This product designer 3D printed the entire GTA V map in 400 hours

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Product designer Dom Riccobene has 3D printed a miniature physical replica of the entire Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V) map in a project that took him over 400 hours from start to finish.

Printed using a Prusa i3 MK3 FFF system, the map was produced in a series of 24 individual tiles before being assembled into its final form. Riccobene is known for this kind of work, as his usual day-to-day often involves using real-world data to recreate locations as to-scale “data sculptures”. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, he wasn’t able to go out into the world all that much this year and settled for recreations of virtual video game worlds instead.

Riccobene told Kotaku, “It was probably the most enjoyable and technically challenging project I’ve ever worked on.”

Los Santos International Airport, one of 24 map tiles. Photo via Dom Riccobene.
Los Santos International Airport, one of 24 3D printed map tiles. Photo via Dom Riccobene.

Los Santos: The 3D printed City of Saints

The maps of open-world free roam games are something to behold these days. GTA developer Rockstar Games is known to be particularly meticulous in its map design efforts, padding out its urban and rural landscapes with lifelike architecture, terrain, and all the side missions you could ever ask for.

The GTA V map, which is based on Los Angeles, is a fictional city by the name of Los Santos – a lively sun-soaked metropolis packed full of criminal enterprises and hedonistic pleasures. It is by far the largest map in the entire GTA series, spanning more than double the surface area of the next in line, GTA: San Andreas. According to Riccobene, the exact size of GTA V’s Los Santos is 80.3 sq. km (31 sq. miles).

Los Santos by night. Image via Rockstar Games.
Los Santos by night. Image via Rockstar Games.

Bringing Los Santos to life

Riccobene’s 3D printing project actually begins with one of Rockstar’s other games, the widely acclaimed Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2). To start, he wrote a custom script to scan the relief and buildings in the RDR2 map, eventually porting it for use in GTA V. The script runs directly in-game and works by collecting surrounding ground elevations in a 1km radius around the player. Each scan, denoted by the tap of a hotkey, collects over a million data points.

Since open-world games tend not to spawn the entire map in at once (this would require too much memory), Riccobene had to painstakingly walk around and scan each part of the map manually. The scanning process took around 100 hours.

He told Kotaku, “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.”

He eventually mapped around 500 million coordinates and created a corresponding tiled elevation grid, which he turned into 3D printable polygon meshes (STLs).

Riccobene added, “Each tile is an 800MB 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.”

The actual printing workflow only took around 125 hours for the 24 tiles, but the data gathering, elevation map generation, and project fine-tuning turned this figure into 400+ hours over the course of a year. He now intends to make a similar 3D printed model of the RDR2 map, which should be ready to see in the coming months.

Since video games are such a widespread hobby around the world, the intersection of gaming and 3D printing technology is always an exciting prospect. Just last month, engineers from the University of Maryland used 3D printing to develop a robotic hand capable of playing a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Printed using Stratasys PolyJet technology, the three-fingered soft robot has since beaten the first level of Super Mario Bros.

Elsewhere, German costume company Lightning Cosplay has previously utilized Zortrax desktop 3D printers to create a range of video game-inspired costumes, including outfits influenced by the open-world RPG Cyberpunk 2077. Adopting 3D printing has allowed the firm to create such detailed replicas, that they have also been commissioned to create costumes for renowned game producers such as Bethesda, THQ Nordic and CD Projekt.

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Featured image shows Downtown Los Santos. Photo via Dom Riccobene.