Grand Theft Simulated Traffic

By Shamus
on May 17, 2015
Filed under:
Video Games

Grand Theft Auto III turns 14 years old this year. The series has grown and evolved quite a bit since then. And yet in all that time, a few problems have lingered. No, I’m not talking about the lame guessing-game approach to mission design. I’m talking about the fact that this is what GTA looks like when you’re driving around:

Look, I know last time I promised I wouldn’t use grenades to clear traffic jams, but…

And THIS is what it’s like when you’re on foot:

WHERE IS EVERYBODY?!?

Fourteen years of this crap. The game isn’t even subtle about it. You’ll hike for two blocks to find a single parked car to steal, but by the time you break in and start the engine, three SUVs and a bus will have pulled up and blocked you in.

For a long time I thought it was just a quirk of their traffic simulation. The game doesn’t actually simulate very much traffic, and it cheats like crazy to keep the number of simulated cars to a minimumAs a programmer, I can totally understand this.. There are never more than a few blocks of traffic running at any given time, and the game will happily delete cars in the distance the moment you look away. Sure, you can look south on the highway and see some cars far in the distance. But if you look to the north and then south again, you’ll likely see different cars in the distance. It’s constantly erasing cars and adding cars just outside your field of view.

So I assumed that when you respawned at the hospital it just took the game a minute to fill the traffic in. The region started out blank, and it would need to materialize some cars in the distance and you’d have to wait for them to reach your location. But after observing the game for a long time I can see this isn’t the case. Traffic really is thinner when you’re on foot and thicker when you’re driving. There’s no reason the game can’t quickly materialize a bunch of cars just before the fade-in, so the streets will start out full.

This is especially blatant near highways in the wilderness. I’ll be hiking through the woods, perhaps following a highway and looking to an opportunity to ascend a steep hill or climb over a fence to reach the road. Lots of time passes, and the game doesn’t seem inclined to generate many cars. But the instant you’re behind the wheel you’ve constantly got people in your way. It works the other way, too: If my car gets knocked off the road by another driver, then by the time I crawl out of the wreck and get back to the road the traffic will have mostly dried up. I can’t think of any reason to do this except to annoy players. It’s just another one of GTA’s obnoxious jackass cheating systems.

You could fix this either way. Maybe leave some highways open so I can enjoy the thrill of really pushing this sportscar to the limit without worrying one of these asshole cars might do a last-second left-hand-turn in front of meSometimes I drive while obeying the traffic rules, and I’ve observed that cars are FAR more likely to pull out in front of the player than they are to pull out in front of each other.. Or fill all the roads in so that I’ll always have access to a car and don’t end up hiking long distances. Or go the simulationist route and have traffic density based on where you are, so downtown roads are dense and rural roads are sparse. But this approach of modulating the traffic to deliberately inconvenience the player is not fun or interesting. It’s just another stupid pain in the ass when I’m trying to enjoy my videogame.

Then again, being on foot gives you more time to savor that unique GTA worldbuilding flavor…

Stay classy, Los Santos.

Having gotten all that off my chest, I will say this is my favorite GTA of all. It’s never as fun as my beloved Saints Row, but there’s a lot to like here. This is probably the most interesting story since they began their push for “cinematic” storytelling. The heist system is a fantastic idea and forms much better narratives and coherent mission structure than the old “Boss of the week needs you to go to X and kill all the dudes and drive out without dying” thing they’ve been doing.

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Footnotes:

[1] As a programmer, I can totally understand this.

[2] Sometimes I drive while obeying the traffic rules, and I’ve observed that cars are FAR more likely to pull out in front of the player than they are to pull out in front of each other.



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  1. Bropocalypse says:

    I heard once that Saint’s Row is getting a reboot(natural given the conclusion of SR4) and I hope that, if true, will result in another SR2 rather than 3 or 4.
    The only thing I thought that GTA4 had over the series(does GTA5 have it?) was the euphoria engine, just because it made it so much funnier to interact with the pedestrians.

    • Taellosse says:

      As someone that was never quite able to get into the semi-serious tone of the first couple Saints Row games, I hope not. I actually quite liked the slapstick absurdity of the latter two games (IV especially. That game was a ton of fun, even if it was utterly ridiculous).

      But then, that probably has something to do with why I’ve always been interested in GTA, going back to the first, top-down, one. I’ve never remotely cared about the “serious storytelling” GTA pretends to have. They’ve always been purely stress-relief – the easier it is to commit random mayhem for no reason, the better. I don’t know if they still do this, but I remember when I played GTA III, I found it really annoying that large sections of the city were gated off for story progress. I didn’t care about the damned story (which is highly atypical for me – RPGs are my favorite genre, but there it is), I just wanted to cause property damage. Saints Row lets me do this, but also encourages play of the story to do the same sort of thing.

