Let’s get this out of the way. Crazy expensive press trips get a bad rep, journos being bought and all that bullshit.
Forget that, let’s just enjoy what went down between July 16-18 in 2002 when Rockstar Games flew a bunch of journos down to Miami for three days of fun in the sun with the aim of showing off and hyping Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Those of us who were there, still talk about it. Those who werent, know of the event. Some of my best industry friends are from this trip (whassup Diego!).
You know why this trip really was significant for me ?
I talked with Dan Houser for hours on the beach while having drinks. Shooting the shit about life, Rockstar Games, Grand Theft Auto and entrepreneurship. I decided there and then to quit my then great-sounding-but-turned-into-a-nightmare- job and set up my own video games magazine down the line. Later that year, Pelaaja magazine was born. I emailed Houser after that to tell him he had inspired me to do this and he actually replied to me. I still have that email.
I still have everything from this trip including the agenda and the envelope I got my flight tickets in.
The unfortunate thing is that Rockstar basically shut up shop after this and stopped giving access to it’s visionary talents to the members of the press.
This was pretty much the last big, “traditional” press event that Rockstar did. Ever since this event, Rockstar tends to invite one or two journos to check out their games instead of a larger group (Ok, granted, they did a similair event for Vice City Stories, but the emphasis was on the actual game). This is the only event I know of where Rockstar founders like Terry Donovan (who left the company years ago) and Dan Houser mingled with us press types. The Houser’s have given maybe 15 interviews since 2002 and only a handful of those were of the kind where they openly talked about the company and the business and not just about the next Rockstar game. Edge’s Tony Mott conducted one such incredible interview a few years ago.
So this was in the summer of 2002. Grand Theft Auto 3 had blown up and the PlayStation 2 was changing the video games landscape. Everything was changing in the industry: we were on the cusp of a seismic shift and Grand Theft Auto would be the key driver of this. You could feel this at this event. We all felt something great was going to happen – that Rockstar and GTA would become even bigger. We were priviledged to be there, not just due to the fancy event, but what it entailed and started.
For me, I worked months behind the scene’s to get to see Vice City and be able to cover it for the magazines I was working for. I spent months on the phone and email. Grand Theft Auto 3 blew my mind back in the day, but as I love the 1980’s, the sequel was The game for me. The music, the colors, Miami Vice, the opulence and excess. So for me, Vice City was of great interest.
I also love Miami and South Beach. Miami was the first US city I visited with my parents in 1990. It’s left it’s mark on me and I really love Miami Beach and have gone back several times. Partly because of the great experience of the press trip, but in general, I just love the vibe of Miami and of course, the climate.
On our way to the mansion in a limo.
We stayed at the Delano hotel. I stayed in room 1412. The room’s decor was completely white. One of the coolest hotel rooms I’ve ever been in. I’m actually decorating my new house’s bathroom in a similair way to what the Delano’s bathroom was. We all got gift bags with a dope Vice City sweater (still use it), Vice City towel (still drape myself in it), copies of Midnight Club and Smugglers Run, Vice City money clip and sun tan lotion which was pretty handy since July is fucking hot in Miami. Each room had a PlayStation 2 hooked up to the TV so we could play the games on our downtime.
We were split into three groups and during three days we saw 45 minutes of the game. The rest of it was about getting into the mood.
Tommy’s mansion facing the beach.
The kick off was at this dope mansion (Tommy’s, 155 Ocean Blvd) and it was here where Terry Donovan and Dan Houser talked for a good hour about Rockstar Games and what Vice City was going to be about. I still have this entire session recorded on a Minidisc! Donovan was so amped up, so ready to take on the world and show a big fat middle finger to the stagnant games industry that he barely could contain himself. I’m so glad I got be there in the beginning to hear him talk before all the Hot Coffee and media bullshit and in-fighting at the company which drove him away. As a millionaire of course.
They revealed the amount of research that was going into the creation of Vice City and how the 1980’s were so ripe for Rockstar to take aim at and satirize the period. Rockstar played a showreel which was a combination of footage from several 1980’s tv show’s, especially Miami Vice (which actually is quite late 1980’s) which were the inspiration for the game. I always wished they would have put this this video out as it really gives off the vibe they wanted to achieve in the game.
The mansion from the outside.
They revealed Ray Liotta’s involvement and thus the lead character Tommy Vercetti. Donovan talked a lot about the soundtrack deal, which was pretty massive 10 years ago. Seven or eight cd’s, I cant remember, but I do have some of those cd’s.
The game was demoed to one or two journos at a time so while that was going on, the rest of us were split into groups and different activities. I remember when I actually got to go to the suite at the Delano and watch the game being demoed, I was concentrating so hard in burning every little detail into my memory and scribbling furiously into my notepad (we wrote with a pen back then son!). I remember how awesome it was to see you now had helicopters in the game and they showed how you could fly around Vice City, which was pretty impressive back then. I cant remember what missions they demoed, but I remember being impressed at how much Rockstar North had managed to get done in less than a year at that point. Also, the visuals were really good in terms of capturing the vibe of Miami. I think the demo was done by Jeronimo Barrera and Jeff Castaneda.The latter runs communications at MTV and the aforementioned is the VP of development at Rockstar Games. One of the very few people who have stuck around at R* for so many years.
We were taken to this private gun range at Trail Glades Range and they had a huge amount of different types of guns that were going to be in the game. We got shoot any gun we wanted and ammo was no problem. “Can I have guns in both hands?” “sure”. “Can I spray around with this Mac-10” “sure”. Everything went. I’m not american so I’m not that terribly into guns; Igot used to them in the military, but I cant deny it was pretty exhilarating to bust a few caps. Especially since we could spend as much ammo as we wanted. I shot this massive sniper rifle which left a hole in the car on the range the size of a fucking tennis ball.
That’s Dan Houser. The dude who has written all of Rockstar’s games since Vice City. I spent hours with him on the beach in front of the Delano hotel talking about Rockstar, his career, life. Single most inspiring discussion I have ever had.
So, while still waiting, I spent half of another day going to Monument island near downtown Miami. We got to hang out in this huge boat with my fellow journos, getting to know them and the Rockstar folks. I think we all got a crush on the blonde Rockstar PR girl who melted my heart with her sexiness and coolness. We got to drive jet skis and just swim around for a few hours.
Final night at the Mynt Lounge. It was like walking into a million dollar hip hop video. Everybody looking crazy good, the ladies were hot, the fellas doing they thing and me looking around in amazement. I’ve since gone back to the club on vacations and it’s always been incredible. The restaurant we went out to eat, Joia, was towards the end of South Beach
Me, when I didnt know how to dress properly (most game journos still have that problem) and was still so young and innocent.