Interviewing the Minds Behind Multi Theft Auto: San Andreas

A few days back I was lucky enough to have the privilege of getting to ask the developers behind Multi Theft Auto: San Andreas some questions. For those of you who are unaware of exactly what MTA:SA is, it’s Multiplayer Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on the surface, but it’s also so much more. If you’re interested in getting your hands on some sweet borderline-MMO free-roaming goodness, then you can download the mod at Multi Theft Auto’s website. You are going to need to pick up the PC version of GTA: San Andreas, though (it’s totally worth it).

- What is the main idea behind MTA:SA that makes it more then just a bunch of people running around San Andreas?

Dan (Talidan): In Single Player, GTASA is much more than just running around a map. Rockstar have created this great game, with elements of RPG and stat building, fun racing minigames, freeroaming and some solid gang warfare. What if you could expand these ingame genres and create your own in a multiplayer environment? We’ve got solid servers which completely push these genres to make them exciting and playable. We’ve also got some great servers that combine aspects of all of San Andreas. But what’s beautiful is that with MTA:SA you push the boundaries even further, and invent your own genres in a multiplayer sandbox. Our users have imagined and developed things things that you’ve never seen in gaming before.

Jacek (jhxp): MTA:SA is all about freedom and giving a lot of customization and possibilities to players. Are you bored of the stock San Andreas map, assets and gameplay? Why not erase them and create your own map and import your own models, textures and sounds. Why not change the way cars look and handle, why not create your own weapons with different abilities. Why not go racing, then jumping into some intense shootout and shouting at your enemies via built-in voice chat, joining an RP game, then ending the session with a small logical minigame. Or, why not make your own game which you have always dreamed of.

Or what if single player does not actually bore you? Write a cool gamemode based on the GTA:SA story line then and then expand it. Add more content to the already great game.

All of this can be done in MTA:SA, and without even touching the original GTA:SA files. You can try these out any time you want – the way you want.

sleigh_2

 

- How long has MTA:SA been around and who came up with the idea? Are the original developers still on the team?

Jacek: It has been nearly 7 years now since our first public release for GTA:SA at the beginning of the year 2006. The mod has changed a lot during that time. The first release offered only vehicle-based gameplay. We planned to add the regular on-foot synchronization shortly after, as a release codenamed Deathmatch, but despite our hard efforts it could not happen earlier than in 2008. This is when we published our first Developer Preview for the Deathmatch release. The actual stable release was ready a year and a half later. We decided to drop the Deathmatch label from the name and call it just Multi Theft Auto: San Andreas, as by then it offered far bigger possiblities than we originally planned (and imagined).
MTA:SA has been in development since 2005 and it definitely came a long way as it derived from an unreleased mod for GTA: Vice City – MTA: Blue. The original idea has been introduced even earlier – in 2003, by a (then) teenager – IJs, the creator of the GTA3:AM (Alternative Multiplayer) and GTA3:MTA mods, founder of the Multi Theft Auto. He is still around, although no longer as a developer.

Dan: Many of our original developers are still around in some capacity, and offer some crucial direction and foundation to the project – even if they aren’t directly involved. It’s always useful to have people who have “been there, done that” to draw from. I think you’ll also be amazed at where past MTA Developers have ended up: we now have some great contacts in the professional gaming, graphics and software development industries. Having that sort of knowledge has allowed us to become more than a fan-made mod, but something really professional.

assault

- I understand that MTA:SA isn’t the only Multiplayer mod for San Andreas out there. What separates your project from the rest?

Dan: The key difference with MTA:SA is the technology. Our technology has come about from literally years of research and development. A simple way to explain this technology is that MTA:SA becomes a part of GTA:SA itself, where the game thinks that multiplayer is meant to be there. This means we’ve been able to do things with the GTA:SA engine that no other mods have been able to achieve, multiplayer or otherwise. As a result, our servers thrive from masses of creativity and innovation, resulting in a solid and unique playerbase. If you crave the quality and innovation of commercial games when you go online, MTA is for you. People frequently ask us if we’d port MTA:SA to other games and even single player.

Unlike most mods for San Andreas, MTA:SA is also open-source. What that has meant is that anyone can contribute code to improve the game. We’ve had some great features come straight from open source, like live radio stations, custom vehicle handling, advanced graphics upgrades and voice chat to name a few. This filters down and makes the quality of gameplay much better for our players.

