Can you remember a more tumultuous week for Rockstar Games? During my active time within the community over the last 10 years, I don’t think I can! The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition release week has been … pretty miserable, to say the least, as one thing after another led to a disastrous PC launch and ended with Rockstar facing a barrage of criticism from hardcore fans, the media and even other developers.
So how did it all unfold? Let’s take a look at just exactly where Rockstar, Grove Street Games, and Take-Two have dropped points during the last week.
After a solid year of speculation, hopes were pretty high after Rockstar validated rumours and first teased the remasters back in early October. In the weeks following, the community anticipated a deluge of information would arrive as GTA III reached its 20th anniversary, and expectations were set for gameplay trailers, new artwork, screenshots and merchandise reveals. Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick had previously remarked that new iterations of games (i.e. remasters or ports) wouldn’t be marketed like new games, but given the approaching milestone of the 3D era, this quiet and minimalistic approach felt fairly subdued, even for Rockstar. When the trailer dropped on the anniversary, the division over the re-imagined models also left some fans wanting to be “sold” into pre-ordering, despite the welcome short waiting time before launch, and a lack of gameplay only further curbed enthusiasm for the pending release.
Launch time mix-up
Amidst the wait for launch came a few days of confusion over when the games would actually release. Rockstar had explicitly announced a global launch time, but Sony had other ideas, with PlayStation timers indicating midnight local time. Rockstar later re-affirmed the global release time via a Rockstar Support article, stating these countdowns were inaccurate and all platforms would release together at the announced time. You can probably guess what happened after their statement… those other ideas that Sony had, came to fruition, and pre-orders began unlocking over a day “early” at midnight across Australian and New Zealand timezones. While Xbox, Switch and PC players were left twiddling their thumbs, PlayStation screenshots and footage leaked out into the entire community in a mad frenzy for a first real look at the games, and it was here the waters started turning muddy from those who didn’t enjoy what they were seeing.
Botched PC Launch
With tempers already fuelled by no pre-load being available for PC players, the entire Rockstar Launcher being taken offline a mere 3 hours after the games released was not on our Trilogy bingo card. After a sudden drop in service, Rockstar Support confirmed an hour later that the Launcher was undergoing maintenance and would be temporarily offline. In the early hours of the following day, a further tweet was sent out by Rockstar Support to confirm they were still working on Launcher issues, and by the end of that same day it did return with full services; but there was a catch… the Trilogy had been de-listed and would not be available to play due to “unintentional files” being left within the games. The theory is that these “files” related to unlicensed music being accessible by mistake, as well as traces of the notorious Hot Coffee code and other usually-secretive scripts and tools used by Rockstar during development. It was a treasure trove for the modding community, but you can probably understand why management would not enjoy these being publicly available. Unfortunately, this meant the Trilogy was unplayable for PC players for around 3 days in total, and this is where some of the harder criticism began to fall. The botched launch, unprecedented for Rockstar, led to very loud calls for more communication, given Rockstar Support only sent out four fairly robotic tweets regarding what was happening over the course of the weekend without any formal clarification from their main Twitter account. Both unimpressed with the gameplay coming from console players, and the fact that their purchase was simply removed from their library during this time, there has been widespread commentary on refunds since then, with many now getting their money back and opting out of playing these games at all. Mistakes happen, oversights are inevitable, but we have been left with questions surrounding the way in which this launch was handled, and the disappointing lack of general reassurance that could easily have been dished out.
Bugs, Bugs, Bugs
You could say launch mishaps are easily forgiven, as remote-working has hit us all during the pandemic, and sometimes technology just doesn’t want to comply for one reason or another. Bugs, however, are a different conversation and perhaps indicative of bigger problems to address. While many are still having a great time with the core stories and characters of the Trilogy games, the “Definitive” experience is unfortunately marred with bugs, map glitches and progression issues. These bugs were in addition to poorly received models, inconsistencies with AI-upscaled textures and the re-use of GTAV assets that either broke continuity between universes or confirmed the existence of time travel. From the credits, it can be seen that Grove Street Games are only a very small studio, though there were other outsourced companies involved, as well as a number of Rockstar’s own teams. From this we can make an assumption that the existence of these problems boiled down to the games just not being ready, or a lack of support, or possibly even both. These are not the words you’d expect to put in the same sentence as a Rockstar release, and though it didn’t come out of one of their main studios, we wouldn’t expect resources to be so limited or constrained by time. Though we can’t be sure just how things were handled behind the scenes, from the outside it looks like these three very large scale projects were an ambitious but daunting task for a small team that perhaps needed some extra time in the oven as well as a solid foundation of Rockstar support. The question remains of why they were released at all if they needed more time, which returns us to a growing community opinion that they were rushed out in order to “cash in” on the anniversary.
