The Grand Theft Auto franchise is one of the commercial pillars of the video game industry, with the last entry, 2008's Grand Theft Auto IV, selling over 17 million units to date.
But the storied franchise was almost nipped in the bud, according to Gary Penn, who worked on DMA Design's original GTA, which released in the late 1990s.
"[The original GTA] was a real mess for years, it never moved on, it never went anywhere," Penn told Tristan Donovan in an interview featured on Gamasutra. This is the first time the conversation has been printed in full online, and is from Donovan's book Replay: The History of Video Games.
"It never really felt like it was going anywhere. It was almost canned. The publisher, BMG Interactive, wanted to can it, as it didn't seem to be going anywhere."
There were specific issues with the game, said Penn, who currently leads development at Scottish independent studio Denki.
"There are probably two key things it fell down on. Two critical things. One of them is stability, which is a really boring one but it crashed all the fucking time. So even if you did get something in the game, you couldn't really test it."
"The designers couldn't test stuff out or try things out, it just kept crashing as simple as that," he added. "That was a boring one, but that was pivotal -- so that was the first step to get that knocked out."
"Now the other thing that was a problem was the handling -- the car handling was appalling," he explained, a game-breaking issue for a game based mainly around driving. "...The core of playing was fundamentally broken," he said.
But a serendipitous moment in the development of the game turned things around for the team, said Penn. "One day, I think it was a bug, the police suddenly became mental and aggressive. It was because they were trying to drive through you."
"Their route finding was screwed I think and that was an awesome moment because suddenly the real drama where, 'Oh my God, the police are psycho -- they're trying to ram me off the road.'"
"That was awesome, so that stayed in," said Penn.
The full interview with Penn, who also explains his jump from game journalism in the 1980s to development, is available now on Gamasutra.