New York, NY - At Midnight on September 14, 2010, the biggest countdown for millions of gamers finally ended with the release of "Halo: Reach." The game is both a beginning and an ending, with this prequel to the mega-franchise also being the final game from developer Bungie. As gaming specialty stores and big box retailers around the world held midnight release parties, Microsoft, publisher of the Xbox 360 exclusive game, held events of their own in Seattle, WA and New York, NY.
A Retail Temple
The New York City event was held in the brand-new Best Buy Theater in Times Square. The theater was a temple to the "Halo" world and to retail itself. Every hallway and the theater itself was lined with Xbox 360 consoles and high-end flat panel TVs, constantly occupied by fans who had waited in line as early as 8 am for the 8 pm to 1 am event. At a few strategic locations, there were also Best Buy kiosks, where fans pre-paid for their copies of the $59.99 standard edition, as well as the Limited Edition and Legendary Edition of the game. Microsoft even had a special "Halo: Reach" branded version of the Xbox 360 available.
New Media Celebrities
To these rabid fans, the minds behind their favorite games may as well be Hollywood royalty. The halls were full of the development staff from Bungie, representatives from Microsoft, and the keeper of the "Halo" franchise himself, Frank O'Connor. O'Connor was one of Bungie's bigwigs who created the character Master Chief before becoming Franchise Development Director of 343 Industries, the in-house Microsoft developer that will control "Halo" with Bungie's departure.
"I started working on Reach almost 3 years ago at Bungie. There's a combination of relief that it's all done and really just excitement," O'Connor told Newsarama of the game's release.
"Different fans like different things about the 'Halo' universe. We have people who like the story, we have people that only like hardcore competitive multiplayer, we have people that just go straight into Forge and build their own maps," explained O'Connor of the game's appeal to fans. "They want to come in here and get stuff signed," he continued, "but really they want to get their copy of the game, and get on the last train out of here to go home and play the game."
Fan Reaction and Industry Impact
With hundreds of video games released every year in the ever-growing industry, it still takes a stand-out to warrant these kinds of events. The fans, however, were thrilled to play the game even a few hours early. There were fans of all stripes in attendance, continuing to break down the gamer stereotypes. A father and son waited to play the game side-by-side, with the elder "sure [he'll] get beat every time" by his child. A couple won a trip to the event, traveling from Ohio, and were quick to point out that the woman in the couple was the entrant and winner. One group of friends lined up 12 hours early, anxious to play.
"I've been waiting months!" one fan told Newsarama, "since the first trailer, I've been waiting."
Now the wait is Microsoft's, to see if this game can live up to the hype and win where it counts, in sales. Early reviews for the game have been great. Review aggregator Metacritic has the game at an average of 92/100 so far. Microsoft has their sites set on last year's record-breaking hit "Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2," but overcoming a game available on multiple platforms would be difficult. Regardless, while original developer Bungie leaves the franchise behind to work on a game that Executive Producer Joseph Tung assured Newsarama, "will surprise fans and they will absolutely love," Microsoft and 343 want to keep going with the franchise.
The Continuing Story
After a direct-to-dvd collection of shorts in February 2010 and a handful of novels and comics, a new comic book series from Marvel Comics expands the story of Master Chief and the early timeframe in the story shared by "Halo: Reach." The push behind the series, titled "Halo: Fall of Reach - Boot Camp" is strong, with an exclusive cover by artist Phil Noto made just for the event. Noto was on hand in New York, signing the comic for fans.
"You'd think I invented 'Halo'!" said the artist of fan reaction. "It's really cool to be a small part of something like this, I can't believe how cool these fans have been."
As for future games, 343 doesn't want to talk about that just yet.
"We're really happy 'Reach' is finally in fans' hands right now. That's our focus," said O'Connor.
Rest assured, with events like this and sales sure to follow, this is far from the end of "Halo."
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