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Old 04-02-2010   #1
Slim Trashman
Sanitation Division
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: New Jersey, USA
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An In-Depth Analysis of GTA IV & Realistic Prospects for the Series' Future

Hey guys, for sometime now I had been planning on typing up this sort of analysis of Grand Theft Auto IV and determining realistic possibilities for what to expect for the future of the GTA series. I'll probably find myself updating this every so often as ideas pop in and out of my head all of the time, so bear with me. I hope you enjoy reading this!

TOPIC HISTORY: Last Updated 04/04/10

04/03 - Enhanced & Expansive Combat System added under Additional Thoughts section
04/03 - Return Of Some Traditional Weapons & Vehicles added under Additional Thoughts section
04/03 - Improved Online Multiplayer Functionality added under Additional Thoughts section
04/03 - Return Of The Army (@ 6 Star Wanted Level) added under Additional Thoughts section
04/03 - Revision Of The Friends System added under Additional Thoughts section
04/03 - Animals & Ecosystems added under Additional Thoughts section
04/03 - In-Game Children added under Additional Thoughts section

04/04 - "Life-Simulating" Features added under Additional Thoughts section
04/04 - Dual-Wielding Weapons added under Additional Thoughts section
04/04 - Player Statistics/Skills System added under Additional Thoughts section

Introduction - GTA IV's Release

At the time of GTA IV's release, the series' fan base was at its peak. Never before had any game generated so much hype and anticipation. From the die-hard fans to the most casual of gamers, everyone knew April 29th, 2008 would be a landmark day in video game history. And hands down it certainly was!

From a personal perspective, the only thing that actually stopped me from playing the game during the first week post-release was using the bathroom and attending school. It had been three and a half years since the series' last major installation and I, among others, was itching for a fresh GTA experience. The game was like nothing I had ever played before and probably the closest the series would ever be again to matching the revolution in gaming that was Grand Theft Auto III.

So after the initial hype and having finally played GTA IV, what was it that kept the fans hooked in the months following its release?

"The Weekend Has Arrived" - GTA IV's Pros and Addictive Factors

One of the most significant aspects of the GTA series' move to the next generation of consoles was the technical improvements of the game's fundamentals. Grand Theft Auto IV was and remains to be the most technically realistic experience among its predecessors and other games alike. The game also introduced new features and redefined features present throughout the series' history.

Let's take a look at what GTA IV seemed to do right:

• RAGE Engine - Previously running on a heavily modified version of RenderWare, Rockstar developed a new game engine all their own dedicated to running more advanced games on next generation hardware, appropriately dubbed "Rockstar Advanced Game Engine" (RAGE). This engine allowed GTA IV to technically perform as sufficiently as it did and was the back-end to all other technologies featured in the game. Without RAGE, it would be unlikely for GTA to have successfully made the leap into the new generation of gaming.

• Euphoria Physics Engine/Artificial Intelligence - If there is any aspect of GTA IV that defines its level of realism, it is NaturalMotion's Euphoria physics engine implemented into the game. Before Euphoria, all in-game animation was pre-designed and programmed to occur at specific instances. Euphoria generates such animation dynamically, providing experiences unique to every situation and each time you may encounter such a situation. Euphoria is basically a coalition of ragdoll physics and artificial intelligence. Animations would be fluid and characters would appropriately react uniquely.

• Vehicle/Character Handling - It may not be as easy to hit those sharp turns, but GTA IV provides one of the most realistic driving experiences ever featured in a video game, even more so than games actually 100% dedicated to cars and racing. Some may find such realistic handling frustrating, but hey, when is driving ever not frustrating? I had my doubts at first, but it grew on me and one becomes very used to the new handling with a bit of time. The way Niko moves on screen also feels incredible. He walks, sprints and turns as if he is truly human, unable to successfully perform 90 degree turns and 180 degree turnarounds in a split microsecond without actually moving his feet or having to slow himself down a bit. No longer did stairs act like a ramp either; one step at a time.

