Above: Dave Jones in 2010 showing off APB at the E3 game trade show.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Purchese: So, you’re 23. You haven’t finished your degree. But this game suddenly looks like a big success. What were you thinking when they were phoning you up about that?

Jones: It’s a bit of numb shock. You always want to create a game that’s a big success like that, but deep down, you wonder if it will always just be like the previous games. Obviously, it’s a mixture of sheer exhilaration and a reward for all the hard work that went into it. Until you’ve been through it, it’s hard to explain.

Purchese: Presumably, the success of Lemmings for you personally was life changing. You could have gone out and bought a Ferrari after that.

Jones: 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. It was the thing in the U.K. 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.

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Purchese: Lemmings had many different versions after this across many different platforms of the time. It was at this point, I suppose, that DMA kind of leveled up as a company. You moved offices. Before we get on to that — other big franchise you created — there was an odd interlude with Nintendo.

Jones: Yeah, we worked with Nintendo for a few years, which was great.

Purchese: You made [an] SNES game called Unirally, about unicycles.

Jones: Yeah, as you do.

Purchese: And Pixar took you to court?

Jones: Yep, as they do. It was hard in those days. We greenlit a unicycle character, and they had a unicycle short film. I think it was called Red’s Dream. They just used it as a demonstration of a rendering technology. When you put them side by side, they were quite similar, but I think it’s because it’s quite hard to create a unicycle that looks different from another unicycle. Especially, when you animate it. They got upset. They felt that it was too close to their unicycle. For someone who’s young — Lemmings was just our fourth or fifth game — getting these legal letters from a company like Pixar was, “Oh my God, what’s happening?”

Purchese: Nintendo pulled the game from sale.

Jones: Yeah, yeah, which was a shame. It was a fun game, working on that one. There were some nice design concepts, simple things like stunts giving you speed. It was a very good co-op game. It was one of the first co-op games we worked on. Unfortunately, it would have been more costly to fight it. It actually made copies of the game very rare. I don’t have one. I’m struggling to find one. I think they go for quite a lot of money.

Purchese: Anyway, zipping forward a bit, in 1995, your team started work on something else. Something you originally called Race and Chase, apparently? Now, I’ve read that you didn’t really like racing games at the time.

Jones: That’s right. They were all pretty much the same. There was no innovation in that area of games. I loved driving. I loved the idea of a driving game. But not just — it’s hard to innovate in pure racing. If I was going to do a car game, a driving game, I wanted to do something a little bit different.

Above: Grand Theft Auto originally had a top-down perspective.

Image Credit: DMA Design

Purchese: In order to get you on board with this idea, your team came up with — they decided to flip this game, the perspective of this game, so you weren’t looking at the horizon as a driver. You were looking straight down. They set it in the city, and, of course, this is the top-down perspective of Grand Theft Auto. That convinced you?

Jones: Yeah. I liked the “zoom as you vroom,” as we called it. When you went faster, it just gave you this nice perspective. You could see more. You had more time to react. You could take in what was happening around you on a larger scale. It felt like there was something there.

Purchese: What was the initial pitch for this game?

Jones: Well, actually, it was — initially, I was more interested in the simulation of the city. If we’re going to make a city, let’s make it a believable city. Let’s make it react to the player’s actions. And then, because it was Race and Chase, you could either play the police or play the bad guys. The idea was chase down the bad guys as the police or try to escape if you want to play the bad side. That’s initially where it started off.

Purchese: But over the course of development, it started to become more about being the bad guy, the crooks.

Jones: Nobody liked playing the good guys. It was quite a boring game that way. Everybody wanted to just get in the car, steal a car, go crazy. What they really wanted was to see how the city would react to the crazier stuff that they did. It was actually quite a fun thing from a design perspective. It was very iterative design. The fact that, for the first time in a driving game, you could get out of the car. In old racing games, you couldn’t get out of a car and get into another car. That was quite new.

As soon as they got into the car, people thought, “Well, it’s somebody else’s car. Should the alarm go off in the car?” So, we coded that. That was pretty cool. Then, you started driving, and people thought, “If you’re driving this fast, you might run over somebody. We should add that.” OK, we’ll add that. “But, if you run someone over and they’re injured, an ambulance should come and pick them up.” OK, I think we can make that happen. We added AI, so an ambulance would pick them up. “But, if the ambulance picks them up, what if I get out of my car, and I can steal the ambulance?” OK, we can make that happen. “If I’m in the ambulance, I want to switch on the sirens. Other cars should get out of my way now.”

Everything was about — I want everything to react to what I’m doing and recognize it. That’s how it snowballed.

Purchese: And then, of course guns come in, things like that. I don’t know what it was like here in Spain, but in Britain, the newspapers were going crazy. “What’s this violent game where you can run people over?” They’re still doing it. I read that you kind of engineered this by hiring a person called Max Clifford, who was a kind of notorious PR guru in the U.K. You guys hired him to stir up the newspapers?

Jones: Yeah, but it wasn’t specifically us as in DMA. It was actually the publisher at the time, a new company called BMG Music. This is when all the music companies wanted to get into publishing games because they saw that all the young people were playing games. They wanted to get into it. They were actually a lot of fun to work with. They were a music company, and they were quite used to dealing with PR and having to handle that side as it went off the rails. Music with swearing in it. They’d been through all of this with music, really.

They said we should just embrace it. “This is like what happened with music when people started to use lyrics that weren’t just aimed at children. We just put warnings on it. Do what you want to do, whatever you want in the game.” We really weren’t doing it for the sake of that, though. It was really just — we only did things that, when people were playing the game, they said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do this?” It was never about shock. It was just about that gameplay stuff that was really cool, having all these complementing things happening.

We were just going on free rein, and they said, “Well, we think it’s cool to talk about it, and we believe that by bringing in somebody like this, it’s actually a great PR and marketing message to get the game noticed.”