Falling in Love Again – A GTA Story

It was the fall of 2002. Many of us were still dealing with the world that had changed a year before, when Terrorists struck on 9/11. That was an event that really did change everything, and none of us will forget where we were when it happened. In the face of 9/11, video games didn’t seem very important.

For me, I had pretty much stopped playing video games a few years before, around 1996-97. It was those years when my first marriage was starting to fall apart. When I moved out, I had left my Nintendo system with my Ex-wife, and my oldest daughter ended up playing with it.

Eventually, I met Julie, who I would marry in 2003, but for this story, we have to go back a year before, to 2002. That’s when I fell in love with video games again, and it was a passion that has stayed with me since.

I can’t remember what I was watching at the time. I remember where I was working, however, and that I was really starting to get into nostalgia. Nostalgia for the 1980’s, to be specific. The decade in which I turned 10 at the beginning and ended when I was 19. Almost every major “First” happened to me in that decade. And in 2002, at the age of Thirty-Two, I was looking back with a lot of fondness. Especially for the music of the time. I had a massive CD collection back then, and I had recently ripped all my CDs to MP3 to play on my new iPod. Many of the CDs I had were from the 80’s, and I was in nostalgia heaven.

As I said, I don’t remember what I was watching on the television at the time. I do remember seeing an ad for the first time, however, and it simply pushed all the right buttons for me. That ad, a 30-second spot, was for a video game called “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

The game, set in the mid-1980s, and featured a terrific sound track. It was the second of the modern GTA games, taking place in a fictional Vice City, which we all know is really Miami. In the above commercial, if you lived through the 80’s, there is an obvious “Miami Vice” meets “Scarface” vibe going on. Like I said, it hit all the right buttons for me.

The next Friday, I was at Toys R Us buying a PlayStation 2 and a copy of the game. I was not sure what to really expect, but the ad had done it’s job, and I was all in.

By Sunday, I had fallen back in love with video games. I was amazed by how much games had changed since I had last played. Mario, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Tempest, Zelda, they all seemed… tame compared to this! GTA: Vice City was a revelation. More art and movie than video game.

It was late, well past midnight, on that first Friday. I had completed quite a few missions in the game, but no where near enough to unlock the entire map. Rather than go on to the next mission, I decided I would just drive around in the game. I had stolen a convertible, and the sun was setting in the game. I was not on a mission, no police were chasing me. The song playing was “Crockett’s Theme”, followed by Broken Wings and then Four Little Diamonds. None of these songs, as I remember, were playing on the same radio station. And that was the thing! I could change the radio station, and DJ’s would be introducing the music, or crazy people chatting on Talk Radio!

The Outfields “Your Love” started playing!  I love this song!

The sun started to set in the game, whereas in the real world it had set almost twelve hours before. My hands were sore, my eyes a little blurry. And life could get no better, I thought, switching to another radio station. The song was already playing, about a quarter of the way into it. And there was Corey Hart belting out that he wears his Sunglasses at Night, so he can… do something.


Once the song ended, I saved the game and went to bed.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a third-person game (that’s where you see your entire character from behind, rather than a first person shooter where you are in the characters head) that stars Tommy Vercetti, a former member of the Forelli gamily that comes home after serving fifteen years in jail. The mob boss fears that with Tommy coming home, there will be problems with other (mafia) families, so he kinda/sorta promotes Tommy and sends him to another city; Vice City.


The voice of Tommy Vercetti is none other than Ray Liotta, best known for his starring roll in GoodFellas. There is not a man alive with an ounce of testosterone who doesn’t love GoodFellas, and RockStar Games casting Ray in the staring roll in their video game cements their brilliance for all time.

More, it is this game, and that night, that cemented my passion for video games. While I think all the GTA games have been brilliant, some more than others, it was Vice City that drew me back into the fold. It was the game that, more than any other, opened my eyes to the fact that a video game can be so much more than what they had been in the 1980’s. They could be more akin to movies, or TV shows. They could be drama, action, mystery, or horror. They could be all those things, and so much more.

They could be, and are, art.

Atari 2600 – 1979

I think it started in 1979 for me. I’m sure I had seen the arcade games before that, at least Space Invaders, but for me, video games really started in 1979. That’s when I saw my first Atari.

We didn’t call it the Atari 2600 then. It was just Atari. Neither my friends or I had ever seen anything like it, and when one of my friends got it, and not even at Christmas time!, we all rushed over to play it. His name was John, and I remember it was Summer Vacation of 1979 when either his parents or some rich uncle gave his family the Atari.

He told us about it at the playground where we all went to Elementary school. There were tanks, and jet fighters, and you flew them around the TV screen and shot at each other. The way he described the game, we could all imagine how cool it must be! You could control a tank! And Jets! There were clouds that you could fly through, and fortresses to maneuver your tank around!

2600-Combat A few hours later, we were all spent from having gone to John’s house and played Combat. Looking back now, 36 years later, the blocky graphics could barely be called Tanks, Planes, or Clouds. But to eight year-old boys in 1978, who had never seen a home video game, it could not have been more real than a pair of VR goggles with stereo sound today. It was amazing!

