Day 1: It Begins
April 20th, 2008
So much has gone on in the last week or so that it's hard to know where to start. Perhaps we'll start with the basics. Towards the end of March, 2008, Rockstar Games contacted all of the major GTA4 fan sites and asked them if they would be interested in previewing the game before it was released. Of course the majority of us fan sites gleefully accepted the invitation, who wouldn't, right? This wasn't just a game preview like those you see in magazines where Rockstar set up a console in a secret hotel location and watch the journalist play through, telling them what they can and can't touch though. Rockstar instead decided to prove to us once again that they really don't do anything half-assed, and to show their appreciation of the fan sites we run, each of the webmasters was invited on an all-expenses-paid trip to Liberty, err, I mean New York City!
Four of those invited were webmasters from the UK, myself being one of them. Chris from TheGTAPlace and Adam plus Jevon from GTA4.net made up those numbers. Usually it's a good 6-8 hour flight to get to New York City from various airports in the UK, however as luck would have it, there was no direct flight for myself to fly straight there. As a result, I had to fly in the opposite direction to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, before boarding another flight which flew straight back over the UK and on to the States, thus adding an extra four hours to my journey. Oh joy.
It's strange the kind of things you notice when you've got a few boring hours to kill in between free flights around the world. These include such questions as "Why are there more Americans in Amsterdam than Dutch people?", or that Schiphol airport has got to be one of the biggest buildings in the world. I don't know many places which take 10 minutes to walk through, never mind walking 10 minutes down the seemingly endless hallways just to find a tv scoreboard, for lack of a better word, telling you there's another 11 minute walk until you reach your terminal.
I eventually got through all of the security checks, which were already beginning to become slightly tedious, and it was time to fly. As luck would have it, I was sat next to two American chicks who spent the majority of the next 7 hours staring at pictures of fluffy animal toys in the airline store brochure saying "Awww it's sooooooo cute". Thankfully I had some interesting ideas to keep myself entertained. The first involved trying to break a world record. Whether or not there is a world record for this, which I probably suspect there is, is irrelevant, but I decided I would try to chew one piece of gum all the way to America. So that's what, 7 or 8 hours? The thing I didn't really bear in mind was the fact that one piece of gum will run out of flavour in about 42 seconds, so I ended up spitting out what I can only describe as a stale lump of rubber before we had even taken off. Mission failed.
There was something else that I did to amuse myself however. I found Computer and Video Games 'Grand Theft Auto history' magazine, a 200 (ish) page long guide book covering everything you need to know about GTA, especially if you're getting a free trip from Rockstar half way around the world to play the most anticipated game in history a week or so before release. Well, I guess there's not many people who that applies to, but for myself, it was a fantastic read with plenty of interesting information which I managed to get through in a few hours. The rest of my time was wasted watching National Treasure 2 on the on-board tv, and playing Vice City Stories on my PSP.
Then, eventually, I had arrived! I was expecting a long and painful process getting through immigration control, however for whatever reason, things seemed to go very smoothly, and it wasn't long till I'd grabbed my luggage and was looking for my driver. Of course the fact the driver was holding up a sign saying "991" instead of "Simon Elliott" made it somewhat difficult to find him, and after calls back and forth to Rockstar, I finally found the bugger, and was taken en route to the hotel.
I managed to snap some awesome shots of the city skyline and the various GTA4 advertising billboards which are quite literally all over the city as we were travelling, and then I finally arrived at the hotel and got booked into my room. I then met Nathan and Alison from Rockstar Games, two of the main people behind the organization of the trip and the two guys who would go on to be our main contacts over there, and had a small chat about what we had planned. I was given a great welcome pack too, consisting of a Rockstar Games satchel bag (interesting stories coming later regarding that), with a bunch of swag inside, such as a mini replica of the Statue of Happiness, and various LCPD cop t-shirts and sweat shirts. Plus stickers. Can't go wrong with stickers.
After a quick shower we all went along the street for some food and chatted to Nathan about many of the things you'd talk to someone from Rockstar about; Paedophiles, sports (or rather which sports aren't sports), and good movies, followed by a fairly heated debate as to whether a level 87 Pikachu or a level 55 naked troll warrior is better at World of Warcraft. No one cared, or at least I most certainly didn't, but it was funny to watch.
After we'd finished our food, we went back to the hotel and got some rest. We had a busy day ahead of us and had to be up at a staggering 8 AM the next morning! Bearing in mind, there was no way our body clocks were going to have adjusted in the 6 hours we'd been there, knowing we were technically needing to be awake at 2PM in the afternoon was fine by me.