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Has GTA IV influenced you to commit crimes?

Nope, it's just a game.
Only petty crimes.
Stealing has become a hobby.
Yes, can't say more, cops are coming.
I am the living incarnation of Niko.

Grand Theft Auto IV - Premier Fansite Pre-Launch Party

Bringing together obsessed GTA webmasters from around the world.
Grand Theft Auto IV Pre-Launch Party in NYC.
GTA IV in NYC? Hell yes.

In the months leading up to the launch of GTA IV, ten Grand Theft Auto fansite administrators were contacted by Rockstar Games. It was an invitation that GTA fanatics have dreamt about for years – an invitation to come and experience New York City firsthand, compliments of Rockstar.

Those who received the invitation included:

Part of the deal, however, required that all invitees remain completely silent about the event. Nobody outside of the group was supposed to know about it, and aside from a few relatively obnoxious slipups late in April, the Grand Theft Auto community remained in the dark about the entire thing for quite a while.

The Accommodations

Where a week's stay is more than a month's rent.

The entire event took place at the Hotel on Rivington; a swanky, upscale hotel located in lower east side Manhattan. The rooms were like something out of an Apple commercial – completely white, minimalist, and extraordinarily expensive – and they were also a point of debate amongst all of us, with comparisons and discussions about who had the best room being a highlight of the evenings. (The debate, of course, usually came down to who had the best mini-bar and the most extensive collection of snacks.)

NYC NYC NYC
Scoping out New York City. It's what we do.

The penthouse suite on the 20th floor of the hotel was occupied by representatives of Rockstar Games, and it was also “home base” of sorts for the event itself. We found ourselves spending an excessive amount of time in that room, mowing down on free food and knocking back ridiculous amounts of Red Bull. In addition to food and beverage, the room was also equipped with roughly a dozen LCD HDTV displays, as well as an array of both Xbox 360’s and PlayStation 3’s.

Like everything else during the event, Rockstar footed the bill on all expenses, treating us to things that we would otherwise have never experienced. When we weren’t at the hotel, for example, we were escorted around Manhattan in giant black Escalades, or taken out to lunch at Katz’s Delicatessen (the only restaurant with a security checkpoint, it seems).

The Swag

More free stuff than you can shake a miniature Statue of Happiness at.
Grand Theft Auto IV Pre-Launch Party Swag.
More GTA IV Goodies.

Upon arrival to the hotel and checking in, we all received a bag of goodies (a black canvas satchel with a Rockstar logo embroidered on the front, to be precise) that contained some rather interesting swag:

  • An LCPD t-shirt and sweatshirt.
  • A Liberty City Swingers ballcap.
  • A miniature Statue of Happiness.
  • A collection of GTAIV-related stickers.

Some of us also walked away from the event with plastic Grand Theft Auto IV cups – presumably nicked from the penthouse – and GTA IV promo booklets. (Whether or not anyone walked away with stolen linen remains a mystery.)

The Itinerary

The daily doings of devious dorks. Courtesy of Rockstar.

DAY ONE – Sunday, April 20th, 2008

The first day was almost exclusively for those of us coming in from the UK (Jevon, adamcs, Psy and Chris, to be specific), as they had an eight hour flight ahead of them. The flight itself was a mixed experience for all involved, with some being forced to sit through bad movies and others being forced to sit near obnoxious American wrestlers.

After arriving in Newark (and thankfully being whisked away moments later to Manhattan), the group recovered from their flight over dinner with a few Rockstar representatives.

DAY TWO – Monday, April 21st, 2008

The second day was technically the first day for everyone else. Whether it was by plane or train or automobile, the North American half of the fansite crew was on their way in. Getting to the hotel from the airport (or the train station, depending on who you were) was a similar experience for everyone: a driver picked you up, took you to the hotel, and asked you awkward questions throughout the entire journey.

Grand Theft Auto IV Pre-Launch Party in NYC.
View from the Empire State Building ("Rotterdam Tower" is the in-game equivalent)

Whereas the UK’ers had met up with two representatives from Rockstar Games the day before, the folks coming in on the 21st were greeted by only one. The other, as it turned out, had taken the UK’ers on a trip around New York City.