Jacek: We consider a ‘mod’ to be an unfair and incomplete term, in regards to MTA:SA. It is far closer to being a separate game of its own than a mod, due to the fact that the majority of the software’s layers has been rewritten and work on our own principles rather than Rockstar’s. And that does not even cover the whole network layer, which is non-existent in the original game. Nowadays, that may not sound that uncommon (even for some other, non-GTA games), but we were first ones to do it with our GTA3 mod. We created the network base from scratch and kept perfecting until its current state – a pretty much flawless player synchronization.

The customization and possibilities which I mentioned earlier are handled by the Lua scripting engine. The scripts written in it can control pretty much all of the areas of the game and beyond it. You can write your own gamemode logic in it, create the elements for your own UI, or use it to modify the game world. You can load up custom elements and use external resources such as databases or media streams. And more.

Oh, and we also won the ModDB’s Mod of the Year award in 2011. *grin*spyskin

 

- How often is MTA:SA updated, and what kind of stuff do you usually put into the updates aside from bug fixes? Are there any juicy update details you’re willing to share that you guys are excited to put in the community’s hands?

Jacek: We do not have release dates set in stone, though we do set milestones for each major release – usually bigger new features and re-designs. Once we sort the majority of milestones and are happy with the quality of the introduced features, we make a release. Additionally, we work on MTA:SA in our free time, so the development progress can be slower at times. That said, we also publish smaller updates now and then as an automatic update.

For our next major release, we are considering adding the feature of adding your own objects (such as buildings, ped models and possibly vehicles) to the game as new and completely separate elements, rather than replacing the existing ones. Think about it – you could preserve all the original buildings in the game and could still add completely new models to your map. Or could add new player models while preserving the old ones – how about a server where each player (of over few hundred connected) had a different base model? This could be possible.
Richard (Cazomino05) had some successful attempts at it, but it still requires some work. We might just be able to include it.

Dan: Chris (ccw) has done a great job of managing our updates system. We can push new updates directly to our users so they get the new features as soon as possible. Combine that with our open-source model, and it means you’ve got regular updates that keep things fresh. I’ve already mentioned some of the interesting updates that have come through – I think that’s pretty impressive for what is now an almost 8 year old game.

There are a few things I’d like to see, and indeed may look at if I get time. In particular I’m interested in seeing some internationalization support, some in-game web browser support and perhaps greater cross-platform support. Chris is also working on improving the anti-cheat functionality. He’s been introducing some really interesting technology that should make the experience great for our players.

mta-screen_2010-11-16_02-36-42

 

- What is the vision for the future of MTA:SA, and do you think there’ll ever be a point when you stop updating?

Jacek: San Andreas is over 8 years old now, so it does not have as much impact on gaming as it had just after its release. There were other GTA games released afterwards and the next one is coming. Due to this and the fact that this is all voluntary work, we may indeed stop the development of the software at some point. However I do not think that this will be soon – our player counts have seen a stable growth since the release of 1.1 and newer series. Our player record is nearly 12 000 concurrent players at a certain time, and that was just a day ago. That was more than the number of players combined playing GTA4 and EFLC on Steam at the time, or other hit titles such as Call of Duty: Black Ops or Total War: Shogun 2 (based on Steam Stats).  The number of overall unique players who launched the game this month may even exceed 300 000. So as far as the stats go, we are in the clear.

When we stop the development, it still has a lot of fun stuff to create with, and as mentioned above, it is open source, so any volunteer can continue the development. Even if it is gonna be an unofficial, it should still live on, as long as there is a community.

Dan: For me, the long-term vision is offering anyone the ability to create the experience that is only limited by their imagination. This is more than just San Andreas – it’s a multiplayer sandbox. We want people who enjoy any games to come along and create an experience that’s unique and exciting to players. As Jacek mentioned, our player counts continue to rise as these experiences are created. We’re also trying our hardest to make MTA:SA as accessible as possible. We keep in touch on Twitter, Facebook, ModDB, Steam Community, YouTube and of course through our own channels. We’d love to appear on things like Steam Greenlight in future. The more ways we can communicate with our players, the better.