It would be months before I would get my hands on my own Atari, which would be the big Christmas present from Santa that year. Every Christmas morning, growing up, was the same. I would wake up early, see the pile of presents, and beg my parents to WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP! so I could tear into the colorful packages. I would be bouncing all over the house trying to make them get up FASTER. The ten minutes my Mom would spend boiling water to make her coffee would take FOREVER. (As a parent now, I understand the NEED for the Coffee that early, and looking back, Christmas morning just would not have been very Merry for anyone in the house had she not got it!)

A few hours after the event, we would get into my dads 1970 Delta ’88 (which would become my first car ten years later) and head to my Grandparents house, on my Mom’s side, and meet the rest of the family to celebrate the holiday, open presents, and have one of the best meals of the year. (Deviled Eggs, Ham, REAL mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, stuffing, and much more!) Around 7PM, we would spend a half-hour saying our goodbyes and heading a couple miles back home. Usually, at least it seemed to me, the night was always glowing with fresh, but not heavy, snowfall. The sound the tires made on the snow, a continuous humming/crunching sound. The pile of presents both in the trunk and in the backseat with me, promising new ways for my mom to cook, a new knife my dad would display, and new toys to join the other new toys waiting at home from that morning. Usually by 9PM I would be fast asleep, dreaming of the weeks left of Christmas Break from school, and the hours to play with the new toys.

1979 was different.

First, I KNEW the size of the Atari box. The rectangle box had been calling to me every time we went to the few stores that sold it. (Sears, Kmart, and Meijer’s) I knew the shape, the weight, the SMELL of that box! And sure enough, sitting front and center under the Christmas tree that year, was THAT BOX! Covered in neatly folded Christmas wrappings with a smiling Santa (Yes, I remember the wrapping) true, but I knew what it was. I also spied what HAD to be a video game that went with it, also a rectangular box albeit much smaller.

My hands were itching to rip the packaging open, and delve into the world of Combat. Plus whatever the other game was. (Turned out to be Maze Craze: A Game of Cops and Robbers. I remember liking it a lot) When the time finally came, I was rewarded with HOURS of fun. Except… we had to leave to go to my Grandparents house! OH NO!!!

We brought the Atari with us, and I (at eight years old) connected it to the TV there, where all my relatives enjoyed the system all day long.

The Atari was one of my favorite “toys” as a kid, and while I really liked it, it was not until Christmas of 1982 that it REALLY exploded for me when Atari released Pac-Man. Looking back, yes, it was a terrible port of a great game. It blinked so badly it almost cause people to have seizures, which was not funny to me, a kid who had a mom with Epilepsy. But it was Pac-Man, and I could play it AT HOME!


And it was amazing.

The Obligitory First Post

A new site, tons to write and post about. This is not a “news” site at all. In fact, it’s more of a way for me to get my thoughts out on one of my favorite hobbies: Video Games. But not the latest and greatest games, although I may (and probably will) write about those. But all video games, the ones I enjoy. That may be current games, or older games. It could be console games, or arcade games. My tastes run wide.

At the moment, most of my video game playing time goes two ways: classic arcade titles via MAME, and some iOS games.

On the arcade front, this started recently. I have always loved arcade games, but as a Mac user, the MAME support is just not there. And I was not willing to buy a full PC just to play a few MAME games on.

(If you don’t know what MAME is, I will get into further details in another post. Sometime in the future.)

I always wanted some arcade games, but space and cost have always been an issue. I honestly thought it would be way too expensive to own an arcade machine. And even if it was not, space is at a premium in my home, and I’m not sure where I would fit one.

I ran across, and subscribe to, a YouTube channel called John’s Arcade. In it, John Jakobson shows off his basement arcade, visits different arcades around the country (and world lately), and restores older Arcade machines. It’s the later that made me subscribe to his channel. It’s something I am interested in, but have no experience at doing. Maybe when I buy a new, bigger home, I will have the room and can look at buying a couple arcade machines and fixing them up myself, using some of the techniques I learned from John’s YouTube channel.

Still, the bug was there, and I started pursuing Craigslist for use arcade machines. There are quite a few in my area, but most are too expensive. But I did come across one that sounded right up my alley: a headless MAME cabinet!

What’s a headless MAME cabinet? Well, it’s an arcade machine with no monitor, with a control system, and a PC running the software. This was a no-screen Samsung laptop running Maximus Arcade. Included was the complete setup, with MAME, a bunch of Nintendo Consoles, and a couple others. All ROMs included. The cost? Not expensive. And the best thing? Only about five miles away.

After a little back and forth, I ended up buying the cabinet. The headless cabinet was custom built, included some speakers and a sound system (neither of which I have ever used), a X-Arcade Tankstick + Trackball, and the aforementioned Samsung laptop running all the software. Really, plug and play!

I already have one wall dedicated to my video games. There is a 40” LG LCD TV on the wall, surrounded by some IKEA shelves holding my classic video game consoles, and some shelves under it holder more modern consoles. (Look for another post where I go into much more detail on all that.) I just ran an HDMI cable from the Samsung laptop to the LG TV, and viola! I am playing arcade games of my youth!

And that’s where the fun, headache, and hours of tinkering began. And that is where I end this first post!