The tension is building over in a steadily glowing, ever expanding sector of the internet right now, as the launch date of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas approaches. The official Rockstar site is already chock-full of little movies and screenshots, littered around the emerging city maps. This game is going to be huge - if Liberty City and Vice City were both massive (and they were, in my view - check my previous salivating write-ups around Liberty and Vice in the /games index), this is gargantuan. Not one city, but three cities, with all the land in-between too. Little less than an entire fictional California; simulacra indeed. If Rockstar have retained the essential playability from the previous iterations and merely expanded the size of the canvas and a few of the features (you can travel in more ways; there are more ways of modifying one's character) then they not only have another winner on their hands but would seem to have taken another exponential leap ahead of the competition.
Moreover, Rockstar are deploying their usual smokescreen of fake sites to support the game (as with Vice City's genius KentPaul.com - now subverted by San Andreas). This time we can already see two sites - Epsilon program and Maccer.net - fleshing out aspects or characters of the game with an imaginary backstory. The attention to detail here is astonishing, as is their web design team's ability to ape 'vernacular web design' - what a gig.
The Maccer character looks fantastic fun, with particular resonance if you're a fan of the Madchester scene. Apparently voiced by Shaun Ryder. The backstory here is hilariously twisted collage of various characters familiar to anyone who's seen 24 Hour Party People (or indeed lived anywhere near that), with quotes like "mad for it since 1989" adorning some extremely realistic Manc bravado - check this mp3 for an example.
"Born in Salford in 1965, MACCER made partying into a lifestyle, and hard partying into a religion. He invented the musical style that became known as EXTREMELY BAGGY. There isn't a drug he hasn't tried, a form of self abuse he has not practiced and a musical taboo he has not broken. With The Gurning Chimps he took the sound of Manchester to the world. The world did not know what had hit it. For years, Maccer and the rest of The Chimps, under the careful stewardship of notorious manager Pabsy (whatever happened to him?) toured the world, leaving a trail of destruction, stains and mayhem whereever they went."
The fansites love piecing together this stuff. It's incredibly cute marketing - but works only as a result of the skill, care and detail put into it, reciprocated by the fans. Plenty of nutrition here.
And note this further interesting technique in fanning the flames of grass-roots publicity around this game - Rockstar invited questions from fans, and just check the public reaction on this fansite.
Over at the official site, exploring the nicely fragmented (Flash) city map around the cities of Los Santos and San Fierro is fun in itself. And anyone who's played the previous editions of GTA will have already begun scoping out the territory and beginning to gently etch those mental maps (I'm already beginning to wonder if I could take the aptly-named Windy Windy Windy Windy Street in a single jump, rather than crawl round its insane bends...)
The sardonic Rockstar wit is well in evidence already. Scroll around and discover Jizzy's Pleasure Dome, home of adult entertainment; Cluckin' Bell, chicken-orientated fast-food outlet; the district of Hashbury (geddit?) hippy paradise, featuring tatty VW camper vans driving past Hippy Shopper corner stores; a big pointy building called, er, Big Pointy Building, of which it is said that "it's making obscene gestures" and "the architect must have real issues" ...
In terms of cinematic allusions, the early-90s gang-related films (Colors; Boyz N The Hood etc.) will be a clear influence, but you just know we're going to get some Frisco-related offerings too - cf. Bullitt and the hilly roads of Hashbury; just set up to test the suspension.
The possibilities are endless, given LA's rich history as dramatic backdrop. Architectural 'spotters will also spot that the Market Records building is also fair cover version of the Capitol Records building.
And one of the key features of GTA series - the music - should be superb too, given the palette of hip-hop, dodgy rock and latino rhythms to draw from.
Oh it's looking good ...
[I'd been meaning to post a now-related game-as-city city-as-game type entry a while back, when the Spiderman 2 game came out. I haven't played the game and can't be bothered to string any coherent sentences together now, but here's some choice quotes from the marketing.]
"New York City. Your playground. Your responsibilty. Go anywhere. Do anything. Take New York for a spin"
"The Living City: Immerse yourself in a vivid, geographically accurate rendition of the Manhattan metropolis, populated with a never-ending stream of pedestrians and motorists going about their lives as you swing through the air above them ... Swing seamlessly from uptown to downtown, from the East River to the Hudson." ... "Non-Linear Gameplay: The Big Apple opens up like never before."