Last week a small group of hackers released something pretty remarkable on Github: the reverse-engineered source code for both Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The project was years in the making, and its main purpose seems to have been both improving the experience on modern machines (with things like widescreen support) and being something of a collaborative tool for modders to more easily mess with the game (Eurogamer has an interesting writeup on the background).
The projects can be seen in action below, demonstrating some of the quality-of-life improvements made to both titles (GTAIII’s Steam port is not great) and functionality of stuff like the debug menu. They use the existing games’ PC assets along with the reverse-engineered source code: hence the respective names of Re3 (reverse-engineered 3) and reVC (reverse-engineered Vice City).
Following its release on February 17, the project attracted considerable attention, and somewhat inevitably the great clunking fist of Take-Two’s lawyers has come crashing down (Take-Two being Rockstar’s parent company). The work and its various forks have now been removed from Github, and a DMCA notice received from Take-Two has been posted.
“The content in the links below consists of copyrighted materials owned by Take-Two. The use of our copyrighted content in these links are unauthorized and it should be removed immediately.”
Take-Two issued the notice against the main modding project page, and links hundreds of individual user pages that were hosting it. “The work is not licensed in any way,” says the notice. “The best and only solution is complete removal of the aforementioned pages.”
A note from Github makes clear that it’s acted not just against the instances cited by Rockstar, but any appearance of the project on its site. “Because the parent repository was actively being forked when this DMCA takedown notice was received, and the submitter had identified all known forks at the time they submitted the takedown notice, GitHub processed the takedown notice against the entire fork network.”
This is what one might call unsurprising. Most fan-made projects fly under the radar, for various reasons, but Grand Theft Auto is one of the biggest brands in the world, and the games in question are still being sold across multiple platforms. As soon as this attracted notice, Take-Two’s actions were inevitable.
The project will of course live on in plenty of archives, no matter how much whack-a-mole Take-Two’s lawyers have the patience for. But the kind of collaborative work that the makers of Re3 and ReVC were hoping for may now be something of a pipe dream, and it’s sad to see so much effort hit by cold, legal reality. There are no winners here: though, if anything comes of it, perhaps Rockstar will wake up to the fact that people want well-optimised versions of their older titles.