The recent leak of numerous Grand Theft Auto 6 videos shows an aspect of video game development that the public rarely sees. If you were disappointed seeing the images, it’s normal; it’s probably a version close to a prototype.
On September 18, nearly 90 videos of Grand Theft Auto 6, the next game from Rockstar Games, ended up on the internet. A user named “teapotuberhacker” hacked into the developer’s servers and managed to get his hands on these screenshots before sharing them on the internet. The new opus of the cult license was formalized at the start of the year with a simple message from Rockstar. It is hardly surprising to see a new episode of GTA in production; remember that the 5th episode will be 10 years old in 2023 and that it has sold more than 160 million copies, an astronomical figure which brings it closer to the record of the historical sale.
The 6th episode did not even have time to be shown by its publisher before leaking. This monumental leak of several hours of gameplay has ignited the web and disappointed the developers who have been keeping the secret for several years. Moreover, it didn’t take long to see a lot of negative reactions from players. On social networks, fans of the license do not hide their disappointment, concerns, and negative opinions on the images that circulate. According to some, the title is ugly, boring, too close to GTA5, and far from finished.
These criticisms are justified since these images show a version of GTA6 that is far from finished. Let’s be clear; you shouldn’t have seen all those stolen videos. These images were not designed to be shown to the public. Developers share the leaked images and videos in a work setting, obviously not an official communication. What we see in these images is nothing but a normal stage in the development of a video game, and many of them look like a prototype.
Contrary to popular belief that spreads the same week on social networks, you don’t start the development of a video game by working on its graphics. One of the essential stages of the beginning of development is to produce a prototype which will have to be validated by an editor in the case of development in a company. In this prototype, we generally work on what is essential to grasp the game’s concept and its qualities. This process also makes it possible to realize, with concrete and playable support, if the imagined ideas work in practice. Working on graphics ahead of time could be a waste if the project doesn’t come to fruition. We then start by developing the gameplay, in other words, the systems that will make up the main activity the title will offer.
These prototypes are often developed with minimalist visuals and the use of very simple geometric sets or with characters that just shape without any detail. This was, for example, the case of the Splatoon prototype, as evidenced by the above capture during development. Above all, the game was a concept before its universe’s development and artistic direction. Another frequently used solution is to reuse elements from other games as a “placeholder,” meaning that these elements are there to “dress up” the prototype and give a general idea of what the game should look like, but will be replaced once development progresses. This was, for example, the case of Horizon Zero Dawn, whose prototype used a character and a weapon from a previous studio game instead of the heroine Aloy. You may have guessed it; this is the case with the leaked GTA6 videos. If the title seems very close to GTA5, it’s because these images reuse many elements. No doubt these will be replaced once development progresses.
In the face of all the negativity surrounding these stolen screenshots of GTA 6, many Twitter users have been resurrecting well-known game prototypes that their developers shared at making-of or conferences. As a sign of support, several developers from different studios have also come forward to contribute to this small movement. The opportunity to show what the prototypes of the games they worked on could look like. To name a few: Paul Ehreth posted a video of a Control prototype he was working on as a designer, Kevin Choteau also showed what A Plague Tale: Requiem looked like at the start of its development, and the Twitter account official of the Cult of the Lamb game also took the opportunity to share a very old video of the project
Creating a video game takes a lot of time and work, and this controversy highlights the general public’s lack of knowledge of the subject. The negative reaction of the players is not very surprising. The video game industry has made us more accustomed to witnessing controlled communication and marketing that sells us the game in its best light (and that sometimes even allows itself to lie about the finished product). The development process of a video game remains a mystery for a good part of the public, an issue that resonates all the more when one approaches the subject of a game as popular as GTA. This license affects many people, many of whom probably don’t know how a video game is developed. Unlike the film industry, which often offers making-of, the subject of video game development remains poorly documented.
The GTA 6 videos circulating are likely based on a rather old version of the game, and its current state is already more advanced. However, this leak may have repercussions on further development and the teams’ working conditions. We don’t yet know when Grand Theft Auto 6 will land on our consoles and PCs, but the wait should last a few more years