it’s something that we take really seriously. Making something good and people liking it is ultimately all that matters. All the other stuff, quite fucking honestly, is fluff and interference. There are plenty of things that try to pull you away from those things, but those are the things that matter: you doing your best to make something good and sticking it on the screen, and someone liking it. That relationship between them and your game and you, it’s like the special magic bit that we don’t let anyone get near, because that’s where it all happens. So we were really feeling the pain of that exploitation as we got closer and closer to the release date, and someone would play it internally and would say something that would put me into the darkness for two weeks, but every time that happened it was happening for a good reason, and we would come out of it stronger.
How big a challenge was it to create the soundtrack?
GTAIII had less well-known music in it. There was some real-world music and there was some fictional music that was made internally. It was a really cool mixture of stuff, but suddenly we’d gone from our in-house music – which was so high-quality but was clearly satirical and its own thing – to drum’n’bass and Moving Shadow and all those guys, and the classical music, and the Scarface soundtrack, to Hall and Oates and 99 Luftballons and so on. The first time I played the game with the music, when I was over at [Rockstar] North, I was like, “Whoah”. I had a weird reaction. It felt like crossing a line between the reality and the fiction and all this sort of stuff, and I was like, “I don’t quite know how this is going to work out”. And that span me out for months. Fortunately there was the strength of some of my colleagues, who were like, “It’s hot as hell – what are you talking about? It’s amazing”. Because I was the one who dragged everybody down that path, I had a tremendous feeling that my neck was on the line with all the people I looked up to. I mean, initially some of the guys on the team were like, “The ’80s, man? That’s a rough one, isn’t it?” And I was like, “Yeah, of course it is. But that’s all the more reason to do it”.
You make these elements sound difficult, but weren’t there even bigger challenges? Putting in proper air travel for the first time, for example.
With helicopters, yes. And it had motorbikes as well.
How was it possible to do it all in nine months?
Nowadays, with the complexity of games as they right now, you couldn’t do it, but it was a bunch of people who had proved something pretty good with GTAIII and didn’t want to labelled as one-hit wonders. And I’m a driven guy, and all of the key members of the crew are very ambitious, driven people. These are people who, if you give them a shot, they are going to take it, and they just went at it. We all did.