GTA Online Producer on Its New In-Game Arcade: "We Wanted to Look Back At Our Own Past"

GTA Online Producer on Its New In-Game Arcade: "We Wanted to Look Back At Our Own Past"

We talk GTA Online's new games-within-a-game with Rockstar Games' online producer.

The Grand Theft Auto series has a soft spot for its made-up video games. GTA's in-universe video games are always semi-satirical, but when they're actually playable, Rockstar's designers never saddle us with games that are intentionally bad as a joke. I'll happily admit I spent more time in GTA 4 playing Qub3d, "the puzzle game you've played before," than I did bowling with cousin Roman. While GTA is quick to dispense barbs, its retro-gaming nods always feel like little love letters to the old school.

That's why, with the release of GTA Online's free Diamond Casino Heist update, the addition of purchasable arcades caught our attention. While the update's marquee attraction is still the chance at robbing the Diamond Casino blind, buying an old arcade's still a necessary step for players who want to get their heist on—and, with 12 new playable cabinets available for purchase, players might find themselves getting distracted by high scores that beg to be smashed.

Tarek Hamad, online producer at Rockstar North, kindly answered our questions about the variety of video games on offer in GTA Online, the references and connections to past GTA titles, and whether we can expect more playable cabinets in the future. Here's what he had to say about bringing GTA Online's arcades to life.

USgamer: When looking at what kind of arcade games to represent in GTA Online, what genres and types of games stuck out to you? Were there any that you or the team were particularly excited to tackle?

Tarek Hamad: We represented the arcade games we loved, and what we loved varied between each of us—we all had our own gaming experiences growing up, the many different types of games we used to play at the arcade, at home, a friend's house, or even just the ones we saw on TV that we desperately wanted to play. So, there was a ton of enthusiasm for each of the games, everyone was very passionate about them. It was a real team effort.

Because we knew we wanted the arcade property to be highly customizable and let players capture the look and feel of several arcade ages, from the golden age, through retro and slightly later, that allowed us to select genres and styles of games which would best represent those eras. Each of the games offers something totally unique, and we were all excited about what each game would offer—from the tough to master Defender of the Faith and Monkeys Paradise to the expansive sci-fi and fantasy adventures offered by Space Monkey 3 and The Wizards Ruin. Each game has replayability built in with some unique awards you can strive to achieve that unlock unique items for your arcade, as well as items to wear around Freemode.

Another important consideration for us was making sure we maximized the styles and shapes of the arcade cabinets and physical game units the player can use to customize their arcade. Making sure we had everything from the large Wasabi Kitty Claw machine and the unique Madame Nazar fortune teller machine, plus truck, bike, and sports car sit down driving units, classic arcade cabs with ball top sticks, and the light gun setup for Badlands Revenge II means players can create the arcade they want, full of these unique, varied games and cabs.

Some of these, like Space Monkey, refer back to older GTA games and their arcade minigames. Was it important to reference GTA history a bit with this arcade? Which ones stuck out to you?

It was very important to us! I think that level of gaming nostalgia fits perfectly with arcade games in general and the feeling we wanted to give players in this new property. GTA has such a long history of creating its own deep, self-referencing alternate universe, so we wanted to look back at our own past with a nod to players growing up with the GTA series as well as bringing some new titles to GTA Online, but still with that retro feel. The team really wanted to capitalize on characters and brands that had been touched on or featured briefly across several GTA games, games mentioned in radio advertisements or brands advertised on in game TV shows and websites. The arcade property and its games was a chance to bring all of these to life and let the player engage and play with these characters in ways they haven't before.

Space Monkey 3: Bananas Gone Bad is a real stand-out example. The Go Go Space Monkey franchise really sticks out across the various GTA titles it has been featured in and nodded to in various forms, so it's amazing to be able to pull out the third instalment and realize it fully. Now everyone can get a sense of where the Space Monkey franchise was at that time in the form of a now-retro cab—and as well as having a chance to play it for themselves.

Having a variety of different machine types and games helps GTA Online's arcades feel true-to-life. | Rockstar

Were there any challenges in getting these retro games working in the GTA Online environment?

One of the main challenges for these arcade games was to make them feel authentic and grounded in the world, like they've come from the 80's and 90's of our universe... as well as making them fun to play, and replay. We worked hard to get that balance right for these games and hopefully that shows through. There are technical challenges we'd still like to look at in the future as well, such as being able to look at more multiplayer-based arcade games. A 1v1 competitive fighter with a roster of characters would be a great example of that, and amazing if we can get it to play the way we'd like.

Are you considering adding more to the arcade in the future?

We'd like to for sure—we designed the new arcade property with future additions in mind, in terms of having the ability to customise the locations and types of cabinets you can place. So yeah, we'd like to keep adding to the Pixel Emporium catalogue, it'd be great to see that grow, so players can craft even more unique arcade spaces for themselves and others to enjoy.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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Mathew Olson


Mathew Olson is a writer formerly of Digg, where he blogged and reported about all things under the umbrella of internet culture (including games, of course). He lives in New York, grew up under rain clouds and the influence of numerous games studios in the Pacific Northwest, and will talk your ear off about Half-Life mods, Talking Heads or Twin Peaks if you let him.

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