• Enhanced Graphics/Level Of Detail - Never before had crime looked so beautiful. Another major aspect to the level of realism GTA IV possess was its look realistic look and level of detail. No visual went overlooked, and thus the game was brought to further to life than ever before. Oh, and explosions never looked so satisfying, have they?

• Combat System - Something that GTA has struggled to master since its beginning is its combat system. Despite that fact, GTA IV is the closest to ideal the series has ever been when it comes to handling yourself in intense firefights and hand to hand combat.

• Weather System - While the in-game weather didn't have much variety (as much as it could have, at least), it's praised for its actual physical effect on the game world, rather its visual. You actually have to drive with greater care to avoid hydroplaning in those heavy rain storms. Not to mention the wind's effect on helicopters in such storms.

• Addition of Online Multiplayer - Longed for by fans since GTA III, Rockstar finally added the ability to murder and steal with (or against) friends and strangers in GTA IV, providing eveh more replay value to already endless game. Not to mention some of the game modes are incredibly fun!

• Dynamic Heads-Up Display/GPS System - Many games are cluttered with unnecessary information all on the screen at once, often acting as a distraction to the player. GTA IV modified GTA's traditional HUD to be much less invasive, given its new dynamically reoccurring ability to only display what is currently being accessed/used. To further retain distraction form the HUD, it was redesigned with much more simplistic feel. One of the most crucial components of the HUD in any GTA is the radar. In GTA IV every vehicle came equipped with a GPS system that would direct you to your mission or custom destination using the most efficient legal route. This made getting from place to place MUCH easier.

• Storyline & Making Choices - GTA IV's storyline was nothing short of phenomenal writing, and the ability to make decisions that affect the course of the storyline really made made the player care for their actions. The "rags to slightly better rags" style story was a nice change form the traditional rags to riches style story prominent in GTA. Not to mention the "extension" of the storyline from other perspectives in GTA IV's DLC created an incredible experience as a whole.

• Wanted System - A wanted system primarily based off of line of sight and proximity was a hugely successful improvement over the traditional wanted system that had players desperately seeking out the nearest Pay N' Spray and memorizing routes to police bribe pickups. In my opinion, GTA IV's new system worked perfectly.

• Drive-By System - 360 degrees & up/down vs. left, right and (sometimes) straight ahead? Ladder wins.

• Hailing Taxis - Simply put, some people would rather pay to be driven/skip to a destination across the map than do it themselves. This allowed players to go where they wanted to go with ease and without potentially wasting time.

• Ladders - Nothing too specific to say about them, except that they made getting to particular places much easier than before.

• Unique Use of Cell Phone - Something that Rockstar is known for doing with the GTA series is making it not really feel like you're playing a game. Rockstar further immersed players in GTA IV with the in-game cell phone. To cite a specific example, using cheats in the game was much easier to dial into the phone and then be stored onto a cheats menu than to repeatedly enter in specific sequences of buttons per occasion (such an idea was actually something I had suggested pre-release!) The cell phone also kept players immersed by using it to enter a multiplayer match, rather than "disrupting" the game to do so by the pause menu (or at a main menu screen which GTA has generally lacked in console versions of its game, though again this contributes to that "not feeling like you're playing a game" feeling).

• Episodic Downloadable Content - DLC is coming to close to being a requirement for games these days, and GTA's first shot at it made buying new content all the more worthwhile. New music, vehicles, weapons, features, mini-games, and of course new storylines occurring concurrently alongside Niko's, what more could you ask for?

• Clip Saving & Video Editor (PC Only) - If you've played the PC version of GTA IV, you have surely messed around with the video editor. With the ability to capture clips at any time and edit them in a number of ways later, players are able to share their experiences in GTA better than ever before.

Feeling Nostalgic? - GTA IV's Cons and Lack of Old Features

While GTA IV was revolutionary for its technological features and capability, many fans of the series eventually grew bored and upset with the game's lack of gameplay features present in the game's predecessors and areas where GTA IV didn't quite deliver as well as it could have.

