For months, Grand Theft Auto 5 details have been in short supply. Over a year after the initial GTA5 annoucement, we still had no insight into the characters or story that would be featured in Rockstar Games’ latest open world crime game. The first Grand Theft Auto 5 trailer offered little more than a teaser for the Los Santos backdrop – and only provided out of context character snippets that left players to speculate who would be the leading protagonist this time.

Now the studio has released an in-depth story trailer for Grand Theft Auto 5, introducing us to the game’s three playable characters: Michael, Franklin, and Trevor, as well as showcasing the usual franchise mayhem.

Recently, the studio discussed their break from series tradition – offering three central protagonists, each with their own unique personalities and story contributions, instead of the usual solo-character approach.

Here’s how Rockstar Games co-founder (and GTA5 co-writer) Dan Houser describes each of the characters and why, together, they make for a more robust story experience:

“With Michael we wanted this older guy who’s still tough, but he’s retired. That’s a great way to start a game — at the end. That seemed fresh…Franklin was the next one we came up with because we wanted a younger character, just so he could be the guy on the up, contrasting with the guy on the down — one could mentor the other. And in some ways, I suppose, Franklin is most like your traditional GTA protagonist. And then out of nowhere, the idea of Trevor came to us. He is the guy who does everything awful, relentlessly! He has his own charm, but he … he’s a relentless maker of mischief. Not without some principles though, but totally different principles to Michael — an exact opposite take on what it means to be a protagonist in a GTA world.”

Seeing the characters in action certainly helps ground Houser’s comments – especially when thinking back on the long list of likable but at the same time deplorable leading men in the Grand Theft Auto franchise. As games have become more cinematic, blurring the lines between interactivity and storytelling, it’s become increasingly important for main characters to have believable (and relatable) personalities – even in a series as over-the-top as Grand Theft Auto. We’ve seen Rockstar push character-focused stories more and more with each iteration – making it easy to forget that Claude from Grand Theft Auto 3 was a silent protagonist with a vague backstory. Considering the character-focused plot of Grand Theft Auto 4, and robust personality of protagonist, Niko Bellic, it’s clear how far the series has come in its attempt to engage players on deeper levels.

Grand Theft Auto 5 Characters

The ‘Grand Theft Auto 5’ Protagonists: Trevor, Franklin, and Michael

As a result, offering a range of personalities in the three man Grand Theft Auto 5 team will allow the story to meddle in the usual violent underworld dealings – without forcing a more relatable character, like Franklin, to shoulder the entire responsibility of balancing the franchise’s  usual extremes (example: Niko Bellic – the nice guy who also slaps women). Instead, whereas previous protagonists have needed to cover every single aspect of the ever-growing open world experience (from dating to kidnapping), it’s looking more and more as if Rockstar designed each of the characters to play more natural roles in a complicated narrative.

No doubt there will be overlap but it’s easy to imagine Trevor getting stuck with a lot of the dirty work – allowing Franklin to take the moral high ground, respectively. If that’s the case, not only will GTA5 deliver a more unique (and less cartoony) batch of characters, it’s also poised for plenty of interpersonal drama among the group.

Of course, some players won’t care about the characters and are anticipating Grand Theft Auto 5 because they simply love scripted and unscripted sandbox mayhem. The new trailer certainly hints at plenty of both – though the installment will easily be the most cinematic entry in the series. The campaign looks to provide the usual high-speed chases, over-the-top urban misadventures, and tongue-in-cheek side characters but, as we’ve previously reported, Los Santos is easily the largest open world playground in GTA history – meaning that gamers will have no problem finding hours and hours of choose-your-own-adventuring: stealing cars and strolling for ladies of the night.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick.

Grand Theft Auto 5 releases in the Spring of 2013 for the PS3 and Xbox 360. A PC and Wii U release has yet to be announced.