Grand Theft Auto 5 creators are back with A Better Paradise, the start of a new gaming universe

The voice of the GTA games, Lazlow Jones, writer Michael Unsworth and Dan Houser are the key players at the new start-up (Absurd Ventures)
The voice of the GTA games, Lazlow Jones, writer Michael Unsworth and Dan Houser are the key players at the new start-up (Absurd Ventures)

Grand Theft Auto VI is the most anticipated video game of the moment. Its first trailer, released in December 2023, has been watched more than 190 million times. And the game itself is not due out until mid-late 2025.

It may end up feeling rather different from what long-term Grand Theft Auto fans are accustomed to though. And not just because of the influence of the monstrous success of Grand Theft Auto Online, which might be blamed for the 12-year gap between releases in the series.

The team responsible for creating the stories and much of the flavour of the GTA games is no longer there.

For 20 years Rockstar Games was headed by the Houser brothers, Dan and Sam. Sam Houser remains president of Rockstar Games but Dan Houser left the studio in 2020.

The success or quality of games is too often attributed to one person, or a small number, when hundreds often work on these projects. But Dan Houser was a key writer on every mainline Grand Theft Auto game from 2001’s GTA 3 onwards, and his new project has already sucked up other key figures from the world of GTA. Absurd Ventures is that project.

Another third of Grand Theft Auto 5’s key writing team, Michael Unsworth, now works at Absurd Ventures. As does the man who is the closest thing there is to a voice of the GTA games, Lazlow Jones. Veteran fans will recognise his voice from the series’s comic radio stations and fake radio adverts.

Absurd Ventures is currently scaling up its game development studio, hiring designers and technical staff. But its first release is not a game at all. It’s an audio drama called A Better Paradise Part one: An Aftermath, out on June 10.

It features at least a couple of well-known British actors, Andrew Lincoln and Paterson Joseph, alongside Rain Spencer and Shamier Anderson.

“We reached out to Andrew Lincoln, and he was super-excited to be part and it was great directing him. He plays Dr Mark Tyburn, who forms [A Better Paradise’s] fictional game company,” Lazlow Jones told the Evening Standard.

Lazlow Jones with British actress Rain Spencer (Absurd Ventures)
Lazlow Jones with British actress Rain Spencer (Absurd Ventures)

A Better Paradise tells the story of a video game company of the future, and how its use of AI leads to its destruction.

“This video game team in the 2030s was setting out to make an open world game with clever story mechanics and AI that basically delivered a different experience for every player and was meant to make you a better person, and be a positive experience. And the game company implodes for mysterious reasons that start to be revealed throughout the season,” says Jones.

Houser and Jones see this is a continuation of what they were doing at Rockstar Games but flipped.

“All the projects that we’ve worked on in the past were set in time periods 1899, 1907, for example. This one is a satire of the Eighties, this other game satirises 1990s LA. This is our first project set in the future where we're satirising the future and where we think that's going to be going,” says Jones.

Of course, if Absurd Ventures were to be all about what is effectively a drama fiction podcast, it would not be all that interesting. But the audio drama marks the start of a world-building odyssey whose aspirations are outlined on the company’s own website.

You can apply to become part of Absurd Ventures’s audio, animation, TV and film, graphic novels or gaming teams. The same website suggests gaming is the ultimate focus right now, though. And Absurd Ventures is currently small considering the breadth of its vision.

“I sort of lose track because there's new faces showing up every week. We might be up to 25 [staff members] or something like that. It's consistently growing. For a while it was a Dan and I and a couple of dogs, and then it grew from there. But it's got that scrappy startup creative feel,” says Lazlow.

Lazlow compares the Absurd Ventures approach to a deconstruction of what he and Dan Houser did years ago in content-packed games like the GTA titles.

“We created universes with media, radio shows, television shows, films that you could watch, an internet that you could serve a spoof of Instagram, news articles, TV news, newspapers that you could pick up and read,” he says.

Other projects, including a graphic novel, are in production, says Lazlow Jones (Absurd Ventures)
Other projects, including a graphic novel, are in production, says Lazlow Jones (Absurd Ventures)

And in Absurd Ventures, “we set out to not just make that media for an endgame world but make it for people to watch a TV show on streaming or a film or listen to an audio fiction series, in their car, and to bring that world to a bunch of different places.”

Lazlow, Houser and previous Rockstar Games writing director Michael Unsworth now work together on what these universes are going to be. But the original concept for Absurd Ventures came from GTA figurehead Dan Houser.

“Dan reached out to me. I had spent a bit of time dealing with an ill family member who unfortunately passed. He said, ‘I want to start a new company and make all kinds of different media and projects,’ and told me about his ideas for the different universes,” says Lazlow.

“I had the gut reaction that I often do when he would tell me about an idea and I’d go like, that's crazy. And then I go, that's crazy awesome… one of the things I love about Dan is he doesn't take the traditional route in the storytelling.”

As well as the dystopian AI vision of A Better Paradise, Absurd Ventures is working on at least one more content universe, called American Caper. It’s about “two normal, badly damaged American families in a world of corrupt business, inept politics and bungling crime” and will start out as a graphic novel, but won’t remain that way.

“There’s a graphic novel that's in production. But, as with everything that we're working on, we've got other projects in production on that one, as well,” says Lazlow.

He wouldn’t be drawn on those plans, or when Absurd Ventures might shed light on its gaming plans. But you can be sure we will hear more from this ambitious studio.

A Better Paradise Volume One: An Aftermath is out on June 10.