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What Rockstar's New Patent Really Means For GTA

Recently, Grand Theft Auto has become a meme. No, the series is still a beloved and mature open world crime simulator that satirizes the real world, but Grand Theft Auto 6's development time is now a bit of a punch line. Four GTA games released on the PlayStation 2, while GTA 5 is set to release on a third console generation. What is taking Rockstar Games so long? One possible explanation might lie in a development that could alter GTA NPCs for generations.


Recently, Reddit detectives discovered a patent filed by David Hynd and Simon Parr, the Associate Director of Tech and Lead AI Programmer at Rockstar, respectively. The patent, called "System and Method for Virtual Navigation In A Gaming Environment," and filed in April 2019, is a new NPC pathfinding engine.

According to the document, current NPCs use simple nodes to traverse game worlds but are limited to fairly linear and basic directions until they reach new nodes or obstacles. Thanks to resource bottlenecks, in-game characters and vehicles can't avoid traffic jams, let alone organically change lanes. However, the patent describes a new cloud/server-based node system that channels more computational power than available on solo platforms, which allows for more complex node rules. Examples include nodes that enforce "left turn only" lanes, control vehicle speeds, and restrict vehicle direction on one-way streets.


Moreover, the system lets NPCs exhibit different behaviors depending on their vehicle, as well as plan ahead. Braking time, top speed, and cornering speed would all come into play, and you can expect NPCs to preemptively find alternate routes to avoid traffic jams.

While many companies don't capitalize on all their patents, this particular document might imply Rockstar is gearing up for an open world experience with more realistic NPC behaviors. In-game characters would accurately follow traffic laws, but the patent's selling point features and even relies on an Achilles' heel: It is more advanced than similar NPC pathfinding programs, because it relies on networked systems over an isolated one. In other words, for the nodes to work, the game and console would need a constant online connection.

This could lead to several outcomes. If Rockstar implements the patent in Grand Theft Auto 6, the game would have to be either always online or an MMO. Although, the studio could alternatively update Grand Theft Auto Online with this system. But, if one were to assume GTA 6 will use these nodes, what would happen to the NPCs when the internet goes down or the servers are inevitably taken offline? Will the game no longer be playable, or will it feature some kind of fallback system with simpler nodes?


At this point, it's unclear what exactly Rockstar is planning to do with the patent. But, fans can still imagine a hypothetical game world powered by these networked nodes.