Dundee’s global phenomenon Grand Theft Auto is in the spotlight this week as the trailer for GTA 6 emerges.
But it could be another year before the sixth instalment of the series is released.
More than a quarter of a century has passed since the game – created by David Jones and Mike Dailly and their DMA Design colleagues including Keith Hamilton, Steve Hammond, Russell Kay and Brian Baglow – took the world by storm.
After going from bedroom hobby to blockbuster brand, it remains one of the City of Discovery’s finest exports.
These are 25 Dundee-related facts about GTA, the team behind it and its rise to the top.
1 – The wrap party for GTA on October 28 1997 was a meal at the Mandarin Garden Chinese restaurant followed by drinks in the Ascot Bar next door.
An email to staff from Hamilton – recently revealed on Twitter by the game’s audio genius Colin Anderson – said everyone was invited “for much drinking and merrymaking”.
2 – DMA Design’s first office – where GTA was born – is above a restaurant in Nethergate and next door to the former Groucho’s record and tape exchange.
But a plaque at the building to recognise DMA’s success doesn’t mention the action-adventure game and instead pays tribute to Lemmings, also created by Jones and Dailly.
Lemmings launched in February 1991 and went on to sell 20 million copies worldwide.
3 – GTA’s soundtrack, masterminded by Anderson, was just as successful as the game.
It featured a huge variety of musical genres, ranging from opera to country & western, and on to heavy metal.
DMA Design’s base at Dundee Technology Park was swamped by demo tapes from singers and musicians ahead of the sequel.
4 – The birth of Dundee’s games industry took place at the Kingsway Amateur Computer Club, held at Kingsway Technical College.
That’s where Jones, Dailly, Kay and Hammond met each other in 1984.
Dailly – just 14 and a pupil at St John’s High School – was convinced by a friend to go along and says the chance occurrence changed his life forever.
In 2020, he told The Courier: “I did the prototype of Grand Theft Auto as well and both have gone on to do great things.
“But Lemmings is still the one I look back on most fondly really.”
5 – GTA and Lemmings co-creator David Jones was instrumental in setting up the world’s first degree in computer games at Abertay University in November 1997.
Two decades later, he explained why his home city had enjoyed such success in the gaming industry.
Jones said: “In Dundee, it’s the network effect of everybody knowing one another over the years.
“It’s having that nucleus of a combination of experienced industry people, strong academia and support from local enterprise.”
6 – The LinkedIn of Jones is as modest as it comes on the recruitment platform.
Summing up his career-defining era, he simply says: “DMA Design (now Rockstar North) was the first ever company I started, and my entry into video games as a career.
“It gave myself, and many great and talented individuals, the best possible grounding in making fun and original new titles.
“It was a defining time in the industry, as games went from a nerdy small time hobby to the global leading industry it is today.”
7 – Attempts were made to ban GTA in Britain before it even hit the shelves.
Former Tory Scottish Secretary, Lord Campbell of Croy, raised his concerns in the House of Lords but his calls were rejected by the Government.
8 – The Dundonians have been up front about the PR campaign by disgraced publicist Max Clifford to engineer maximum controversy.
Clifford – who died in 2017, three years after being jailed for a string of sex assaults against four victims between 1977 and 1984 – was hired by DMA’s publisher BMG Interactive ahead of GTA’s release.
In the 2012 book How British Video Games Conquered the World, Jones said: “He told us how he would play it, who he would target [politicians], what those targeted people would say [express outrage at the game’s content]…every word came true.”
He added: “We knew why every decision was made, and we were never, ever influenced by ‘let’s do something to create a bit of controversy’.
“We always did everything from the perspective of what’s going to be the most fun.
“It just naturally kept pushing us down the darker direction.”
Dailly admitted: “Max Clifford made it all happen.
“He designed the outcry, which pretty much guaranteed MPs would get involved.
“He’d do anything to keep the profile high.
“We tended to think of the politicians as idiots. Complaining about a game that 99 per cent of them would never have seen.
“Calling it a murder simulator just showed how ignorant they were and we knew it.”
9 – Brazil became the first country to ban the Dundee game in February 1998, declaring that it trivialised violent acts and could “incite violence” among young people.
10 – Race’n’Chase was the original concept of what would become the first instalment in the Grand Theft Auto series.
Former DMA man Brian Baglow recently told a BBC documentary: “It wasn’t very good.
“It really wasn’t fun because if you’re a policeman and you’re going through a park, knocking strollers and pushchairs out the way and running over old people, you kind of have to be penalised in some way.
“So after several months of arguments and team meetings, and a couple of fist fights, we changed it so you played the bad guy and changed the name to Grand Theft Auto.”
The rest is history.
11 – The DMA Design team didn’t have high hopes for Grand Theft Auto.
Out of seven games in development from the firm, it was voted the least likely to be a success.
12 – The team behind the game had a reunion at the Jahangir restaurant in Dundee in August.
Former GTA producer Colin MacDonald told us: “Although some of us have kept up, a number of people have scattered outside of Scotland and to other industries, so almost every time someone walked in they looked up and down the table and remarked how much older we had somehow gotten!”