Let's take a look at what GTA IV seemed to do wrong:

• Flawed Online Multiplayer System - While the addition of online multiplayer is a prasied feature in GTA IV, the system has its flaws. Problems with being able to easily get into a game with friends and of course the automatic return to single player upon disconnection made multiplayer almost unbearable to even bother to deal with sometimes.

• Distractions/Annoyances of the Friends System - The friends system was an interesting feature in GTA IV, but became annoying at times when players would repeatedly receive phone calls to hang out, etc. Though some of the perks of befriending people were nice, none were truly great enough to want to bother to spend virtual time with people. Although the friends system did provide a portal to all of the available mini-games and activities in the game, it would be preferred to be able to access all of these on your own.

• No Airplanes - Coming off of San Andreas, the GTA series' first installment in which "Grand Theft Aero" played a major role, the lack of planes in GTA IV was a massive buzz kill to many fans looking to prolong their high speed, high altitude gameplay in San Andreas' successor.

• Lack of Other Traditional Vehicles - Some other vehicles previously featured in GTA were unfortunately absent from GTA IV. Besides airplanes, the most prominently missed being the Rhino tank (except in TBoGT, but that APC certainly did not live up to the Rhino's reputation), which brings us to...

• No Army - So you've earned your first 6 star wanted level. Congratulations you're probably fucked! Wait, where are the tanks and camo guys with M4s? Oh never mind, two annihilators aren't a problem.

• Lack of Weapons - Despite the fact that DLC with new weapons more or less "fixes" this problem, there was initially and still remains to be a lack of weapons and weapon variety in GTA IV, at least when compared to some of its predecessors.

• Lack of Vehicle Side Missions - The only vehicle "side missions" that were actually available at any point in the game were vigilante missions, though was overhauled from the traditional style of vehicle side missions.

• Lack of Other Traditional/Previous Features - Other beloved (and some just missedl) features absent in GTA IV include rampages, adrenaline pills, robbing stores/homes, underwater swimming, in-depth protagonist customization, vehicle customization, purchasing business assets/safehouses, gangs and gang wars (territory control), etc.

Looking Ahead - How The Series Needs To Improve For The Future

So what do we want out of GTA in the future? Well firstly, the series' flaws must be identified and patched up before we can even think about completely new ideas. The best way to identify the biggest flaws and shortcomings is by looking at the franchise from a very general standpoint, straying away from detail and specifics. When I do this, what stands out to me is the continued lack of realism. Now some of you may be thinking "What? GTA IV was WAY too realistic!" But I'm not looking at how realistic the physics, car handling and lack of "fun" stuff was. This is my overall view of what the series needs the most. Don't worry, I won't turn this into an "I want this, I want that" sort of topic, I'm only using "I" because I don't see many other fans think like I do about the series. So let me explain myself.

When I say realism, I'm talking about Grand Theft Auto taking place in a truly living, breathing, immersive world. It's been said in a number of interviews with Dan Houser that this is one of Rockstar's everlasting goals for GTA. The problem with such an idea is that it means almost endless possibilities of things to include in the game.

Here's a few things that could contribute to the progressive development of this goal:

• High Quantities of Unique, Fully Rendered and Accessible Interiors - The living, breathing, immersive world is not just outside, but inside as well. People do not wander the streets 24/7. As a take on San Andreas, people do not park their car in a random drive way then walk around 24/7 either. This is something GTA has never been able to really accomplish yet. Rockstar worked towards this idea in San Andreas, but ultimately wasn't enough. Problem was, the interiors in San Andreas didn't truly accomplish any of the factors necessary to pull this off correctly. There were many interiors in San Andreas, but truly not enough to feel realistic (congested areas like cities would be best to start with this idea). The interiors in San Andreas also were not unique, given a number of them were reused for geographically different places. Though the interiors were for the most part completely furnished and decorated, not enough of particular places were created to feel as if they were more than just part of a particular mission's design. Accessibility refers to the seamless act of getting insides from out, and San Andreas used portal markers to move the player inside. GTA IV had this part right. Now I know this seems like almost too much to ask for, but the truth is it will work. 50% more of the in-game world becomes explorable.

