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Genuinely Live Blogging Grand Theft Auto IV

Friday, May 2, 2008

Wholesome milk counterbalances the digitized depravity!

April 30, 11:37pm
My palms are sweaty and my pulse is up. I have my copy of Grand Theft Auto IV. This despicable example of violent, vulgar trash has been as close to a guaranteed masterpiece as you can get in the video game world, where the film world’s law of sequel diminishing returns is reversed.

I’m not going to touch it until Friday, but when I do, I will. I remember back in the old days, back when responsibility was just an anagram for O Billy, Penis Star, when I could stay up all night playing through Super Metroid for the second time, or mapping out the entire SNES Jurassic Park in one long session, or playing a game of EA FIFA with the options set to stretch it out well into the wee hours. Those were fine days, I long for their return.

Screw sleep. To quote Steve Guttenburg in Police Academy One: laebmada

Where Guttenburg slurs, so slurs we all.

You tell ’em Steve. Yeah, I’m choosing to forgo sleep this weekend, as much as I can anyway. But don’t worry, I’m a seasoned veteran of stayin’ up — I’m talking three different jobs on the overnight shift, several jet-lagged clock-resettings, and a memorable stint as the subject of a documentary about a guy who didn’t sleep for 72 hours. I’ve made insomnia a hobby.

The larger concern for me is this almost Randian need to feel I’ve been “productive” with my time (or at least it’s a need to intend to be productive before getting distracted by the Internet). Dedicating a weekend to a video game just doesn’t fit the definition of productive.

Oh, I suppose I could fit it with that “student of culture” justification that says any attentive ingestion of artistic works is a sort of research for future works of my own. But that probably doesn’t fit, because I’m gonna be so tired for a lot of it there’ll be little capability for the processing required to reformulate its ideas into concepts transferable to other scenarios and/or mediums. What I mean is, I ain’t gonna remember shit.

That’s the problem, and here’s the solution, a double-solution, in fact: LIVE-BLOG. I record it all here, as it happens. I’m being productive, and I’m keeping a record of my exhausted delirium, easily scrutinized in the future for any traces of gold.

So that’s how it’ll be, here on this page, starting Friday night sometime, ending whenever I just can’t go on anymore.

Conveniently labeled with all the best places to stash a body.

May 2, 10:31pm
I’ve got everything I need.

I’ve got sustenance.

I’ve got a medic on standby.

I saw Iron Man yesterday, so that’s out of the way.

I removed my pants.

And now I turn on my Xbox 360…

…and oh god, it won’t turn on. I’m push the buttons and it won’t come on. I have no idea what’s going on, this has never happened before. And I just spilled Dr. Pepper all over my laptop.

Okay, it’s working now. Those were the scariest three minutes of my life.

After a lengthy, cinematic opening, I’m now wandering the streets of Liberty City, and it’s feeling very familiar. I’ve felt this way before, this sense of having the map but not having any feel for the terrain. I felt it with each of the PS2 generation GTAs, and I also felt it my first couple of nights wandering around Sydney.

Also, I just got arrested for kicking some random guy’s ass on the street. That did not happen in Sydney.

There’s something very off about the lighting in these cutscenes. Everybody looks all dead, but I haven’t killed them yet! In fact, exactly one hour of play into the game, and I haven’t killed anybody, or stolen any cars, or done anything especially antisocial. Except for fighting that one guy and getting arrested for it. Small potatoes.

Now playing on Liberty Rock Radio 97.8: “Turn You Inside-Out.” Not the best song from Green, but any R.E.M. in G.T.A. is A.O.K.

Consumer tip: Lay’s doesn’t make good BBQ chips.

Grand Theft Auto is a game where you steal cars, murder gangsters, run down pedestrians, execute cops, and yet I’d never felt quite so wrong in something I did as I did a moment ago, when I drove home from a bar plastered out of my mind. Hey, people who say GTA is a horrible influence on today’s youth: IV contains drunk driving. And it’s great fun to do.

Just spent twenty minutes watching a cartoon show about a trio of Republican Space Rangers spreading freedom throughout the galaxies. This was on a channel called Weasel, one of about five or six channels available on the TV. The weird thing is that I sort of forgot it was within a game, and turning off the TV and walking out of the apartment felt like … well, I’m not sure how to put it. It basically felt like turning off the real TV in my real apartment and walking to the real outside does. Why the hell isn’t there an adjective to describe that feeling?

The game began with main character Niko Bellic fresh off the boat. His cousin, something like eight or ten years into living the American Dream, has been sending emails, bragging about the success he’s had in his time in Liberty City, urging Niko to join him. Of course, it was all lies. Because that’s what Grand Theft Auto games are about: starting at the bottom, working your way to the top.