      • Thomas says:

        If it could have the tone of Saints Row 3 but without the irritating characters and weird sex-trafficking stuff it would be perfect for me. Saints Row 2 was oddly serious for a game whose gameplay is so unserious

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        One more vote for the absurdity of 3/4.Though maybe a return to the ground without superpowers.I mean I love the freedom of prototype gameplay in 4,but the absurdity of vehicular manslaughter from 3 is sorely missed.

        • Christopher says:

          All right, so we can all basically agree on Saints Row 3 without the human slave trade chapters, but superpowers or no superpowers? I loved running and jumping around in 4, but they really cut them out of all the story missions and I actually like the driving in 3. Even like the shooting, when it’s upgraded to a dumb degree and pistols send any enemy flying.

          • ehlijen says:

            I never actually liked SR3 all that much. It was funny in places, and I loved the Mars mission, but the GTA parody stuff just went past me.

            Gimme more SR4 and Gat out of Hell, please.

            • DeadlyDark says:

              Yeah, same for me. I liked two or three jokes in SR3, but rest of them felt… Forced and out of place. And shooting mechanics with overall gameplay doesn’t felt satisfying (at least for me), so I was puzzled, why people feel the game was better than GTA4 (or earlier). SR4 at least has superpowers so gameplay aspect was improved by moving in another territory. As for jokes, I don’t know but this time they worked much better overall. Still, may be it’s a cultural thing or just personal level, but for me, GTAs worked as a whole much better than SR3, and SR wins by playing in another field. So, I do prefer for them to make SR5 closer to SR4, than SR3 (never played SR2, because heard about poor performance at the time of release).

              • ehlijen says:

                I should probably note that I love scifi but am bored by most gangster stories, which likely explains a lot.

                But I also preferred being the straight man (me, the player) to a weird world rather than the world being the designated straight man for me and my antics, which 4 did a lot better.

                • DeadlyDark says:

                  Oh yeah, I am one of those who doesn’t like Godfather movies(while admitting their quality). But I do like them if execution of the story is right, like first Mafia game.

                  But for me SR3 never felt like proper gangster game like GTAs do, actually. It was more like “our good guys street level superheroes versus them bad guys megamaniacal corporate and military goverment villains” which felt somehow false to me. With SR4 everything about that started feel “Yeah, that’s how it should be”.

          • Humanoid says:

            I hated superpowers and couldn’t get through more than a couple hours of SR4 (having previously finished SR3). Part of it might be that I dislike the superhero genre in general, but I think the larger issue is that everything was so speeded up that it was impossible to see anything. Melee combat was nigh-unplayable, I found myself just randomly hitting the melee button while sprinting around and simply hoping that I’d hit something. Not sprinting wasn’t an option because I got shredded by bullets the moment I slowed down to do anything.

            So yeah, my vote would be for a sequel where the mechanics are largely played straight like in most of SR3 (the existence of the magic Deckers really annoyed me too), but perhaps have it be more white-collar. Suits instead of hoodies. :P

          • Thomas says:

            Saints Row IV was fun, but I think it was fun as a one off. If they want to spin-off a superhero franchise out of the games I’m all for that, but I think actual Saints Row games should have Saints Row 3 ‘awesome button’ levels of groundedness.

            If they did spin-off a superhero franchise they could build the game ground up for superhero shennigans so it would feel a bit tighter than Saints Row 4.

          • pdk1359 says:

            Fun thought; no powers by default, but add a series of side quests that are acid trip fueled super powered hallucinations that generally end with the player in an amusing/embarrassing situation after they sober up. Buuuut one of the side quests leaves it hanging whether they were high or actually doing the various super-powered acts.
            That way, those who liked powers could have fun, but it wouldn’t get up anyone’s nose.

          • Daniel says:

            I enjoyed SR4 and Gat Out of Hell, but in looking back, they are almost all filler (especially Gat Out of Hell).

            Very little time spent in story missions and a ton of time spent in side diversions. Gat Out of Hell was almost all side diversions that are unnecessary for completing the story. If it wasn’t for the flying in that game (which feels just right), I don’t think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much.

          • Taellosse says:

            I’m definitely pro-powers. I’ve only ever dabbled with SR2 and 3, but 4 really captured my attention, and I 100% completed it, and have played all the DLC (except Gat Out of Hell, which I just got on sale the other day, and have started only today). But I think that has more to do with the fact that I enjoy superhero comics and related translations of the concept in other media, and the number of video games that do super powers right are few and far between – and having them in a game like Saints Row was an unexpected gift.

            That being said, I’m really not sure where else they can take the current cast of Saints Row in a 5th game at this point. They’ve kind of crossed the zenith of absurdity with 4, and I’m really not sure there’s any room to go further ’round the bend. Also, it’d be hard to keep coming up with new excuses to give the characters super powers, since they’ve already done “virtual reality,” “powered armor,” and “supernatural enhancement” now. Really the only thing I could see at this point is “alien superscience gives them powers in the real world,” but there’s also the problem of the world having been blown up (though there’s mention of a time machine at the end, so maybe they could undo that in the next game). A reboot might be easier, if less wacky-satisfying.