13 – Drouthy Neebors on the Perth Road was the scene of some GTA panic ahead of the sequel’s release.
Colin – who recently joined accountancy firm Johnston Carmichael’s Tech Advisory Board – says: “Unfortunately a late problem was found but in the days before mobile phones were commonplace, someone had to phone my girlfriend at the time to find out which pub she thought we’d gone to.
“And then had to drive into town to track us down, and ferry us all back to the office in the Technology Park at about 9pm to hurriedly fix the problem, produce a new gold master, which was then sent by taxi from Dundee down to Heathrow Airport in the small hours, to be flown by Concorde to New York, tested over the weekend and at the duplicators for Monday!”
14 – A member of Love Fist – the fictional rock band introduced in GTA: Vice City – appears to be wearing the 2001/02 Dundee away strip.
It was released in tribute to Claudio Caniggia and his Argentine compatriots at Dens.
15 – At Vice City Airport – aka Escobar International Airport – there is a ‘Come to Dundee’ billboard featuring a picture of the RRS Discovery.
16 – GTA V features a ship called Dignity registered in Los Santos – a reference to the Deacon Blue classic written and sung by Dundee’s Ricky Ross.
17 – One of the neighbourhoods in GTA is called Ardler while car giants Dundreary were introduced in the fourth instalment of the hit game.
— Dundee Culture (@DundeeCulture) September 21, 2022
18 – Co-creator Mike Dailly is on the hunt for every version of Lemmings.
Last February, he told us: “I’ve recently gotten one of the really hard ones to find, like the Commodore 64 Tape version, but the Japanese Sharp x68000, FM Towns, and the UK Sam Coupe versions are by far the hardest to find now.
“It’s not a case of them going for too much, but more that they never appear. They’re extremely rare.”
He added: “I currently have about 62 different versions, and am trying to source about 12 more.
“It really is amazing how many skews there were, but sometimes they appeared to just change the box.
“The Amiga has about eight different versions, for example, with three being the same except for the box.”
19 – Dailly slammed claims made in 2019 by then-US President Donald Trump that violent video games could have inspired two mass shootings in the States.
He said: “This always stems from politicians looking to deflect an issue they either don’t want to answer, or are too scared to.
“In this case Trump and his administration are so pro-gun, that they’re refusing to admit guns are ever the problem so they’ll try to blame whoever they can.
“First it was terrorists, then Muslims, closely followed by immigrants, and now gamers.
“None of them are the real problem. Easy access to guns is the problem – it always has been.
“There’s ample studies to show games do not increase violence – in fact, I’d guess it’s quite the opposite.”
20 – DMA Design Limited’s future changed course in 1997.
That’s when it was bought by Gremlin Interactive, who were acquired by Infogrames two years later.
It wasn’t long before DMA stock was purchased by Take-Two Interactive and in 2002 it was rebranded Rockstar North.
21 – Relations between regimes old and new appear to be strained.
Last August, Dailly tweeted: “I see Rockstar are going full f***ers mode again, issuing copyright strikes to any GTA video they can find – including both my prototype videos.
“So now they’re trying to block all release of anyone’s work on a game – and any old development footage.”
— BBC Archive (@BBCArchive) May 16, 2019
22 – There was more than a hint of needle in July 2021 when one news outlet published an article headlined Grand Theft Auto creator Dan Houser forms new company ‘Absurd Ventures in Games’.
Houser is in fact the co-founder and former vice president of Rockstar.
DMA legend Steve Hammond tweeted: “Did Dan Houser create GTA? No he f***ing didn’t. Signed: the original GTA team.”
23 – The City of Discovery took centre stage in a 2013 New York Times profile, published as the fifth instalment was released.
It read: “The roots of the game can be traced directly back to Dundee, a former shipbuilding city in Scotland, better known as the humble home of jam and jute, a vegetable fibre used to make rope and burlap.
“It is a city that has, instead of the raw urbanity celebrated in the video game, a quaint coastline, as well as a population that prizes irreverence and wit.”
24 – David Jones admitted in 2018 that he was living life in the fast lane before the GTA days.
A GamesBeat interviewer asked him: “Presumably, the success of Lemmings for you personally was life changing. You could have gone out and bought a Ferrari after that.”
Jones replied: “Yep. And I did. Twice. That was the thing to do in the 80s and 90s. You remember all those adverts with game programmers and pictures of Ferraris. John Carmack [legendary computer programmer].
“It was the thing in the UK as well. But more important, it was life changing because then, we could do other games as well.
“Finally, it felt like a real company. You could make a living from this. We started to employ other people with good ideas.”
25 – All of this may never have happened had Jones opted not to take voluntary redundancy [a £3k cheque] from his job as an electronics engineer at Dundee’s Timex factory.
He bought an Amiga 1000 with the money and his parents weren’t convinced it was the right move.
Jones says: “I said it was an investment in my future, but really, I wanted to play the newest games on it.”