Big Picture Mode
Nathan Brown cops to a guilty musicalusical pleasure
When I read that Wilson Phillips’ Hold On was one of the 160-odd songs Rockstar had added to the radio soundtrack for GTAV’s remastered release, I punched the air, then immediately went and preordered the digital version. I have loved that record and wanted it on a
GTA soundtrack for years, but have only recently been able to admit it. It has long been a quiet, guilty pleasure, but the older I get, the less relevant the first word in that phrase becomes, and the louder I get in my Batemanesque pub-table proclamations of its brilliance. It set me wondering about why we don’t really see the same thing in games (no one wakes up on their 30th birthday and finds themselves finally prepared to admit to loving Superman 64, you know?), and I thought this month’s column was sorted.
Then the enormous GTAV download finally finished, the grindingly ponderous install completed, I drove Franklin around Los Santos with the radio tuned to Non Stop Pop, and it slowly became miserably clear that Hold On wasn’t on the soundtrack after all. I checked online and read news stories about the new soundtrack but found no mention of it, eventually clarifying the situation via a forum post. It seems the confusion stemmed from the song being found in data files mined from the 360 version’s disc, where it was one of a number of tracks named but not included, and so had been assumed to be making an appearance in the remaster. But it hadn’t. I’d paid £55 for a game on the unconfirmed promise of a single song, and that promise had turned out to be a false one. I was gutted.
That was no fault of Rockstar’s, of course. More fool me for taking Internet speculation as gospel, I guess – a lesson I should have learned long ago – but it’s far from the first time I’ve been persuaded to put money down for a game on the promise of something that turned out to not exist. After all, the grand, impossible promise is one of the foundations on which this industry is built.
We want developers to reach for the skies until the precise moment it becomes apparent that they can’t quite get there
I can understand why, to an extent – reality got in the way of my original plan for this column, after all. Design documents are essentially wishlists, roadmaps for initial visions that have to be redrawn and scaled back as projects progress. A studio might not have the time, money or manpower to complete a planned feature; perhaps it did get made, but didn’t work as intended, and thus was scrapped. But when a developer first starts speaking in public about a new game, they’re often still talking about the theory rather than the reality, the vision rather than the execution. At this point, they’ve got big ideas and they want to stand out. Little wonder so many of them shout their grand plans from the rooftops.
It’s something that Early Access should have fixed, really. By pulling back the curtain, opening a constant line of dialogue between developer and player, and offering playable builds from early in development, there should be far less opportunity for pulling the wool over the potential customer’s eyes. Yet if anything, the opposite has happened, prompting Valve to update Steam’s Early Access developer terms with some new rules. Two jumped out at me: “Make sure you set expectations properly everywhere you talk about your game,” and “Do not make specific promises about future events.”
This is fair enough – and prompted by a few too many cases where developers have essentially taken the Early Access money and run – but what was intended to give small studios an alternative route to market that bypassed the traditional publishing model has ended up insisting that they also opt out of the traditional marketing one.
No one likes a broken promise, but what worries me about this most is the knock-on effect it might have on those grand design documents. Promises are a reflection of ambition; we want developers to reach for the skies until the precise moment it becomes apparent that they can’t quite get there, at which point we just want them to get as close to it as possible. Not every game should copy Black & White – and God knows (and Godus shows) that one Peter Molyneux is plenty – but creators should be dreamers first and realists later. If a developer’s vision is bound to what he or she knows is realistically achievable, games are only going to get less interesting. Early Access was meant to empower creators, not restrict them. Steam is a platform full of problems, of course, but I worry that Valve itself just created the biggest one of all. Nathan Brown is Edge’s deputy editor, and would like to apologise to fellow pub patrons for the Hold On singalong