It’s been a giant week for video game news. Nintendo announced a release date of 5 May 2023 for the next Legend of Zelda game (now titled Tears of the Kingdom, certainly not an intentional reference to the death of the Queen); we’ve seen a new God of War: Ragnarok trailer in which The West Wing’s Toby Ziegler shouts at Kratos; and we learned that the beloved N64 shooter GoldenEye 007 is finally, finally coming back. But it was all overshadowed on Sunday, when a hacker posted more than 50 minutes of in-development footage from Grand Theft Auto VI, stolen from Rockstar’s internal Slack channel. The hacker claims to have possession of the game’s source code, too. This is, along with the theft of Half-Life 2’s source code from Valve in 2003, one of the biggest data breaches in video game history. Here’s an explainer, if you’d like to get caught up on all the details. It’s Grand Theft Grand Theft Auto.
Rockstar confirmed the leak late on Monday, saying that a third party had illegally downloaded confidential information, including early development footage for the next Grand Theft Auto. “At this time,” Rockstar said, “we do not anticipate any disruption to our live game services or any long-term effect on the development of our ongoing projects.”
The leaked footage shows animation tests, level layouts and one robbery mission, featuring a female lead protagonist (a first for the series) and her accomplices. It also shows a modern-day Vice City, Rockstar’s version of Miami. Debug commands and technical information are prominently overlaid on everything – voice acting is in place, but the game is nowhere near finished. This leak will have disrupted years’ worth of marketing planning: Grand Theft Auto VI has been in development in some form since 2014. It also represents a financial loss for the publisher, as investigations are launched and plans upended.
Quite apart from those things though, a leak like this will affect how a game is perceived. Unfinished video games almost universally look and play like trash, because game development is delicate choreography between about 200 different dancers who only come together right at the very end. If you got a glimpse of, say, Red Dead Redemption 2 or Assassin’s Creed even six months before they were finished, and you weren’t aware of the final sprint that gets all of the right graphical and sound effects and bug fixes into place, you’d probably think it was garbage. Some of the uninformed takes on the GTA breach on social media are so blindingly stupid that they beggar belief, from “Now someone’s stolen the source code maybe they can do a better job with the game than Rockstar” to “Devs this lazy deserve a leak like this.”
This is extremely demoralising for video game creators. It’s like hacking into a novelist’s laptop and stealing a first draft, then posting excerpts from it online. I’m not one to lament a loss of corporate profits, but I can’t help but feel for the people making this video game – which, if it’s anything like what Rockstar has made before, will be one of the most complex and ambitious game development projects ever undertaken.
This comes at a strange time for Rockstar, too: since Grand Theft Auto V was released in 2013 and broke every sales record going, co-founder Dan Houser has moved on. (His brother, Sam, remains president of the company.) In 2016, another founding member, Leslie Benzies, sued the company for tens of millions in denied royalties, claiming he was forced out. During the development of the exquisitely detailed Red Dead Redemption 2, there were allegations of working conditions at its studios, particularly at Rockstar Lincoln, which handled quality assurance, notoriously one of the most unremitting areas of game development. The developer that made GTA V does not exist any more, and there is so much anticipation riding on GTA VI. It’s hard to imagine that this leak won’t knock employees’ confidence.
Will Rockstar bring forward its timetable now? Though it can’t hurry up development, it can accelerate its marketing machine – at which point it will be rather easier to get excited about it.
What to play
It’s finally here! Return to Monkey Island takes us back to the golden days of Lucasarts point-and-click comedy games. I am about to fire it up as soon as I finish writing this newsletter, having read Oliver Holmes’s review: “The result of the old team getting together again is a tale that retreads old paths but also clearly wants to be more than just an ode to a bygone era of video games. When [adorably shambolic pirate Guybrush] Threepwood goes to an oracle, Voodoo Lady, for advice, she summarises the paradox this game faces: ‘You must walk the path, yet you have already walked the path.’ Return to Monkey Island pulls this off by looking backwards and forwards at the same time, reminding us that the point-and-click adventure will never really die: it’s a zombie pirate that won’t stay in the ground for long.”
Available on: PC, Nintendo Switch
Average playtime: 7-11 hours
What to read
Alongside a trailer and release date for the next Zelda, last week’s Nintendo Direct presentation delivered some surprises. These include Pikmin 4, a game that’s been in development for so long that I’d become convinced it no longer existed. If you’ve never played this odd and rather heartbreaking game about miniature alien plant people trying to survive our planet’s terrifically dangerous gardens, you’ll have the chance next year.
GoldenEye 007 is coming back! Hooray! Except that online multiplayer is only available on the Nintendo Switch, and a 4K graphical upgrade will only apply to the Xbox version. I haven’t seen this kind of feature split in years, and it must be the product of some tortuous licensing conversations. Bonus fact: GoldenEye 007 was remade years ago for the Xbox 360, but was never released.
Arena-battle game League of Legends has employed the inimitable gay pop star Lil Nas X as its new president as a marketing stunt, and I must reluctantly admit that this celebrity content partnership is actually very funny.
The Sims 4 will be free to play from October, which will doubtless draw even more helpless teens and students into its diabolically compulsive mix of life management and house designing. The Sims 2 was responsible for me almost failing my end-of-school exams, so best of luck to them.
Last Friday’s Wordle managed to enrage absolutely everyone with its solution: parer – a word that not even my phone’s autocorrect, with its pathological need to turn every sentence I write on my phone into word salad, acknowledges is real. If you were furious, know that you’re not alone: the New York Times tweeted that only 41% of players actually solved it, compared to a usual 99%.
Great news for fans of open-world action games set in Japan: in addition to a new Assassin’s Creed, there are also three new Yakuza games coming from Sega: Yakuza 8, the next in the long line of Tokyo gangster epics; a smaller-scale spinoff game; and Like a Dragon: Ishin, a remake of a PS3 game that transports Yakuza back to 1860s Kyoto. Unfortunately, I have not yet found the 1,000 hours necessary to complete all of the existing Yakuza games – the last one I actually finished was Yakuza 2, in, er, 2006. A further interesting detail: after almost two decades, Sega is dropping the name Yakuza in the west, and the series will now be known as Like a Dragon, which is closer to the Japanese title.
What to click
Grand Theft Auto 6 leak: who hacked Rockstar and what was stolen?
The Nintendo DS was more than just a console – it’s part of my family history – Dominik Diamond
Splatoon 3 review – Nintendo’s new squid game is ink-redible fun
Return to Monkey Island review – this comeback game is not just a greatest hits rehash
There is no Question block this week because this week’s issue is already giant, but please send me your questions, particularly silly ones. You can do so by hitting reply on this newsletter. Until next week!