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GTA San Andreas Developer Explains How the Game's Mirrors Were Made

"We didn't have the video memory to render mirrors the proper way."

When it comes to developing video games, creating mirrors is often cited as one of the toughest challenges a developer might face. Proper reflections, taken for granted in real life, are widely considered an impressive feat to set up in a game, even in 2024, with all the latest technology available.

This challenge, obviously, was no less daunting two decades ago, when Rockstar unveiled one of its most iconic titles, the legendary Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Back then, the task was further complicated by hardware limitations, as saving memory was still one of the main priorities for developers. Nonetheless, Rockstar managed to successfully incorporate mirrors to San Andreas, which, despite their jankiness, worked pretty well for the time.

Exactly how the team accomplished this feat was recently explained by Obbe Vermeij, a former Technical Director at Rockstar North, who shared a comprehensive post on Twitter offering a behind-the-scenes look at San Andreas' mirrors.

Addressing glitchy mirrors in the PS2 version of the game, the developer revealed that the team simply didn't have enough video memory to render them properly. As a workaround, they simultaneously rendered a mirrored version of the scene alongside the scene itself. Despite flaws such as mirrors needing to be placed on the room's outer wall and reflected characters and objects sometimes extending out of the mirrors' boundaries, the method served its purpose well, allowing Rockstar to avoid "mirrorless barbershops".

"The usual way to render mirrors is to render the scene twice," commented the developer. "The first time from the point of view of the mirrored camera. The resulting image would then be used as a texture for the mirror when rendering the scene itself. This method requires video memory to store the first render. We simply didn't have that spare video memory in SA."

In the comments, Vermeij offered additional information about the game's mirrors, addressing a funny video shared by Twitter user @Bryanthedude98 and explaining that the technique was exclusively utilized on PS2 since memory shortage wasn't an issue on PC:

You can find the original Twitter post by clicking this link. Speaking of GTA, earlier we reported on a duo of tech enthusiasts who managed to run Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on a TP-Link wireless router:

We also recommend checking out our 2023 80 Level Digest, which dives into the history of mirrors in video games and explains how modern-day developers handle reflective surfaces in their games.

Image Credit: CDPR, Cyberpunk 2077

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