Grand Theft Auto tank origin story explained by former artist

A GTA developer has revealed how he helped create the game’s now-iconic tanks.

Speaking to Gamerhub (opens in new tab), artist Stuart Waterson, explained how he originally joined DMA Design (now Rockstar North) to work on Lemmings 3. After that game shipped in 1994, the studio began work on a project called Race’n’Chase, which would eventually become the first Grand Theft Auto game.

Waterson explained how “Race’n’Chase was never meant to be a game about criminality,” but how he and his flatmate Ian Johnson, a coder at DMA, “fixated on the idea of the character being a getaway driver.” 

Eventually, Waterson and Johnson joked about adding a tank to the game. “It was so ludicrous. There was no reason for them. There was no concept behind their involvement, apart from that they are almost indestructible, highly dangerous, and a load of fun to smash stuff with.” One lunchtime, the pair decided to implement their plan. That meant taking the basic vehicle code, as well as “a ballistics code that allowed a rotating pedestrian to shoot bullets in eight directions. Our idea was that if you put a pedestrian on top of a car, and made the car go slower and massively increased the damage of the bullets, then you’ve got a basic version of a tank.”

Waterson modeled the body and tracks of the tank, covering them with a camouflage texture before setting to work on the turret, which “was like a player character set on top of a car that could move independently, allowing the player to drive the vehicle, aim the turret, and fire.” With their tank complete, the pair added it to the game and played around for a while, expecting to find themselves in hot water with their bosses the next day. 

Fortunately, the QA team got to the tanks first, and Waterson says that the new addition was so much fun that it was allowed to remain in the game. Since then, tanks have proved themselves a mainstay of the Grand Theft Auto series, even if they’re a little different (and a little more heavily guarded) today.

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