I’ve been playing Grand Theft Auto V since it launched back in 2013. So, I’m pretty familiar with the map. But seeing the whole thing recreated perfectly using 3D printing is wild and makes me appreciate just how much detail and work Rockstar packed into this digital world. Not to mention how impressive this 3D map is in both its accuracy and scale.
The cool 3D map of GTA V going viral on Twitter was created by Dom Riccobene. He’s a product designer who often uses real-world data to recreate actual locations as exact “data sculptures.” But due to covid-19 fucking up everything, Riccobene wasn’t able to go out and do his job. So, needing something to do to occupy his time, he looked towards the virtual worlds of GTA V and Red Dead Redemption II for inspiration.
His plan was to create high-resolution datasets of both RDR2 and GTA V. He would then use that data to create huge, perfectly scaled, 3D physical maps of the game worlds. He described the process as “an immense technical challenge.”
“To start, I used a custom script to scan the terrain and buildings in RDR2 first,” explained Riccobene in an email. “Then I managed to port it for use in GTA V. It runs in-game and collects ground elevations in a 500-1000 meter radius around the player when you press a hotkey adding up to 1,000,000+ data points per scan.”
Because the games don’t spawn in the entire map at once, Riccobene had to scan the map by hand slowly using this process. He estimates that it took him around 100 hours for each game before he had enough data for his data sculptures.
“The next challenge was merging the point clouds and turning the dataset into real-world data so I could manipulate, process, and analyze it with professional mapping and cartography software,” said Riccobene.
To do this he mapped all of the 500 million coordinates he had scanned and collected to actual coordinates on the Earth. This allowed him to create an elevation grid. With that, he could use his software and tools to begin printing the map. But that was tricky too, as you might expect. Some tiles would only take an hour to print, though more complex areas featuring many buildings and elevation changes could take up to 12 hours to print.
“I used a proprietary workflow to turn the tiled dataset into polygons as 3D printable meshes,” Riccobene explained. “Each tile is an 800 mb 3D model. From there it was a matter of trial and error dialing in my 3D printing settings to print buildings, terrain, and the water features in black, all at once. They also needed to fit together seamlessly as an assembly.”
All told it took 125 hours or so to print out the GTA V 3D map seen in his viral tweet. You can see more of the behind-the-scenes process on his Instagram. He estimates that the full project, including printing, getting data, building the elevation maps, and fine-tuning took over 400 hours spread across a year.
While this was obviously a lot of work and time, Riccobene is thrilled with the results and had a blast doing it all.
“It was probably the most enjoyable and technically challenging project I’ve ever worked on.”
With this done, his next plan is to do the same process for the RDR2 map. He has already spent over 200 hours working on that and hopes to create a similarly impressive map using that Rockstar game in the near future.