Unfortunately, Benzies is no longer with Rockstar, and his departure from the company is a story marked with legal battles and accusations of betrayal. Nevertheless, his influence and impact on the GTA series cannot be erased. His journey in gaming has not come to an end, and it appears he is taking his vast experience and applying it to his upcoming open-world game titled Everywhere.
Who Is Leslie Benzies?
Benzies name may not come up as frequently as other big names in gaming, though he has played a pivotal role in the industry. He was born and grew up in Scotland, which is where he discovered his love of video games. At the young age of eleven, he received his first computer which he used to teach himself coding. He used this skill to begin making video games, which is a passion that has remained with him for the rest of his life. In 1995, he joined DMA Design where he expanded his expertise and experience.
He served as the lead programmer on Space Station Silicon Valley, a Nintendo 64 game released in 1998. The third-person platform game was successful, enjoying critical praise and healthy sales. This marked the start of Benzies’ long career with DMA Design, where he would have a legendary impact on the gaming world. DMA Design is still around, although most gamers likely know it as Rockstar North, which is the new name the studio was given in 2002.
Leslie Benzies and Rockstar North
Before the release of Space Station Silicon Valley, DMA Design released Grand Theft Auto, sparking the beginning of one of gaming’s most iconic franchises. It looks quite different from the GTA that modern gamers are used to, but many of the core elements, especially the embrace of urban mayhem and vehicular recklessness, are present. Development of the game began in 1995, and it was released in 1997, meeting a warm enough reception to warrant a sequel which was released in 1999. It brought several improvements over its predecessor, increasing the amount of violence and carnage gamers could engage in.
Following the release of Grand Theft Auto 2, founder David Jones left DMA Design, and the studio had about twenty-five employees, including Benzies. The company was under the management of Rockstar Games during the development of Grand Theft Auto 3, allowing work to be split between DMA Design and Rockstar. Benzies served as producer, and he worked closely with Sam Houser and Dan Houser, who had been involved with GTA since Grand Theft Auto: London 1969. The trio would work closely together on many more projects.
According to Benzies, the goal of GTA 3 was to create an open-world game that would take the freedom, interactivity, and nonlinearity of the first two games, and bring them to a 3D world. Additionally, the developers strove to “create a city and breathe as much life into it as possible.” With GTA 3, Rockstar and DMA Design captured the essential element that would have millions of gamers continually running back to the franchise for decades. As Benzies has explained, it allows players to do whatever they want. Consequently, although the game is a “criminal fantasy,” players are not forced to engage in violence, and the goal is not to kill as many people as possible.
Leslie Benzies and Grand Theft Auto
Benzies would continue to play a pivotal role in subsequent GTA games. As the series continued, it became known for its controversial humor and over-the-top violence, though Benzies has argued that this helped Rockstar remain creative. Following GTA 3, Benzies would serve as the producer of GTA: Vice City, which he claimed began as a mission pack for its predecessor but eventually ballooned into its own game. Benzies and his team would outdo themselves once again with GTA: San Andreas, which was released in 2004. Rockstar had high ambitions with the game, with Benzies hoping it would “revolutionize open-ended gameplay and video game production values.” To a large degree, Rockstar succeeded, as the game is widely remembered as one of the greatest open-world video games ever made.
With every subsequent Grand Theft Auto game, the popularity of the series grew, and so did Rockstar’s development budget and ambitions. By GTA 4, Rockstar was spending $100 million on development, though it resulted in yet another landmark game. Benzies was the producer of GTA 4, and he claimed members of the development team traveled to New York to do extensive research on the city, ensuring that Liberty City felt as authentic as possible. During the trip, he estimates over 100,000 photos were taken. Its successor, GTA 5, would somehow dwarf its production scale, though the investment has certainly paid off for Rockstar, as the game is estimated to be one of the most profitable entertainment products of all time.
Benzies Moves on From Grand Theft Auto
Following GTA 5, it was announced that Benzies was taking a sabbatical from his duties at Rockstar, though not much reason was given. Things seemed stranger when he suddenly left altogether in 2016, then filed a lawsuit against Rockstar for unpaid royalties. According to Benzies, he had been pressured to take a sabbatical in 2014, and during this period, his son and his friends were ousted from the business, and he was not allowed to return to his workplace following the end of his sabbatical.
Benzies’ career in gaming has not come to an end, however. In 2017, he established Royal Circus Games, a video game company he later renamed Build a Rocket Boy Games. Its debut game will be Everywhere, led by Benzies, along with two other Rockstar ex-employees. The open-world game received a brief teaser during Gamescom 2022, and it appears that the freedom it will provide is unparalleled. If well executed, it could mark a prosperous new era in Benzies’ career.
Although Benzies’ time with Rockstar and Grand Theft Auto is over, it appears he is not done revolutionizing open-world gaming, and he still has plenty of big plans. It remains to be seen whether Everywhere will have what it takes to be a true competitor to Grand Theft Auto, or whether it will be able to deliver on its lofty ambitions. However, with Benzies’ extensive experience, the project is in good hands.