          • Jeff says:

            I hated the fact that there was no point in collecting cool cars or cruising around, because I’d be faster and more effective just pulling a Neo.

      • Orillion says:

        The beauty of it was that the tone of the story clashed so much with the tone of the gameplay, but unlike GTA it was an intentional, calculated feature.

        When I drove my bootlegger down the sidewalk at mach 2 to Karma Chameleon in Saints Row 2 it felt “naughty,” but do the same in SR3 (or equivalent–the music selection in SR3 felt really weak, so much so that I manually ported the SR2 track list from The Mix) and it’s more like “yup gee howdy, that’s what you’re here for! Here, beat some people down with a giant dildo bat, it’s sooooo whhhhhhhacky!”

        Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay, port, and just about everything else was leagues above SR2, but feeling like that’s expected of me is all it takes to remove pretty much all the fun from random killing sprees.

        TL;DR presentation is everything, and I don’t like the way SR 3 and 4 are presented, compared to 2.

        • Nallenon says:

          I absolutely agree with this. SR3 was fun in co-op, but as you say, the game expected you to be so wacky that nothing you did felt like actually being wacky. It’s kind of how you never really feel evil when playing Overlord, because it’s the only option you have. It takes the fun out of it.
          SR4 was just.. Meh. I’ve never even finished it, and I’ve played all of maybe thirty minutes single player, it just doesn’t work for me.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Actually you never feel like evil when playing overlord because you are not.You are pitted against villains,and are often the lesser of two evils,which is boring.

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          Was it intentional? I found the contrast between the gangsta drama and the cartoony gameplay in SR2 somewhat jarring. I played through 2, 3 and 4 in co-op and 2 had some awkward pauses when we both thought that our characters were just plainly horrible people.

          I think I prefer my violence either cartoony and over the top or serious and dramatic, and SR2 felt like it was bouncing from one to another. I can definitely see how the wacky/cartoony direction the series headed in could annoy a lot of people but I guess that a matter of taste and mileage and it worked for me.

    • Volfram says:

      Having admittedly only played SR3 and none of the GTA series, but having seen footage from GTA 3 and later, I honestly don’t understand why anybody plays GTA(which is trying to be something it’s not) in a world where Saint’s Row(which knows EXACTLY what it is) exists.

      I may need to get my hands on SR2. I have Gat Outta Hell on my Steam wishlist pending the next time it goes on sale.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Have you seen those graphics in gtav man?Its the shiny graphics in gtav man!They are so beut!

      • McNutcase says:

        I’d strongly recommend grabbing Saints Row 2 from gog.com rather than on Steam, for multiple reasons. One, DRM. There is none on gog.com. Two, port quality; apparently the gog.com version is significantly less broken (they were able to go back because they’re part of CD Projekt, and it was CD Projekt Red that did the SR2 port in the first place) and doesn’t suffer from the infamous clock-speed-mismatch bug that resulted in an unplayably fast game if your CPU’s clock speed differed from an Xbox 360’s clock speed, in either direction.

        I went from SR3 to SR2, and I prefer the gameplay of 3 a bit, but the tone of 2 was far better. The wacky moments stood out more by contrast.

        • Volfram says:

          I actually have SR2 in my GoG Galaxy wishlist. I was going to put it in the shopping cart, but I decided that this week was not the week to buy it.

          I will be checking GoG before all of my Steam purchases from now on. There’s something far superior about being able to carry around an installer and know that even if GoG and Steam both die, that game will still run fine.

    • Richard says:

      GTA5 does have it, and it’s still great. I haven’t had a chance to play it much, but it seems like the only thing it doesn’t have that I loved in GTA4 is drunk driving. Maybe I just never got drunk enough, but the 3 or 4 times I tried, it seemed like I sobered up right as I was getting into a car.

      I also miss getting drunk, stumbling around in a congested intersection and yelling, “Yellow car!” in a thick accent. There are only so many times I can so that in real life before I can’t afford bail anymore…

  2. I wonder if the reduced traffic on foot is partly to make sure you don’t get run over all the time (NPC drivers in GTA are arseholes).

    But I do wonder if it’s done on purpose to annoy as well, as in “Why is there never a good ride around when you need one?”

    I’m pretty happy with GTA, except for one major thing. There are so may doors that you can’t enter.

    They got the outdoor technical stuff pretty much nailed, now I want to have seamless transition from outdoor to indoor. If there is a door or a window I expect to be able to open it (unless it’s barred or locked). I expect NPCs to live there.

    • Abnaxis says:

      My in-law has an XBone with AC: Unity, and OMFG I hate the unopenable doors in that game.

      They actually have interiors in buildings, except only one in every ten doors can be opened, and half of those require lock picking (and the mini game is horrible on a TV with bad screen lag). SO goddamn frustrating when you’re trying to ghost a level…

      Integrated interiors are nice and all, but they can really suck if done wrong. And smart money says GTA would do it wrong

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        You mean people are actually locking their doors?The nerve!

