On March 4th, 2010 I was contacted by Rockstar Games about attending another fansite event in New York, this time for Episodes From Liberty City’s launch on PS3 and PC. The event was due to take place on the weekend from March 19th to 21st, however due to the game’s delay, the event was pushed back a few weeks to the 9th-11th of April.
This is a mini-blog/write up of my trip.
My flight was at 9.10 AM on the Friday morning. A reasonable time you might think. However, the night before, I’d been 175 miles away in Liverpool watching them beat Benfica 4-1 to qualify for the Europa League semi-finals. I didn’t get home till about 3 AM, so I was restricted to about 4 hours sleep. Not to worry though, a trip to New York kind of gives you the boost an extra few hours sleep would anyway.
My flight from Newcastle to London Heathrow was alright. Only 50 minutes in the air. Once I landed in London I tried in vain for about 30 minutes to hack into one of the secured wi-fi connections. By hack, I do of course just mean guess the password. After that failed, I walked around the shops wondering why anyone would buy half of the crap they sell.
I sat down and started reading a book by Chris Ryan called “Firefight” and at around 12 noon, I got a text from Adam CS (GTANet) saying he had arrived at Heathrow on his flight from Glasgow, so I met him.
We walked around a bit and then it was time to head to our gate for the flight to New York. I wasn’t sat next to him because there weren’t many choices for seats, although we managed to get as close at 10 rows away.
On the flight to New York I continued reading “Firefight”. It’s a pretty awesome story about the SAS doing missions in Iraq to prevent a terrorist attack in London. Chris Ryan is a former SAS soldier, so he uses his experiences, but puts them into a fictional story. I managed to read about 400 pages of the book on the flight and it was an awesome way to kill some time.
Arrival At JFK
We touched down at JFK Airport at about 4:30 PM local time, but we had to queue to get through passport control and then I had to stand around for about an hour to get my suitcase. Once that was done, we found our driver and began the journey to our hotel. Because it was pretty much rush hour, the traffic was quite bad and it took us an hour or so to get to the hotel (Ink 48). We were due to meet some of the Rockstar guys in the hotel bar at 6:30, but by the time we got there it was the fashionably late time of 6:35.
The only thing was there was no sign of Rockstar at all. What we found when we got to the hotel was a few of the fansite guys pretty much totally drunk. Chris (TheGTAPlace) and Jevon (GTANet) had arrived at around 1 PM and with no contact from Rockstar, they decided to just sit in the hotel bar and drink for about 6 hours.
I got checked into my room, which was awesome by the way, then went back downstairs and had a few drinks with everyone before we got in a few taxis and went to a steakhouse restaurant opposite the Apple store. I had a 16 oz steak burger, which was pretty much the smallest one they did then eventually we went back to the hotel and sat in the lobby for an hour chatting about random stuff.
We decided to go look for the rooftop bar, which wasn't actually built or open yet… But we climbed to the roof which was quite literally a construction site and checked it out anyway. Probably shouldn’t have been up there...
Next we went to Chris' room and chatted some more, while he went through the mini bar and played around with the condoms he found. Eventually everyone headed off to bed where I passed out with the laptop open next to my head... Luckily I remembered to stick it on charge first.
"The view from my hotel room"
I woke up crapping myself because my phone said it was 11:20 AM and we were supposed to be meeting the R* guys at 11:30, but I noticed it was still dark outside... Strange I thought… Then I found out when I plugged my iPhone into the laptop to charge it, it synched the timezone back to GMT and I was back on UK time so it was really like 6 AM not 11 AM... So I went back to sleep but I was up and awake from about 7 ish.
That morning I drank most of the non alcoholic beverages from the mini bar, had a shower then ate a big jar of nuts and a fruit bar for my breakfast. I should really have just ordered room service, but it was too easy to munch my way through the mini bar.
We headed downstairs and met in the lobby where we saw the guys from the other fansites. As usual, the Rockstar guys were late. It was more like 12:30 before they turned up, but not to worry. Off to Rockstar’s New York offices we go to play Episodes From Liberty City!
I jumped in a cab with Andy (GTANet) and Casey (GTAGaming). Unfortunately for us, the taxi driver actually had no idea where he was going and took about 30 minutes to get there. Once Blair (GTANet) had finished his cigarette we went up into Rockstar’s offices, past the huge glowing R* sign and up into the room they use for presenting the games to the media.
