Yes, you read that correctly, Rockstar have officially confirmed that heists are on the way for GTA Online. They will be releasing in early 2015, so no solid date yet. IGN were able to speak with GTA Online producer and lead mission designer Imran Sarwar to get the low down on what to expect from the heists missions available.
IGN: The big question, of course, is why has it taken so long for Heists to come together?
IMRAN: To be honest, they just turned out to be a lot more difficult than we originally thought.
Our initial idea was to build on the concept of Story Mode heists to make a new gameplay experience for GTA Online that was more focused on cooperation, where everyone could play to their individual strengths and feel like they had a stake in the outcome.
So we started working on the concept: a series of multi-tiered missions featuring diverse prep work, a range of different types of gameplay and a big finale, where team coordination and playing your own distinct role could make the difference between success or failure. We also wanted each one to have a unique thread that brought you back in touch with some of the characters from the story.
As it turns out, creating missions of that complexity for multiple players at the same time was much more difficult than we anticipated and every time we thought we were close, something would send us back to square one. Having already let players know of our intentions with Heists, every setback only increased the pressure to make sure we got them right.
One of the challenges is that unlike a heist in Story Mode, every player needs to feel central to the action at all times, and that’s much more challenging than it appears.
A good example is the classic idea of your getaway driver, waiting outside of a bank for the big score. A movie might not spend too much time focusing on that person because while they are waiting, we are watching the action going down in the vault. In a similar situation in Story Mode, we could use a character switch to make sure the player was always in the center of the action and switch back to the driver later. But to make this work for multiple players, we needed to create situations where the driver has something interesting to do at exactly the same time the rest of their team are locking down the bank and making their way to the money.
After many months of designing, testing, rewriting and re-testing, we settled on the four-player structure that you will experience in the game. It took a ton of work from our programmers and mission designers to make it work at the level we were happy with.
Even as we were working to solve this, the entire team was also throwing everything we could into creating the PS4, Xbox One, and PC versions of Grand Theft Auto V – adding First Person Mode, building the new replay editor for PC – as well as constantly working to improve the GTA Online experience. All of these projects are linked and require the attention of our core team at all times, so despite our best efforts, we simply wound up needing more time to make sure every one of these projects was as good as it could possibly be.
We never want to have to move a date but if something is delayed, it’s because it’s not at the level we expect of ourselves. And while we’re not there yet, we’re getting close and Heists will be ready early in 2015.
IGN: How does a heist work exactly?
IMRAN: Each heist requires 4 players all at rank 12 or above, with one player as the designated heist leader. Leading a heist requires owning a high-end apartment so that you have a room available to set up the planning board. From there you’ll be able to launch missions as the leader, starting with the prep work and building up to the score itself.
Being a heist leader has advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, Lester contacts the leader directly when there’s news of a job and it’s up to the leader to invite players into the crew, assign positions, pick outfits and allocate each player’s cut. On the other hand, the heist leader will need to personally front the set-up costs in order to successfully pull off the heist.
Unlike the leader, other crew members get a cash payout for each prep mission, while the leader won’t receive their cash until the finale is complete. Switching between the roles of crew member and heist leader will give players a totally different experience, and we had to make sure there were real incentives to playing each position so that players would see every aspect of how a heist comes together and not just want to stick to the same role each time.
Some missions have all players working as one unit, some require players to take on specific tasks like hacking or crowd control, while others require players to split into smaller teams to complete separate high value objectives. For example, one team may be stealing a getaway car from some gangsters while another team is attempting to sneak into a police station, all within the same prep mission. We really want to push the co-op aspect and make players feel like they need to communicate effectively and work together to pull off each element.
Each finale is a big set-piece mission with players taking on multiple roles. All through this, players will be gaining access to new vehicles, new weapons, new items and new clothing, as well as visiting some surprising locations and interacting with some familiar characters from the story.
IGN: Given the time between the original announcement of Heists and today, I’d suspect that they have changed a lot in that time. Is that the case?
IMRAN: Definitely. And they had to. It took several passes from scratch before we settled on the design we have now. Prep and set-up missions in Story Mode could be relatively low-key affairs, but with four players and an emphasis on replayability we felt like we needed to make these as diverse and as fun as possible. This required a totally new way of testing as we formed into teams and played and replayed a huge range of scenarios in order to make sure the balance and timing of each section felt right.
Another thing that’s changed since the beginning was how we integrated each player into the mission objectives. The DNA for Heists goes as far back as some of our favourite Vice City missions, but there have been standout missions through San Andreas and of course Grand Theft Auto IV and V that inspired us. However, those were all single player missions, and our initial attempts at Heists turned out to be a lot of fun for one or two players while other players were getting left on the sidelines. The more we developed and really pushed the concept, the more we worked to make each of the four players feel integral to the mission. It meant rethinking absolutely everything – and rebuilding it from the ground up on several occasions – but it also massively improved each mission’s replayability as you have the chance to go back and switch roles to experience completely different sides of the same mission.
We also added trip-skips to allow players to skip longer drives if they have already played the mission as well as carefully balancing checkpoints, with a range of difficulty levels to give players of all skill levels a real challenge. We have also tried to add player choice wherever possible, from the clothing to the tactics involved and so on.
IGN: How many Heists will you launch with?
IMRAN: There are five unique strands involving over 20 total missions, which will add up to around 20 hours of gameplay. We hope players will then replay them multiple times to take on the other roles and to try different ways of tackling the missions. We’ve tried to add a lot of variety and there’s a mixture of open-ended gameplay, big set-pieces and a few surprises too.
We have several rewards for players as well, such as for playing all five heists in order with the same set of players and another bonus for playing all of them in first-person [mode] on PS4, Xbox One, or PC, as well as Elite Bonus Challenges, which are essentially a big cash reward if you complete each part of a heist while meeting certain criteria, such as time to complete, damage taken, accuracy etc.
IGN: Can you give a blow-by-blow example of your favorite Heist that’s in the game right now?
IMRAN: I don’t want to spoil a whole heist, but a favourite would be the finale of an epic prison break where players come from different points on the map to join together at just the right time. It requires a pilot, a demolitions expert, and some undercover work to pull it off, and it takes real teamwork, the ability to think fast and a lot of communication to put all the pieces in place to extract the target flawlessly. It’s also a heist that isn’t just about stealing money, and it is definitely not about going in all guns blazing.
IGN: So what’s next?
IMRAN: Right now we just want to get Heists out there and get real world feedback before we look too far ahead. Reaching this point has obviously taken much longer than we ever thought it would and we know we have a lot to live up to, but we’re looking forward to finally being able to share them with other players soon.
Check out the launch trailer got GTA Online heists, its looking pretty awesome!