More modding takedowns
Adding to the disdain of the Trilogy launch, Take-Two quietly strengthened their anti-modding stance with all new DMCA takedowns on the same day as release, of all the days to choose. According to LibertyCity.net and ModDB, notices were served against three mods; a mod that ported GTA Advance to GTA III, a GTA IV mod that exchanged Niko’s model for Johnny and other TLAD assets such as weapon icons, and most bafflingly, a simple GTA IV TLAD save file at 65% completion. It’s not ultimately clear why the latter of these mods were targeted, given takedowns during the summer mostly involved map porting. Rumours of a GTA IV remaster have circulated since, but with the re3/reVC lawsuit still pending, tensions continue to swell in the community over Take-Two’s actions, with fears that they will slowly target other categories of mods and their authors in the near future. The latest protest is in the form of a petition, currently sitting at almost 1200 signatures, which calls for a boycott on creating mods for the Definitive Edition to raise awareness of the importance modding has to the legacy of the franchise. You can discuss the ongoing situation with the rest of the community on GTAForums.
As you can already imagine, the community has been less than forgiving in their calls for answers during this week. Swathes of criticism headed Rockstar’s way from all sorts of directions, mostly relating to the scrappy launch, gameplay bugs, performance issues and artistic choices. The first rally came from a review-bomb of almost 5000 “overwhelming dislikes” on Metacritic, giving the games a user review score of a measly 0.5, but commentary from Digital Foundry and a 5/10 Review from IGN cemented that this wasn’t only a “poor gamer” reception this time, but widespread discontent. There has also been significant disappointment amongst the modding community who felt they themselves could have had a larger hand in the remasters if given the opportunity, given the original Trilogy had been de-listed, despite the broken relationship following targeted DMCA action from Take-Two. Suffice to say, the community at large is rather unhappy with this launch and the associated reflection it has caused as long time fans of these games, even for those who are enjoying the upgraded environments and platform accessibility that the Trilogy has provided, with both satisfied and frustrated players feeling the side effects of poor sentiment. The online spaces of forums, social media and Reddit have been rampant with arguments due to mis-information and lack of transparency, which has sadly also led to the harassment of individual developers as well, which can never be justified even in light of disagreeable management decisions. The disharmony amongst the community has intensified the need for a much deeper community management presence, and we would appeal for them to build a bridge and come forward to help us face this head on in future.
The Rockstar Apology
In a surprise announcement, Rockstar rounded off this unexpected series of events with a bittersweet official apology. Claiming that the games did not launch to a standard they, or fans, expect, they apologised for the issues that have been highlighted during this week. They confirmed that the games will be receiving technical updates in due course, with each update adding to the overall improvement of the games. Most unexpectedly, they also confirmed that the original Trilogy of games will be returning to PC in the very near future, in the form of a bundle on the Rockstar Store, and those who purchase the Definitive Trilogy up until June 2022 next year will receive the original collection for free. This is a very welcome gesture given the importance of these classic games and the impact they have had across the gaming industry, and ensuring their preservation, even if only on PC, is a win for the community who fought against their removal in the first place. They also lightly touched on the harassment that has been targeted towards individual developers, with an appeal for the community maintain a “respectful and civil discourse” going forwards – we can get on board with this, though the community has been split on the language used for the statement.
If you’ve reached this far, then you’ll agree there has been a lot to take in. Discussions still continue across the community, so our efforts at GTANet are currently concentrated on keeping track of updates and ensuring there is a balanced array of topics available in our Trilogy areas on GTAForums. We’ve maintained a Bugs board (thanks to uNi for that idea!) in effort to consolidate some of the most glaring or disruptive problems, which we hope Rockstar and Grove Street Games can make use of. There is also significant modding research currently being undertaken, and you can find the discussion topic for that here.
We’ll be posting our personal reviews, and community reviews, for a more dedicated discussion on the good, bad, and ugly parts of each individual Trilogy game in the near future once we’ve managed to achieve significant story progress!