There were 5 huge HD TV’s set up with Playstation 3’s and 5 PC’s, all running Episodes From Liberty City. I decided to head for a PC, plugged in the Games For Windows controller and started up The Ballad of Gay Tony. I increased the graphics settings to the max I could, which wasn’t actually the max they could go to, but I noticed a few issues with slowdown, particularly in the rain and when plenty of explosions were going on at once. Using the auto tool to set up the graphics settings is probably the best way to get everything running smoothly.
The graphics look great in comparison with the Xbox 360 version of the game, as you’d expect. Everything is much sharper and the textures are a lot clearer. Other than that, there’s not a lot of difference between either version of the game.
I played Free Roam multiplayer with Andy and Chris, and we did the base jumping challenges, where you need to jump off 8 tall buildings and pull the parachute as close to the ground as possible, without leaving it too late. Hilarity ensued a number of times when I got the jumps wrong. We also did a few street races, which I continued my record of winning the first race at every Rockstar fansite event!
We messed around with the cheats for The Ballad of Gay Tony, particularly explosive punches and had a good laugh, then crowded around a PS3 with Jesse (GTAHood) and Gerald (GTA Warehouse) playing around with the swing glitch. They even managed to spawn a boat on the swing and get it to launch. I showed them how to do the walk underwater glitch too.
During the GTA session, Rockstar brought us some huge pizzas, which I managed to destroy most of. Interestingly, security within Rockstar’s offices was not so strict this time around. Last year we pretty much got told to keep our eyes forward and down until we got into a secure office, but this time it was a bit more relaxed. We still needed an escort when we went to the toilet, but it was cool to be able to see Rockstar’s offices rather than just their media room. Of course, I couldn’t possibly confirm or deny if I saw anything other than Grand Theft Auto in those offices.
"The view from the roof of our hotel at night"
See You Later
After we were all GTA’d out, we headed back to the hotel. Rockstar told us we could either go for a helicopter tour over New York or speedboats in the river. I think we’d decided on speedboats. Anyway Rockstar came to collect us later and we got in a van to be driven to an undisclosed location. It took a good hour to hour and a half to get there, and we eventually arrived in a pretty run down looking part of Brooklyn. We pulled up outside an abandoned warehouse and wondered what exactly was going on, until we saw Rockstar’s personalized Red Dead Redemption van outside. Then it all made sense...
Red Dead Redemption
Walking inside, the place pretty much was just an abandoned warehouse, but Rockstar had decorated it up to look like a Western themed bar. There were four pretty girls dressed up in female clothing of the era, two of them working behind the bar and the others working on the food. There were wooden barrels all around the room with Dynamite shaped candles burning and even a noose hanging there.
Of course the 6 HD TV’s running Red Dead Redemption multiplayer from Xbox 360’s kind of brought it all back to modern reality, but it was a pretty cool looking place. Upstairs there were three TV’s running Red Dead Redemption single player and once we’d gotten our drinks from the bar, we headed up there to get a preview of the game.
We were talked through the controls and the physics, how to control the horses, how to aim and change weapons etc. The gameplay is very similar to Grand Theft Auto IV. The controls are almost identical and if you’ve played GTA4, you’ll feel very much at home. Of course the game is totally different. Not just from the visual aspects, which are stunning, but it’s just a different kind of game to GTA. However as one of the Rockstar guys put it, Red Dead Redemption is practically Grand Theft Auto: Wild West. You'll notice the similarities to GTA instantly, but if you're not a fan of GTA, or you have friends who don't like it much, Red Dead is different enough to get new people interested.
Don’t let that take credit away from Red Dead though, it’s a fantastic game and should be marked on it’s own merits, however it’s clear to see the RAGE engine from GTA4 has been used and improved to bring the game to life.
I’m not going to cover much of the single player or multiplayer game as I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone. That’s the reason I only did two or three missions of the story, I want to keep the surprises for myself when the game comes out, but the few missions I did play were very fun indeed.
After a few hours, we moved downstairs and played some multiplayer. Again I won’t go into specifics, but I will just say it was AWESOME! Some of the games start with a duel where all players stand in a circle and when the time comes, must shoot and kill each other until there’s one person standing. The free mode element of multiplayer is incredibly fun too and is definitely something I intend to pick up and play a lot. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t usually get involved with multiplayer gaming too much.
