So I just renewed my library card and they had a book about the history of Rockstar Games so I checked it out and tore the fuck through it.
(As an update to my game progress, I’ve had to basically rebuild the whole thing without the preferred character selection, and I’m still in the process of that. It’s a pain in the ass, but ultimately, it’ll end up solving some invisible errors (redirects from old stuff I deleted in the past) as well as make it so you can, you know, play the game. But because that’s not terribly interesting, I’mma tell you about Rockstar and their influence on my marketing design.)
One of the most important things I ever learned about game design and marketing is that every aspect of a game’s promotional materials, ideally, should be designed in service to the game. It’s one thing to write up a manual to explain the game. It’s another better, more immersive thing to make that manual something you can enjoy while you’re still “in character”, something that also exists in the canon. Rockstar’s game manuals and websites were what taught me this.
The first Rockstar game I ever played, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, came with a manual that was designed as a tourist guide to the city that the player character, Tommy Vercetti, might have perused upon landing in Vice. It detailed important locations, people, and activities. One thing I remember in particular about it was that it warned the player to stay out to the water because of shark attacks (swimming wasn’t possible until San Andreas). There were sharks in the water (as well as fish, dolphins, and jellyfish), but the water itself would kill you before they’d get a chance.
Vice City’s website was designed as an Flash-based interactive Vice City Police Department office. You were very clearly supposed to get a Miami Vice vibe from this. It’s also, I believe, the first time they tried using a room as an interface. That is, you go to a specific piece of furniture to open a menu or feature which I think is much more immersive than just opening a menu from the Start/Esc button. Anyway, it featured one of those bulletin board crime trees with more information on various characters, a contraband case full of the game’s weapons, and a radio where you could sample the soundtrack. (The radio now only has one station, probably because they’ve lost the rights to the songs in the meantime.) This was all pretty impressive for 2003.
My favorite thing they ever did, though, was for Manhunt. Manhunt is a game about a death row inmate who is seemingly executed, but wakes to find that he’s been sold to a snuff film director. The manual was a catalogue for the director’s production company, Valient Video. The official website for Manhunt still exists, but they also made a “fake” one for Valient Video. (I believe they started buying up domains for in-game businesses with Vice City, but it might’ve been San Andreas). Unfortunately, they allowed the domain to lapse on that one and the Wayback Machine only has the login page. Anyway, it featured a fake forum where fans of Valient could discuss the films. It was incredibly creepy and I wish it still existed. The one thing I remember most vividly was a post where a guy was trying to sell a gimp mask. Admittedly though, the immersion broke once you realized that you couldn’t actually make an account and post yourself on there. It asks you to make one up to log in, but it was just a dummy form.
You might be wondering why I would want to post on this forum with these weirdos. Rest assured, by this point, I was hip to their game. This was basically a roleplay that some lucky writer on staff got paid to do. What I was curious to know was how interactive it was. If I posted on here, would someone employed at Rockstar be obliged to reply back, in character as some freaky snuff film enthusiast? That I couldn’t even make an account was disappointing, but it answered my question.
I definitely get why making that particular feature interactive is not a great idea. You gotta remember that Rockstar had been dealing with people (Jack Thompson in particular) making their games out to be “murder simulators” that teach children to go on murder sprees and conduct school shootings. It would have required an extremely skilled person to conduct a multi-character RP as a community of people who enjoy snuff films realistically while also not encouraging whoever interacts with them to also take up that hobby. Not worth the effort.
But what if you could post to that forum and someone did have to answer in character?
Those of you who who’ve been with me since my PAYDAY 2 fanfic days will remember that I had a pretty elaborate interactive thing planned for my stories before I decided I’d had enough of Overkill’s shit and stopped writing fanfic for their IP. You would have had Manhunt to thank for that, had Overkill not gotten in their own way.
I’m not presently planning anything that work-intensive for The Take!, but it’s always a future possibility. At the very least, the manual will be a canon artifact.
The book I read about Rockstar was Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto by David Kushner. Good shit, highly recommend. Here are some fun facts I learned:
- Manhunt was a very divisive subject even within Rockstar itself. A lot people at the studio felt it went too far and crossed a line.
- Burt Reynolds, who plays my favorite Vice City character Avery Carrington, was a total horse’s ass at the record. He was such a prick that Dan Houser almost cut him from the game, but the director Navid Khonsari stopped him from doing it because they had the lines.
- Khonsari had to bust a lot of people down a peg during the record for Vice City because they used a lot of people who thought they were hot shit but hadn’t actually been all that relevant since the 80’s. For some reason, he was not up to doing this with Reynolds. No word on how Philip Michael Thomas, Lee Majors, or Gary fkn Busey conducted themselves, but fuck am I intrigued to know.
- Ray Liotta started talking a lot of shit after Vice City came out, about how they didn’t pay him enough and how he was gonna really stick it to them for the next game. So they just… didn’t have him back. It’s why Tommy Vercetti is conspicuously absent from San Andreas.
- They almost called themselves Grudge Games but Ryan Brant, who basically got them in with Take Two, said it was a little on the negative side. (I wanted to work under Spite House Studios ’cause what is The Take! but a fkn spitehouse, but there’s already a Spite House Games. >: / )