Hey so what did you do this week? Oh yeah? That's pretty cool. Me? Oh not much...I just went to the mother fucking HALO ODST release party! Alright, well perhaps its not something that really requires an exclamation point. But I did go, I did see, I did get drunk and I did get to chat a bit with some Bungie people. So without further ado...here we go!
Going to the ODST release party wasn't something I had planned. I've never been a huge Halo fan. In fact, prior, to this I had only played one 15 minute session of Halo 3. It was while I was on tour, laying on the floor of some strange persons house, drunk on half a bottle of Rum and playing the single player campaign in standard definition on an old, shitty, television. So it is fair to say that I had never REALLY played Halo. Full disclosure also requires me to say that I've never been really drawn to the Halo series much at all. The world itself never really appealed to me very much and I've never really been a fan of the frantic type of multiplayer experience that Halo is known for.
So what drew me to this release party? JOURNALISM my good man! That, and the fact that for all my non-interest in the series, I respect Halo for what its done over the years. In creating an extremely vibrant community of frothing fans and securing its place in the annals of gaming. One would be dishonest if they were not to admit that forever more we will be putting Halo in the same categories as Mario and Zelda. Now whether it deserves that position is not the point of this post. I'm actually playing through Halo 3 now and I can assure you that in the future I'll have a lot to say concerning that.
I arrived at the Experience Music Project Museum in Seattle around 6:30pm. Doors opened at 6pm so I figured that I would give things a little time to settle down before I arrived. Little did I know that it would make no difference. So when I arrived I found myself at the back of a line that snaked around the corner and down an entire block. “Looks like I picked the wrong time to stop sniffing glue” I thought to myself and took my place behind a man who had either just gotten off of work at a dirty job or was a completely crazy street person who simply had an affinity for frag-fests with prepubescent boys. (Upon writing that last line I realize that it can be taken a few different ways...I like the double entendre so by god I'm leaving it.) This man was filthy and clearly not being the good little gamer mascot which should be required at such events. Damn him to hell.
In reality, the line was very diverse and it took me a few minutes to disconcern if I was really in the correct line. On the same night as the ODST Release party, Pearl Jam was playing a concert at Key Arena, which isn't very far from the EMP at all. Since the release party was requiring anyone under the age of 16 of being accompanied by an adult there was an eclectic mix of young kids, middle aged gamers and old people who looked like they had no idea what was going on, and who I really couldn't see screaming into a headset while they set the very world before them on fire. But then I saw this..
...and all my fears were allayed.
The line moved relatively quickly and as we rounded the corner we were treated to the site of the ODST SUV (or would that be ODST-SUV?). You see Halo isn't for GIRLS. Halo is a MANs game. And how does a MAN play a game? Certainly not sitting in his comfortable living room, lounging on the couch. FUCK NO! A MAN drives his ODST-SUV deep into the wilderness, taking down as many trees and small woodland creatures as he can along the way and slamming can after can of that Budweiser mixed with Clamato drink. He then sets up camp upon a great mountaintop and pops open the rear of the ODST-SUV, builds a small fire, sits IN the fire and uses the pain and smell of burning flesh to fuel his RAGE has he plays ODST like a MAN does!
Obviously Bungie hates the environment. You heard it here first folks.
We were led into the building to get our badges from the required booth babe type girls and buy a poster if we wanted to (I didn't). The party was split into two major sections on two floors. The bottom floor held the poster selling and signing section and the second floor was reserved for all the hot ODST playing action. The bottom floor was dull, fuck the bottom floor.
The top floor is where things get interesting. Gamers clamored around 40 stations split up into 10 groups all hosting the Firefight multiplayer map. One grouping was located on a main stage with a giant projector screen above it which was projecting one of the player screens for the audiences amusement.