        • Abnaxis says:

          I would accept that it’s people locking doors, except you can pick locked doors. No, these doors are just 100% un-openable, barred shut by that oh-so-video-game contrivance of the unobtanium reinforced door–which, incidentally, looks exactly like a normal door until you murder half the guards getting to it to only to find it impassable.

          If, out of 20 doors, 2 were unlocked and 18 were locked but pickable, I would roll my eyes but carry on (who locks every internal door in a building?). But no, out of 20 doors, 1 is open, 1 is pickable, and the other 18 are painted into the damn wall Roadrunner-style.

          Like, I’m really annoyed at these doors, guys.

          • Nataline says:

            Ah, the accursed blot doors.

            • Abnaxis says:

              Even plot doors are preferable. These are “impassable to be a pain in your ass so you you have to take a long circuitous path around the guards we set up” doors. They don’t unlock when you reach a plot point. They don’t ever unlock.

              • Nataline says:

                Yes, I got it. My feeble door pun hinged on “paint blot”, but it failed to pass the jocularity threshold and just ended up silly. Now I feel like a right knob for latching on to your Roadrunner reference to better frame my lame comedy. :/ I’ll handle this better in future.

  3. Neko says:

    Perhaps when you’re on foot, more pedestrians are simulated, and when you’re driving, more AI actors are devoted to drivers?

    • Nidokoenig says:

      That’d make some sense, like they assume if you’re on foot you’re looking to get into a fight and they need spare cpu for hostile AI, or maybe NPCs are simpler in texture, model and AI when you’re driving. Never noticed traffic being a problem in Saints Row, besides the tendency to swerve into me when I drove on the proper bloody side of the road in Third. Could be that GTA is pushing the system more than SR and has to prioritise saving polygons n’at

    • Humanoid says:

      Like that one pedestrian in the second screenshot?

    • Tizzy says:

      The way these games work, they always try to do things on the cheap: allocate just enough resources to make it somewhat believable, but not more, probably because the game would grind down to a halt… They always seem to be at the very edge.

      So that explanation makes sense to me. If you’re on foot, I need to devote more resources to pedestrians, and the easiest way to do that is to dial down the cars.

  4. kikito says:

    I always call a taxi if I can.

    I also noticed that I liked flying airplanes less in this game than in the previous ones. Maybe they made the wind a bit too strong.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      Planes are nearly unflyable using Mouse+KB, or require quite a lot of rebinding and adjusting to get them right. That being said the planes, are okay to fly using gamepad, but to anyone aware how actuall planes fly the model is VERRY arcady. I mean you can turn using rudder with NO rolling or anything. Also even on the gamepad I think the layout of the controls is not what I would have liked. The speed up/slow down are on left and right (shoulder?), while I would have liked for them to be on like right shoulder and trigger button, one above the other. So if I’m racing, I need to keep one of the fingers of my right hand all the time on speedup button in hopes I get some of the boost (planes have like three speeds, stopped, normal and slighty boosted speed), one finger from both of my hands needs to be on the triggers to yaw, and my left thumb needs to be on the analogue stick which is fair distance from the trigger. It’s awkward as hell.

      Do you know which flight moddel of all of these sandbox games I liked the most? The one in Just Cause of all games. And that is the brilliance of JC. It let loose the insane Rico and other characters go loony, while most of the equipment and viehicles behaved quite realistically.

      Oh and I just tried helicopters, and while I can use planes and enjoy them in GTAV, with my 3rd party gamepad the helicopters are unplayable since they require too precise analogue sticks for my gamepad.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Planes are nearly unflyable using Mouse+KB, or require quite a lot of rebinding and adjusting to get them right.

        I remember getting this sentence all the way back in gtaIII,and never found it to be true.Not in any of the expansions,not in 4.So any difference in how V does flying compared to those?

        • 4th Dimension says:

          The problem is mainly with the smaller and more nimble craft, which incidentally you use to complete challenges. For them the problem is that when you press the key to let’s say roll left, the controls emidiatelly go 100% left roll, and since it’s a plane with a good roll rate, it makes it impossible to do fine adjustments since even a tap of the key will roll the plane by 25 degrees or more. The same goes for other controls. Also the fisr time I tried to use them, it seems like the game wants to correct you all the time, add to that the “turbulence” (random shaking of the plane related to flying skill) and precision flying is kind of impossible.

          Any you can rebind the controls to fly with mouse mascarading as a joystick, but than you loose the ability to control the camera, you need to fiddle with the sensitivity and turn off an annoying “helper” feature that recenters your joystick position as soon as you stop moving the mouse. And even once you have set that up, if your mouse goes outside of some nebulous bounds, the joysctick will suddenly and not unfoten fataly be recentred.

          And mind you I am someone who flies planes in sims, and other games, but GTAV takes the cake in unusability. I think the problem was that they tried to make flying more realistic and fogot their users will be flying using quite inprecise instruments like Keyboards and cheap gamepads. And even with the realism, the flight models are still silly. Hell the last time I enjoyed, truly enjoyed flying in GTA, was flying helicopters in VC.