• Advanced Artificial Intelligence - This specifically is something that is consistently improving with each new installation of the franchise, but still has a long way to go. Hell AI is something that everyone is trying to perfect in games, but it's very challenging programming. There's several aspects of AI that need to be perfected to pull this off. Pedestrians have to act and behave as if they are real people, meaning they need to have some sort of life. Not as many people as GTA illustrates just so out for walks or drives. Probably as ideal as you can get with such an idea as having a life would be for example a pedestrian leaving their home/apartment in the morning, driving/walking to work, leaving work and returning home or going out somewhere first. It would truly be obnoxious to ask for a working pedestrian to actually do more than just sit and perform a few hand gestures to imply the idea of him working, so let's just not get quite that specific. So if a pedestrian is going to go to work, this means they more than likely have to walk inside from outside, something that has never been programmed into GTA for as long as seamless entry/exit interiors have been around. For some reason they just do not have walking paths programmed like this. Well for a working pedestrian idea to work, they may need to be able to enter a building, hop on an elevator, and proceed to their work station. Remember going to work is just one example of the many other places pedestrians may choose to visit. So besides having a life, what else do we need for advanced artificial intelligence to pay off? Well other than having a life, pretty much all we'll need to see from pedestrians is the ability to be aware of and understand the world around them as well as react to it appropriately. The Euphoria physics in GTA IV helped create that sort of "illusion" by showing pedestrians initially will physically react to situations (eg. Niko shoots them in *insert body part*). That's great, but we just need a better emotional, mental, and "post-initial-incident-physical" reaction. The things they say, the things they do. If you get shot in the leg and fall to the ground, do you just go "UOUGH!", lie down for a number of seconds, get up casually, then hunch over as you try to stagger away? I didn't think so! Here's what may realistically occur after being shot in the leg and falling to the ground: the pedestrian may yell for help or scream more in shock after their initial "ow"; the pedestrian will either struggle to push themselves against the ground or perhaps crawl over to the wall or another object to assist in pulling themselves to their feet, or they may just crawl away to avoid any further potential harm; if successful in getting up, the pedestrian certainly will not hunch over as if they were shot in the stomach, they will limp away, possibly grabbing onto the affected leg. Now that's just one example of many possibilities.

• Destructible Environments - Yeah I know, go through all of the trouble to create the interiors as well as the exteriors just to knock it all down. Well sort of. The simplest that could be done for this is rocket launching the side of a building and watching a chunk of it come off, or some shattered glass at the least. Now don't go all 9/11 defensive on my ass, I'm perfectly aware that it sucked, but so did World War II, and there's probably five hundred games dedicated to it. I'd just rather not wait sixty years for people to accept the idea of potentially acting out something similar in a video game. This idea is not about trying to replicate terrorist attacks, it is about Newton's third law, you know actions and reactions. Hypothetically if a plane hits a building, plane explodes and building takes damage, not plane explodes and building is surprisingly made of diamond (cough San Andreas). I know I'm using plane into a building in this example, but it is CERTAINLY not the only possibility in which destructible environments could be utilized. Plane hits trees is another example, plane takes some circumstantial damage, tree is either broken or knocked down, not plane hits tree and tree is surprisingly a diamond tree (cough San Andreas). Just use your imagination and it's not hard to see why destructible environments would be a successful addition to the Grand Theft Auto.

