Rockstar once planned a zombie island survival game using GTA: Vice City code, but it was too “depressing”
GTA 6 developer Rockstar Games were once working on a zombie survival game set on a Scottish island, which sounds like a mixture of GTA: Vice City and legendary Arma mod DayZ. That’s according to former technical director Obbe Vermeij, who joined Rockstar North in 1995 back when it was called DMA Design, and left in 2009 following the release of GTA 4. In the run-up to the GTA 6 trailer reveal next month, he’s started blogging about the development of several Rockstar games, from GTA through grotty snuff film simulator Manhunt to cancelled projects such as the zombie title and Cold War stealth fest Agent.
Discussing these latter “distractions”, Vermeij noted that “[a]fter Vice City [in 2002] there was a sense within North that it would be nice to do something else. Something that wasn’t GTA. Some of the artists wanted to do a zombie survival game. Programmers like fantasy. Artists like zombies. Not sure why that is.”
Rockstar decided to pursue the zombie game concept for a bit, with the working title “Z”. Unless there’s another one I’m forgetting, it would have been Rockstar North’s first and only game set in the developer’s native Scotland. “The idea was to use the Vice code as is,” Vermeij explained. “The game was to take place on a windswept foggy Scottish island. The player would be under constant attack from zombies. The player would need to use vehicles to get around but vehicles would need fuel. Acquiring the fuel would be a big part of the game.”
Z was only in development for “maybe a month or so”, however. According to Vermeij, the concept proved to be a bit of a downer. “The idea seemed depressing and quickly ran out of steam. Even the people who originally coined the idea lost faith. We dropped the idea and got on with San Andreas.”
Zombies, of course, would eventually grace a Rockstar Games release in the shape of Red Dead Redemption’s Undead Nightmare DLC. Rockstar also did a zombie game survival mode for Red Dead Online in 2020, which I gather wasn’t quite the Undead Nightmare sequel people were hoping for.
Vermeij also had a bit to share about the development of Agent. A game of the same name was in development at Rockstar San Diego, across the pond, but fell through amid reports of crunch and a toxic work culture. Rockstar North announced their own Agent game in 2009, having begun development after the release of GTA: San Andreas in 2004. Vermeij doesn’t specify whether the two projects shared any people or resources.
“After San Andreas we REALLY wanted to do something that wasn’t GTA,” he wrote. “Rockstar San Diego were working on a James Bond style game. Leslie Benzies was keen to do something along those lines. We did a demo doing some spy stuff in San Andreas. I think there was a hang glider and a car turning into a submarine or something.
“It impressed R*SD and NY and we started working on it. The idea was that the team in North would roughly be split down the middle. Half of us would work on the next GTA (4) and the other half on Agent.”
The game was known internally as Jimmy, and appears to have been level-based rather than featuring one big map. Parts of it would have taken place beyond our atmosphere.
“It was a James Bond game and Jimmy is the Scottish version of James,” Vermeij went on. “The game was to be set in the 70s, be more linear than GTA with a number of locations. There was a French Mediterranean city, A Swiss ski resort, Cairo and at the end there would be a big shootout with lasers in space.”
Vermeij spent “over a year” working on Jimmy: his contributions included “a downhill skiing chase scene with guns”. However, Rockstar eventually decided to prioritise the development of the next Grand Theft Auto. “The game wasn’t progressing as well as we’d hoped,” Vermeij wrote. “It was inevitable that eventually the whole company would have to get behind GTA4. We tried to cut the game down in an attempt the get the bulk of it done before the inevitable call from [Rockstar New York] would come. We cut out an entire level (I think Cairo) and maybe even the space section.
“It became clear that Jimmy was going to be too much of a distraction for us and we ditched it. I think it was handed over to another company within R* but never got completed.” Rockstar eventually abandoned the Agent trademark in November 2018 and pulled the game’s website in October 2021.
There’s a lot more vintage Rockstar goss on Vermeij’s blog, including talk of a tester gun that fires ragdolls and why you can change the size of the moon by sniping it in San Andreas – I might write some follow-up stories. The reveal of a cancelled project based on Vice City code is rather timely, given that Vice City is the rumoured setting for GTA 6.