        • I think GTA V is the first to have flying skills, I’m pretty sure GTA II and VC and SA did not have that, I don’t think GTA IV had flying skill either?

          I have to agree with the wind, it’s a tad overkill at times, if it was a storm sure but in nice clear weather you get these burst winds.

          Of the 3 characters only Trevor has almost maxed out flying skills. I’ve not flown enough to notice how much difference that makes on the wind.

          I have to echo the control issue with flying.
          I did not finish ending 1 in GTA IV due to that (I had to go with ending 2 instead) as was never able to finish the helicopter chase near the end of ending 1, I tried around 20 times, in the end I saif fuck it and went back a few saves and did the alternate ending, then after that I watched ending 1 on youtube and pretended I had gotten that. Which did not work as post-end a few things referenced the ending.

          • DeadlyDark says:

            San Andreas had skills, including flying. And flying school was mandatory for the plot. I know that many hate that, but I love flying in San-Andreas, and flying in general, so that was fine by me.

          • MichaelGC says:

            Aye right! – those helicopter missions would have been a LOT easier if the game had accepted, as a valid landing, slamming facefirst into the ground and expiring in the resultant conflagration. I got quite good at those. Certainly had enough practice…

        • In GTA V helicopters are better but I had to ditch the mouse fully for steering.

          I tried using a gamepad but the sensitivity was all wonky (I may just be unused to playing with gamepads). For a purely racing game the gamepad would probably work better (as a substitute for wheel and pedals).
          Those two pressure sensitive triggers on the gamepad are nice.

          I found that setting up the WASD are and the numpad area so that numpad was used to ascend/descend/rotate/turn, and WASD for bank left/right/faster/slower that the steering got a lo better.

          (I got a small keyboard dream I’ll put in a fresh thread way at the bottom here which sort of continues from this comment.)

  5. Eruanno says:

    I’ve noticed some roads in GTA 5 are always full of cars, though. For example the big bustling highway over by Michael’s shrink’s office is always thick with cars.

  6. Erik says:

    I noticed the deleting of cars most in GTA Vice City. I’d see the car i’d want, then look the other way to check for cops. But when i’d look at my intended vehicle again, it would be gone.

    So very annoying when youre trying to do the mission for the car dealership…

    • Syal says:

      Your problem is in worrying about cops in GTA Vice City. It’s more like GTA Keystone.

      • 4th Dimension says:

        I don’t get it. VC had one of the toughest police forces to evade in all GTA games. And it’s all due to one thing. They can lay, and will lay at slightest provocation, the hedgehogs to shred your tires. See how far can you go with no tires.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Pretty far actually.Once you get the hang of it,lack of tires becomes just a slight burden.

          • 4th Dimension says:

            Yeah, but you will get a LOT farther if your tires weren’t punched out. There is a reason I think that mechanic never reapeared in newer titles. It wasn’t fun, since any cop could lay them rigth in front of you with no possibility of avoidance.

            • Syal says:

              On the other hand, if you drive near the docks every cop will run themselves straight into the water. If you slow down they’ll run past you and crash into each other, and you can lose them before they reorient.

              Plus if you did the taxi minigame you could jump over all of those spike traps, and cop cars in general.

  7. Nataline says:

    ~2½ months ago I bought GTA IV, a decision which I have since come to sorely regret. The game fought tooth and claw against all my attempts of having fun with such efficiency that eventually I just gave the fuck up, yanked the disc out (PS3) and tossed it over my shoulder. I hope it never comes up again.

    Once I was standing on the 90° turn cut out of a T-junction by some construction site or whatever, right outside that smug bastard’s office, Paper something, you know the place. I was, as always, in need of a car and looked one way into the distance and spotted one vehicle in the next intersection, turning awayward. *whinegrumblesigh*

    That traffic teat appearing dry I spun around to see if there were anything approaching from the other direction and a conga line of eight or nine taxis instantly appeared behind me and ran me over! Death, restart from other side of the goddamn map (for the Nth time already), ragequit. (IIRC this is the only game that has actually made me ragequit, as in “enough of this shit, power off right now, to hell with saving!” – and it managed to milk that reaction out of me seven times… *twitch*)

    I hate that game.

    • Humanoid says:

      I ragequit San Andreas after a few attempts at the bicycling minigame (except that it’s not a minigame because it’s a core plot element). That happens less than half an hour into the game I believe, and I’ve never even considered launching the game (or indeed any other GTA title) again since, so I’d have played the game for less than half an hour total.

      There are other games I despise – games like Oblivion and ME3 – but those I gave at least a few hours to come good before giving up entirely.

  8. SlothfulCobra says:

    I’ve always thought that total freeform driving simulation was overrated. Sure it adds immersion and lets you get into crazy car chases, but when you want to just get from place to place, you’re going to be wrestling with other cars with controls that lack the finesse of real driving and getting into all sort of traffic accidents. It’s great for GTA, but it’s terrible for things like LA Noire, where you’re nominally not supposed to be a one man storm of chaos.