Typically, the heroes have had all the amorality necessary to pull such an ascension off. The GTA3 character was some mute Johnny Coolguy; other iterations were Italian mafiosos or straight-up gangstas. Their only attempt to have a character who wasn’t completely antisocial was in Vice City Stories, where the hero Vic Vance is a discharged soldier (it wasn’t his fault) who doesn’t really want to do all this killin’, he’s just in it to help his poor mama and his wayward bro.

It doesn’t really work. His general niceness doesn’t quite gel with the vile acts the plot requires him to commit and the even more vile acts the player will inevitable force him to commit.

But Niko’s a nice guy, too. He’s got a dark past — they keep bringing up “The War,” and he expresses his regret at the things he did in the fight. When I killed my first guy (around midnight), he said “I promised myself I wouldn’t kill here.” I kinda felt for him.

And it has kept up. As of now, I’ve only killed 4 people. That’s insane for this game. Four hours in, I should be approaching the half-century mark for murder. I’m gonna have to figure out what’s holding me back.

The three Dr. Peppers I’ve had aren’t doing their job. Feelin’ sleepy.

So, I’m driving along, a bit drowsy at the wheel, I guess, and I skid and slam into this dude. But he’s not dead, not even really hurt that bad. He comes for me. I hit the gas. Guy grabs on to the door, and he’s dangling there for a block and a half before he slips off.

Minigames found so far: bowling; darts; arcade games; billiards. Billiards is the best so far, but there’s an amusement park that’s shut down for the season, and at that park there’s a miniature golf course. I WANT OF PLAYING IT SOON TIME.

I can’t say how it is for the reader, but this liveblogging business is kinda fun. Whatever pointless little thing I feel like saying, I can! I should get one of those elaborate mobile phones so I can liveblog everything I do.

October 9, 11:51 — Rode the subway from Davisville to Osgoode.

Maybe it’s that I’m not far enough into the game, maybe it’s that I’m growing a bit woozy with fatigue, but I’m not noticing nearly as much of the trademark GTA dirty satire/pun/wordplay wit that was everywhere in previous games. There wasn’t an ad or a storefront that didn’t have some kind of gag to it, but here not so much. I was gonna create a nice little pictoral journey of Liberty City advertising, but the only one I’ve found that’s worth sharing is this:

And it’s hardly their best spoof they’ve done. Might be part of the effort to make things more realistic — which it is, this city, its people, the traffic, is all stunningly full. Any little details of humour they’ve removed seem to have been replaced tenfold with the little details that make a living, breathing city.

Rode the subway from Hove Beach to East Island City.

I just realized: I’ve been playing for more than six hours now, and I haven’t seen an explosion. That just ain’t right.

And that’s it. I can’t go on. Gotta sleep now, but it’s been a good session. Nearly seven hours of video game is something I haven’t done in a very long time.

So, let’s see how I did.

Game Progress: 9.48%
Missions Passed: 10
People Killed: 11
Bullets Fired: 23
Explosions Seen: 0
Dr. Peppers Consumed: 3

By real life standards, I guess that’s pretty violent, but by GTA standards, I believe I’ll be nominated for the sainthood. I’ll see if I can’t up the carnage level somewhat tomorrow.

In the sevenish hours I played for last night, I was constantly awed by the world, the interaction, the character, and everything, in just the same way I was in the early hours with all previous GTAs, only more so. And just like in the early hours with the previous ones, I’m not sure I can say I had a lot of fun. In moments, here and there, certainly; but as a general, no.

Fun always comes later, after I’ve grown familiar with the setting. It isn’t until I’ve gotten a handle on the lay of the land that I start to really enjoy myself. As with those first moments in the city, it’s similar to reality: I like the cities I know well (Toronto, Seoul) more than the ones I’ve only passed a bit of time in (Sydney, Tokyo, Vancouver). Once I’ve been here a while, once I know how to get from my house to the strip club to the airport without using my GPS, then it’ll really start getting good, no question. But that won’t be for a while, because not only am I still completely unsure about where all the places I’ve been are in relation to each other, but I haven’t even seen that much of the city. 25%, tops, and most of that just glanced one time as I drove past.

Only one way to remedy that. Time to get in there.

What the hell is this? I just had this guy I was supposed to assassinate dangling from the edge of a building, and the game let me choose to kick him or help him up. Grand Theft Auto IV just let me make a moral choice! Normally, the only choice you get is which limb to shoot off.

