How Grand Theft Auto 5 creates the illusion of life in progress

Rockstar has said that the three protagonists of Grand Theft Auto 5 are constantly just living their lives. The difficulty of tracking them down is how the company says it prevents you from killing one of your own. But the truth is a little more complex.

The heroes aren't actually going about their lives normally until you interrupt them. Instead, it offers a set of tableaus, some more interesting than others, that trigger when you hop into a character. It's a bit of a smoke-and-mirrors act. Coming into the middle of an argument, for example, means you triggered that event, not that it was ongoing. But the characters will still be abiding by certain rules of when they sleep and where they go.

Dan Houser says the types of scenes will even change throughout the game, and sporadically drop plot details.

"You'll miss lots if you don't pop over to [a character] from time to time," Houser told Polygon. "You'll miss lots of the stuff they are potentially getting up to, but you won't miss key plot points. It will be little details about what their lives are like, based on what you've done in the plot. You'll miss those obviously if you move the plot past where those are no longer relevant, and just the sheer number of things you can see them get up to, you'll miss them if you don't keep going to have a look for them."

He said this is one of the unique problems in game design that they didn't need a solution for until they came up with the gameplay concept. "So you never would have thought of this until you realize, 'We've got to make this interesting every time you come to these.' And then you try to make it as fun and as visually exciting as possible. So it got more and more complex as you move on. But, it started off with just a simple timetable and then it turned into these mini-scenes you flow into and then some of them had action attached to it."