    I’ve always wanted to see a game make some kind of abstraction of driving where you snap to lanes and stuff like that.

    • Humanoid says:

      I want to see a smaller-yet-bigger scale version of Euro Truck Simulator, where it only simulates one city instead of, y’know, most of Europe, but have that city at 1:1 scale and modelled as accurately as possible. It’d probably more realistically be Euro Van Simulator, but hey, the main attraction would be the city.

  9. MrGuy says:

    I’m just waiting for a day when we’ve got enough horsepower to combine Cities: Skylines style “everyone has a home and a place to be” simulation with a GTA-style shoot-em-up.

    Come to think of it, wondering why that isn’t something we could do right now. You have the Cities-style traffic engine running in the background keeping track of people/car movements – going to work, the funeral home, garbage trucks, etc. Because GTA moves so much slower (a day in GTA lasts WAY longer than a day in Cities), that simulation isn’t running very fast, so hopefully not too much resource bloat. We’re not rendering anything – just running the simulation to come up with an array of “where stuff is.”

    For rendering, rather than have randomly generated traffic, we look to the simulation for “where stuff is,” and render it there. Once you’re actually rendered, you get AI driver mechanics (which will cause “what’s on the screen” to diverge a bit from “what the simulation would do,” because simulating a crazy psycho with a rocket launcher’s effect on traffic is not Cities’ forte).

    Once a car leaves the renderable region (e.g. car has been out of sight for more than X seconds), we drop the AI, and update the simulation with the new location for the car, and let the simulator track it until it gets to its destination.

    • newplan says:

      Come to think of it, wondering why that isn’t something we could do right now. You have the Cities-style traffic engine running in the background keeping track of people/car movements – going to work, the funeral home, garbage trucks, etc.

      I’m laughing about the number of simulated trips to funeral homes that the average citizen of Los Santos would have to make if you combined it with Skyline:Cities.

      You’d also have to simulate hundreds of moving trucks moving new stuff into all the houses that get emptied when the inhabitants are brutally murdered while buying a latte.

      • Slothfulcobra says:

        Well there is a reason that people have called GTA a murder simulator. There should be loads of funerals to deal with after a player has rampaged through town.

    • Abnaxis says:

      Isn’t that kind of what Skyrim does, but without the cars?

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        And that is precisely the reason why we dont have such a thing in gta.Check out a single block of gta and youll see that it has the population that already dwarves the whole of skyrim.No computer in the world would be able to run the whole of gta with full population mapped out.Not with current ai algorithms.

        • Naota says:

          Not to mention, I don’t think the simulation would really contribute much to the fun factor of your typical GTA roaming shoot-thinger. Sure, the illusion of a living, breathing world is novel and a great technical accomplishment, but for the purposes of gameplay it’s often scarcely any different from the cheaper systems already in place. As neat as it is to watch people just go about their lives in GTA IV, so rarely does it matter at all to the player or the goals they’re given.

          What the player actually needs is easy access to vehicles, the right number of targets/obstacles, non-frustrating driving conditions, and enough variance to make each area feel unique and setting-appropriate. A full simulation of drivers, destinations, and roads accomplishes this, but at thousands of times the cost of just writing a better abstraction. What’s really needed to take advantage of a Cities-style traffic engine is another game altogether.

          • Nidokoenig says:

            One other factor is that it’s a GTA game, so if players believe NPCs are somewhat alive, it becomes difficult to murderise them because of basic empathy, and the nagging worry they might be useful to the player later, which is often a problem for me in open world games. A swarm of drones? Who gives a shit, drive on the pavement and watch the police go mental.

        • straymute says:

          To be fair though on a medium end gaming rig you can already massively increase the number of AI in Skyrim without any real performance hit. The main issues come from things that needed to be fixed with Skyrim itself rather than hardware limits. Arma 2 also has some missions with country spanning war simulation that you can run on today’s medium hardware. It gets pretty complex too with AI commanders giving broad orders to AI squad leaders who then give specific orders to their AI squad members. Vehicles, bases, artillery and all that completely operated by hundreds of AI.

          I think there’s a lot of plausible cool AI stuff that could happen, but just isn’t attempted with most of today’s games.

    • bionicOnion says:

      The thing is that a huge part of effective programming is in figuring out what you can get away with without resorting to simulation. Shamus wrote an article a few years back about it–his example, if I remember correctly, was in the context of a racing game’s physics system: a programmer could attempt to model the exact interactions of a tire with the surface of the road, including the collision of every speck of gravel against every contour of the tread, and use that to precisely determine the exact instant that the tire loses traction (and repeat this simulation across all four tires), or the programmer could say that the car itself has a grip factor of x and compare that to the forces being applied to the car according to the locomotion system they’ve already got. The point is that it would be a lot of extra work to get that extra bit of verisimilitude, but the second implementation would easily look ‘good enough’ and be FAR less prone to failure and far less likely to fall apart into something laughably stupid.

