How I Found Halo And How Halo Found Me

Everytime I take a drink of blackberry cordial, I'm reminded of Halo: CE. And in a lot of ways I'm reminded of what it feels like to lose everything.

I was 20 years old, in my final year of University, that was the first time I saw an Xbox in the flesh: Virgin Megastore, Glasgow. It was a two minute walk from my student flat and they had multiple demo units. I didn't have a gaming PC at the time -- the last shooter I spent any amount of time with was Perfect Dark on the N64. The leap was so incredible I almost had a brain haemorrhage; the equivalent of travelling back in time and feeding a caveman sherbet.

But that was only a five minute burst. Back then, at launch, the Xbox retailed at the princely sum of 400 british pounds, at a time when I could barely afford to buy a Sausage Roll for lunch. Way out of my price range.

I sauntered back; back to multiplayer matches on Perfect Dark, like chewing on broccoli after tasting the cathartic fizz of sherbet.

A month later I'm walking home, after a night out with my flatmates. I don't drink now, but back then I did and as I clambered up the hill I saw the hazy outline of a fire engine; then, almost immediately, the smell of thick smoke. This wasn't a drill, a broken fire alarm wasn't at fault. There had clearly been a proper fire somewhere in my apartment building.

My first thought: I hope to God it wasn't our flat. The odds were low -- it could have been any one of two dozen apartments. Ours was on the top floor. Surely we were safe.

My second thought: did I leave the cooker on? Did I remember to lock the door? If our apartment had to be the one on fire, please don't let it be my fault. I'd already developed a reputation for being forgetful, this was the last thing I needed on my conscience.

The bad news: incredibly, of all the apartments that could have been set on fire, it was ours that suffered the blaze. However, the police quelled my second fear -- the fire was not my fault.

During the four hours that me and my two flatmates had spent out on the town, a deranged junkie had managed to...

-- Break into our apartment building. -- Climb up four flights of stairs. -- Kick our rubbish lock in and open our apartment door. -- Gather up all my CDs into a bag (this was 2002 remember). -- Set the entire apartment on fire. -- Leave the apartment with all the subtlety of masked man wearing a stripey vest carrying a bag with 'swag' written on it. -- Get caught by the police 200 yards away from the scene of the crime.

So the perpetrator had been brought to justice by the swift Scottish arm of the law, but even that fact didn't dull the pain. My apartment was completely ruined. My room hadn't taken the full brunt of it -- my flatmate's room was burnt to an absolute crisp -- but everything I owned was ruined: my CD player, my clothes, my furniture, my television.

My Nintendo 64.

The fact that a console was among the crispy debris is important, because when my home insurance company came-a-calling -- asking for the precise details of what was lost in the fire -- the minute I mentioned my Nintendo 64 and the 12 games I had in my apartment the telephone man paused before asking me a question.

"The insurance policy you have replaces old with new," said the faceless voice over the phone. "Would you like an Xbox or a PlayStation 2?"

Whaaaa...? I got excited. Very excited. My brother already had a PlayStation 2 in my parent's house, where I would be staying for the foreseeable future, so the decision was easy. "Xbox please."

"You get to choose six games," continued the phone man.

"I want Halo please", was my immediate reply. The other games were barely important, and wouldn't be for quite some time. I think Max Payne was among them, and Jet Set Radio Future.

As a direct result of an idiotic junkie breaking into my apartment and setting fire to all my stuff, I had a brand new Xbox with Halo en route to my parent's house.

It's a cliché, but there's no other way to describe it, when the delivery truck arrived carrying all my replacement gear -- new TV, new CD player, replacement CDs -- it was like all my Christmases had come at once. The thing I was most excited about, however, was my new Xbox and -- specifically -- Halo: Combat Evolved.

It's a moment I'll never forget. I was studying for my final exams at the time, but that would have to wait. I had a brand new console, and the game I'd been admiring from afar.

I poured myself a tall glass of blackberry cordial and started playing. I didn't have any stuff, but at least I had Halo.


    Wait a minute... In Scotland video games are sold at a place called Virgin Megastore?... It's not true... That's Impossible!

      Search your feelings, you know it to be true.


      When I went back to Glasgow in September the store was closed. :(

        Obviously the owner finally did it!

        the virgin megastore in san francisco has been closed for YEARS. it's right there on the busiest street in the downtown area, its sign still up, its windows boarded. it's creepy!

    Oh man, I can't imagine losing my N64, or godforbid my SNES.

    Nice article, Mark.

      A friend of mine borrowed my SNES years ago. He got robbed that weekend and now all I have left is my boxed up copy of secret of Mana.

    That's a seriously awesome story, Mark. Seriously awesome.


    That is an incredible story.

    Of all the possible ways to start playing Halo, I think an insurance boon caused by junkie-arson takes the cake. So to speak.

