"Michael Unsworth, the vice president of writing at Rockstar Games, has left the company after 16 years. Unsworth was involved in writing for several Rockstar games, including Red Dead Redemption, GTA V, and Max Payne. He also co-wrote Red Dead Redemption 2 with Dan Houser, who left Rockstar in 2020." - Google's Generative AI (which appears to be correct and makes things weird when trying to credit sources!)
"Dan Houser is "thankful" he’s not releasing Grand Theft Auto 6 in the age of Trump. “It’s really unclear what we would even do with it, let alone how upset people would get with whatever we did,” says the co-founder of Rockstar Games. "Both intense liberal progression and intense conservatism are both very militant, and very angry. It is scary but it’s also strange, and yet both of them seem occasionally to veer towards the absurd. It’s hard to satirise for those reasons. Some of the stuff you see is straightforwardly beyond satire. It would be out of date within two minutes, everything is changing so fast."
Houser is therefore thankful that his next game, Red Dead Redemption 2, is a period piece."
Dan Houser ended up leaving the company two years later in 2020.
These comments have stuck in my head for five years now and with the 2024 Presidential election coming up, they seem even more poignant. Trump has made his full return to the news and the nation's conscience and another longtime Rockstar employee is leaving.
Max Payne 3, Red Dead Redemption, LA Noire, Red Dead Redemption 2. I have revisited these fantastic games just this year and it turns out Michael Unsworth had a big hand in creating all of them. What's obvious is that when longtime employees leave, the culture changes. It's just what happens. What isn't obvious is what the new culture will be.
I don't get it. You can raise a family in 25 years. You can have a nearly full career in the military or as a teacher in that time. I get that there are different stages of creation and that ideas can sit on a shelf for years, but trotting that around? It smells like a movie director hustling to get his next film made.
Which brings me back to GTA VI. It's clear that development is wrapped around one axle or another. You don't lose top people during this time if that isn't the case. I'm sure COVID had a big impact as well as the political environment, oh, and the hack... but you can't work on a creative idea for this long. Especially on the heels of never really stopping working GTA V.
Like, I don't even work for R*, and yet I want to walk up to their HR and put in my two weeks just as a casual fan of the series. Imagine working on this stuff for a decade.
As a guy in his 40s who enjoys playing games across time, spending this much time on a single game in a professional environment is beyond the beyond. I get the financial upside, but the downside is pretty much creative destruction (if not financial).
The games in that 1998 top-rated list all took a fraction of the time R* and Bethesda take now and they all still hold up. Imagine them with a modern engine.
I just finished GTA San Andreas and that feels like it was put together in a basement apartment with no running water and it is wildly fun. Development time on that game? Two or so years. Might as well have been over the weekend.
Let's take a quick look at the development time of two games that I believe influenced/changed the direction of RDR2. Last of Us? 3 years. Witcher 3? About the same.
I don't know why Dan and Michael have left the company (I bet Michael left because he didn't get his RDR remaster - only half kidding). This will sound strange, but I'd like to think it's because what long AAA game development has become is absurd to anyone with a creative bone in their body. Put that underneath how much the country has morphed into what GTA satirized in the past and you have a recipe for a bad dinner.
Anyhow, I guess this is a long way to say, "Michael, it's amazing you lasted this long."
Contact Larry firstname.lastname@example.org