An XBOX Live Insider crew was skulking about interviewing gamers, and a few fat Master Chiefs, as the Insider “newscaster” girl tried her very best to look like she really wanted to be there. Her smile said she did...but her eyes. Her eyes said “I went to journalism school for 6 years (I'm presuming she was a party girl) and here I am interviewing an overweight guy in space marine outfit made out of cardboard. Kill me please...kill me.” And I watched her ask nonsensical questions to nonsensical people as the angels of CNN and MSNBC fluttered away into that festering muck in which dreams die.
As the main rooms 40 stations all blinked furiously with Multiplayer I began to realize that the, touted as improved, single player campaign was conspicuously missing. It wasn't until later that I found it. Four stations, put off to the side with very little fanfare surrounding them, hosted the single player campaign. Odd. Especially since in everything I've been seeing concerning ODST they have been pushing the campaign fairly hard. I mean, they spent all that money to get the actors from FireFly to do the voice acting (and lend their likeness which just ups the money prize). Not only that, you didn't get in line for the Campaign at the party, oh no. You had to play the multiplayer and then a representative from Bungie (the Bungie guys were all wearing black Bungie polos) would give people tickets at random to come over and play the single player game when they were finished.
I had to know. So I spoke to Bungie about this most serious and confusing thing. I was told that they wanted people to play the multiplayer at the party because they expected that when gamers bought the game that evening, they would come home, sit down, and play the campaign first at their leisure. Really? When Halo 3 was released 2 million people signed onto to XBOX Live on the first night and joined multiplayer games. Bungie, obviously, knows this so whats going on here? I think its very simply the fact that though Bungie, on their face, are trying to tout this campaign but they know full well that people don't buy Halo for the single player experience. Halo 3 single player is mediocre at best and abysmal at worst. They know full well that the bread and butter of Halo is the multiplayer, but you can't sell a 60 dollar game on multiplayer that everyone already owns. So the hat-trick is to talk a big game about the new single player experience but keep it under lock and key as much as possible while, in public, flaunting the new mutliplayer Firefight mode.
Now do I think they are being nefarious? Not necessarily, they know full well where their talents lay and we simply cannot forget that at the moment Microsoft are their Lords and Masters. My personal feeling is that Bungie desperatly wants to be rid of Halo and are RACING to complete their contract with Microsoft so they can be rid of the series and do something new. Bungie still owes Microsoft Halo games...which is why I think ODST became a standalone game and why Bungie is now moving everyone who worked on ODST to work on Halo Reach. (also conveyed to me by the Bungie Rep when we spoke). I imagine that they are furiously working toward the finish line and I wouldn't be surprised if, internally, Bungie was already drawing up a new non-Halo in anticipation of the event.
I left shortly thereafter. Honestly there wasn't a whole lot going on if you weren't interested in waiting on line to play Halo. So I went over to the Funhouse, located on 5th avenue in Seattle, and proceeded to have a drink. Meeting some new friends there I proceeded to have another. Now Funhouse is one of my favorite bars in Seattle. Its your basic Punk Bar, probably one of the last of its kind, and they pour drinks which will make your liver run in horror.
I've had long heartfelt talks with my inner organs, sometimes using high diplomacy, after a long night of drinking at the place. During one of those long sessions me and my heart decided that I could do anything I wanted until I was 50, then it was open season. Not bad odds considering my lifestyle. One drink at The Funhouse is really two and a half drinks anywhere else...sometimes three.
Using that logic, 6 drinks later I ended up at some small diner with people I hardly knew, ranting and raving about our incessant need to fellate mediocrity as a culture. How Halo's assent into popularity is akin to Larry the Cable guy and Dane Cook becoming popular and “BY GOD ILL FINALLY BE HAPPY WHEN THE BOMBS START FALLING!” (Direct quote from me as told to me by someone there). And “Halo was released in 2007 with GTA IV, Mass Effect and Bioshock so don't tell me that I'm being too hard on a two year old game!”
The next day I was talking to my one friend. She conveyed to me my passionate ramblings and the fact that all the people I was sitting with were Microsoft Marketing people.