Last night a ton of videos leaked online probably came from Grand Theft Auto VI, a video game currently in development and likely years away from release. The footage is approximate, in many cases using little more than placeholder resources, and it’s both the most noticeable and normal thing you’ll see this week.
This is remarkable, of course, because of the scale of the leaks. It’s one of the greatest video game series on the planet. Rockstar is notoriously secretive. Getting any kind of believable leak from a Rockstar game development studio is rare; getting images like this is unparalleled.
Yet it’s also normal because that’s what a video game in development looks like. It’s supposed to be rough, because it’s not over. Comparing the “play” of this sequence to the finished product is like judging a pizza while you’re still sprinkling the cheese, or a house where the only thing left is the frame and a few windows.
Every game you’ve played has looked like this (or its period version) at some point. The last of us looked like shit, Skyrim looked like an ass, The Witcher 3 would have, at one point, been nothing more than blocks and placeholder text. The only difference between them and Grand Theft Auto VI is that we need to see the latter while the game was still in development.
While some people have criticized the footage (in rare cases to predictable extremes), I think the overwhelming consensus among fans has simply been of great interest. Interest in seeing a new Grand Theft Auto game specifically, of course, but also just by seeing any major video game genre in this kind of raw, unfinished state.
People love to see behind the scenes, it’s something the TV and movie industries have known for decades, but for multiple reasons video games have rarely been comfortable trusting the average fan knowing that a game looks like ass for much of its development (Indeed, one of the main reasons I run my fine arts characteristic is to combat this in a small way!).
So alongside the reactions of the average punter over the weekend, I’ve also seen many developers bemoan the leaks, saying that’s not how we should get our first look at the game, that the pictures are doing a disservice. to developers who deserved to see their game presented as it will be seen (or hoped to be seen) in the final product.
Why wouldn’t someone work at Rockstar really worry about that, though, unless the only thing you really cared about was maintaining the industry’s obsession with pre-orders and tightly controlled pre-release marketing? Photos from Hollywood movies and big TV shows leak all the time, showing everything from stars with prosthetics hanging over their faces to green screens behind them, and we’re taking it head on because we’re all thinking, well, that’s how movies are made. A Marvel blockbuster on the big screen won’t look the same as a blurry photo showing Chris Hemsworth in a half suit.
Video games are no different! They start on the backs of towels and years later end up as something cool that we play and enjoy. This process is not magic, it takes work, and just because the average gamer never sees it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. These videos, as bizarre and crazy as they may seem, are the work. I wish we could see more footage like this, both before and after a game’s release.
I will always advocate for more transparency from developers and publishers, but I don’t want to sit here and pretend that developers should always be this transparent. It is a colossal leak, obtained by probably criminal means. And much of the uploaded footage lacks the required context to make it truly useful as a behind-the-scenes look. Grand Theft Auto VI. If I was working on a game and things were spilling out into the open like this, with no way to frame them, I’d be pissed too!
What I mean is that I hope this leak can at least be informative, instead of just sensational. That while the circumstances have been pretty shitty for the team involved in this particular case, as part of a larger conversation about secrecy and transparency (which we’ve had for a decade), I hope it can be an important marker to show that, you know what, most of us are sane enough to realize that this is how sausage is made.
And it will be a plot of people, because as tumultuous as it may seem now, in September 2022, it is a Grand Theft Auto Game. Millions of gamers will end up buying and playing the finished product (the sausage) whenever it’s finally released, and then can go back to that footage (how it was made) and draw a line between the two.
Maybe it’ll just be a superficial exercise for many, loads of people saying “huh look at that”, or simplistic YouTube videos pointing out differences in mission scripts. But hopefully it will also be a way that, in the long run, millions of people have been able to better appreciate the way their video games are made, even if the means by which they learned that lesson weren’t exactly ideals. .