Gaming History 101 | Rockstar Games – Part One

Today we take a look at the history of one of gamings most revered developers, Rockstar Games. From humble beginnings in the music industry to a standard of gaming quality few can match, Rockstar has expanded into eight separate studios and a library of high-scoring and, more importantly, high-quality titles. Welcome, ladies and gents, to Gaming History 101.

Perhaps the title of this article is a little misleading. This is less a history of Rockstar Games, but more a history of two like-minded brothers. A history of their venture into gaming and the mantra that has flowed through every game that’s left their studios (yes, and that includes Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis).

Music, hip-hop and philosophy

rockstar gamesIt all starts with Dan and Sam Houser, two English boys with dreams of making it big the world of music video production. It was the early-nineties, and Dan and Sam, with their love of hip-hop and it’s philosophies on self-expression, got a ticket to the big time when they scored jobs at music label BMG in London.

But for all their hopes and dreams of carving out a career in the music biz, something just didn’t click and the Houser bros started to look elsewhere for that elusive creative spark. And despite no experience in programming, that spark led them to the burgeoning world of games.

The land of Irn Bru and shortbread

rockstar gamesIn 1993, BMG made something of a bold move and created BMG Interactive, a new wing of the company dedicated to creating them there computer games. It was a gutsy move indeed, but the gaming industry was an ever-expanding beast, and the advent of 3D was in full-ascendance.

Stepping into practically unknown territory, BMG looked to anyone that could bring a new and exciting take on the humble game. Disillusioned with the reality of working in music, Dan and Sam jumped at the chance to pour their creative potential into something new and unknown.

rockstar gamesBMG Interactive will hardly be remembered for changing the landscape of games in those early days, but games like Courier Crisis and Fire & Klawd showed a desire to break away from the strict tropes of game design and rewrite the strict rules of the industry. “It’s in our DNA to avoid doing what other companies are doing,” commented Dan in a interview with Famitsu (translated by 1UP) in 2011. “You have to have originality in your games; you have to have some kind of interesting message. You could say that the goalpoint of Rockstar is to have the players really feel what we’re trying to do”.

To kickstart it’s gaming portfolio, BMG signed a design partnership in 1995 with Edinburgh-based developer DMA Design, a dev famous for their black-humoured puzzler Lemmings. And despite being whisked off to Scotland to work with their new Scottish partners, Dan and Sam discovered the talent pool that would lead them to their career-defining game: Grand Theft Auto.

Grand Theft Auto vs The Daily Mail

rockstar gamesReleased in 1998 on PC and the PlayStation, Grand Theft Auto wasn’t exactly a runaway success, but it stood as a fundamental departure from the game design mantras of the previous decade. Grand Theft Auto didn’t have much a story either; it simply dropped you into a top-down viewed-world and let you decide your own path in a living, breathing world. Such freedom might seem commonplace now, but in 1998 such an anti-linear experience was mind-blowing.

rockstar gamesGrand Theft Auto was also violent, really violent. It was no more violent than something like Doom, but it’s ‘real-world’ setting of Liberty City, Vice City and San Andreas was enough to get some serious fingers waving. The Daily Mail discovered an overnight hate for games and called for it to be banned. That ban never came, but Grand Theft Auto had taken the first step of stripping away the sugarcoated reputation games had gained within the mainstream media.

That same year, aspiring US-based publisher Take-Two saw Grand Theft Auto as the perfect fit for it’s focus on a darker, more adult direction for its output. Take-Two bought BMG Interactive from BMG, shipped it over to New York and, just like that, Rockstar Games was born.

Hey, hey I wanna be a Rockstar (apologies for the Nickelback reference)

rockstar gameWith their new venture alive and kicking, Dan, Sam and their fellow founding members Terry Donovan, Jamie King and Gary Foreman reached back to DMA Design in the hopes of making the next Grand Theft Auto bigger, better and well, ballsier. Grand Theft Auto 2 arrived in 1999, and while it was no great leap from the first game, the quality of production from DMA and the creative direction of the Houser bros was there for all to see.

Grand Theft Auto 2 also introduced a fictional gang warfare system, where helping one group would lead other gangs to jump you if you entered their territory. And, just like the first game, you could go on Kill Frenzies and run over as many lines of Harry Krishna as your heart could contend with. The live-action intro (later re-dubbed GTA: The Movie) even had Scott Maslen from Eastenders! East-enders! Big time, people, big time.

rockstar gamesGrand Theft Auto 2 sold respectably and it received a mixture of reviews that swayed towards the positive, but Dan and Sam were already looking to do more than just create a game in the same engine. They didn’t just want to create ‘okay’ games like the Midnight Club series; they wanted to take the rule book, blow it to its base atoms, then reconstruct it in a way no one could see coming.

And in 2001, they did just that. That was the year that Rockstar Games gave light to the revolution starter that was Grand Theft Auto 3. That was the year that s**t got real…

Later this week, we’ll be finishing up our history of Rockstar Games with the ever-expanding saga of GTA, the second coming of Red Dead and some mind-destroying sales figures. For more GTA news and general games-related tom-foolery, follow us on Twitter @infiniterobots. Keep it Infinite!

