Total Converts: How To Go Walking In Grand Theft Auto IV
A Column Title Pun I Will Regret
Total Converts is a new weekly column about mods, maps, models, and anything player-created which you can use to amend or append your games.
I stopped playing Grand Theft Auto IV's missions at the moment where they became too objectionable and turgid to continue. I started to enjoy playing Grand Theft Auto IV almost immediately afterwards, when I began to experiment with the mods available for the game. Without any tools, and with a barely functional Games For Windows Live-cripped PC port, the game's community had introduced dozens of new ways to toy with the parts of the game I enjoyed: its city, its physics, the rambunctious silliness of its free-form multiplayer.
You can fly and fire lasers from your eyes like Superman. You can flank Nico with a phalanx of baby Star Wars Walkers. You can introduce a police notoriety system, or play as a police officer yourself. You can introduce GTAV style character switching, or make the game prettier than GTAV (from particular angles) with a set of ENB Series tweaks.
Or, like me, you can just go for a walk.
What I'm talking about is this:
I love walking around cities, but it's not an experience that's easy to re-create in videogames. Most videogame cities lack the openness, detail and variety necessary to make ambling interesting, or they continually throw obstacles and objectives in your path which stop you from enjoying your stroll. The so-called walking simulators that have been been made in the past few years aren't really simulators at all. They're mostly set on strange islands, and not the JG Ballard kind.
GTAIV is one of the few exceptions. Best of all, nearly six years after its release and after the console arrival of its sequel, new mods are still being released every day. My favourites aren't any of those I mentioned above, which expand your abilities and powers and expand the power fantasy of exploding havoc in Liberty City. I prefer mods which help me better inhabit that world and which make the city itself feel more alive. There's only a couple of tweaks in the video above, but it makes all the difference. I'll tell you what I'm using, how I'm using it, and point towards some other things you can do with the game along the way.
First, a few technical notes. Because GTAIV doesn't officially support modding, you'll need to do some work before anything will run. It's not hard, but let's get that out of the way first:
- You need to cut Games For Windows Live out of the equation before mods will work. A crying shame, right? The downside is that you won't be able to play online, but let's be honest, that barely worked to begin with. To remove the game's reliance on Microsoft's dying service, download and follow the installation instructions* for XLiveless on this forum thread. (Basically you're just copying a .dll into your GTAIV install folder).
- Not every mod requires it, but many rely on Script Hook in order to work. Download the latest version from that link and follow instructions, though again you're just copying it into your GTAIV install folder.
- You should then grab a tool which lets you implement modified files (like new car models) into GTAIV's original file structure. OpenIV seems to be the modern tool of choice, and it's worked fine for me thus far.
- Again, this isn't strictly necessary, but stick '-norestrictions' in your GTAIV shortcut or under Launch Options within Steam. It'll stop the game from artificially throttling your graphics settings for no good reason.
- I wrote detailed install instructions for most of these mods once before, but that was another life.
Like a tinkerer's flux capacitor, these tools are what make modding possible. So let's mod. I like to begin with Simple Trainer, which introduces a bunch of keyboard shortcut cheats to the game. Hundreds of them, even. If you're starting from scratch, there's cheats to unlock all three islands, to teleport wherever you want to go, and to save your game and position without the need to first head to a safe house. There's also this, in the list of commands: "RCTRL+J Enable/Disable Gravity Gun".
Liberty City is absolutely one of my favourite videogame places, but those six years have dulled its impact. For a start, the streets are strangely quiet, the pavements often empty. If you're running the game on any kind of modern PC though, you'll be more than capable of simulating some crowds. So lets next fix that.
More Liberty is a mod which radically increases the amount of traffic and the number of pedestrians lining Liberty City's streets. It makes the city feel like a city: loud and bustling and frantic. It also amplifies the game's personality as the deliberate imprecision of AI drivers causes more bumped fenders and traffic jams, and the violent tendencies of pedestrians explode more often when faced with so many people blocking their path. Across the board, it makes walking around Liberty City's streets a more unpredictable and entertaining experience.
Of course, there's a more obvious effect in the video embedded above: it's in first-person. Grand Theft Auto's third-person setting is more cinematic, but it makes it the city feel small. Switching the view to first-person puts every pedestrian in the game at eye level and raises the skyscrapers around you high above. It's a recipe for feeling both insignificant and comfortingly swaddled, which is exactly how a walk in a city should make you feel. All you need to switch the game's camera angle is the First Person Mod and to double-tap the camera button ('v' by default) while in-game.
With just these two mods, you're ready to go for a stroll through Liberty City. Here's my suggestion: pick two points, far apart, and try to walk between them. In reference to Will Self, I like to start at the airport on the eastern coast of the eastern most island, and walk to the western coast of the western most island. You'll stroll through areas you've never lingered in before. You'll see old haunts from a whole new perspective. To make your journey contiguous on foot you'll necessarily wander alleyways, scramble up embankments and hop fences, and in doing so stumble across an almost absurd amount of previously unseen detail created by Liberty City's architects, from idle animations to lines of pedestrian dialogue to shop fronts and audio effects.
It'll make you feel, far more than its artificial comedy clubs and TV channels and safe houses, as if Liberty City is your home.
Of course, the great thing about modding is that it's always possible to go further. A select few of you might be able to do this:
If you've downloaded the First Person Mod already, you'll have noticed it comes with two config files: one for regular mode, and one its creator added at the start of the year so it supports the Oculus Rift. You'll need something like TriDef to fake the 3D double-vision (it works with the free trial), but afterwards it works seamlessly. You can wander the streets of Liberty City and crane your neck like a genuine tourist until you start to feel a bit motion sick.
And if you ever get bored with walking, then yeah, there's still that Superman script.
(There's a Superman model you can switch to as well, but it creates a little ludonarrative dissonance).
Hi, by the way. This is Total Converts, a weekly column about mods, levels, and anything else player-created you can use to append and amend a vidoegame. I don't really know what mods are anymore - do Steam Workshop items count? do they stop counting when they're sold in a Valve-endorsed item pack? - but I'd like to find out. They were a big part of why I fell in love with PC gaming in the '90s, and I'd like to find out whether they still belong in a world where a potential modder might just as well pick up Unity for free and make something from scratch.
The format of the column will change each week - maybe sometimes it'll be about something new, something you can play, but I think it'll just as often be an interview with a creator, or a look at something long forgotten. We'll see. If you have suggestions for what I should be playing or writing about or what you'd like this column to be, drop 'em in the comments below. We can mod this space together.