GTA3: Climbing

The last several hidden packages I’ve found were hidden in a way that I failed to mention in my previous analysis: they were on top of things that are normally above eye level. This is another technique that’s only possible in a 3D engine. In GTA1‘s top-down view, anything on a rooftop is in plain sight.

The nice thing about hiding things this way is that, in addition to removing the item from view, it automatically turns it into a climbing puzzle. If it’s above where you normally go, it must be difficult to get up there.

Some will disagree with my calling this “nice”; not everyone is a fan of platformers. But personally, I’m pretty keen on the gimmick of modelling one type of game inside another, and this game is a good example of why: the fact that it’s inside a GTA alters the way that the platform game can be approached. In one memorable instance, there was a hidden package actually visible on the rooftop of the Liberty Pharmaceutical building, which I couldn’t find any way to climb up to at all. The only way I managed to get there was to drive a car up the steep and narrow stairs to an elevated train station (all but wrecking the car), driving around on the tracks above the city, and then accelerating off the side of the tracks, plunging in a steep arc onto the rooftop I wanted. The best thing about this is that the failed attempts got me some good Insane Stunt bonuses.

Jumping farther isn’t the only way that the vehicles affect the platforming. Suppose you want to get on top of a wall. It’s just a little too high to jump onto, and there’s nothing at all nearby that you can climb onto and jump from. In a conventional platformer, you’d just be stuck until you found a special tool or powerup provided for the specific purpose of getting on that wall. GTA3 doesn’t provide a special tool of this sort, but it has a general-purpopse physics engine. If you need to jump from higher ground, you can just drive a car to the wall and jump onto its roof. Still too high? Make a staircase out of a car, a minivan, and a delivery truck. These are not controlled special cases, either: the components of the staircase are always available. Conventional platformers can’t afford to allow general solutions like this because they rely on limiting the player’s access to locations to keep the game ordered. But in GTA3, the platformer elements are an optional tangent to the game, so the developers have no reason to prevent you from figuring out your own solutions. This, it strikes me, is a major source of GTA3‘s much-lauded freedom of action: because it provides many things for the player to do, it doesn’t have to care enough about any one of them to need to exert control over it.

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2 Comments so far

  1. corto on 15 Feb 2007

    I too am a fan of games modeling other types of games inside themselves. The Sokoban levels in nethack are another example – I’m trying to think of others.

  2. Rob "Xemu" Fermier on 15 Feb 2007

    Yeah, your examples here are pretty much one of the core reasons I think the GTA “sandbox” mechanic is so compelling — you get emergent problems that you can approach in a pretty wide variety (even if there is only one real solution, as in the case of that specific hidden package where you have to drive on the elevated tracks). While you try and solve one problem you are continuously and subtly introduced to other opportunities for exploration, combat, acquisition, other minigames, etc. It’s a very organic flow that is quite compelling.

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