Those details I’ve alluded to? Time to start a list.

  • Swerved into oncoming traffic and other cars blinked their lights at me.
  • Got into a head-on collision and went fuckin’ <i>flying</i> through the windshield.
  • Walked into a yuppie and he dropped his vendi.

Just had sex with a big, fat hooker. And I let her live. ‘Cause I still believe in romance.

A slideshow for James.




This must be evidence of something: in GTA IV it’s fun to sit in the back of a cab for fifteen minutes, watching the scenery and listening to the radio.

You know, I haven’t been too diligent on that whole “list of cool details” thing. It’s not that there were only three cool details, it’s that I note them and then move along and forget about them. So let me just say this: there are lots of cool details. This Liberty City is by far the coolest, most detailed virtual city I’ve ever seen, and I’ve only seen a third of it, the poorer areas — but I can see skyscrapers over on the next island, I just can’t get to them yet, because the government has blocked off the bridges due to a terrorist threat.

But, as I’ve implied, the city here is so amazing and realistic, I think it would be enjoyable enough just to walk or drive around. No need for all the bloodshed, just be a tourist. Go bowling, take in a magic act at the cabaret, have a drink. Right now, the only reason you would really need to play through the crime story would be to unlock the rest of the city.

And I finally blew up my first car. Definitely gonna have to do that again.


It’s amazing how much they like to tease. I’m about twelve or so hours in, and they still haven’t unlocked the second (of three) islands. And I haven’t used a helicopter, haven’t used a rocket launcher, haven’t driven a boat. But on the plus side, I am starting to become more familiar with my home turf, and I’ve managed to shake that accursed pacifism that had plagued me. Now I’ve killed 40. That’s more than Ted Bundy.

I realized some time ago this game doesn’t provide much to ongoing-commentary on that isn’t just some variation of “wow.” Doesn’t make for very compelling play-by-play.

After a huge warehouse shootout that lead to an intense police car chase, a few sequences of plot development have shown me something I’ve overlooked: this game is actually doing really well on both the plot and character fronts. The relationship between Niko and his cousin is really interesting, and the story so far has had some nice turns that really affect that (and other) relationship. GTA has always been hit-and-miss in its attempts to create a rise-to-the-top crime epic, good ideas marred by silly ones, cleverness mixed with cliché. IV could be the one they’ve been trying for since 2001.

But it’s going to take a looong time to find out, evidently. I’m at sixteen hours and the stats page is telling me I’m at 20% progress. The story usually ends around 60-65%, if I recall correctly, but that doesn’t mean this one will follow suit.

What it does mean is that I’m shutting her down. I need a shower, a meal. I need to rest my eyes and thumbs. I absolutely could go on — I’m far from bored with the game, and I’d wager I will get in some more time tonight. But for now, I step back, satisfied with my 60 kills, my 26 game days passed, my 67 cars stolen, my 85.14-foot freefall, and my 604 bullets fired. Now that’s what I call productive.


18 Comments leave one →
  1. Thursday, May 1, 2008 8:05 pm

    You fail at anagram!

  2. Thursday, May 1, 2008 11:27 pm

    Did you turn off the printer?

  3. James17930 permalink
    Thursday, May 1, 2008 11:36 pm

    Is this the end of Bioshock?

  4. Friday, May 2, 2008 7:24 am

    Just a pause. I’m not giving up on Bioshock, but GTA trumps it and then some.

  5. James17930 permalink
    Friday, May 2, 2008 10:51 pm

    @10:38: I think it may have had something to do with the lack of pants.

    Also — might it not be a good idea to put the current stuff at the top of the post? If you’re going to keep adding to this post as things happen, you might want to reverse the order so that your readers don’t have to continually scroll down the page looking for where the newest part starts.

    Finally, a question — are you manually changing the timestamp on the post so that it’s always at the top of the page or is WordPress doing that automatically for you? It would be cool it it was auto.

  6. Friday, May 2, 2008 11:54 pm

    I did the time change, just to put it at the top of our page (and also to get rid of the “Wednesday” tag — it don’t look so good in our template).

    I considered putting the newest stuff at the top, but then if there’s ever call to re-read this in the future, it’ll all be backwards. And also, my “readers”? Who are we kidding here?

    I’m thinking that if someone wants to comment on a specific item, best they note it. As I’ve retconned above.

  7. James17930 permalink
    Saturday, May 3, 2008 6:44 am

    Almost 10% passed in only 7 hours? That seems pretty quick, no?

    Especially with all the mini-gaming you’ve done as well. I heard a lot of people complaining that San Andreas is too long — do you think they conciously made this one shorter?

