BBC “The Gamechangers” misses the mark on GTA story

This is going to be about the BBC TV Movie “The Gamechangers”, it’s based on a court case surrounding the “Hot Coffee” scandal surrounding GTA San Andreas. For those of you not sure what any of that meant, read the catchup section below.

Quick Catchup:

Grand Theft Auto was a game created by DMA Design in Dundee. DMA became Rockstar North, based in Edinburgh who continued development (it’s actually quite complicated). Up to GTA III, development was done by DMA, ending when GTA Vice City, which was developed by Rockstar North.

“Hot Coffee” was a hidden minigame, which was never part of the gameplay of GTA San Andreas. It got released however when someone exposed the code and found it. It was removed, according to the show, so San Andreas could keep its rating of “Mature” in the US and not be classed as “Adult Only,” which would seriously impact sales. It wasn’t much of an issue in Europe as San Andreas was getting a PEGI rating of 18+ anyway, and thus was illegal to sell it to anyone under 18 due to that.

Got all that? Then I’ll begin.

Actual Post:

The BBC TV movie, The Gamechangers attempts to highlight the story of the Hot Coffee scandal, which hit the release of GTA: San Andreas. Hot Coffee was basically a deleted mini game where you have sex. For many reasons, the mini game was never removed from the actual game code, just made inaccessible through gameplay. It got found, court cases and eventual slaps on wrists were had.

Sadly for the BBC, they fail to display how games are made. The Rockstar offices barely seem to contain any staff, everyone only has one monitor and is doing graphical rendering on run of the mill laptops. The “coding” montage looks like it could have been ripped from a CSI “hacking the UI using Visual Basic” style clip without too much bother.

Needless to say, Gamechangers wasn’t authorised by Rockstar. Nor do they seem to approve of what the BBC have done.

Oh dear. It doesn’t get much better when looking at original developers of the game who are no longer with Rockstar. The show is getting blasted for its accuracy, script, and for not talking to anyone from the original team.

Now, all this came about because the BBC are currently going gaga over digital. They’ve already had shows out like “Girls Can Code” and they’re doing roadshows all across the UK. Highlighting British talent is something the BBC love doing, so why not have more of a mention that this stunning games series was originated in the UK? Yes, Rockstar has offices all over the place now but these games started life in Dundee. They grew into Edinburgh and then all over the world. Why focus everything on some hipster looking office in New York? Why make it out that only one person was the driving force behind San Andreas? Mike Dailly, of DMA heritage felt similar.

Yes, it was a docu-drama, so things are expanded and altered to make things more entertaining, but come on!

The script is stilted. Characters seem to talk to each other in handy little sections “here she is, the successful wife” says Jack Thompson (for no apparent reason, she’s barely in the show).

The portrayal of “how games are made” is particularly irritating. Some keyboard bashing, a shot of white text on a black background (seriously, no syntactical highlighting…?) and BOOM we have a fully rendered sex scene. You want a new game engine? Two shakes of a lambs tail and you have one! There’s a lot of emphasis on the fact that Rockstar made it possible to alter how the main character looks, so much so that you would think that this is the game changing element GTA brought to the table. Not the detailed 3D world, the use of story telling with minimal cut scenes, the ability to make decisions, or just run around stealing cars. Overall, it’s a disappointing show. Which is a shame seeing as it could have been great.

To save constantly bashing, here’s some things the BBC got right:

  • Its very well shot. There’s a lovely scene where the guy who discovers Hot Coffee plays San Andreas, and to show the passage of time, he gets all dishevelled and grows a beard.
  • Dan Radcliffe is actually quite good in it.
  • There are some very well done elements of mixing game style graphics into the real world.
  • They tried. Instead of leaving video games in their little corner to do their own thing, they tried. They took a story lots of people know (Hot Coffee) and tried to show how things worked along a very narrow viewpoint.

What they got wrong:

  • Making things up
  • Not one of the developers shown uses syntactical highlighting.
  • Rockstar, according to the show, has a company uniform of “you must always wear something company branded”.
  • The way they portrayed the development of the game. One man driving a whole team, no mention of project managers, a passing reference to QA, no post-it notes.
  • They missed what Rockstar did to make things better. A patch named “Cold Coffee” was released to get rid of “Hot Coffee” and subsequent releases of San Andreas had the code removed so it could get its “Mature” rating back.

One day, the media will get video games right.

It’s also worth noting that Rockstar (via their parent company) are suing the BBC to “ensure that our trademarks are not misused in the BBC’s pursuit of an unofficial depiction of purported events.” That should be a pretty open and shut case since the Rockstar logo is on every single piece of clothing anyone who works in the BBC version of the company wears.