Seeing all the leaked GTA 6 footage makes me feel nostalgic. I used to play old in-development builds of Wheelman at the Midway offices in my dad’s office when I was a kid. It was what I was most looking forward to during the summer holidays. These builds had blocky textures, information scattered across borders, unfinished UI, and a now-defunct list of cheats that let you spawn into rocket launchers and become an immortal version of Vin Diesel. I could quickly cross streets dodging low level bystanders next to textureless buildings without worrying about getting pulled over by the police. It was exciting to watch and experience all these pieces coming together before the polish they would receive before release.
GTA 6 was an unofficial and highly illegal leak of incalculable magnitude, but studios being more transparent and open (officially that is) would certainly be welcome. And maybe it would help people understand what goes into their favorite games and what it takes to make them in the first place.
The response to last weekend’s leaks was overwhelming – people took to social media in droves to complain that GTA 6 looks unfinished, flashy and raw, not living up to expectations they had nothing to build on. I’m not sure what the mentality is here – the first week is building the graphics and environments, then the game follows?
This is a deeply flawed misunderstanding of how games are made, and no doubt explains the tired talk of lazy developers and missing features. Games are crap before launch, with new features breaking ten other things, as the graphics slowly start to appear along with everything else. There are placeholders, missing textures and old models from previous games thrown together in one big Frankenstein development that finally – miraculously – takes shape. It’s a miracle any game ever comes out, let alone a good one.
I’m lucky, I grew up seeing how one of my biggest hobbies works – most people don’t understand this, and unfortunately, it does. I would live these games my dad was working on while they were still cobbled together and I loved watching him dive into the toolbox and pull out awkward gray blocks that you could interact with in the game that would later become like phone boxes or booths . It was an imaginative sandbox.
One day, you’d be driving down a road that hadn’t yet settled the conflict, falling below Barcelona as Vin Diesel plummets into space. One look up and the hideous underbelly of the city is revealed. In the next build you play, this road leads to a whole new environment. The sheer talent of the developers and how these teams pull off projects of this scale is incredibly impressive. And that was a game like Wheelman, now imagine the technical prowess and talent to make something like GTA 6 possible.
Right now, it’s underrated. Many of us assume that games are these easy things where you drag and drop some files and everything snaps into place by itself. There is no respect for how much work goes into it, the magic of getting everything ready somehow. So when leaks like GTA 6 happen, people jump to ill-informed conclusions. It’s not up to the developers to train them better, but seeing more footage in progress would definitely help with understanding. CG trailers for pre-production games and vague cinematics are there to sell us on the game when it’s released, but we wish we could see behind the scenes to get a closer look at the gears turning behind the most long awaited releases.
EA is leading the way with the Dead Space remake and Skate, holding dev streams and sharing pre-alpha material. It’s nowhere near the final version, but seeing the basics allows us to familiarize ourselves with a game even more. Some of this comes with cheats and bugs or mod tools – playing with Sly Cooper’s camera to see that the water reflections are just an inverted ceiling placed underneath, or flying out of bounds with noclip in Half-Life 2 to see a cut Half Breen hosting a podcast in the void makes me feel even more connected to it all.
There’s definitely an air of entitlement that’s come even more to the fore with the GTA 6 leaks, with the mentality of game developers being hamsters in a wheel churning out “easy” products at a moment’s notice, and I can’t help but feel it would at least help if things were more transparent. Secrecy and desperation to keep everything under wraps just makes game development more obscure and less accessible.
Indies and mods are doing a lot to help with this right now, but it’s not mainstream so they fall by the wayside. Even EA’s efforts at open development aren’t turning the tide. But it keeps that childlike charm intact, which I love. I love tuning in to Skyblivion’s developer streams where they show off environment design, compositing Oblivion’s landscapes in the Skyrim engine, or scrolling through TikTok to see indie developers putting together little snippets of behind-the-scenes footage to show what’s going on in the project them before launch. Too much of triple-A happens after the fact.
Transparency is a big ask, especially with expensive blockbusters that take years to develop, speaking to an audience that continues to rage, but could be the first step in opening up understanding of game development to a wider audience.
Next: Metal Gear Solid 2’s Glitching AI Colonel Still Me Freaks Out