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Former GTA Dev Reveals How Rockstar Overcame PS2 Limits With Clever Car Spawning System

Ever wondered why you suddenly see a line of rare cars in classic GTA games?

Rockstar devised a very interesting solution for GTA's car spawning system.
Rockstar devised a very interesting solution for GTA's car spawning system.

For fans of the Grand Theft Auto series, the games’ immersive open worlds have long been a source of fascination and endless exploration. However, a new revelation from former Rockstar Games developer Obbe Vermeij has shed light on a peculiar phenomenon that many players may have noticed but never fully understood: the mysterious spawning of specific car models.

In a YouTube clip shared by Vermeij, a player in GTA: San Andreas can be seen searching for a rare sports car model. As soon as they acquire one and drive out of town onto the highway, a line of traffic filled with the same rare model appears, almost as if the developers were taunting the player’s efforts to find a unique vehicle.

Vermeij, who worked on classic titles like GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas, took to X (formerly Twitter) to explain the technical details behind this seemingly bizarre occurrence. It turns out that memory constraints on the PlayStation 2 console forced the developers to implement a clever system for managing vehicle models.

“Memory on the PS2 was tight,” Vermeij revealed. “We had to limit the number of used vehicle models to 8.” To accommodate this limitation, his code would periodically pick a car model to be phased out. Once there were no instances of that model left on the map, it could be removed from memory, freeing up space for a new model to be loaded.

The code would intelligently select models appropriate for the area, such as sports cars in business districts and old clunkers in run-down neighborhoods. However, as Vermeij explained, several factors could throw a wrench into this system’s smooth operation.

For instance, if the player had escalated their wanted level, some of the eight available slots would be taken up by police vehicles, SWAT vans, and helicopters. Additionally, level designers might load specific car models for missions, which might not be suitable for ambient traffic. Emergency vehicles like ambulances and fire trucks could also be required at any time, further complicating the model management.

Transitioning between different areas of the map could also cause jarring inconsistencies, as the loaded car models might appear out of place in the new environment. It would take time for more appropriate replacements to be loaded, potentially leaving the player surrounded by a sea of mismatched vehicles.

To alleviate these issues, the developers implemented a clever trick: garages would remove cars inside them once the door closed, allowing those models to be unloaded from memory. When the player reopened the garage, the cars would be recreated in the same spots, ensuring a seamless experience.

Vermeij’s recent tweets have proved to be a treasure trove of information, providing fans with a fascinating glimpse into the creative problem-solving skills that went into creating the popular classic GTA games. These revelations not only offer a deeper appreciation for the franchise but also serve as a reminder of the ingenuity and passion that went into bringing these fictional worlds to life.

Caleb Sama
Caleb Sama // Articles: 15
Ever since Caleb discovered GTA 3, he has taken it upon himself to learn everything there is to know about the fictional worlds created by Rockstar Games. His obsession with Red Dead Redemption earned him the nickname John Marston. Thankfully, GTA V was released a few years later, and he found a new game to fixate on. Now, he simply crawls the web like a bot, searching for every bit of information that might give him a headstart on GTA 6. // Full Bio