• Return Of (& More Realistic) Gore - Another reason to think I'm a perverted terrorist who enjoys watching people in agony. Again though, it's all about making a believable game world. And in the real world, if someone is direct-impact RPG'd, body parts will fly. I think that's probably all I need to say to make my point.
With all of these ideas on how to make the game realistic, some may be thinking "But with all of this realistic stuff, I'll never get my jetpack again!" Not true! The beauty of realism is that it is not the same as "likelihood-to-occur" so you see, something like a jetpack is not unrealistic to include in the sense that it is unlikely to see floating around. If unlikely things are not taken into account for their potential to occur, that is unrealistic. Rockstar could program in an asteroid striking the Earth and destroying the entire in-game map and that would still be realistic, just unlikely to actually happen. Not to mention if I was in the middle of a mission and that happened I'd be fucking pissed. GTA IV had a little conflict within itself trying to be realistic and incorporate "likelihood-to-occur" ideas at the same time.

TL;DR: It's unrealistic to not allow the player to do something that can realistically be done, despite it's unlikelihood.

To conclude this little section on realism, especially relative to the gore and destructible environments parts, I want to point out that there is no reason to leave such ideas out of a game intentionally only to avoid the condemnation of biased media outlets, religious groups, and politicians (and corrupt lawyers) who claim anyone who creates and/or plays such a game is deprived of morals. The part they never understand is that players are never instructed to do the things that whine about most (eg. sex with hooker, kill and get money back). Such features or gameplay possibilities are included for the sake of making the most realistic game possible.

Ultimately I believe a good goal for the series is to provide the potential for a player to experience what the true impact of their actions would be. Realism is the key to that.

Additional Thoughts - Realistic (& Unrealistic) Ideas & Desires For The Future Of GTA

Say Rockstar is successful in accomplishing that incredibly realistic world goal previously discussed. Say they have that done for the next GTA. Now it's just a matter of determining what sides fans would like to go with their main dish.

Here's a couple that we may be able to expect (or would be smart to add):

• Improved Online Multiplayer Functionality - GTA IV was the series' first real shot at online multiplayer, so you can't be too harsh when it comes to pointing out the flaws. Despite them, playing online is awesome. So what needs to be fixed? Well perhaps we need to move the multiplayer accessibility menu elsewhere, off of in-game menus (in GTA IV's case, the cell phone). The pause menu should have a dedicated multiplayer section in which players can activate multiplayer and from there easily form lobbies with friends, join other matches, etc. Having a sort of home screen for multiplayer would kill off the issue of being disconnected and put through the dreaded process of automatically returning to single player. Before new game modes and in-game functionality is built upon, its issues with general functionality must be addressed and resolved.

• Return Of Some (If Not All) Traditional Features - As stated before, GTA IV lacked many of the series' traditional features that fans have loved so dearly, despite the minor role many of such features actually play in the game. Vehicle side missions, rampages, etc. to cite a couple of examples. But why do I think they'll return? Well let's put it this way: GTA IV was the first GTA of the next (current) generation of gaming, and thus was rebuilt from the ground up with newer technology for newer technology. It's relatively the equivalent of the franchises jump to 3D with GTA III. The main concentration was getting the game developed to work on the new hardware, and given a new game engine and other back-end systems needed to be built as well, a lot of time was dedicated to their development among the actual game's. Basically, the idea is to get a more basic version of what can potentially be done out first, then start bringing back features from the previous generation. Although these features may be brought back, they will probably be alternatively presented just as the vigilante missions in GTA IV were.

• Return Of Some Traditional Weapons & Vehicles - Along with new weapons (see below) and the sure inclusion of new/greater variety of vehicles in the next GTA, some of the traditional ones removed from the series in GTA IV or even earlier installations should be revived. One of the biggest (and most unexpected) absences from GTA IV was the flamethrower, what happened to it? Would be great fun to use in a newer game, as well as melee weapons like the chainsaw (more on the melee absence below). Vehicle-wise, fan favorites like the Rhino tank, San Andreas' bicycles and airplanes must make a return. Especially airplanes, and I cannot stress that enough. The given reason for their absence in GTA IV was claimed to be that "realistically it would take a plane 3 seconds to fly over the city", stated by Dan Houser in GTA IV's world exclusive feature in Game Informer, April 2007. A good point, but it's more realistic to actually include their usability in the game. Not like the speed of planes was realistic in San Andreas either (increase engine thrust for 3 seconds and you were off the ground going no faster than an average car at an average speed). Ultimately fans want to see their favorite traditional content return to the series with next-gen upgrades.

