Grand Theft Auto 3 cheated loading times

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Many know that Grand Theft Auto 3 was among the first 3D games to have a sandbox environment that would lead to a truck-load of imitations. But what few may consider what made all of this possible: real-time disc reading and loading.

Before Grand Theft Auto 3, games would suffer from having to buffer or load ahead of time. This would mean breaking large areas into smaller groups, and having the player wait while the game prepares each scene. This game by Rockstar, however, decided to try something unusual: have the game assets load at the same time as the game is playing.

They did the impossible.

Of course, many games have relied on this method since the game was released in the early 21st century. But prior to Grand Theft Auto 3, disc based games were accepted as being incapable of such things. One of the first disc-based video game consoles, the Sega CD, had games that suffered from difficult programming and long loading times due to this hurdle (namely The Adventures of Willy Beamish).

The issue was that discs like CDs and DVDs were designed to be played linearly. That is, CDs were designed to play a song, followed by the next. DVDs are designed to play the movie from start to finish. When these mediums were adapted for video game use (to benefit from increased storage) developers quickly covered that the disc would need to look up the file address near the beginning of the disc, then the disc player would need to change speeds while it finds and loads the needed file. This back-and-forth made it seemingly impossible to load all game assets in advance.

Grand Theft Auto 3 also implemented what would be known as LOD, or Level of Detail. Instead of loading all the detailed textures and 3d models at once, they decided to make low-resolution versions that would be visible in the distance. As you would come closer to a location, the model switches to a high resolution model that is loaded directly off the disc.

The game continues to be seen as one of the most ground-breaking video games of all time. It has been ported to many consoles and has been available for the PC (affiliate link) for over a decade. It was worth getting just so you can play with the endless mods out there. Unfortunately, the original PC version no longer works on modern Windows. To make matters worse, it was taken off of the digital marketplace called ‘Steam’, and was replaced by a completely different version with a new look and feel. This instantly made all the past mods useless, as well as any nostalgia that came with it.