    Also — when’s the time period of this one? Are we talking Walkman, Discman or iPod? Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could make mix tapes/CDs/playlists so you could listen to music while walking around (and shooting people) too?

    And — even though Niko wants to be all good guy now, haven’t you had the urge yet to go on an all-out blood and death spree?

  8. Saturday, May 3, 2008 10:41 am

    10% is a bit quick, yes. Usually the GTAs go at about 1% per hour. But I may have been hitting the missions a bit harder than I usually do. And I haven’t really done a lot of mini-gaming, I played each of those only once, and each time it was in the middle of a mission, though a special side-mission that may not have counted towards that total. (My mission: entertain a lady. Mission accomplished, if you catch my drift.)

    (I totally nailed her.)

    I know there was some deliberate pulling-back from San Andreas, which was almost like a RPG it there was so much work and leveling you could do on your character, and the world is smaller — GTA IV is a large city, while San Andreas was a small state. But the level of detail on that city is, obviously by demand of technology upgrade but amazing nonetheless, much higher.

    It’s set very much in the now. Niko’s cell phone is a big part of the game — I can call my various friends to set up a mission, I can call for a cab, I can call a radio station to find out info on the song they’re currently playing, I can receive text messages. I can also set the thing to ring or vibrate, change the ringtone, use it as an organizer … all that stuff. And while he doesn’t seem to have an mp3 player, I can sorta listen to music while struttin’, as you can hear it bleeding out from cars as they pass, or from your own car when you get out.

    You know, I haven’t really had that urge yet. I’ve really tried avoiding the carnage this time. Maybe it’s that I’m feeling a bit for Niko and his desire to leave the past behind, but it also feels like there would be consequences to a rampage. And on top of that, the pedestrians are much more realistic than ever before, not only in their look and in the way they behave as they walk around the street, but in the way they flop when hit. They’ve got some serious ragdoll physics going on here; it’s unpleasantly accurate when one of them rolls up over your windshield.

  9. James17930 permalink
    Saturday, May 3, 2008 11:08 pm

    Well, I think you owe it to all of your readers (well, me) to save the game, then go on the most ridiculous, bloody, over the top GTA rampage that’s ever been rampaged. And give us every single detail (maybe get Drew to help with the cataloguing of it).

    Oh, and how dare you kill a pigeon. How DARE you.

  10. Sunday, May 4, 2008 1:32 am

    I just played about three hours of multiplayer. Now THAT’s a bloody rampage. Oh my.

  11. Sunday, May 4, 2008 1:57 am

    They’ve put up a couple of good, representative clips on YouTube. I’ve embedded them above.

  12. James17930 permalink
    Sunday, May 4, 2008 6:34 am

    Recycling the gag is one thing, but recycling the intro to the gag too? Ouch Conan. Ouch.

  13. Sunday, May 4, 2008 10:17 am

    I think it was of a recurring gag than a recycled one, but he should’ve acknowledged that. Unacknowledged continuance? Ouch.

  14. James17930 permalink
    Sunday, May 4, 2008 1:41 pm

    Enh, Recurring, recycled . . . they both start with ‘rec.’ It’s too much.

  15. James17930 permalink
    Thursday, May 8, 2008 11:57 am

    Does this weekend bring us another round of blog-tastic GTA spectacle?

  16. Thursday, May 8, 2008 6:31 pm

    Blog-“tastic” isn’t quite accurate, I’d say. Blog-“astrophic,” is more like it. And no, sorry. I mean, yeah, I’m gonna devote way too much time to it, but I’m not going to do the play-by-play. I consider the above a failed experiment.

  17. James17930 permalink
    Thursday, May 8, 2008 8:33 pm

    Well, it was a good go, anyway.

    I’ll wait for the next Bioshock post.

  18. Saturday, January 30, 2010 11:39 pm

    January 30, 10:16pm
    After months and months of occasional playing, I have now finally completed the story of Grand Theft Auto IV. If it was an effective character arc I will not know, because leaving so much time between bits of progress dulled any impact it could have had. Well, almost any — there was a moment towards the end when a particular character died that was quite sad, and Niko’s buildup and reaction to it were well done.

    Anyway, here are my stats, accumulated from May 2nd to today:

    In-Game Stats
    Outside of Game Stats

    Total progress
    32.41% (approx.)

    Days Passed

    Current Money
    Significantly Less

    Playing Time
    273 days minus 52:13:52

    Times Cheated
    1 (on my taxes)

    Bikes stolen

    Taxis hailed

    Kills with Grenade

    People run down

    Time spent on internet

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