Rockstar founder Sam Houser has shed personal light on the lengths that he and his team go to when creating games such as Grand Theft Auto, comparing the process to the famously turbulent shoot of director Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now.
"We've all seen Hearts of Darkness," Houser said in a rare interview granted with The Sunday Times printed this weekend, speaking in reference to the documentary that shows the torturous conditions in which Apocalypse Now was made. "We're definitely in that realm of excitement and misery at the same time. It's not supposed to be easy. Each time, we push everything to its limit. I don't think it's conscious, but it's sort of how it has to be. It has to hurt more. You want to find Kurtz every time."
Grand Theft Auto's success since it entered the mainstream conscience has ensured the series has endured an often turbulent ride, most famously with the Hot Coffee scandal that saw Rockstar being lambasted by US governors and finding themselves facing severe charges in court.
"Life ground to a halt," Houser said in his most candid engagement of the saga to date. "It's just vote-winning, and they don't care if they ruin your life, because these people are thinking on a macro level. If there's a little bit of collateral damage, it doesn't matter, does it?" Eliot Spitzer, one of the governors most vocal in opposition to GTA and in particular its inclusion of prostitute characters, was himself involved in a prostitution scandal in 2008. "The hypocrisy is so funny, you can't make it up," said Houser.
The controversy that Grand Theft Auto has attracted comes part and parcel of the video game medium's move towards maturity, and as it finds itself being attacked with the same scorn from mainstream media outlets that was once reserved for filmmakers. "Gamers are growing up, though we are still 10-20 years from all people in governance or authority understanding that it's the same as any other art form and should not be singled out," said Houser. "We're evolving. These kinds of things don't happen overnight."
Grand Theft Auto 5, which has events such as the global financial crisis in its sights and is set to be a more contemporary satire than has been attempted before in the medium, looks to to take that on and work towards furthering the cultural acceptance of video games. "With this one, we've moved it forward because there's a lot of material going on to riff on and have fun with. I think that makes it feel very contemporary, which I'm really proud of. It's a game that is commenting all the things that are going on in the world, good, bad and indifferent. If that doesn't show the emergence of the medium, then I don't know what does."
Grand Theft Auto 5 takes place in Los Santos, a spin on Los Angeles that is Rockstar's most detailed open world yet. It's also set to be one of its best supported, too, with Grand Theft Auto Online due shortly after Grand Theft Auto 5's release and with regular updates being made to the game world. "What's really exciting is that we're more engaged on what we do with it going forward," said Houser. "I'm able to calm myself. I can kind of go, 'Well, it's not farewell.'"
You can read the full interview in today's The Sunday Times, or on The Sunday Times website.