Although this might seem as if the folks in North America were left out of the excursion, the British – and lone Scotsman (adamcs) – were apparently less than thrilled by the elaborate security checkpoints located at each New York tourist attraction. To quote Adam, “This is the most paranoid country I’ve ever seen.”

So while the tourists from across the sea took in the sights of long lines and police officers, the rest of the group decided to hit up Spitzer’s – a nearby restaurant – for some brief chatter and lunch (including bags of freshly baked donuts). We were also joined by Chess Hubbard, aka Chicago-based DJ Mother Hubbard, who was acting as a Rockstar representative for the event.

The entire party regrouped at the hotel shortly thereafter for a meet-and-greet, primarily to ensure that everyone knew everyone else. (The GTANet team quickly claimed territory, of course, by taking up residence on a single couch opposite the rest of the attendees.) After sorting out who worked for what website and what everyone’s real name was, we got down to business.

Grand Theft Auto IV Pre-Launch Party in NYC.
Fansite folk meeting up in the hotel.

At this point, we were told exactly what we desperately wanted to hear: the rest of the day’s agenda included little more than playing an excessive amount of Grand Theft Auto IV.

The first night of Grand Theft Auto included the Rockstar team showing us the introduction sequence to Grand Theft Auto IV, followed by us snapping up a system each (GTANet once again claimed territory by hogging an entire section of Xbox 360’s for ourselves) and going to town on the single player storyline. As the evening progressed, additional Rockstar employees popped in and started asking us about our impressions of the game, what we thought of the gameplay, etc.

Some of the Rockstar crew was also taking photographs of the event (and requesting that we “look more gamer” for the photos), which was a mixture of being both awesome and completely unnerving at the same time.

The gaming went well into the wee hours of the morning, with Rockstar finally kicking the lot of us out of the penthouse at approximately 4:30AM on Tuesday morning.

DAY THREE – Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Tuesday morning was a time for recovery; those who had just a bit too much fun the night before slowly got back into the swing of things. We headed down a few blocks to Katz’s Deli – one of the oldest deli’s still in existence – for lunch. (This is quite possibly the only deli in existence that requires you to stand in a queue to actually leave, by the way.) The pickles were horrible, but the pastrami was delicious.

After finally getting out of Katz’s, we were told to return to the penthouse at approximately 7:00pm. For the remainder of the afternoon, we took off to central park. (Nothing exciting ever happens in central park, so we’ll just skip right over that.) We did, however, catch a glimpse of some various GTA IV ads on our way back to the hotel.

NYC NYC NYC
Advertising for GTA IV throughout New York City.

Tuesday night was much like Monday night, except that we had an additional supply of Red Bull, cheeseburgers and donuts. The theme of the night was multiplayer, so we once again broke off to individual systems. We don’t want to ruin the enjoyment of finding out for yourself, but we will say this: the multiplayer experience is pure chaos, but a hell of a lot of fun.

After going through nearly every multiplayer mode in the game, we decided to take in the sights from the rooftop one last time and figure out exactly how we were going to capture this moment forever. We pitched an idea to Rockstar to write up a series of articles, and thankfully Rockstar gave us the go ahead. While some of us returned to the game the following morning, others slept away the morning, no doubt recovering (yet again) from the night before.

DAY FOUR – Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Wednesday was the "Go Home Day" for everyone, and we were all asked to return to the rooftop for one last announcement. Hoping that we were getting more freebies, we headed up to the penthouse once again to meet up with the folks from Rockstar.

It was at this moment – roughly an hour before noon on Wednesday morning – that we found out about the leak. The Rockstar team was visibly upset; the excitement and buzzing anticipation that had been building less than a day before was suddenly absent. It wasn’t the fact that their product had leaked out early… it was more than that.

When Rockstar showed us around the game the night before, it was akin to listening to parents brag about how successful their child is in school; they were proud of the game, and for good reason. This was a game that hundreds of people from around the world had poured their heart and souls into.

Hearing that the game leaked was a sad way to end an otherwise fantastic event.

GTA IV - Our Impressions

What non-press, true-blooded gamers thought of the game.