• More Weapons & Larger Variety Of Them - We can probably expect to see a larger variety of weapon types. X amount of pistols, X amount of assault rifles, X amount of SMGs, projectiles, heavy weapons, etc. What I at least hope to see is a massive influx of new and returning melee weapons.Vice City had a lot of melee weapons, for the most part actual tools from hardware stores, and they were enjoyable to use, probably more enjoyable in a newer GTA, and certainly would work well with that previously discussed idea of realistic gore debuting in the series.

• Dual-Wielding Weapons - Why not? Dual-wielding weapons made its first and only appearance in San Andreas and allowed players to wield two of the same weapons at one time (hence the name dual-wielding for anyone struggling to catch on). Problem was the player was only able to do so after enough experience with certain weapons enhanced their skill level enough to unlock this feature. Realistically, if you happen to come across another of the weapon you currently are using, you should be able to take more than the ammunition magazines and be able to dual wield the two weapons if the player does so desire, but unlike San Andreas, should never be forced or automatically done.

• Weapon Attachments - Hopefully those two words don't make you think I'm a gamer struggling to find a balance between Call Of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. Truth is they work great in CoD multiplayer, and would be really interesting to incorporate into GTA. The player would be given the option to purchase appropriate attachments for whatever weapons they happen to bearing to help benefit them in a certain mission. For example if you're doing a stealth mission, instead of having an individual silenced pistol in the game you can buy a silencer for the pistol, SMG, or assault rifle you already possess. Take that idea and apply it to other situations and there's your examples for other attachments.

• "(Dynamically Generated) Environmental Weapons" - I have no idea if that would be the correct way to define this idea, but hear me out. No ammunition left for any of your guns, no melee weapons, so who is to say you can' break off a fence spoke and use it as a weapon? If you happen to see something that looks it could be used a weapon, whether it be lying around or broken off of some other object in game, it can be used as one. GTA IV actually touched on such an idea by allowing the player to pick up small objects to be used as projectiles such as bricks, cell phones, paper cups and other trash, etc.

• Enhanced & Expansive Combat System - GTA IV had a good combat system, the best of the series so far, but there is still more that can be done to further improve it. Hand to hand/melee combat-wise, GTA IV had its fair share of cool counter-attacks, plus the general addition of blocking and evading attacks (not to mention disarming enemies) was great. Although something that didn't make its way into GTA IV that probably went unnoticed by many was new combat features from Vice City Stories. VCS allowed you to actually take other people hostage and perform different executions on them, as well as VCS had a number of different hand-to-hand attacks you could perform. The next GTA should refocus on such concepts and expand them even further. Taking people hostage would be great to momentarily cease any attacks by pursuing officers while wanted. When you're done with said hostage, the player would have a number options including: letting the hostage go, executing them with any weapon (or with your hands by snap of the neck), and perhaps even having the ability to shake up the hostage a bit by shoving them into walls or banging their head against railing, which could be used as a persuasive technique for missions. So let's say you do end up killing somebody. Traditionally GTA has consisted of missions that require you to dispose of the body afterward, but this was always by means of having the body in a vehicle and technically just destroying the vehicle (or you bring the body to a black market doctor). Let's expand on the combat system by allowing players to move and orient bodies (into trunks or dumpsters, over the railing into the river, etc.). Surely this would be something unique to apply to missions, and perhaps would make players think about what they should providing more ways to play through a mission. In terms of guns, perhaps a better method of using them for melee attacks could be devised, it could be very useful. Lastly, GTA IV introduced a cover system that made gunfights much more comprehensive and easier to play through. So let's build on this and bring back stealth (remember hiding in the shadows of Madd Dogg's mansion in San Andreas?). It's certainly something that could well be applied to the wanted system to escape the police even while within their search radius, and would also contribute to the idea of playing through missions in unique ways that the player decides. Ultimately GTA is not just about guns, and half of the combat system literally falls into the protagonist's bare hands, so let's work on perfecting and expanding on that.