Other than that, I don’t think we’re far off from “MTA:SA Final”, where we’re quite happy with the features we’ve provided to our users, and don’t plan to add anything new from there on. But the beauty of our open-source model is that anyone can come along and patch in something new, or come in and fix something up. It means that even if the current team feels there’s a point where we stop updating, that it doesn’t restrict anyone else from carrying on. So in reality, I see MTA:SA continuing to be tweaked for the foreseeable future.mta-screen_2009-09-25_17-31-52

- Where would you direct someone that would be interested in joining the development team, and what kind of positions, if any, are you looking to fill?

Jacek: We are always looking for new volunteers. Skilled and not-so-skilled-yet C++ programmers are welcome to try their bests at our project. It should be both fun and rewarding, as it is a valuable experience. They can learn more about programming and project management – skills, which are very useful for people who wish to continue their career as software developers. Some of our past developers used this experience well and are now a part of such companies such as Google or Amazon.

The details for how to contribute can be found on our Google Code page here.

Should you not be a programmer, you can still contribute by translating and expanding our wiki, reporting a problem with the mod or making a new map or gamemode for us to include in the default package. Such kind of help is useful to us as well.

Dan: It has to be mentioned that MTA:SA is a great place to get involved in the gaming development community. There are levels for anyone to come and join the community, even if you’re not after joining the development team.

We’ve got a great What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get Map Editor – you can build your own race and deathmatch maps by simply clicking icons. You place vehicles, buildings, roads and checkpoints really easily. And creative maps are in demand – there are servers which host thousands of maps, all really creative and unique.

Dan (cont.): Then, we’ve got a Lua Programming API. Lua is actually used in many games, including Garry’s Mod and Mafia 2 to name a few – there’s actually a job industry solely for Lua developers. Lua’s really easy to learn, and a great way to get into software development. Lua was actually my first language, and was the gateway for me to get involved in Python, C, C++, C# and many other languages used in the industry. We provide Lua to our server owners to create the experiences I’ve described – they don’t need to learn complex programming languages to create an advanced gamemode. I strongly urge anyone who’s interested in working in the games industry to give this a crack – it’s much easier than you’d think.

Neither of these two require any coordination with the MTA Team, just install MTA and start using your imagination. Then, as Jacek described we’ve got our main MTA:SA engine developed in C++. We try our best to invite amateur and skilled developers to integrate something great into the core engine.

Alongside helping with our wiki and documentation, there’s scope in future for helping to get MTA:SA translated into other languages if internationalization support comes through.mta-screen_2010-04-14_11-40-44

- Any other information you’d like to share about the mod or potentially any other projects you guys may be working on that people should be interested in?

Dan: If you didn’t read any of this article, read this: MTA:SA is much more than “Multiplayer San Andreas” or a “Multiplayer mod”. MTA:SA is about using your imagination, and really offers a lot more than many commercial games today. Give it a go, spread the word, you won’t regret it!

Jacek: If you like our project, please spread the word. There are still so many things left to discover in the good old GTA:SA.

——–

Some really interesting stuff if you ask me. I’d like to thank Dan and Jacek once more for answering my questions and getting me all excited to play San Andreas again. I’ll be doing more interviews in the future and if everything goes my way, you can expect one every Sunday. If you’ve got questions of your own about MTA:SA, you can find the forums here.

Screenshots and video provided by Jacek.

Written by: Cameron Wasmund

I'm not good at not liking games, Hit me up on the twitters.

  • http://twitter.com/TheMangoTopia MangoTopia

    Only 12k players? SA-MP got about 50k. Had 53k the other day.

    • http://www.gamers-association.com/ Andrew Moreno

      Interview was written in January. Its been almost 3 months since.

    • ixjf

      Most of the people don’t even know about Multi Theft Auto because SA:MP is an obvious name and is the first to appear in the search.

      The current maximum players in-game concurrently is of about 18k.

  • MOJRM-511

    good mta
    keep it up

  • qaisjp

    good stuff, glad mta got some public view again!

  • turret001

    Posibilities are endless in MTA:SA.

  • fuckyoufanboyQQ

    CIT2 ftw! The Street Fighters!

  • uhm

    What I especially like is that it turns an old game into a game engine

  • http://twitter.com/TheMrFraz Luke Frazier

    Am I missing something or is this our first extensive developer interview? Either way, well done, Cameron!

  • Summerlily

    Masterfully done! San Andreas has to be one of my favorite games of all time. A classic, no less. I was unaware of the PC-mods as I had only played the PS2 version. Looks like I will have to get the PC version now!

  • Jay Curtis

    Awesome interview Cameron! It was fun to read.

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