78,494 screen shots. 3,019 equirectangular panoramas. 1,029,000 tiles. 125GB of files. One clickable map of a virtual world.
Since the map originally launched, the page has generated more than 2.1 million views.
It's been several years since Rockstar Games released Grand Theft Auto IV, but tweakers and modders have continued to find new opportunities to expand their engagement through the PC version of the game. GTA4.net published its first interactive map of Liberty City in 2008, utilizing the publicly available Google Maps API tools.
"Rockstar had done a great job making Liberty City feel like a real, living, breathing place so the idea of adding a 'street view' feature followed on naturally," said Nick, the central developer on the project. "At the time, it was just that: a nice idea but not something we could actually do."
Nick started reconsidering the Street View idea when someone discovered Google had unlocked Street View within the Google Maps API. There were two problems facing the ambitious fans, though: capturing enough images to make Street View comprable to what people have come to expect and finding a way to implement all the images. And that's to say nothing of paying to host the images.
Enough useful tools had been invented by modders, however, that Nick figured it was possible.
"The scale of it was a bit of a worry, mainly the cost of hosting and serving so many images," said Nick, "but luckily 'Tank,' owner and bill payer for all our GTA fansites [at] gtanet.com, was all for it."
The process took about two months, most of which was taken up by running scripts that wandered the streets of Liberty City, snapping an endless stream of photos.
"A lot of that time was just a case of leaving the PC on overnight," said Nick.
To generate the necessary virtual photographic equipment, Nick and his team looked towards ScriptHook, which allowed them to program a script in any .NET language or C++ and easily plug that back into the game. Naturally, no one knew how to program in .NET or C++, but Nick described it as "surprisingly straightforward."
The script grabbed manipulated the in-game camera and took screen shots, which Nick then dropped into stitching software to produce the equirectangular panoramic images that would then be cut into tiles and popped into the Google Maps API. You knew, easy stuff.
Nick and company were tasked with virtually photographing 3,019 different locations. Each took 30 seconds to shoot, six minutes to stich and another minute to slice into tiles--we're talking hundreds of hours of work to put it all together.
"It wasn't exactly quick," said Nick.
There are all sorts of secret cameos littered throughout Street View, a few of which Nick would disclose to me. You'll have to figure out the rest for yourself (and then share them in the comments!).
The future versions of this undeniably cool tool is uncertain.
Rockstar is releasing a PC version of L.A. Noire, but the community response is an unknown. It's possible to make some types of maps based on console versions, but capturing the right images is impractical without a configurable PC edition. Nick would like to create one based on Red Dead Redemption, but since no PC version's been announced yet, that's looking unlikely.