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

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