Buzzfeed's got a rather good, if rather manicured interview with Rockstar North's art director Aaron Garbut about Grand Theft Auto 5, that backwater open worlder nobody's heard of. Within, Garbut explains how Rockstar's gone about creating its grandest, most ambitious open world yet from a technical standpoint - and what it had to sacrifice in the process.
"Visual fidelity has knock-ons," he observed at one stage. "San Andreas was effectively a bunch of cubes of various sizes stuck in between roads. I love it, and love what we did, but really that was what it was. Open-world games have pretty much always been a step or two behind the curve visually compared to more linear games.
"They have to be for a number of reasons. You can't fake anything as soon as you have flying in a game and you can go anywhere; anything you see has to be real. That takes a lot of power and so you have to compromise. The trick is to compromise on the right things.
"Secondly, just in terms of sheer production, building a large, fully explorable world takes a lot more effort than building your typical game's movie-set style series of facades, which tend to be tunnels of detail through an environment rather than a fully realized whole. As console power has increased and our experience has increased, I think we're narrowing that gap more and more."
According to Garbut, Rockstar has lavished an incredible amount of attention on each and every aspect of the world. There are very few generic elements, he explained, and the city of Los Santos hangs together in a convincing, "organic" way. "Every part of the world is handcrafted and really thought through. It all makes sense and has an internal logic. It feels more immersive and real because every part of it has had to stand up to multiple people questioning it.
"As soon as I play a game and the internal logic is blown, the experience is ruined for me. Even the basics: How do the people live their life? Where do they work, how do they get there, where do they eat their lunch, where do they grab a coffee, where do they go for fun?
Garbut feels this sort of intricacy and believability is preferable to mere graphical polish. "While we might lose a little fidelity by not being able to do that "tunnel of detail" that more linear games manage, I think we gain a lot more. There's nothing quite as empowering as having a world to explore that feels right, and feels real, and having the toys to do just about anything.
"The key is the limit of the experience becomes your own imagination rather than whatever the guys that created that tunnel for you thought it should be. I think we've done our job if we've created a world that you love to spend time in and one that keeps giving for years to come. We've been trying to do that since Grand Theft Auto III, but I think we've taken a big step forward."
As an example, he described how the game accounts for lighting relative to time of day, player position and so forth. "I think one of the most amazing features is the way we handle lighting in the game to maintain a consistent look despite the constraints on realistic lighting and shadows on current hardware. Every single light we place in the world is stored, streamed, and laid into the map, even into the distance.
"The entire world draws all the time: You can fly high in the air at one corner of the map, look over the miles of city and skyscrapers, over the hills and desert to the furthest ridges of the most distant mountains. It's all there and visible. That's amazing to see. But the really cool bit is that you can see a street light in a distant town, fly toward it for kilometers until the street itself is visible and the light bulb eventually comes into view.
"It's amazing. It's a level of solidity that I've never seen before. It brings the world alive in an incredibly realistic and organic way. That all the lighting the artists have placed to fill out streets and buildings form, at a macro level, the shape of the settlements themselves, that you can look over the desert and see the little towns and trailer parks miles away and get a feel for the road layout even in total darkness and know that it's not faked, that you can go there: That's cool."
It is indeed - but not as cool, I suspect, as doing all that in company. On which note, watch out for the very first info on GTA 5's multiplayer tomorrow. Here are eight things you need to know about the gameplay.