• Return Of The Army (@ 6 Star Wanted Level) - If the army was removed from GTA IV for its unrealistic likelihood to be chasing a single criminal around a city, well this brings me right back to idea of what realism is in a game, and I already went into that so see back above! Fact is, the army at a 6 star wanted level, armed with tanks and assault rifles, made such a wanted level much more "meaningful". It illustrated how the player would emotionally "feel fucked" in this situation. And that was such an awesome feeling.

• Revision Of The Friends System - Assuming the friends system remains throughout the future of the GTA series, it needs some revision and act more as an extra rather than what sometimes in GTA IV felt to be a necessity, not to mention a distraction and annoyance. Friends calling the player does add to the general sense of creating a living world around you, although it grew to be annoying, and if you declined to hang out with them, your relationship level sunk. Being punished by not wanting to do something that is optional in a game is kind of crazy, sure its realistic, but that actually goes a bit far for a game. Although the friends system was based around the use of the cell phone in GTA IV, its potential inclusion in the series' future probably depends on the time during which the game is set to determine how it will work.

• Animals & Ecosystems - Remember when dogs were suspected to be in San Andreas? People went crazy (in a good way) over the idea of "real" animals being in the game. Truth it is more probable to happen now more than ever in GTA. One of Rockstar's current projects in the works, Red Dead Redemption will be featuring a "complex, living ecosystem" meaning animals such as bears, dear, etc. realistically behaving out in the game world. The technology is there, but all that's left is overcoming morals revolving around the idea of being able to kill an animal in a more modern-based (than RDR) video game. I'm against animal abuse, but I'm pro-video-game-realism.

• Player Statistics & Skills System - This was a feature debuted in San Andreas and with a little tweaking could be very effective in the future of the series. Simply put, in San Andreas the more a player did something, the better they became at it. Ultimately the accuracy of weapons and their level of damage increased as new skill levels were reached, which makes a lot of sense (damage part not so much, but it's a game so it's designed to help and reward the player). This sort of feature would be very cool to bring back to GTA, although should do so with a fresh take on the concept. Rather than having a fixed, "vocal" system, this should be something very gradually occurring without actually notifying the player of how experienced they. Players will notice these slight changes the more they do something. Remember this idea isn't only related to weapon use, but even melee weapons/hand-to-hand combat, sprinting/swimming, etc. Although unlike San Andreas, gyms and Karate dojos will not increase your stamina and ability to fight. Key word here is experience. Some of you may also remember that San Andreas' skills/statistics system worked with driving/flying too. The effect that higher skill levels had on players while driving was by making it easier to maneuver vehicles and decreased the likelihood of flying off of your motorcycle (I mean CJ could survive the huge drop off of Mt. Chiliad without ever letting go of the handlebars of his motorcycle, not to mention his bunny hopping ability on a bicycle). Changing the laws of physics in a game will hurt the experience, so vehicle handling skills should not exist. "Sir Issac Newton is in the driver's seat".

More to come
... And some ideas you shouldn't expect (or would not be smart to add):

• Custom Protagonist - Many fans of the GTA series love their customization. Whether it be vehicle customization or buying a new wardrobe for the protagonist, it adds a little personalization to your game. However, creating a completely customized protagonist in GTA is what I believe to be out of the question. In a game so heavily based upon a storyline and a protagonist with a defined behavior and characterized by particular traits, said protagonist needs to look the part or the story falls apart. Custom multiplayer characters is one thing, but single player just won't work.

• Female Protagonist - I'm not a sexist, but this is something very unlikely. Traditionally, a female taking the lead role of an experience like GTA provides will not work in the complex formula that makes up the story in which GTA games are based around.

