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GTA creator says no, sorry, it didn’t start as a dinosaur game

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If you can cast your mind as far back as yesterday, you’ll remember a story about the original Grand Theft Auto game being based on a tech demo (opens in new tab) about a “dinosaur roaming around and destroying the buildings”. The news came via Colin Macdonald, a former developer at DMA (now Rockstar North) in the 90s who told the tale to the BBC (opens in new tab). But that story is now disputed by the creator of GTA 1’s original prototype, Mike Dailly.

“Colin got the details wrong,” Dailly tells PCG. “There was never any Dinosaur tech demo”. Instead, elements of the first GTA prototype’s code framework were copied over from an earlier prototype called Attack, which was “based on Cavemen and Dinosaurs”. That meant GTA 1 ended up carrying over a “dino.bat” file that it eventually launched with. Somehow, on the long grapevine of history, that turned into a story about GTA 1 coming out of a game about stomping on a city as a huge dinosaur.

Macdonald told the BBC that GTA 1 came about when someone suggested shifting the player’s control from the dinosaur to one of the cars zipping around its feet, but Dailly says that’s “Totally inaccurate”. Rather, GTA 1 had two demos, the first based on an isometric view and the second side-on, and only adopted the familiar top-down view of GTA 1 and 2 a little later. Dailly had been “talking to a DMA coder, John White, and he said he’d been trying to get a racing game past [DMA co-founder] Dave [Jones]”. Dailly realised that if he “put a wall in the distance, but painted roads on it, it’d be a top down engine…. and that’s how it started”. 

A shockingly dino-free tale, but I suppose if anyone is going to properly remember how GTA got its start, it’s the man who made its first prototypes. Dailly has tried to correct the record on Twitter (opens in new tab), and Macdonald seems to have recognised his version of events in response (opens in new tab). Apparently, the BBC reached out to Dailly for the original article which kicked off all this dino-palaver, but he had to decline due to a cold, kicking off a game of whispers that now means more than a few people think GTA started off as a dino simulator.

So, it turns out that the GTA series didn’t get its start as Godzilla Theft Auto, it was actually a far more standard story of reused code and office chats between devs. But still, hear me out, just because the first GTA wasn’t ever a dinosaur game doesn’t mean GTA 6 can’t be. Rockstar, you can still make the right call.

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