The Race to Mod GTA 5
The team working hard to break open Rockstar's world.
Image: Rockstar Games
Grand Theft Auto V developer Rockstar Games has done its best to prevent users from modifying the open world crime epic, but the protections it put in place won't last forever.
There are already modders working furiously to bust the game wide open, and when they do, there'll be few limits to how players can remold the world Rockstar built.
Yuriy Krivoruchko is a 27-year-old Russian software engineer and leading Grand Theft Auto modder. Most people know Krivoruchko as GooD-NTS, creator of OpenIV, a powerful modding tool. OpenIV is tailored for Grand Theft Auto IV, which was released on PC in 2008, and Max Payne 3, another Rockstar-developed shooter.
The GTA modding community relies on a lot of work and tools created by a lot of people, but Krivoruchko is leading the team of four that's on the cutting edge of solving GTA V modding challenges.
These days, Krivoruchko said, OpenIV has about 4,000 daily active users. That number is likely to rise as soon as OpenIV is updated to allow users to similarly mod GTA V.
"The first and main issue is Rockstar. They literally want modding dead."
As the latest entry in the series, GTA V's version of Los Angeles and surrounding area, Los Santos, is the biggest, most detailed open world Rockstar created to date, especially on PCs, which can support better graphics than the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions. Modding should also be far easier on PC, but Rockstar used a different encryption for game files this time, which so far has blocked more elaborate mods and modding tools like OpenIV.
OpenIV is a kind of "all-in-one" tool for modding GTA IV. It started as an archive editor, allowing users to dig through and edit the game's encrypted files, but with time became more powerful, adding a built-in texture editor, which lets users modify the 2D images that wrap around 3D models, a 3D model viewer, and an animation viewer.
It also has a set of text-based formats (called openFormats), allowing users to edit 3D models and collisions (what happens when 3D objects intersect), in 3D modeling and animation tool 3D Max.
OpenIV can now browse GTA V's game files, an important first step.
When you look beyond its satire of American culture, headline-making ability to pay and kill prostitutes, and industry leading sales numbers, GTA's defining feature has always been its open world. GTA games are set in giant, semi-realistic cities, with constant beehive-like activity: traffic, day and night cycles, weather, and different, interacting AI, most obvious in the relationship between police, civilians, and criminals.
Out of the box, GTA games are narrowly focused on this cops-and-criminals perspective, which is kind of a waste considering how impressive the world they're set in is.
That's why OpenIV is such a great tool. Want to build Tony Stark's tower in the middle of the city and fly around in an Iron Man suit? OpenIV allowed an ambitious modder to build that experience in GTA IV. Want to see Dragon Ball Z and Naruto characters duke it out on the streets of Liberty City? OpenIV has you covered.
"The first and main issue is Rockstar. They literally want modding dead," Krivoruchko told me, explaining the problem is that the game's files are encrypted differently. "They use a new algorithm. I don't know what it's called exactly so I named it 'Rockstar Annoying Encryption Algorithm.'"
Only a tool like OpenIV will allow modders to create entirely new content using new models, textures, and even maps
Krivoruchko thinks that Rockstar wants modding dead because it put a greater emphasis on GTA V multiplayer features. The easier GTA V is to mod, the easier it will be for players to cheat and break the game's online component.
I'll add to that that Rockstar is well aware that the open world it built still has untapped potential, but it understandably wants exclusive rights to tap that potential.
Rockstar sold two pieces of downloadable content set in GTA IV's Liberty City after the original game was released (The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony), and it's safe to assume they'll do the same for GTA V. Each expansion cost $20 when it was first released, and paying that much for more things to do in Los Santos might seem like a less attractive offer if the modding community is churning out free content regularly.
Rockstar didn't respond to our request for comments.
At the moment, the four people including Krivoruchko who are working furiously on updating OpenIV have figured out a way to decrypt game files, but they don't know how to modify and then re-encrypt them to a format the game can use.
Some of the tinkering already possible with Script Hook V.
"So we are working on a solution of this issue," Krivoruchko said. "In the best scenario we will be able to make encrypted files just like they did. In other cases, we will use some 'plugin,' which allows us to load decrypted files in game. Also, the game has several checks for modded files we also need to bypass."
The GTA V modding scene isn't completely dead while it waits for OpenIV to update. Tools like Script Hook V, created by another OpenIV contributor who goes by the handle Alexander Blade, allow users to tinker with existing game functions, like summoning whales out of the sky, teleporting around the map, and even changing the damage value of a punch to make cars explode, but only a tool like OpenIV will allow modders to create entirely new content, using new models, textures, or even entirely new maps within GTA V.
Krivoruchko doesn't know how long this will take, but he's confident he and his team can do it. If anything, he said, it will be easier than it was with GTA IV since the team has so much more experience now.
"The issue with archive editing is what currently prevents us from real modding," he said. "As soon as it will be resolved the real modding will rise," he said.