Grand Theft Auto VI: Vice grip.

Grand Theft Auto VIThe Grand Theft Auto series prides itself on repetition more than innovation. It’s not known for bringing us new worlds and concepts, but brilliantly mimicking and skewering the ones we already live in. It’s no secret that I adore the series, but I also consider it to be flawed in lamentable ways. What would I like to see in Grand Theft Auto VI?

Character: I would love for the GTA series to buck the trend and provide us with a female lead. Have we seen an epic amount of grousing when someone floats the possibility? Yes! However, reactionary fans also heavily protested the introduction of the series’ first black lead as well—a move that did not harm the success of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in the least. Given the rise of women in criminal organizations as madams, scammers, and drug mules it is only reasonable that a female character would eventually take point in a story arc. Moreover, we’ve already seen aggressive and powerful women such Elizabeta and Catalina as supporting characters.

And yet the truth is that the lead character of GTA VI will more than likely be male. Again, the series loves repetition, not only in its settings but its lead characters as well. Both Claude and Niko illustrate the plight of the bewildered transplant to the big city. CJ and Franklin are both young black men from West Coast ghettos on the fringes of gang life. With Michael we see the coda to Tommy Vercetti’s life—a career-criminal living comfortably off of his ill-gotten gains in a new world of excess and celebrity. Luis and Victor are family-oriented Dominican men trying their best to remain legitimate while their associates drag them further into the muck. And Johnny and Trevor are poorly adjusted individuals cast aside as “white trash” by mainstream society.

Which leaves us with Toni Cipriani. He is the only lead character of the Grand Theft Auto series that is without a counterpart. And I believe he will be given one in Grand Theft Auto VI. I predict the lead of the new series will be a man in his early thirties who—like Toni—is firmly entrenched as a low-ranking member in a criminal organization. However, I do not believe the mafia will be at play here, but a powerful cartel instead. Given what I expect the location of Grand Theft Auto VI to be, the lead will more than likely be a Caribbean Latino instead of white like Cipriani. But unlike Luis and Victor, the character will be able to pass for Mediterranean or southern European.

Location: And what of the location? I would prefer that the game be set in the American south in an ethnically and racially diverse city with extreme wealth disparity, gang activity, a thriving and lucrative entertainment industry, and both rural and urban architecture. I am personally biased towards Atlanta and would love to see a city that apes it called Meleager, but given Rockstar’s predictable habits the game will likely be set in the fictional Miami of Vice City. It’s a choice I certainly can’t find fault with. Miami has all the attributes and flaws of Atlanta with the addition of a beautiful beach landscape. It’s Atlanta with the added benefit of boat missions!

And yet given Rockstar’s penchant for repeating itself, we might get something even more wondrous than a return to Vice City—three cities in one. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas gave us Los Santos (Los Angeles), San Fierro (San Francisco), and Las Venturas (Las Vegas). Since that game gave us three western cities, would Rockstar be ambitious enough to provide us with three southern ones—Vice City (Miami), Meleager (Atlanta), and New Bougival (New Orleans)? Rockstar has never been content to rest on its laurels, which it would be doing by merely providing players with a chance to return to Liberty City and Los Santos. Graphics have not advanced enough for a return to those cities to seem fresh and exciting. And while tossing three cities that differ so wildly into one state requires too far a suspension of one’s belief, placing three cities in different states and using a fade-to-black cut scene while driving along the interstate or running through the woods is certainly feasible.

Oh, and more interiors, please! Safe houses! Nightclubs! Trap houses! Restaurants! Give players places to spend (or launder) all of that virtual money. And more importantly, give them places to rob to get more of it.

Theme: A satirical look at American culture, crime, and capitalism has always been the main focus of the Grand Theft Auto series. However, in 2017 the aggressively juvenile humor and “ironic” bigotry championed in Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto V is dull and dated. A more mature approach akin to Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City is required. Female characters and characters from marginalized groups weren’t reduced to one-note jokes but were carefully fleshed out. Ethnic subcultures were not lampooned but had their positive and negative aspects highlighted.

“Ironic” bigotry is useless when in the real world young American men glorify Nazis and protest the existence of feminism. It neither shocks one into realization nor pushes the envelope, but reinforces the hate already in existence. And depictions of sexuality in the series have been so repressed and mean-spirited one would think the jokes had been written by and for thirteen-year-old boys. Given that the series is at heart a crime drama, healthy depictions are not expected—but accurate ones are. For far too long Rockstar has leaned on stereotypes and dick jokes. I’d love to see a more sophisticated level of humor. And I’d love to once again see women as powerful and shrewd criminals instead of shrill idiots—especially if the criminal elements of the sex industry are to be highlighted (and they should be). When series such as The Witcher and Mass Effect—as far from “edgy” as one could possibly get—are more open about sexuality, there is clearly a problem. I also think Rockstar should give players the option of making the lead character straight, gay, bisexual, or asexual depending on which romanceable characters they decide to approach. It would not take much to add back the dating system from earlier incarnations.

Allies and Enemies: I want a dog. And yes, it is important enough to deserve its own section! Jokes aside, I would love to see a return of notable characters from Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Or if not a return, Easter eggs would be nice (for example, a brief mention of President Donald Love on the evening news).


