In 2001’s genre-defining PlayStation 2 smash Grand Theft Auto III, if you pulled out a sniper rifle and shot at the moon, it would change size. For years, fans tried to explain why this funny little secret was included in the game. Was it a reference to something? A smaller part of a larger secret? Now, in 2023, thanks to new info from a former GTA developer, we know the truth.
Earlier this month, former Rockstar North developer Obbe Vermeij posted some fascinating and interesting blogs chronicling the development of past GTA games and the original Manhunt. These write-ups are filled with nuggets of information on how some of the most successful games ever released were actually made. But while Vermeij has since deleted the posts voluntarily, the internet never forgets, and we can thankfully still dig into these missives and read up on why that weird moon Easter egg was included in GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas.
According to a blog post titled: Why does the moon change size when you snipe it, Vermeij claims that this silly secret was the result of artists being unable to agree on how big the in-game moon should be in GTA III’s night sky.
“The artists gave me a texture for the moon in [GTA III]. I placed the moon in the sky, made sure it was visible at night, and that it was a reasonable size,” Vermeij explained in the post.
A few days later, Vermeij says some Rockstar North artists showed up at this desk asking if he could change the moon’s size. Vermeij told them he could and asked if the artists wanted it bigger or smaller. That’s when it became clear that some folks wanted the moon larger and more “cinematic.” However, other artists wanted the opposite, a smaller “more realistic” moon. After this argument went on for a bit, Vermeij offered a solution.
“I suggested to make the size of the moon changeable in the game,” Vermeij said. “This way they could decide in their own time and let me know the conclusion. Since I was working on the sniper rifle, I made it so that the moon toggled through three sizes (small, medium, large) as the player sniped it.”
That seemed to solve the debate and according to Vermeij; the artists at Rockstar North never came back to him about the size-changing moon so he just left it in the game. That code, as mentioned already, would end up in Vice City and San Andreas. It’s even in the 2006 spin-off Vice City Stories. Perhaps nobody noticed? Or more likely, it became a famous secret and Rockstar left it in.
It’s funny to me to finally learn the true story behind this famous, weird secret. For years I remember people theorizing that it was a reference to Bethesda’s 1995 DOS shooter The Terminator: Future Shock—which has its own weird moon Easter egg—or that the secret was part of some bigger, still-unsolved mystery involving aliens on the moon.
Nope! It turns out that it was just a developer trying to help some of his fellow co-workers solve a problem while making one of the most influential PS2 games of all time. You know, just an average Tuesday.