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.