Take Two: Interactions with IDW Publishing.

I love Rockstar Games.

But I’ve said that before. I admire the marketing savvy of its sales teams, the satirical slant of its writers, and the beauty of its game design. Rockstar Games is an industry titan and its accolades are well deserved.

Max Payne 3 cover artSo when its parent company, Take Two Interactive, announced its foray into the comic book industry I was ecstatic. I envisioned a series of Grand Theft Auto graphic novels that bridged the gap between Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto IV. I anticipated the release of a Max Payne miniseries in the same vein as The Punisher sans the justified censorship of the Disney corporation. I imagined a satirical look at internet bullies and red pillers with a comedic action series based off Bully.

And I believed the successes would extend far past the realm of Rockstar Games to other intellectual properties under the Take Two banner such as Bioshock and Mafia—two 2K Games darlings.

That, however, did not happen.

What did happen was the launch of Double Take, a small company focused on a slate of comics set in the Night of the Living Dead universe helmed by former Marvel publisher Bill Jemas. That company has now gone under for a host of reasons I shall not go into here. Others, however, have provided an interesting post-mortem.

What I am focused on is how best to get the future I envisioned onto the printed page. I do not believe that Take Two Interactive should launch yet another comic company; I do believe it should partner with an existing one—IDW Publishing. In a short amount of time IDW has become the king of licensed publishing, challenged only by perennial purchaser DC Comics. It has the skills to successfully push favored brands in the comic book marketplace while adhering closely to themes and designs established in other media.

For Take Two Interactive a partnership with IDW is outsourced research, marketing, and development. The comics produced at IDW would provide frames for new games to be built upon. The books would also bolster brand allegiance during the space between game releases. For example, characters introduced in the comics could pop up as new options during multiplayer games. And most importantly, Take Two Interactive would have the opportunity to use IDW as a talent scout and poach artists and writers accordingly.

IDW PublishingBut what would IDW get out of the deal? Well, increased exposure is nice, but I’d argue that increased revenue would be much nicer. Were I an IDW representative I would push for a fiscally conservative licensing package given all that I would be bringing to the table. But in the back of my mind I would also acknowledge that, if successful, a Take Two imprint would increase the size of my company allowing me to overtake BOOM and nip at Image’s heels. I would also be certain to act as a liaison for the individuals at my company working on creator-owned projects who might have an interest in pushing their works into additional entertainment realms.

I would advise the two companies to start small—but not too small. Start with one major intellectual property such as Bioshock or Grand Theft Auto. Should that partnership conclude successfully? Continue to build.


Bully for you.

A screenshot from ManhuntI’ve never been a fan of Westerns, but the many Americans who are will soon be able to enjoy the return of Red Dead Redemption to their consoles and computers. Rockstar Games sits upon a deep bench of intellectual property, and while I adore the Grand Theft Auto series, I believe two additional cult favorites should return—Bully and Manhunt.

Manhunt should be revived because America is in desperate need of a cathartic release. Much in the same way that the 1970s vigilante and Blaxploitation hero have made a resurgence, the time is right for a character that gives voice to those who believe they are voiceless. It is the perfect point in time to provide a powerful avatar to the disenfranchised (or merely disgruntled)—one that they may live vicariously through. Were I at the helm of such an undertaking, I would make certain that the lead character be mute and fully customizable. And as much as I clamor for female leads (especially for the Grand Theft Auto series), I would make the character male to best fit the initial setting of a privatized prison for men. The villains of note? Avaricious elite who use the marginalized for profit and corrupt officers who abuse them for sport.

While I would stress full customization, I would in no way ignore the impact that race, nationality, religion, and sexuality have on one’s life—especially in prison. These elements would affect gameplay, altering alliances, opportunities, and privileges. I would lean heavily on real-life data in design, and would hope that players would discuss said data as they shared tips and commented on unique walkthroughs. The goal would be to create a work that allows individuals to see themselves and have their grievances validated, but also see “the other” as human. In fact, reaching out to the other—by either playing as a different type of character or having a conversation with one who did—would allow one to enjoy different cut scenes and exclusive side stories. In real life we don’t have much of an incentive to step into the shoes of another. Our games—our stories—can provide that incentive.

A screenshot from BullyWhere Manhunt would pinpoint where we are devoid of power and provide an emotional salve for said lack, Bully would highlight the areas of our lives where our actions leave an impression. It would show how much speaking out and speaking up can change things for the better—both personally and for the community at large. Harassment is a topical issue. And I think the more we only encounter people who are different as static images and words on a screen, the easier it is to abuse them. It is ironic that a connection to virtual characters might allow children to be more empathic to peers in real life, but if our technology allows for that, should the option not be explored?

I wouldn’t back away from sensitive issues. If today’s teens are experiencing it, creative adults should be brave enough to confront it—and be able to do so with humor, honesty, and grace. To provide not only an amazing and entertaining game, but also a “life simulator” for the more socially disconnected to explore potential consequences would be highly beneficial—and lucrative.

It would also be controversial, but Rockstar Games has never been one to back down from controversy.