Overall Red Dead Redemption is as good as the trailers and screenshots make it look and although I've already seen it in action, I still can't wait for it to come out and play it through properly!
At a late hour it was time for the event to end, so we got in a van and headed back to the hotel. Those of us who arrived in the first van went up to Kyle (GTAGaming)’s room and ordered some food and had a chat for a few hours, then at about 4 AM we decided to call it a night. Kyle was getting picked up to go home at 10 AM and we were going to meet for breakfast at 9 ish.
I woke up at about 8:45, naturally, without an alarm. Which was surprising as by this point I’d had a total of 8 hours sleep the whole time since Thursday morning, and in fact that’s how it would remain until I got home and passed out at about 10 AM the next morning (NYC time).
I went downstairs and met Kyle and Casey and we started getting breakfast then Jevon turned up, soon followed by Jesse. We ate the food and went back to our rooms to get showered and tidy everything up. We had to be checked out of the hotel from 11 AM, so once we’d packed our bags and emptied the contents of the mini bar into our suitcases, we met downstairs in the lobby and got checked out.
I wanted to go to the Apple store to see about getting an iPad for one of my friends back home, so myself, Chris, Casey and Jevon walked about a mile and a half to the nearest Apple store. Inside was a simple as you’d expect from apple, with a bunch of desks covered in iPads and iPods and iPhones. I grabbed an iPad and was surprised by how good it looks. Effectively it’s just a giant iPhone, but I can see how it would be useful to browse the net.
I found one of the guys who worked there and asked him if I could buy one, but unfortunately they didn’t have any in stock. He said he could order one in for me, but I told him I was leaving and going back to the UK that day. He asked where I was from and I told him, then he asked which football team I supported. I told him I was a huge Liverpool fan and that I go to every game. In fact Liverpool were playing at that exact time and I would have been at the game had I not been in New York. He was amazed. As a Liverpool fan himself, I was the first one he’d met in New York. We grabbed one of the iPads and went onto the official website to check the score, but unfortunately Liverpool drew 0-0 which wasn’t the best result.
The guy was really cool though and he really wanted to help out his fellow Liverpool fan. He pretended to pull one of the display iPads out of it’s socket and give it to me haha, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be, so we made the walk back to the hotel.
"Playing with an iPad, alongside a fellow Liverpool fan"
Everyone was still there and there was no sign of Rockstar yet either. Eventually as time went by, the American fansite webmasters started to disappear. Once it was just the four of us UK webmasters, Bill took us out for some food. We must have been in the loudest restaurant in the world though. I was still full from my breakfast so I ordered fruit salad in a pineapple. Very nice indeed.
After we’d finished the food it was back to the hotel and a case of waiting to be picked up and taken to the airport. Our cars arrived and myself and Adam headed to JFK while Chris and Jevon went to Newark.
We got there and got checked in, then spent time sitting by our gate talking about crazy people on our forums. A few hours passed and we were on the plane, listening to the pilot who sounded drunk. I couldn’t stop laughing at him, but maybe that was the sleep deprivation kicking in.
All I did on the flight back was listen to music. I eventually decided to get some sleep and must have dozed off for a few minutes until all of the lights on the plane came on and the BA staff came around with food. Great. So I didn’t get any sleep, but I did get my food which was nice.
We arrived back at Heathrow on schedule and spent an hour or so walking around the various shops again before I joined my gate for the flight back to Newcastle and Adam went for his from Glasgow.
Luckily there were no problems with the flight and I got back to Newcastle, and grabbed my bags by 11:30 AM (GMT).
I decided to make a Red Dead Redemption fan site because the game is incredible and it is pretty similar to Grand Theft Auto, so I spent most of the next few days putting it together, as well as catching up on some lost sleep.
All that remains is to say a HUGE thank you to Rockstar Games for another incredible fansite event in New York. They get more and more generous each year and it makes the work we do on our fansites so much more worthwhile, even though we do it for the love of the games and the love of the company in the first place anyway.
I’d also like to say thanks to the other fansite webmasters who are all pretty much friends. I’m looking forward to seeing you all again next time!
Chris – http://www.thegtaplace.com
Adam, Jevon, Blair & Andy – http://www.GTANet.com
Casey & Kyle – http://www.GTAGaming.com
Gerald – http://www.GTAWH.com
Jesse – http://www.GTAHood.com