I came late to the party and by the time I’d snapped a few photos of the Warthog and taken some amateur video footage the organisers of the event were calling out raffle numbers. Winners of this raffle were to receive a free ‘hot lap’ in the Warthog on Wednesday. The guy in the line next to me (I ended up near the very, very back) showed an organiser his bona-fide Halo tattoo and scored a free one. I was glad he got some sort of compensation for corporate sponsorship.
Over a loudspeaker that wasn’t very loud, the reverberant calls of ‘Red Forty Seven!’ and other combinations of colours and letters were a fitting counterpoint to the American Gridiron game I’d been watching literally right before attending. The crowd of fans snaked around the upper level of Westfield Penrith an easy 200-deep, looking so much like a rabble of linebackers. Teens and young adults, kids with parents, they were all waiting patiently for Halo 3: ODST’s Australian launch.
16 minutes till midnight. The two mid-twenties gamers in line next to me (one being the be-tattooed gentleman, the other his bespectacled friend) were quizzing each other on Halo trivia – “What was Johnson’s first name again? Leroy? No? …Oh, that’s right, Avery!” They were effervescent in their excitement (they later joked about how one of them had had two coffees and wasn’t really a coffee drinker). A father and his two sons were in front of me in the queue and I bet the Dad plays more of that game than the kids tonight. I kinda wish my Dad were into games, but then if he were I’d probably never get to play them.
10 minutes. The heat was becoming stifling as Westfield staff didn’t seem to think it worth turning on the air con for 200 sweating (mostly male) gamers. It started to feel like every LAN party I’ve ever been to, and not in an entirely good way. The list of games name-checked by the two gamers next to me in line will by the time I leave with ODST in hand include: Command and Conquer 2; Metroid 3; Total Annihilation; Supreme Commander; Counter-Strike.
We chatted about nerd stuff—the usual things you do at a midnight launch, I suppose—and discussed a mutual appreciation of political science, The Late Show era comedians like Tony Martin and Judith Lucy, a hatred of all the Resident Evil film sequels, and sharing a love for movie soundtracks. We miss the actual count down to midnight in no small part because I’m impressing my two companions with the information that I once interviewed Marty O’Donnell for a university thesis. We’re so far back that we barely hear it anyway and it’s another 25 minutes before we get to the door into the store.
As the line inched forward, I overhear organisers reminding people to get their pre-order receipts out and I pondered the fact that I had neglected to pre-order the game. I also consider skipping the new Halo 3: ODST game altogether and instead present at the counter with a nice copy of Nintendogs Daschund edition. A store employee however suggests that the Labrador version is clearly the superior product.
Unfortunately my skills lie outside the realm of deadpan comedic timing and delivery so I line up like everyone else, bribing the guy on the door to get me in without a pre-order receipt. He really was very kind about it, and the manager at the counter let me off with a warning and made me promise to ‘never do it again’.
My purchase complete, I stumbled outside collecting my poster and lanyard and that was that. I somehow lost my line companions inside the store, however, and I felt kind of sad that I didn’t manage a polite goodbye. It highlights the kind of beauty of midnight launches — and indeed of the often accepting gamer culture in general. Sure there are plenty of idiots online who hide behind the anonymity of Xbox Live to try and insinuate derogatory things about your sexual orientation, but in person most gamers are lovely.
If you know the Halo tattooed man and his bespectacled friend, whose girlfriend apparently lives next-door to a friend of my own (small world, huh?), would you mind saying hi to them for me? And then remind them they owe me a copy of Nintendogs. The Daschund edition, thanks.
One last little bit of analysis: I’m not really sure why Penrith was chosen for the national midnight launch. If it was purely a business decision with the Penrith EB store willing to pay the most money for the privilege that would be a rather boring footnote. I’m hoping, however, there’s a bit more of an interesting story behind it. Maybe the #1 Halo fan in Australia lives in Penrith or something, even if it’s just “Western Sydney has the most Halo fans”. If I hear back from my contact at Microsoft I’ll update to let you know.