Previously this week, early development footage of the next Grand Theft Auto game, assumed to be Grand Theft Auto VI, leaked all over the internet. You probably already know about all that. Since then, it’s become harder to find the leaked footage, and sites—including Kotaku—aren’t able to showcase footage or screenshots from the leaks. But that hasn’t stopped a dedicated group of GTA fans from coming together in various places in an effort to map out as much of the new Vice City and its surroundings as they can using math, MS Paint, Google Earth, and teamwork.
Back in November 2011, Rockstar Games released the first trailer for the then-unreleased GTA V. The hype around the game exploded and the very next day, users on GTA Forums began combing through that trailer in an effort to map out the game’s virtual world. Over the next two years—as Rockstar released more screenshots, trailers, previews, and more—the fans continued to spend hours and hours every day researching and compiling data. And as it turned out, the final map they all created before the game was officially released nearly perfectly matched the actual in-game world of GTA V. Impressive stuff! And now, a decade later, fans are coming together to once again map out the next Grand Theft Auto world before it’s officially released. However, things are different this time around.
Before, fans used official trailers and screenshots to help them piece together parts of Los Santos. This time, all of the content fans are poring over to map out this new take on Vice City comes from a leak that Rockstar and Take-Two Interactive are actively trying to suppress using legal actions and DMCA takedowns. This has made things tricky and created a new problem for the enthusiastic cartographers: How do you collaborate and map out a virtual world if nobody can share images of that virtual world online? GTA fans are a crafty and dedicated bunch, however, and they’ve come up with a few solutions.
The first and most basic method is to entirely avoid incorporating the leaks into their work. Instead, over on the GTA Forums, users are using Google Earth images as substitutes for screenshots. And to help provide context for some of these photos, a few users have even started opening up Microsoft Paint to draw out crude but useable recreations of moments seen in the leaked GTA VI footage. So far, that seems to be allowed by the admins in the GTA Forums, where some of this collaboration is taking place. (Previously, a thread trying to map out Vice City was shut down after it included images from the leaked gameplay.)
However, this limitation has frustrated some dedicated mappers who want to be as accurate and precise as possible in their efforts. And others just find it annoying having to dance around content restrictions. So many have leaped to private Discord servers where they can freely share leaked screenshots and footage. This wasn’t even an option back in 2011 with GTA V because Discord wasn’t a thing.
In one of the most popular mapping Discord servers, folks are already making great progress. The leaked footage contains numerous pieces of useful data, like in-game coordinates, which has greatly helped mappers figure out where various locations are in relation to each other.
We’re just a few days out from the leak and we already seem to have a fairly solid, if somewhat empty, version of what Vice City might look like in the final game. This latest map was created by the user Church of GTA with the help of over 100 other users. It uses GTA V and Rockstar’s own engine measurements to help figure out the scale compared to Los Santos. So far, it seems like this could end up being a very large map.
All the folks on the Discord server and on the GTA Forums provide different pieces of feedback and information. Some search for landmarks in the leaked content and then try to triangulate their location based on other pieces of leaked footage and math. Meanwhile, some users comb through each frame of leaked footage, ripping out the in-game mini-map to help create pieces of the map that can then be connected together. And other GTA fans are using their actual, real-world knowledge of Florida and Miami to help fill in gaps, providing information on highways and old buildings or demolished roads.
Church of GTA jokingly told me they were excited that I would be sharing the latest version of their map as it might help make all the hours spent on it “worth it.” Jokes aside, all this detective work isn’t easy. In fact, it takes a lot of time and effort, with some people already claiming to have spent hours and hours on just tracking down one piece of graffiti or a single landmark. But for many of these folks, it’s a blast to map out what could end up being a virtual world they spend years in once GTA VI is finally released.
Of course, it’s here that I’ll mention that all of this leaked content is from a still-in-development version of GTA VI and so it’s all subject to change. In fact, that was something that happened during the last attempt to map Los Santos. Minor tweaks to the world during development would sometimes be spotted by users, forcing them to alter their own maps in the lead-up to the game’s release in 2012. It’s likely the same thing will happen here.
But for now, these players are giving us our first real look at what could end up being Vice City and the nearby areas. And considering how close they all got last time, I’m excited to see what they end up piecing together between now and GTA VI’s launch.