      To reign this back in to the topic at hand, it’s entirely possible to get a reasonable sense of a living city without breaking the bank on actually simulating a city. Cities: Skylines does it because that’s its core gameplay; it couldn’t not do that. GTA, conversely, only needs to have citizens that look ‘good enough’ for a casual observer, and it’s a massively unnecessary overhead for an AI designer to go through and actually simulate every action and interaction for most citizens, since the player will realistically only ever pay attention to at most a handful at a time. The problem that Shamus is describing here isn’t an issue with GTA using heuristics to influence its world simulation, it’s that GTA is using stupid heuristics.

      That’s why reasonable simulation of NPC behavior without requiring full simulation has been a topic of research–you can get ‘good enough’ results without simulating things until you do. Ben Sunshine-Hill, who I believe currently works doing R&D at Havok (at least as of a few years ago), has done some particularly interesting work on alibi generation–retroactively figuring out what an NPC was doing once a player takes notice of them rather than simulating out their behavior in advance. He gave a few examples in a presentation at the AI Summit at GDC a few years back; it works surprisingly well and is surprisingly easy to implement (at least comparatively).

      Of course, at the end of the day, actually participating in (and, let’s be honest here, blowing up) a fully-simulated world would be a blast; GTA just isn’t the right fit for that (as Abnaxis has already pointed out, that’s a job better left to Skyrim and its ilk).

    • Cybron says:

      Because your antics would quickly drop the population and such.

      Despite their attempts at serious business story telling the worlds of GTA have never been realistic and never will be unless they totally redefine the series somehow.

      • Alexander The 1st says:

        Well now I’m picturing a SimCity/Battlefield tie-in game where you connect to an online server that adjusts population demands to a Battlefield match.

        “Nevermind – there’s not as much demand for residential anymore.”

    • Humanoid says:

      Well SimCopter and Streets of SimCity tried something like that some two decades ago, perhaps their failure scared off any further attempts. It’s something I’d like to see tried again though, sure.

  10. Henson says:

    For me, this traffic quirk is not nearly as bad as the problem I already have with these open-world city games: I hate driving. I really, really hate driving in these games. I hated it in LA Noire, I hated it in Sleeping Dogs, I hated it whenever Saints Row IV made me do it (except during the singing part). I just don’t see the point. Immersion? That goes out the window as soon as I refuse to stop every twenty seconds for a red light. It’s certainly not fun for its own sake, since controls never feel responsive enough (the motorcycles in Sleeping Dogs came closest to fun, but still not quite). I certainly see the appeal of purposely smashing into other cars at top speed, but for basic transportation I’d much rather have someone else take the wheel, turn all the lights to green, and let me focus on the surroundings instead of the boring grey road.

  11. Abnaxis says:

    There ought to be a ‘warp’ button that will take you from point A to point B, following all relevant traffic laws, when you drive a car in GTA and there’s no fuzz on you.

    Maybe roll a die for a “random encounter” to abstract the possibility of a police officer recognizing your stolen vehicle/your infamous criminal face, but otherwise let you get back to whatever mission you were doing. It would solve so many problems…

  12. Christopher says:

    I never knew this was a thing in GTA. Haven’t noticed a similar system in Saints Row 3 or Just Cause 2.

  13. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Having gotten all that off my chest, I will say this is my favorite GTA of all. It’s never as fun as my beloved Saints Row, but there’s a lot to like here.

    Just for reference,did you start with the 2d mayhem of 1 and 2,or from the 3d world of 3?

    If you already answered this,I forgot.Sorry.

  14. I get the strong impression this is an issue of RAM because GTA IV has the same issue, but the thing I’ve also noticed in that game is that when you're in a specific car, more of that kind of car is more likely to show up in traffic. This leads me to believe that the GTA games use your character's status info in some way in order to build the traffic library since that's already in RAM and it won't have to pull new data off the disc/hd and possibly cause a bottleneck. It would also explain why there's no cars when yer on foot. If you're not in a car, there's no data to pull from and it'll have to pull from disc/hd and it may take time to both grab that data and make sure there's enough space in RAM for it. Remember, GTA V was ported to PC and next gen, but it was still originally designed around consoles that only had 256MB of RAM. That’s…a pretty tight memory budget to work with, so I can understand them taking every kind of shortcut they could when designing everything under the hood.

    • guy says:

      You may be correct on the cars when you’re driving, but it should still be able to keep traffic going when you’re on foot, because it has cars which are not identical. Most likely, the reason you see more of the car you’re driving is that the game can’t unload the data for it so it’s always ready to populate the world with more while it swaps other car types in and out of being ready to use.

    • Loonyyy says:

      The other thing I notice, is that GTA IV on PC was a lot better at not deleting cars than GTA V is on my 360. I think it’s almost certainly a memory thing.

      I tried creating a barricade at an intersection, scaring people out of cars and pouring gasoline everywhere, but after I moved from one road into the intersection to another, the cars at the previous one would vanish.

      I’m pretty sure that was down to the low memory on the console. Kind of disappointing that that’s where they cut the corner.