      Sounds like the cake was about the only thing he didn't take... :p

      Cool story Mark.

    *sniff* God bless that noble junkie.

    I love this man. I do.

    I also love that you pretty much had nothing but an xbox and Halo and some cordial. A naked man with only a TV, a ridiculously large controller and a massive smile blackberry-stained smile. I may have to draw this image.

    My memory may be playing tricks on me, but I'm pretty sure I went to a Virgin Megastore in Glasgow in 09, which was having a closing down sale.

      It would have been the same one -- at the top of Buchanan Street near Sauchiehall Street.

    Being from a poor family I never upgraded from Perfect Dark 64 until September 2008 when I bought a 360 and Halo 3

    I had previously played an illegal version of Halo on PC and I owed it to myself to play Halo 2 on my new 360 before I even touched Halo 3.

    I've never been that big on FPS and have only ever played ODST for bout half an hour.
    Having said that, Marks misty eyed Halo recollections are slowly starting to make me consider getting Anniversary

    Wow, this story reminds me of the time I was in Glasgow while off chops and I broke into this guy's apartment, stole a bunch of swag, set everything on fire and got arrested not far down the street.

    Ahh good times.

    Oh wow... that's pretty incredible! Very nicely retold to boot :)

    I expected this story to be linked to "trainspotting'. I totally imagined spud rumaging through Marks apartment.


    This brought back memories of a bitter sweet episode in my life: I had my Super Nintendo and about twenty games stolen from my parents house while I was at school one day. The thing that upset me the most, though, was I'd been borrowing a mate's N64 at the time, which of course, was also stolen. Fortunately, similar to your situation, the insurance policy didn't take into account the depreciation in value of 'obsolete' console games. For every one one of my SNES games I got about 80 bucks - I would have only got about 10 if I'd tried to trade them in. I ended up replacing my mates N64 and getting a shiny new one for myself to boot... It was almost as though I'd committed the theft myself... Dun Dun Dahhhh.

    But serioulsy, tragic stuff. To paraphrase Vincent Vega, "you just don't fuck with another man's console."

    I got goosebumps. Thanks Mark :)

    I always found it wierd that everyone bought the collectors edition of halo... Just realised my mistake all these years

    Circa 2000 I was a huge PC gamer, if it wasn't on PC it wasn't wortyh knowing about. My rig was pimp. Halo was "this thing that was going to be on Xbox" (I never heard of it before it was on Xbox - stuff about it being planned as an RTS on Mac was something I learned about later).

    I'd seen pics of the Xbox and the Xbox controller and screenshots of Halo in action. The game looked pretty good but with my experience in PC gaming I recall asking friends at a private message board community how it could possible compete with PC games using the Xbox controller. For all the stuff you could do in FPS games, it seemed like you needed half a keyboard as well as the mouse, so this just made no sense at all.

    The launch of the Xbox came and went. I was a poor uni student, I barely had time to play PC games let alone invest in a new console. At the end of 2001 I left university for financial reasons (my mother couldn't afford to pay my expenses and I couldn't find a part time job compatible with my schedule). I started working in a warehouse and pissing away my money on amusing myself, though for some reason not video games - mostly music, anime/manga and tabletop RPGs. When I got a hefty tax return in 2002 I decided I wanted a console - I noted K-Mart had a sale on consoles and decided a PS2 with Gran Turismo 3 and FFX was a good deal. My mother was going shopping so I asked her to pick up the PS2 undle and I'd pay her back.

    I was at Timezone in Parramatta playing Initial D when my Nokia 3315 rang in my pocket (playing Liquido's "Narcotic", which I had programmed into the phone myself using instructions from the internet) and I tucked the phone under my cheek and shoulder, now playing Initial D at a 45 degree angle while running downhill on Akagi in my modified RX7 in a versus match against someone in an AE86 by some kid who was clearly a fan of the Anime but inexperienced with the game.

    My mother was at K-Mart and watched to double check what I wanted her to pick up because the Xbox was the same price and came with a copy of Halo and 'something Japanese looking' - I think she meant Sudeki, but I can't be bothered checking to see if Sudeki was even out in 2002. Maybe it was one of those awful Xbox-exclusive fighting games no one liked.

    I mulled it over, distracted by the pulsing Super Eurobeat soundtrack, flashing lights, and a particularly tricky turn (this was Initial D v1, Akagi was the second toughest track back then :P).

    The world held it's breath...
    "Nah, I think I'll stick with the PS2, the bundle comes with a DVD remote."

    If I knew then what I know now, I'd... well, I'd have had an Xbox a year and a half earlier.

    Flash forward 6 months, my friend comes over. We play some of my PS2 games but my collection isn't very big. We get done with some Dead or Alive 2 and he suggests we play some Xbox.
    "I don't have an Xbox"
    "It's cool, I have mine in the car."

