Grand Theft Auto Four to Hit Shelves

The video game Grand Theft Auto Four hits shelves next week. The game is expected to sell more than 8 million copies, and may even dip into weekend box office numbers. Chris Baker from Wired talks with John Ydstie about Grand Theft Auto, and about a major mile-marker for the computer game The Sims.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

Coming up, a New Orleans home that houses three generations of memories. But first:

(Soundbite of music)

YDSTIE: The video game "Grand Theft Auto Four: Liberty City" hits the store shelves next week. The game is expected to sell more than 8 million copies, and analysts say the much-anticipated release will cramp weekend movie box-office numbers because all those young men who might have otherwise have gone out to see "Iron Man" will be at home conquering the cold, hard, virtual streets of Liberty City.

Chris Baker is senior editor at Wired magazine. He joins us from the studios of KKSF and KDFC in San Francisco. Welcome to the program.

Mr. CHRIS BAKER (Senior Editor, Wired): Great to be here.

YDSTIE: So explain the "Grand Theft Auto" series. Each game takes place in a virtual recreation of a major American city, right?

Mr. BAKER: All the games are sort of a rags-to-riches story. You start out as a low man on a totem pole, and you can climb the ranks within a crime family, and in any city there are rival crime families. There are corrupt politicians and media barons.

(Soundbite of videogame, "Grand Theft Auto Four: Liberty City")

Unidentified Man #1 (Videogame Animation Voiceover): (As Character) Life is complicated. I killed people, smuggled people, sold people. Perhaps here, things will be different.

Mr. BAKER: What players love about them is it sets you loose in this big, sprawling environment, and I think that's where a lot of the controversy comes from. Because the game is so open, people can choose to throw a grenade into a crowd at Times Square.

YDSTIE: Yeah, and there's been a lot of criticism of this series by politicians, including Eliot Spitzer, former governor of New York.

Mr. BAKER: Eliot Spitzer and Hillary Clinton.

YDSTIE: And this new one, Liberty City, mimics New York City, right?

Mr. BAKER: Yes it does. It's a pastiche, so it's the Statue of Happiness and not the Statue of Liberty. But New Yorkers will be astonished at how much detail is there. There's a knock-off of Coney Island, there's Times Square, there's a Lincoln Tunnel.

It's made by a team of developers in Scotland, and it's very much sort of a funhouse look at America, sort of America as it's shown in crime movies and rock videos, and this time it's even more pointed with a look at big figures in New York City and the pop culture surrounding New York City.

YDSTIE: So let's turn now to another simulated game. "The Sims" debuted eight years ago. It lets you control the lives of simulated characters, and it sold its 100 millionth copy this month, the most ever for a computer game. Why is "The Sims" series so enduring?

Mr. BAKER: "The Sims" really does appeal. It's sort of a generic, suburban setting, and you can project whatever you want on it. You can make it like any sort of environment you want, and I think that…

YDSTIE: Sort of play God, in a way.

Mr. BAKER: Yes.

YDSTIE: So eight years is an eternity for a computer game. Who is it that keeps buying "The Sims" game?

Mr. BAKER: The audience tends to be a little older. I think 60 percent of Sims buyers are women.

YDSTIE: Interesting. The mastermind behind "The Sims" franchise, Will Wright, is getting a lot of buzz for a game that he's currently developing. It's called Spore. What can you tell us about that game?

Mr. BAKER: Spore is shaping up to be the most ambitious game ever made. The game begins with bacillum, and you're floating around trying to eat other one-celled creatures and not be eaten. And then at a certain point, you evolve, and you set foot on land, and you can sort of shape and control your creature's evolution, how many legs it has, how it feeds itself and on up to where it's a space-faring civilization with huge cities, and then you go out into the galaxy, and there are tens of thousands of planets, each one with its own unique creatures.

YDSTIE: Chris Baker is senior editor at Wired magazine. Thanks very much for coming it to talk to us.

Mr. BAKER: My pleasure.

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