The setting of Grand Theft Auto 5, Los Santos, feels real and convincing to players largely because it is far from real, according to Rockstar North art director Aaron Garbut in an interview with Edge.
The sprawling Los Santos that Rockstar North created in GTA 5 bears a strong resemblance to the city of Los Angeles. Garbut says the developers stopped short of rebuilding Los Angeles in the game because real cities don't necessarily translate well in video games.
"I'd never want to rebuild a city," Garbut told Edge. "I think that would be a lot less satisfying both for us to build and for the player to play. In a lot of ways, it would be less convincing, too. At least that's how I rationalise it to myself.
"Only a relatively small subset of players ever get to know the real L.A. or New York. Most experience it through film and TV, or through short visits, and that's a highly edited representation."
Garbut said the development team approached Los Santos with an edited representation of Los Angeles in mind — it tried to capture the feel of the city through visits and media consumption and built its own world based on those sources of inspiration. "We compress, we edit, we emphasise certain things and we end up with something that in some ways, I think, feels more like the popular perception of the place than the actual city," he said. "Only because the popular perception isn't the real city, if that makes sense."
Edge's complete interview with Garbut in which he discusses lessons he learned from previous GTA titles, and how GTA 5 compares to his original vision for the game can be read here.