    So he shows me some Splinter Cell and starts talknig about how great the Xbox is - I recite some stuff I'd read in a Playstation magazine about the PS2 port of Splinter Cell being better whenever it comes out. I mumble something about Metal Gear Solid 2 (which to this day I have never played).

    He puts in Halo. Once I learn the controls in a little campaign (which is the first time I have played ANYTHING in split-screen co-op) we do some one on one versus and we're fairly evenly matched, which is pretty good considering I only played for the first time half an hour ago. I'm hooked, but there's nothing I can do about it. A few months later at the house of a mutual friend after celebrating with dinner at Chili's after a successful Tae Kwon Do grading, we're playing Halo co-op legendary. My friends have done about 75% of the game in co-op previously, but we're swapping out controllers (he only had two) for runs at the last few levels. I remember us starting our attempt of the final run to escape the self-destruction of the Pillar of Autumn at least forty times before we eventually finished it. Probably more. we were at it for a couple of hours at least - sometimes we got close but ran short of time. Sometimes we died at the first corner. It was a great night. I wanted an Xbox more than ever.

    My tax return in 2003 mostly goes on a trip to Melbourne for Manifest, where I buy so much anime related merchandise I need to buy an extra bag to cart it all home.

    In October 2003 I meet the woman who will one day become my wife, at a party where, interestingly, someone had a modded xbox which he used as a media jukebox while playing Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball for several hours. The girl and I didn't actually start dating until my 21st Birthday party in December.

    For my 22nd birthday in 2004 we went halvsies on an Xbox. The plan was to get a used one, but this was around when Halo 2 launched so Xboxes were scarce - forget about finding a cheap used one! We sprung for a new one.

    December 5th, 2004 - the day my interest in the PS2 died. We started picking up Xbox games and almost never got PS2 games - except when she discovered Silent Hill and bought 2 and 3 off ebay (she bought Silent Hill 1 but it didn't work on my PS2 - we thought it was a dodgy copy until we tested it in the PS3 years later). We even picked up a DVD remote for the Xbox so we didn't need to use the PS2 at all. She didn't really 'get' Halo but I was able to sit down and finish it from Start to Finish for the first time - though not on Legendary difficulty.

    In 2006, on the launch of Gears of War, we bought an Xbox 360. In 2007 there was a Halo 3 Multiplayer Beta which went for 2 weeks. We had only just gotten broadband interenet too - I tried the beta, but I didn't really give it a chance.
    I had tried to play the Dead or Alive 3 mutliplayer and somehow racked up 2 gigs of usage under a 10 gig cap, so I thought Xbox Live really ate up data and was really slow - I later realised my usage was high any my connection was bad because someone was leeching our wi-fi!
    On the last weekend of the Beta we bought our first HDTV, and gave the beta another go. That was when the magic happened for me - I couldn't stop. My wife saw me playing and while she never liked the Halo story, this online multiplayer thing looked the business! She played a few games on my account then got a gold subscription on her own account when she realised there was stat-tracking on and wanted her own distinct profile.The last 4-5 dayso f the Beta were a truly wondrous time. Everyone was nice, and we made friends we'd promise to play with when the realy game launched.

    The 2-3 months between the end of the Beta and the launch of Halo 3 were agony. we tried the Halo 2 multiplayer but it just wasn't right for us. The Halo 3 multiplayer was everything that made the Beta great, but obviously much much more. We were hooked for a solid 2 years. I picked up COD4 but while I loved the story, I couldn't enjoy the multipalyer, not while I had Halo.

    By 2009 less of our friends were regularly playing Halo 3 - we picked up MW2 for the story and tried the multiplayer. For a long time we balanced our time between both, but eventually Halo 3 became a very rare thing.

    We rekindled our love of Halo for Reach (especially since MW2 matches were becoming rather annoying with hackers and gltichers everywhere) but our loyalty to Halo died off when Bungie abandoned it and left 343 at the helm.

    I love Halo, but... it's just not the same anymore.

    And that's my story.

    I remember buying my Xbox... Back in 2004, my uncle who visited me from england and game me and my brother each $250 and i managed to raid my change jar for the remaining $50 and went and bought an Xbox package with both Halo CE and Top Spin Tennis (it also had a halo CD tin).

    It was a proud day for me, only for the reason is that i was the only kid in my class that had both an Xbox and a PS2.

    productive afternoon.

      WOW, that was unfunny.


        It was not my intention to actually produce a hilarious piece of art. It was just to capture the article in paint form. Nice of you to weigh in though Adam, you are a great human being.

          For the record, the above adam is different to I.

    I filed that under my 'Awesome' folder in my bookmarks list!

    hahaha, the same thing happened to my friend, but his xbox was stolen, so he got a 360 and halo 3 :P

    Nicely told. Now I'm paranoid about insurance.

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