It was incredibly unstable and "it was awful, it was too sim-y," says Penn. It wasn't until the developer found a bit of fun by turning up the police aggressiveness that it finally landed on the gameplay that's sustained the series to this day: GTA creates a much more manic, amped-up version of the world we actually live in.
Once the dev figured that out, it moved on to things like mowing down 2D Hare Khrishnas (Penn's right -- it was really satisfying, moral qualms aside) and just enjoying the world. Penn goes on to say that the series is "stagnating" for him, perhaps because of its success. "It's anything but a lazy game," he says, "but they don't have the pressure if no one else is doing it anywhere near as well as they're doing it."