IT’S one of the best-known and most commercially-successful gaming franchises in the world, but the developers of Grand Theft Auto have never forgotten their Scottish roots.
Despite being set in the United States, Rockstar North’s Grand Theft Auto series is positively littered with scores of witty references and tongue-in-cheek nods to Caledonia.
Currently based at the former Scotsman offices at Holyrood in Edinburgh, the team have made considerable efforts over the years to insert subtle Scotland-related easter eggs into each new title, a long-standing tradition which dates back to the 1990s when the company was operating in Dundee as DMA Design.
So, starting from the earliest title first, let’s take look at a selection of the best Scottish references in the GTA universe.
Grand Theft Auto (1997)
Developers DMA Design didn’t include too many references to the old country in their first title, but they are there if you know where to look.
The sleeve notes for a gangster character named Brother Marcus is worth checking out as it includes a list of his “known associates”. Names such as Wullie, Boab, Soapy, Hen, Horace and the Bairn will stand out for Scottish gamers.
Included in among the cheat codes for the game are NINEINAROW (all levels) and ITSGALLUS (all stages). The former appears to be a reference to Rangers FC’s historic ninth successive league title which was secured in the same year the game was released. Motherwell fans may also appreciate the code SUPER WELL, giving the player access to all levels and cities.
Slightly unrelated to this piece - but topical - the cover art of Grand Theft Auto’s first instalment features a NYPD police car racing past a large office block belonging to a future half-Scottish president.
GTA 2 (1999)
Like its predecessor, the futuristic GTA 2 is short of Scottish references compared with later titles.
A mental institution in the game is named ‘SunnySide’, after the facility in Montrose.
Morton’ and ‘Largo’ appear as locations on one of the city maps, and happen to be the names of castles here in Scotland.
Many of the cheat codes for GTA 2 also have a distinctive whiff of Scottishness about them. Typing in HUNSRUS allows your character to become invisible, while BUCKFAST will make civilians more aggressive.
In terms of graphics, scope and innovation, GTA III broke the mould when it came out.
And this time around, the Scottish references were slightly-less subtle.
One of the most obvious easter eggs can be found outside Francis International airport where a statue topped by a traffic cone makes an appearance. Anyone who’s ventured down Queen Street in Glasgow will know exactly where that idea originated from. On GTA III’s official website, Leith is included alongside Toronto and Tokyo as one of the available destinations from the airport.
Then there’s the in-game dialogue from pedestrians. The dialogue from GTA III’s homeless drunks is rather amusing - have a listen here.
GTA: Vice City
Set in an alternative version of 1980s Miami, Vice City is notable for its killer soundtrack and all-star cast including Ray Liotta and Deborah Harry.
Also worth a mention is Trainspotting actor Kevin McKidd, who makes a voice appearance as the lead singer of fictional Scots heavy metal band Love Fist. One of the band members can be seen sporting an Argentina football shirt - a homage to the Dundee FC away top celebrating World Cup star Claudio Caniggia who played for the club when the game was in production.
Another Tayside reference includes a poster of the ship Discovery at Vice City airport, urging air passengers to “Come to Dundee”.
One of Vice City’s missions involves selling drugs from ice cream vans - a reference to the violent Ice Cream Wars in Glasgow during the 1980s.
A parody of popular video game mag ‘Edge’ can be found in lead character Tommy Vercetti’s apartment. Edge has been renamed ‘Erse’.
Elsewhere in the game, a golf course named Leaf Links recalls the location of one of Rockstar North’s earlier offices at Leith Links in Edinburgh, and in North Point Mall your character can purchase new threads at the Gap-inspired outlet, GASH.
The name of the pop station Wave 103 is a reference to Dundee’s real life radio station Wave 102.
GTA: San Andreas
By the time of San Andreas’ release in late 2004, Rockstar North had moved to their shiny new headquarters at the foot of Calton Hill in Edinburgh. A district in the game named Calton Heights reflects this. Edinburgh is also referenced directly in the game in a “visit Scotland” postcard.
San Andreas was also known for its multitude of minigames. One of these allows your character to place bets on horses with such titles as ‘Henrik’s Jaw’, recalling the time when Celtic’s star striker Henrik Larsson broke his draw against Livingston in 2003, and ‘Scotland Nil’, which requires scant explanation if you’ve been following the fortunes of the Scottish national team for the past couple of decades. Other horse names include: Falkirk Boy, Neigh Bother, Salt ‘n’ Sauce, Dundee Ned and Ochayethenoo.
Rival families, the Ballas and Grove Street gangs are said to be based on Hearts, and Hibs and wear maroon and green respectively.
An album entitled ‘Let’s Go to Dundee’ is advertised at the Vinyl Countdown store in Rodeo, Los Santos.
Linking San Fierro with Las Venturas, Kincaid Bridge and Garver Bridge are based on both the Forth rail and road bridges. Kincaid Bridge is the same colour and design as the Forth Bridge, albeit with one instead of two cantilever sections.
The story in GTA IV which details the falling out of two of the game’s main characters, Vlad and Roman, is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the real life quarrel between former Heart of Midlothian FC owner Vladimir Romanov and his player Roman Bednar.
GTA IV’s stock exchange index is called the BAWSAQ, as opposed to the NASDAQ.
An area in the game is called Juniper Yellow, a possible nod to the Edinburgh suburb Juniper Green.
The game’s inhabitants drink beer brands ‘Jakey’s’ and ‘Pissh’ and clean their clothes with a washing powder named ‘FUD’.
Controversial Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle makes an appearance as himself in the game at a comedy club.
Glasgow gets a special mention in GTA IV’s police database as a home town of one of the game’s most wanted criminals.
Released in 2013, the latest instalment in the GTA series includes more references to Scotland than ever before.
A garage wall in Los Santos bears an advert for a firm named “Saul Tires”, with the text overlaid on to a Scottish Saltire flag.
The developers’ decision to name one of the drug-addled districts after real life Hawick caused anger when the game was released, local councillor David Paterson stating at the time that the association could “destroy the reputation” of the Scottish Borders community. Elgin (Street), Pumpherston and “Seaton” Sands are also name dropped.
A ship called Dignity is moored in one of the game’s harbours - an obvious nod to Glasgow band Deacon Blue.
An ice cream parlour located on Vespucci Beach is named The Sundae Post, a reference to Dundee’s famous weekly newspaper. A Greek restaurant called Gyro Day is located nearby.
The Saltire flag makes a handful of appearances in the game. One Saltire flies proudly from the roof of a residential property close to the beach, and the darts embedded in the wall of the character Trevor’s beachside safehouse also feature the Scottish national flag.
In a nod to a certain Scottish transport fiasco, a news bulletin on one of the in-game radio stations makes mention of an extension to Los Santos’ tram system, which is set to run millions of dollars over budget and several years late.
A national park called ‘Arthur’s Pass’ is a nod to Arthur’s Seat, the famous hill located close to Rockstar North’s Holyrood headquarters.
Fans of Glasgow comedian Limmy might be pleased to know that there is a piece of graffiti in Los Santos which reads, “RIP Benny Harvey”.
And lastly, visit the Los Santos cemetery and you might just spot a wee Skye Terrier sitting patiently in front of a gravestone.
Yep, that’s what we thought.
Have you spotted any Scottish easter eggs in the Grand Theft Auto series which we’ve missed? Please leave a comment to let us know.