Arriving on PlayStation 2 just weeks after the terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Center, public sensitivity could have scuppered the commercial chances of one of history’s greatest games.
Fortunately the quality of Rockstar’s epic shone through and the game went on to spearhead a phenomenon that remains one of the most important in modern gaming.
But what’s the truth behind the significance that the events of 9/11 had on the final stages of the game’s development?
“We made some changes after 9/11 but they were very cosmetic. Most of the delay in releasing the game, which was only a couple of weeks, was a product of the fact that our office in New York was pretty close to Ground Zero and so any work that had to be done there was made impossible for a period,” the series’ co-creator Dan Houser told this month’s Edge magazine.
“As far as I recall, we changed the colour of the cop cars so they weren’t identical to NYPD, we altered the flight path of a plane so that it didn’t look like it was flying into or behind a skyscraper, and we removed one mission as it made a reference to terrorists, plus a few lines of pedestrian dialogue and a line or two of talk radio.
“Some people believe we removed an entire strand of missions because they found some reference in the code to a character called Darkel, but he had been cut months before [release] and the missions were never completed.”
And although he doesn’t directly confess it, Houser hinted that the team considered scrapping plans to release GTA III altogether.
“The mood in the office… well, we were close to Ground Zero and lived in New York but, as people who didn’t work in financial services, we didn’t know too many people directly affected,” he admitted.
“It was very upsetting, very unnerving and overwhelming – perhaps particularly as people who work in the media: to see a moment seemingly designed by its architects to be consumed by the media. It was the same for us as it was for anybody.
“But we also felt we’d come this close to making this great game and that despite these problems, just as despite the problems of Take-Two, it was our duty to finish it.”