The Rockstar Games Launcher on PC went down yesterday, shortly after the release of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy, and most Rockstar titles are currently still unplayable on PC (Update 4:00 pm PST: the launcher and games are back online, but GTA Trilogy remains unavailable, while Rockstar says it needs to "remove files unintentionally included in these versions"). Whether the launch of the GTA Trilogy had anything to do with it is unknown, but several GTA dataminers have turned up material that may suggest why Rockstar's remasters have run into problems.
Firstly, the Trilogy has shipped with internal developer comments visible on the code, such as the below.
I wonder, who are "they". 😃 pic.twitter.com/oeqKjFoDnkNovember 11, 2021
"This shit doesn't work the way they wrote it below so we'll just show the text and place the blip at the beginning of the mission," reads one of the in-code comments. Life at the coalface.
PC Gamer asked Vadim M., who shared the above and is something of an expert at data-diving in Rockstar games and finding obscurities, what exactly's been left in GTA: The Trilogy's files. "The developers left in the files uncompiled mission/script sources. This is an internal file where they coded scripts in the 'native language' and made notes. Of course, these sources were never meant for the public, but, in my opinion, it isn't something that worth a take down [of the Trilogy]."
They also noted that this isn't the first time this has happened with a port of these games. "War Drum Studios leaked GTA 3 mission sources 10 years ago and they were available in the game files for at least 2-3 updates on iOS." War Drum Studios is the studio that became Grove Street Games, which handled the GTA Trilogy remaster.
Coders leaving funny comments is one thing: even if you might not want the public to see it, who really cares. However some dataminers have found that Vice City and San Andreas may have shipped with songs that have technically been 'removed' from the game because the licenses have expired.
So the audio format of choice for the Definitive Editions is OGG-VORBIS! More interesting however, San Andreas contains all the cut music! It's just disabled by script! pic.twitter.com/FBGJINdBYyNovember 11, 2021
I contacted Ash R. and asked them to explain what we're looking at in the above image. "For Vice City they've split the stations up into track order, so the songs that were cut for the 10th Anniversary edition are missing here, in the screenshot above you can see how FLASH goes from _1, _2 and THEN to _4. _3 being Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' in this example. However because they've split it up like this it makes it incredibly easy to restore the tracks in this version by syncing it with the PS2 version and creating your own _3."
I asked if the unlicensed songs were playable. "The audio codec used in these games is the open source OGG-VORBIS, so yes these are playable after being extracted. Most Unreal 4 tools can extract the files, I'm using UModel," writes Ash R. "For San Andreas EVERY song is there, Ozzy, James Brown, Rage Against The Machine, 2pac, etc."
Ash R. played PC Gamer the file of James Brown's Funky President (People It's Bad) which contained radio chatter from the Master Sounds station.
The presence of unlicensed music could in theory be a big headache for Rockstar. While the music may not be accessible to the average user, it is in the product's files and can be accessed using certain tools. And, oh yeah, without the appropriate license. The music industry is infamously one of the most protective industries out there with no quarter given, and it could be the case that Rockstar's remasters land the company in legal hot water (in which eventuality, the company's swift removal of the titles from sale would be part of its defence).
To stress: it isn't certain that this is why the GTA Trilogy has disappeared from sale, or why the Rockstar Games Launcher is down. The unlicensed music tracks or the files the games were released with may have nothing to do with it. At the time of writing the Rockstar Games Launcher has been down for 24 hours. Rockstar has not responded to PC Gamer's request for comment.
If these files are any kind of factor, however, this would be one hell of an echo of the San Andreas Hot Coffee farrago. In that case Rockstar released the game with a removed sex minigame still present in the code: which eventually a modder was able to access. Rockstar denied that the minigame was present in San Andreas, which was technically true inasmuch as no 'normal' player could access it, but untrue because the code for the minigame was present in the game's files (and could even eventually be accessed on consoles).
The Hot Coffee controversy ran for years and ultimately resulted in an investigation into Rockstar by the Federal Trade Commission, a bunch of lawsuits, and the game being reissued with an adults-only rating.
Things are unlikely to get quite so heated this time around. If Rockstar responds, or the Launcher comes back to life, we'll update.