Ten Reasons Why You Should Already Be Playing Sleeping Dogs

Here at infinite robots we’re still playing one of the summer’s chart topping successes, United Front Games’ slick open-world noir thriller Sleeping Dogs. If you’ve still managed to miss this Eastern sandbox adventure then we’ve got ten reasons to make an odyssey to Hong Kong…

#1 Combat that’s pure Hong Kong cinema

The combat of Sleeping Dogs is the trump card makes it a totally unique experience. Melee combat isn’t a few punching animations thrown in to break the monotomy of gunplay. Sleeping Dogs is the total opposite experience to Saints Row & GTA and it’s proud of it. Mixing together the fast, bone-shattering moves a la Tony Jaa with the brutal melee violence of early John Woo movies makes the combat a fluid & intuitive experience that’s fun rather than a dreaded outcome.

Wei of the Dragon Fist…

#2 Driving from point A to Point B has never been so fun

Sandbox games have gotten bigger & bigger since GTA 3 realised Liberty City in all its 3D glory. And while so games made driving an actual drag (*cough* The Getaway *cough*), and others rely on gimmicks like grappling hooks (*cough* Just Cause *cough*) Sleeping Dogs makes simply driving to a mission marker an awesome experience. The cars & bikes have a mostly forgiving arcade feel that makes drifting & cornering a ton of fun. Add together the ability to hijack other cars mid drive and things just got very tasty.

#3 A truly unique setting

Whilst Sleeping Dogs’ version of Hong Kong may be a fictional one it’s still a tantalising feast for the eye that sounds & feels alive. The market districts glisten with bright neon whilst the business sector bustles with suits, boutiques and soaring skyscrapers. The look & sounds of a modern Eastern epicentre feel authentic & real, which makes for an environment that’s a richer backdrop than Steelport or Liberty City.

Hong Kong is a vibrant & tragic place to explore

#4 Embrace the lack of weapons

An open-world game with hardly any guns? Are you mad? Well don’t know it till you’ve tried it. Sleeping Dogs makes a brave move by reducing the number of gun fights to a minimum. There are no military hardware shops in the real Hong Kong so the Sleeping Dogs version avoids the need to litter the city with weapon stashes. Guns are a rarity and rather than making the game feel boring it brings greater emphasis on hand-to-hand combat & empowers you as a player.

#5 Racing that’s more Need for Speed than GTA

The many races littered around Hong Kong could have been tacked on as a side-thought. Instead, they’re a delicate mix of feature of all the best things about arcade racers. The one-button ramming ability makes racing more of a duel with the race leaders as you burn through the city streets. All the races take place at night with vibrant checkpoint markers that turn familiar roads into dangerous race tracks littered with oncoming traffic.

The storyline of Sleeping Dogs is unashamably ultra-violent

#6 A stellar voice cast

Sleeping Dogs may have a few well known Western voices on its roster, such as Tom Wilkinson & Emma Stone but its real strength lies in the sheer number of Asian actors that have contributed voice work. Everyone from Lucy Lui & Kelly Hu to Will Yun Lee & Tzi Ma bring a depth of personality that more than steps up to the greatness GTA has given us in the past. The voice-work is as good as anything coming out of Hollywood at the moment and it really sells the emotional twists of the plot.

#7 Pork Buns

“If you don’t eat a pork bun then you’re only half a man!” That’s all we need to say on that matter.

#8 The soundtrack to your criminal life

You can’t have a sandbox game with a huge map and not have some tunes to burn some serious rubber to. The mix of styles & genres is one of the most eclectic on the market and yet they all meld together in a way that perfectly suits the game world. Whether you’re cruising to the traditional Chinese tracks or flipping cop cars to Fear Factory & Trivium the track listing never gets old.

The races in Sleeping Dogs are a league beyond GTA’s

#9 Collectormania

For all those collectorphiles out there Sleeping Dogs does not disappoint. Rather than simply littering the world with pointless collectables only worthy of an achievement or tropy, Sleeping Dogs utilises them as a way improving the skills and attributes of protagonist Wei Shen. From health shrines that increase your overall health to jade statues that can be traded for melee combat upgrades, these collectables add more than just some points to your Gamerscore.

#10 Mini-game mania

Sleeping Dogs is littered with mini-games, each of which breaks up the usual driving & melee combat sections in a way that’s fun and a little quirky. From cracking safes to breaking into a camera feed with a key code they’re a bit of harmless fun that fill the fictional city of Hong Kong. But all of them pale in comparison to the karaoke sessions. The track-listing might seem like a wedding DJs cast offs but the Guitar Hero esque note hitting with a cursor and the sound of lead actor Will Yun Lee crooning away shows a game that’s more than happy to laugh itself in-between bouts of blood and ultra-violence.

So have you picked up Sleeping Dogs yet? It’s a fine title that’s genuinely better than any other modern-set sandbox game of its kind, including GTA IV. Go pick it up & keep it infinite! Follow @infiniterobots for more gaming news & updates from Editors Shaun & Dom.