Maddenoliday! NYC’s Madden 08 Launch Event

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Today is the launch of the new version of the 6th most ubiquitous franchise in videogame history, Madden. Microsoft and EA put together a semi-secret press event in the heart of New York City, Times Square. In an attempt to have Christmas in August, Maddenoliday was the theme of the event — it included a ball drop countdown, crowds of naive tourists, plenty of football celebrities, and that secret present your folks pulled out of nowhere.

Would constant plowing through the sweaty masses of pedestrians be worthy of the cause that is John Madden? (He’s the one all these years that ate all the leftover turkey, I swear it was him.)

I arrived at the ESPNZone (if you don’t know, ESPN’s branded sports bar and restaurant in a city near you) and caught the last rounds of Madden Challenge Masters, a tournament featuring the best of the best from around the country. While boozing, snacking, and observing flagrant curvature, football legends were being interviewed and the lounge area was buzzing with locker room machismo. NFL legends including Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Jerome Bettis and Warren Moon showed face for the cameras, autographs and playtime — but not with yours truly. Security signaled the cue and ushered press and VIPs out of the restaurant and into the street for the next part of the program.

The event was, for the most part, secret — like, tell-everyone-about-it-the-morning-of secret. I found about the special guest that would be in our presence shortly. As we filed into an enclosed area on Military Island (which is a short street intersection where couples reunited at the end of WWII) we gazed at a makeshift stage above the awning of the Hard Rock Cafe.

As you look around this epicenter of Times Square, you see LCD-covered building facades laced with 360’s and Madden logos to no end. Finally, he appeared — Ozzy Osbourne walks onto the stage with his feisty self and rocks out a new tune from his most recent album to set things off. After some “Crazy Train” and some other track I didn’t know, the crowd bids him a loving farewell with a sea of devil horns and cheers. Great show — there were dramatics and the whole 9 yards, but overall, it was a bit too short. Needs more Black Sabbath, please.

Now, back to the whole ball drop thing. It was supposed to be a huge Madden box dropping like the New Year’s Eve ball with a countdown. The huge box was there (check), countdown (check, but not at midnight, huh?), but there was no descending part (no check, boo hoo hoo). Their recreation let me down — it wasn’t such a happy Maddenoliday after all.

Next up, they set up a 360 in the same area and let the NFL greats have at it. A huge jumbotron on the ABC building displayed the gridiron pwnage. Tiki Barber, after shaking my hand, steps up to the elevated playing area to partake in the festivities. They play, Times Square watches in delight while New Yorkers are screaming incessantly for Tiki to look at their flashing cameras. A handful of fans thought it would be a good idea to walk into the middle of the street with oncoming maniac taxi drivers for the perfect shot (and a likely trip to the hospital).

So, here’s the finale. We congregate to Toys R Us for the official first public sale of the game. Tiki Barber hands off the first game to a young lad that just turned 20 today and waited in line since 6 AM. Those 18 hours were well spent, happy birthday!

All was done, except a VIP party I wasn’t invited to. I’m not cool enough, apparently. As a religious Madden head until 2002, I’m curious to see how this game has improved since the 360 version of Madden ’07 was considered to have incredibly slow gameplay.

The main lesson learned was that EA and Microsoft can put out tons of money for a vulgar display of seasons greetings in the summer: star power and Ozzy. Didn’t get enough of Ozzfest this year, huh? I wouldn’t know your pain.

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