Seeing as we don't want to give away too much about the game – it really is an experience that should be experienced first-hand, and not through text or some shoddy video clip – we've chosen to simply outline some of our impressions of the game:

  • The controls take a few hours to get used to, but we certainly encountered no major issues.
  • The first two or three missions are relatively easy, so these missions can be used to familiarize yourself with the controls.
  • One of the main differences in GTA IV compared to previous GTAs is the car handling. It's less sensitive than we're used to, and far more realistic. (Turning corners is tough.)
  • Euphoria is amazing, allowing you to do all sorts of crazy things.
  • Cars are much more resilient now. It takes a while to get them to catch fire, and takes then even longer to blow up.
  • The screenshots we've seen are accurate; explosions are insanely intense.
  • Everything is more realistic; things that you never noticed in previous GTA's will now be apparent.
  • The city looks good during the day, but even better at night.
  • Bob Ross may have inspired the art direction (hah)! Certain visuals mimic his work, although the "Bob Ross Filter" isn't as apparent on the PS3 version.

Multiplayer also brought on it's fair share of crazy incidences – buses have a use now, by the way – and nothing says "mayhem" like racing sixteen ice cream vans.

GTA IV - A Modder's Take

GTANet administrator illspirit goes in-depth from a technology standpoint.

Being that most of my time with GTA over the years has been spent modding the games and getting to know the engines inside out, one thing I was most interested in seeing was the artistic and technological aspects of GTA IV. After playing the game until my eyes bled for two nights, I'm happy to say that it exceeds my expectations. Not just by a little either. It took the hype, lived up to it, then tossed it down a flight of stairs and kept going.

If you've ever spent any time on a forum, you've probably heard a few people moan about some of the screenshots. Hell, I've even made a worried joke or two about the trees and Bob Ross paintings in private. Once you actually see the game in motion though, the filters and shaders just feel right. One problem with most modern games is the "uncanny valley" effect, in which simulated things start looking weirder as they approach realism but are still missing a few details. While this term is usually applied to human likenesses, it really does work across the board. Between the filters and the new art style, however, you almost forget you're playing a game, as it just doesn't have all the jarring "plastic" moments to remind you that it's not quite real. Maybe it's just me, but it took me a while to notice that I didn't notice this. Considering the sheer amount of stuff going on at any given moment in the game, coupled with the size of the world, the move away from attempted photorealism makes even more sense. Plus it looks really damn cool, if you ask me.

Speaking of the amount of stuff, the level of detail is insane. As seen in the screens, nearly every street has tons of trash bins, carts, boxes, benches, litter, etc... which can be smashed, moved, and such. Likewise, most of the environment is modeled, textured, and bump mapped to a degree usually only seen in shooters with confined levels separated by loading screens. Despite all this, plus all the peds and cars going about their business, the streaming is remarkably smooth. Like a couple of previews have said, yes, there is an occasional bit of object pop-in; but barring an odd glitch, it's generally not noticeable thanks to the depth of field effect. Either way, things load much faster than San Andreas (including the PC version of SA running on a computer with more RAM than either new console..), and it's loading a lot more data. Now, I don't know how they did it, but it's an impressive step up from the previous engine.

On that note, the frame rate is pretty solid as well. At one point during the multiplayer party, we played a round of GTA Race set in Star Junction in which all ten of us picked fire trucks. Needless to say, once the race started, we all turned on our sirens and started spraying water around like mad. Yet even a herd of blinking fire trucks plowing into each other, peds, traffic, and parked cars, and despite all the water, sparks, and subsequent explosion particles flying around, the frame rate somehow managed to keep up. Granted, it's kind of hard to accurately judge frame per second while laughing at the absurdity of such a sight, but, yea.

Finally, one can't really talk about the technology without mentioning euphoria. But seeing as there has been much ink spilled over that already, and that my section here is getting a bit long, I'll just say this: I spent over an hour simply driving full speed into various objects and/or diving out of cars just to watch Niko get flung into things. Oh, sure, everyone's seen floppy ragdoll drivers getting mauled in other games before, but this is different. This looks (and sounds) painful.

On behalf of GTANet, we'd like to thank Rockstar Games for inviting us all to New York City and giving us the experience of a lifetime!

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