GTA IV: Episodes from Liberty City Interview
29th Oct 2009 | 11:09
Grand Theft Auto IV finally wraps up its Liberty City stories this week with the release of The Ballad of Gay Tony (read our review) and the Episodes from Liberty City box, which includes both 'Tony and Lost and Damned.
To coincide with the release, Rockstar North associate producer, Imran Sarwar has offered us his insights on working on the "impossible trinity", as well as the links between GTA IV, the Lost and Damned, and Episodes From Liberty City.
Grand Theft Auto IV's episodes were announced long before the game's release, back at E3 in 2006. Did you always know that you were going to do further stories in Liberty City?
Sarwar: They were a part of the plan from the beginning. When we first began discussing Grand Theft Auto IV, we always said that Niko's story was designed to make him feel like a small part of a much larger world. Even at the end of his story, he's not the king of the town by any means. The idea was to use the episodes to reveal the rest of that world, to show some of the characters and events that were invisible to Niko and yet still had a bearing on events in his life.
Anyone who's played The Lost and Damned, for example, can tell you that the interactions Niko has with Johnny significantly change your understanding of Niko's role in Liberty City. He's never as safe or in control as he thought he was. We wanted to provide that sense that there is always something happening on a deeper level than what's revealed to the player.
Why not cram all this into one game?
Sarwar: I think if we had it would have been impossible to focus on each separate aspect of gameplay properly, the stories and the gameplay are inextricably linked.. We've always maintained that Liberty City is the real star of these games, and what makes it truly amazing is that it's so full of potential as an environment.
In creating the saga of Grand Theft Auto IV, through The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony, we're able to show different sides to the city - through gameplay, through characters, even lighting and colour - constantly making it alive, fresh and diverse, just like real cities. Each of the three stories is separate and original from the other, and yet they intersect at key points
How hard was this to achieve?
Sarwar: It wasn't easy to keep track of all the separate characters and interactions. Initially, lots of post-it notes were involved, and later some computer software. But the intention was there from the beginning of GTA IV to create interweaving plot threads, with many of those plot threads never fully resolving themselves until one of the later episodes.
An example would be the diamond exchange in the museum involving Niko and Johnny that we alluded to with the 'Impossible Trinity' achievement. We wanted to leave clues for the fans that there may be more to this story without being obvious about it. But by the same token, you don't need to play GTA IV or The Lost and Damned to enjoy The Ballad of Gay Tony. They're fully self-contained games in their own right.
You must have known that Johnny Klebbitz and Luis Fernando Lopez would be the next two characters in the saga. But did you know what their characters would be like when GTA IV was released?
Sarwar: We knew the roles they would play but not the finer detail - it would have been difficult to create the situations and scenarios of Grand Theft Auto IV if we didn't have some idea of what we wanted from those characters later. In the Lost and Damned, we knew that we wanted to explore the reasons someone might remain loyal to the almost antiquated notion of an outlaw motorcycle gang, for instance, and the types of people that associate with them.
Johnny's realization that his leader Billy Grey may not have the gang's best interests at heart sets up the conflict that drives the entire episode. And we always knew that we would explore Liberty City's highlife, and Luis' entire back story was created to give us maximal opportunity cover everything we wanted, from paparazzi and clubland to serious, explosive action.
If there really are thousands of stories to tell in Liberty City, why choose these three in particular?
Sarwar: There is a gameplay and story arc that begins with Niko, an immigrant who arrives in Liberty City with nothing, and we introduce the world through his eyes. Liberty City is brand new to him and the game reflects that.
Johnny Klebbitz and The Lost Motorcycle Club are residents of Liberty City, but they're also outlaws, which allowed us to tell a very different tale while introducing some amazing bikes, some new gang-based gameplay mechanics and some extremely violent and cool race missions, among other things.
The Ballad of Gay Tony explores exactly the same world, but it's a vastly different place to the world where Niko spends most of his time. Johnny is an outcast, yet Luis spends his time with VIP's and celebrities. Where Niko initially struggles to find weapons, Luis has access to whatever he wants.
The tone shifts from gritty realism through to an over-the-top, chaotic and colourful conclusion. This makes sense from both the stories we intended to tell within the city, and the gameplay elements we wanted to introduce with each episode. The stories themselves bind together to give an impression of Liberty City as we intended: a massive, sprawling metropolis full of activity and life.