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The making of the Grand Theft Auto games with Lazlow Jones

Tales of squirrel-eating, motion capture suits and one fateful day of surfing...

The making of the Grand Theft Auto games with Lazlow Jones
Andrew Williams
08 June 2024

Been a Grand Theft Auto fan for years? You’ll know the voice of Lazlow Jones.

He was the presenter of Grand Theft Auto III’s Chatterbox FM and Vice City’s V-Rock radio stations.

Lazlow has featured in every main line GTA game to date. He was even a character you met, following a car chase, in Grand Theft Auto V.

Lazlow Jones was more than just an obnoxious fictional radio host, though. Behind the scenes, he was a key part of the writing team on every key Rockstar Games title from Grand Theft Auto III to Red Dead Redemption 2.

He now works at a new company, Absurd Ventures, with former Rockstar head Dan Houser. Absurd Ventures is working on new fiction universes whose stories will be told through audio, graphic novels and, with any luck, video games.

It all starts with A Better Paradise Part One: An Aftermath, the audio drama story of a video game developer in the 2030s that makes an AI to give each player a unique experience. But, as you might guess, it doesn’t end well. The show is out on June 10, and stars Andrew Lincoln, Paterson Joseph, Shamier Anderson and Rain Spencer.

Tales of the making of the Grand Theft Auto games from Lazlow Jones
Image Credit: Absurd Adventures

Before we all chow down on what these key Grand Theft Auto creators are up to now, let’s take a trip down memory lane. We talked to Lazlow Jones about his almost 20 years spent working on the classic Rockstar titles, which made an indelible mark on millions of gamers.

Lazlow in the early days…

I started working with Dan [Houser] in 2001 on GTA 3. They hired my production company, which had a huge staff. It was me and a dog, three cats. And after we worked on a couple of projects together, Dan said, why don't you come work here full time.

I was helping run the production team, for Dan. And so it was everything from being involved with the casting, motion capture, managing the motion graphics team, directing and producing all the in-game television and old timey cartoons that we did in in Red Dead Redemption 2.

However, Lazlow is best known for appearing on the GTA series’s iconic radio stations. On making Grand Theft Auto III’s Chatterbox FM…

All the people on the radio stations other than a couple of the game characters that called into radio shows, all of those people were friends. Radio friends or neighbours. I had a home recording studio for the Technophile [Lazlow’s old real-world tech radio show] that I recorded every day, and I would just go and grab my neighbour and say “can you can you do a few lines for me?” And all the kids on my street did voices.

Looking back, you'd say to a neighbour, “can your child come over to my weird dark recording studio?”

But all those kids became minor celebrities. And they weren't allowed to play the games, obviously. But they became quite famous. None of us had any idea that game was going to resonate like it did.

My father is the caller who calls into Chatterbox and talks about how much he loves eating squirrels. Though we never ate squirrel growing up, we did eat frog legs.

The making of the Grand Theft Auto games with Lazlow Jones
Image Credit: Rockstar

On making the fake ads GTA III with the boss…

I'd use friends of mine that worked in radio and just people I would email and say, “can you be a weird caller? I'll send you the lines and and you'll just read it to me over the phone.”

I'd record it in my home studio. And then I would I would produce the commercials and upload them on FTP to Dan [Houser]. Then we would get on the phone — a copper line — and he would listen to it live. And I knew we were golden if he would break up laughing

It's much more fun making fictional and spoof satire radio and TV commercials when the client is your buddy and co-writer Dan Houser than having to go present it to a client, and say, “I've come up with a brilliant campaign for you, Outback Steakhouse.”

On becoming an actual 3D character in Grand Theft Auto V…

I was actually motion captured after years of just being this sort of faceless guy on the radio, though in Vice City they did do some character art of me as kind of a metalhead-looking guy.

It gave me a lot of respect for how hard motion capture is. Wearing a skin tight black bodysuit with ping pong balls, and running around, it gets quite hot.

It's very technical and fiddly. But it was super fun to motion-capture all that.

The making of the Grand Theft Auto games with Lazlow Jones
Image Credit: Rockstar

I directed a lot of motion capture as well, for Red Dead 2. I oversaw all of the campfire scenes. So when you would come into camp and people would be sitting around telling stories or singing songs, I directed all of those.

It's extremely rewarding, but being on a motion capture set is a bit like being in Las Vegas. There's no windows, you're exhausted. And you never know what time it is.

On working with Grant Theft Auto head honcho Dan Houser…

Comedy is a key part of our DNA. And we have been writing and directing and producing partners for 23 years. He is a master at coming up with incredible characters. He has made some of the most beloved characters in all of gaming, and the most interesting storylines.

Throughout the years, he would come up with the 30,000 foot view and the characters and then I would work with him in writing meetings for additional scripts.

On diving into the Red Dead Redemption 2’s United States of 1899…

With Red Dead Redemption 2 I really enjoyed being stuck in 1899. And every magazine, newspaper and book that I read was from that period so I could write like it was that period.

The catalogue in the game was like a Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward catalog from those periods, with every product that you can buy in the game, whether it's guns or wagons or whatever.

The making of the Grand Theft Auto games with Lazlow Jones
Image Credit: Rockstar

I had a lot of fun writing that. It was tens of thousands of words, satirising that period and the way that things were advertised. Getting a deep dive into it made also me realise a lot of the things that we think are unique to current day, similar things were going on 120 years ago. I loved it. I loved it all.

Lazlow’s unlikely tale of working on Grand Theft Auto…

Dan [Houser] and Sam [Houser] and Terry [Donovan] and the gang started in the UK and then came to the United States to form Rockstar Games. And then I met one of them literally in the ocean while surfing.

I was complaining about having to go to E3, the video game convention in LA, because the waves were better in New York than they were in LA that week. And he was complaining about having to go to LA as well.

He asked why I was going to E3, and I said I do this daily tech technology syndicated thing on the radio. He said, “we just started a video game company in the last couple of years, you should come into the office and do a quick story on us.”

So I came into the office and did an interview with Terry and another person. And then he said "oh, you should meet Dan. He's working on this game, and we're doing some radio stuff."

Dan and I started chatting and Dan said "I want to make fun of American radio.” And I go well, here's the things that you should do, because I've worked at some pretty ridiculous American radio stations.

And Dan said, “you know, do you want to come in and help us out with it?”

The making of the Grand Theft Auto games with Lazlow Jones
Image Credit: Absurd Adventures

So two weeks later, we're at his apartment. With anchovy and onion pizza and Diet Cokes. And I'm on my laptop, and he's laying on a couch and spewing funny ideas and I'm throwing out ideas and we're making each other laugh and I'm typing furiously.

At that first meeting, literally, I started writing on a yellow legal pad with this exact clipboard I have here now. It's been with me throughout my life. I quickly realised I cannot write fast enough for the funny ideas that come out of his head. So I switched to a laptop and that's been our writing process.

Whenever I go into his office at Absurd Ventures, I bring this clipboard with me because we will start talking and some funny ideas will come out. If I don't write them down, my brain's like an etch a sketch — they're gone. So I mean, I'm not still using that same laptop, but I have it and one day I'll go back into it.

Does Lazlow have a favourite GTA game?

People always ask, you know, what was the favourite game that you and Dan worked on? And for me, it was always the one that you've just finished because it's amazing making these virtual worlds that people can explore.

A Better Paradise Part One, featuring writing from Dan Houser, Lazlow Jones and Michael Unsworth from the classic Rockstar Games writing team, is out on June 10.