GTA 5’s sandbox fidelity closing the gap on linear games, says art director

By Dave Cook, Wednesday, 14 August 2013 10:12 GMT

Grand Theft Auto 5’s world is massive, so naturally there has to be some sort of fidelity let-up when compared to linear corridor games. However, Rockstar North’s art director Aaron Garbut has explained that the company is closing that gap, and he’s also shed light on how the studio approaches the task of organic world-building.

In a Buzzfeed interview, Garbut explained that previous GTA games did suffer int he visual department due to their sheer scale on previous-gen technology.

He said, “Visual fidelity has knock-ons. San Andreas was effectively a bunch of cubes of various sizes stuck in between roads. I love it, and love what we did, but really that was what it was. Open-world games have pretty much always been a step or two behind the curve visually compared to more linear games.

“They have to be for a number of reasons. You can’t fake anything as soon as you have flying in a game and you can go anywhere; anything you see has to be real. That takes a lot of power and so you have to compromise. The trick is to compromise on the right things.

“Secondly, just in terms of sheer production, building a large, fully explorable world takes a lot more effort than building your typical game’s movie-set style series of facades, which tend to be tunnels of detail through an environment rather than a fully realized whole. As console power has increased and our experience has increased, I think we’re narrowing that gap more and more.”

Garbut then explained the compromise between having a living city in GTA games versus the drop in visual punch, “While we might lose a little fidelity by not being able to do that “tunnel of detail” that more linear games manage, I think we gain a lot more. There’s nothing quite as empowering as having a world to explore that feels right, and feels real, and having the toys to do just about anything.

“The key is the limit of the experience becomes your own imagination rather than whatever the guys that created that tunnel for you thought it should be. I think we’ve done our job if we’ve created a world that you love to spend time in and one that keeps giving for years to come. We’ve been trying to do that since Grand Theft Auto III, but I think we’ve taken a big step forward.”

He added that such a vast space cant just exist for the sake of it; that the people need a purpose as they potter about, and that there has to be a level of real-life believability in GTA’s cityscapes. “Every part of the world is handcrafted and really thought through,” he continued. “It all makes sense and has an internal logic. It feels more immersive and real because every part of it has had to stand up to multiple people questioning it.

“As soon as I play a game and the internal logic is blown, the experience is ruined for me. Even the basics: How do the people live their life? Where do they work, how do they get there, where do they eat their lunch, where do they grab a coffee, where do they go for fun?”

That said, given Rockstar’s understanding of current-gen ech as the cycle reaches a close, Garbut stressed that – like past games in the series – GTA 5 is always drawing scenery to ensure there’s no pop-up and that the world feels flawless. The dynamic time and lighting mechanics add weight to this.

He explained, “I think one of the most amazing features is the way we handle lighting in the game to maintain a consistent look despite the constraints on realistic lighting and shadows on current hardware. Every single light we place in the world is stored, streamed, and laid into the map, even into the distance.

“The entire world draws all the time: You can fly high in the air at one corner of the map, look over the miles of city and skyscrapers, over the hills and desert to the furthest ridges of the most distant mountains. It’s all there and visible. That’s amazing to see. But the really cool bit is that you can see a street light in a distant town, fly toward it for kilometers until the street itself is visible and the light bulb eventually comes into view.

“It’s amazing. It’s a level of solidity that I’ve never seen before. It brings the world alive in an incredibly realistic and organic way. That all the lighting the artists have placed to fill out streets and buildings form, at a macro level, the shape of the settlements themselves, that you can look over the desert and see the little towns and trailer parks miles away and get a feel for the road layout even in total darkness and know that it’s not faked, that you can go there: That’s cool.”

Excited yet? Check out these new screens if you want even more GTA 5 love.

GTA 5 launches worldwide on PS3 and Xbox 360 September 17.

Via OXM.

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