• In-Game Children - This one is tough. Having the option and ability to kill a child in-game is about as far as one could really push the moral limitations in a video game. Children being featured at all in GTA only debuted in Vice City Stories (baby featured in cutscenes only) and that's probably as far as we can expect to see it go again. I would still argue that children in the game would support the concept of a truly realistic, living, breathing game world, but it's more than likely going too far. Perhaps older teenagers could be thrown into the mix, but no younger.

• "Life-Simulating" Features - This mostly refers to the concepts of eating and gaining muscle featured in San Andreas. Sure they were really interesting concepts and it was cool to see how excessive eating or extraneous workouts would effect CJ's physique, but ultimately it became a hassle to keep up with. These features made San Andreas a partially life simulator game. GTA has traditionally provided players with a very "fixed" protagonist and sometimes allowed subtle modification, but too much personalization and customization (as previously discussed) ruins the feel of the game and particularly the game's story seems to suffer from lack of legitimacy. The idea of basing a game around a particular character and their story ensures the most gratifying experience possible, and when too much control is put into the hands of the player, the experience may be impaired, but this is touching more on in-depth character customization, rather life-simulating features. Regardless, it's distracting to the player. As previously stated, too much player control ruins the experience, but so does the game controlling the player. Like GTA IV's friends system. I previously assumed that it could make a return in the next game, but reassuming it doesn't, I would imagine for the very reasons discussed here. Options need to be laid out for the player and not forced into them. Some "life-simulating" features may work if reconsidered and reconstructed to work differently, but otherwise should not be worked into a game like GTA. If you want life simulation, play The Sims.

More to come

Conclusion - Who Knows What's Coming?

Rockstar Games is probably already aware of some of the ideas discussed in this topic as well as ideas the fans have been circulating. Rockstar is also probably in the middle of developing the next installment of the GTA franchise as you read this. Some features we long for may be making their debuts and returns in this upcoming game, some may be on reserve for use when the technology supports the idea, and some may not ever happen at all.

Personally, I think it's a bit silly to believe that anyone other than the employees of Rockstar Games can boldly state or imply that they "know" where the next game will be set, when it will be released, what it will be called, etc. Fact is, Rockstar has always and will forever remain to be a very convert developing company. Analysts and self proclaimed online gurus of the series and claim and guess all they want about what they "know" and confidently predict about the succeeding game. But if there's any company you can't analyze and truly figure out, it's Rockstar Games. The best you can do is analyze and decipher what they have already given you in their previous GTA releases. So that is what I have tried to do here. Sure I threw in some opinion and personal ideas, but I did so because I believe I think realistically when it comes to the possibilities of the future of Grand Theft Auto, and not so selfishly in terms of what I would like to see, but what I believe would be most beneficial to the franchise.

Hopefully you've enjoyed reading what I've just spent the last few hours working on. For awhile I knew I would be typing this up and finally got around to it. Keep in mind as I feel it's nearly impossible to get all of my ideas out at once (given they are always going in and out of my head) that this will be updated from time to time as I remember what else to add. Although this initial chunk should be enough for awhile.

Please let me know what you think about some of the ideas that I have expressed here, and hopefully we can keep ourselves busy in discussion with these topics until we get our first bits of information on the next Grand Theft Auto (which hopefully will be soon!).

Thanks for reading!

TOPIC HISTORY: Last Updated 04/04/10

04/03 - Enhanced & Expansive Combat System added under Additional Thoughts section
04/03 - Return Of Some Traditional Weapons & Vehicles added under Additional Thoughts section
04/03 - Improved Online Multiplayer Functionality added under Additional Thoughts section
04/03 - Return Of The Army (@ 6 Star Wanted Level) added under Additional Thoughts section
04/03 - Revision Of The Friends System added under Additional Thoughts section
04/03 - Animals & Ecosystems added under Additional Thoughts section
04/03 - In-Game Children added under Additional Thoughts section

04/04 - "Life-Simulating" Features added under Additional Thoughts section
04/04 - Dual-Wielding Weapons added under Additional Thoughts section
04/04 - Player Statistics/Skills System added under Additional Thoughts section
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