  15. I got a dream, a dream of the perfect gaming keyboard.

    A gaming (QWERTY) keyboard where the keys are in a grid (like the numpad is, instead of staggered as W A S D keys are now)- and make the W A S D keys pressure sensitive in 3 stages (0%, 50%, 100%) as minimum, ideally 5 stages (0%. 25%, 50%, 75%, 100%). Using a optical sensor this should be possible, and since it’s just for four keys it should not be too expensive.

    One issue is how to map it. If plugged in without a driver I think the keyboard should show up as a keyboard, and then the W A S D (and several other keys) show up as a Xinput gamepad to the system.

    For games that support the use of a gamepad and keyboard+mouse at the same time this should work just awesome (you simply unmap W A S D from the keyboard for example so the “gamepad” W A S D are only read).

    With drivers however something cooler can be done, the software would let you “switch” the keyboard into full gamepad mode, this way a game would not register the keyboard W A S D and “gampad” W A S D at the same time, just the gamepad part.
    And the mouse input from your mouse is remapped into the right stick of the “gamepad”.

    Only the mapped keys (and mouse) are ignored from the USB keyboard and mouse, unmapped keys or reserved keys will still work as normal keyboard keys (like the media keys for play/pause, forward/back, and volume etc.).

    There is one issue with the mouse remapping though, if a game reads the mouse raw (something MicroSoft advice against for this very reason) is that it will ignore any mouse remapping that has been done.

    What is the point?
    For example I like GTA V with mouse+keyboard. The only thing I wish was that acceleration and deceleration and turning left and right was not you know “nothing” and “floored”, 3 or 5 stages W A S D would solve that.

    And if making pressure sensitive buttons is too costly then you can fake it all in the software/drivers.
    The longer you hold a W A S D key the higher and faster the axis value increases.
    If you gently tap the key now and again then it will maintain the axis value.
    If you do not press the key for 1 second then it resets to 0.
    If you press in the opposite direction (if you let go of W and press S) then W is set to 0 automatically, same if done in the opposite order.
    If W and S are pressed at the same time then both have their values maxed (as if you pressed gas and break/back at the same time one gamepad) allowing you to do burnouts etc.

    Using time as a factor you can make a keyboard simulate a gamepad’s forward/backward/left/right analogs.

    I’ve not seen a game do this yet. Nor have I seen any software (there are at least a couple keyboard to joystick or keyboard to gamepad re-mappers out there, do they support this?)

    The closest I’ve seen is http://sourceforge.net/projects/vjoystick/ but I don’t think it emulates a Xinput device.

    x360ce does emulate a Xinput device https://github.com/x360ce/x360ce
    but does only directinput to xinput mapping.

    Maybe both have to be used for my idea to work (I do wonder about the latency this will cause though).
    It’s kind of silly to remap keyboard>joystick>xinput though,
    ideally it should be keyboard>xinput
    And best would be if the keyboard had hardware support for this.

    I have a mouse that I can upload scripts to and it will work on any system without need for special drivers or software, the mouse can spit out mouse and keyboard events as programmed.

    And I know that with a Teensy or Arduino you can create keyboard/mouse/joystick events (no Xinput sadly) as I’ve done that myself previously.

    I’ve got 10 cheap relegendable momentary push buttons hopefully on it’s way from China over the next month, and when I got those I plan to add a toggle switch into the mix to change the keys from keyboard mode to “gamepad” mode so I’ll have my own WASD/Gamepad unit if you can call it that. If I come up with something cool I may brag about it here at some point in the future.

    The really silly thing here is that it would probably take a developer at Rockstar less than a day to make/support a time factor on keyboard keys (the longer you hold it the “harder” you press).

  16. Chamomile says:

    My feedly is convinced there’s an Errant Signal embedded in this post. But I see nothing.

  17. scowdich says:

    The general impression I’ve got from my admittedly limited experience playing GTA is that the game spawns traffic weighted toward what you’re driving. If you’re driving a truck, there’ll be more trucks, if you’re driving a taxi, there’ll be more taxis. You can look for hours and hours to find a Banshee, steal one, and then get stuck behind six of them at an intersection.
    Unfortunately, when you’re a pedestrian, the traffic gets weighted toward that, too.

    • dman says:

      Yeah, I was going to bring that up. The system (in all iterations, GTA3 up) only keeps 4-6 individual vehicle models in action at any one time. It just rotates them at a comfortable rate that makes it hard to notice.
      That economy of memory fits well with the desired effect of regional variations, so it gives the effect of looking like it’s by design.

      Though there is definitely different weighting to what types can be found in what areas of the map, it’s hard to upgrade straight from walking to a decent ride. The available vehicles are most often in the same general range as the one you are in. Cruising around in a clunker looking for a sports car in motion can take a while, even in the nice part of town. But if you hop out and incrementally upgrade your ride when you see someone a bit nicer pull up beside you a few times, you’ll find the hot wheels become more plentiful almost immediately.
      Again, this is true right from GTA3, and possibly earlier, now I think of it.

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