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 incredible. It felt like a brain haemorrhage; like travelling back in time and feeding a caveman sherbet.

But that was only a five minute burst, on a demo unit. 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 home; 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 dense smoke. This wasn't a drill, a broken fire alarm wasn't at fault. There had clearly been a proper fire somewhere in the vicinity, 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. Mine 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 quickly 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 Scottish junkie had managed to...

— Break into my apartment building. — Climb up four flights of stairs. — Kick our rubbish lock in and open my 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. A new console. Really. My heartrate increased, a tiny twinge of excitement in the base of my sternum. My brother already had a PlayStation 2 in my parent's house, where I would be staying for the foreseeable future. The the decision was easy. "Xbox please."

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

Six games? Oh 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. It was that precise same feeling. 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. I was still wearing my Dad's clothes. But at least I had Halo.

This story was initally published in November 2011, but I thought I'd republish it for all the people excited about Halo 4 tonight.


    What a brilliant outcome to a horrible situation. :)

    That's fantastic Mark! I haven't read this story of your's before - definitely made my day

    haha that was a good read

    so pumped for 2nite! =D

    But... The Nintendo 64...

      Yeah I would have gone for a brand new 64 instead of the xbox ;)

        And you would have been the Only one.

          I would have chosen an N64 too... That said this was an awesome read and Halo is AMAZING.

    That was a good read, I must have missed it the first time!

    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.

    This comment was initially posted on a story initially published in November 2011, but I thought I’d repost it so I could try and milk an extra laugh out of the same joke :)

    I remember my first experience with an Xbox and Halo. Up until the Xbox, my families console had been a SNES. We never got a 64, never got an original Playstation, though I did own a Gameboy Colour. My friend and nextdoor neighbor owned a Playstation, so I had played 3d games like Crash or Spiro before, but my primary form of gaming up to that point was side scrolling games on the SNES and Pokemon and Zelda games on the Gameboy Colour.

    My Dad's birthday is a few days after Christmas, and as a gift for himself and the family he'd brought himself an Xbox. I remember, about a day after his birthday, my sister and I were just sitting in the family room watching TV, when he just walked in with it. Needless to say, my sister and I were pretty stoked. It was the bundle that came with Halo CE, as well as that disk with the racing game an JSRF on it, and the first game my Dad put into the Xbox after hooking it up to the TV was Halo. I remember watching him play it for a bit before he gave me a turn. I instantly fell in love with it.

    I'd always liked games before then. I loved playing Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, Pokemon Yellow and Zelda: Oracle of Ages, but it was Halo that really cemented me as a gamer. When I first started playing it I found myself in love and I just knew that this was something I was going to be doing for the rest of my life.

    My Q - did you ever find the Junkie and say Thanks Man

    Fire is one of my worst nightmares. I don't know what I would do if my place burnt down. Especially how I'd go about replacing a collection of I-don't-even-know-how-many-but-probably-somewhere-around-the-500-mark Nintendo games and consoles, especially the rarer stuff. An offer of old-with-new would mean nothing to me :P

    I need a place with water-filled walls...

      But if it all went wrong, wouldn't that just steam off all the labels? You'd never know what game was what

    Ahh Halo, the first xbox game I played. Got the Xbox as a christmas present with no motivation other than the upcoming release of Knights Of The Old Republic and frankly wasn't that interested in the games that came with it (Halo, Sega GT2002 & Jet set radio future so I got one iconic game, one decent racer and one complete piece of crap), I decided to chuck in something called Halo expecting it to be a rather forgettable experience. It loaded up & the music made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, took me a few minutes to actually start the game but when I did & saw it was an FPS I got instantly worried, I'd played a few attempts at the genre on the PS1 and they were like having your toenails pulled out with pliers. I'd even played the preposterously overrated goldeneye on that shit awful N64 controller and whilst it was a distinct improvement on the PS1 FPS', it was still like having your toenails pulled out with pliers, just that it was inexplicably accompanied by something nice like good music or the smell of fresh bread. Halo though... Oh Halo did the most amazing thing any console FPS ever managed, IT DIDN'T SUCK! The controls were well designed & mapped out, the aiming was capable of both subtlety and accuracy and it added to the excellence in control with some well designed levels and a really good narrative.

    Halo did for FPS' what Dune II did for RTS' and even if you don't like the game, you can't deny its influence.

    As an aside, was I the only person amazed by how fast the xbox dash booted? I remember plugging it in and turning it on thinking I'd go & get a drink while it was loading and before I'd finished articulating the thought the console was ready to go. Fuck I miss the old controller! Seriously it was the first time I'd ever used a controller that felt designed for my giant man hands rather than those of my tiny handed 10 year old niece.

      Now that I think of it, the sole reason I bought a 360 was also for a Bioware game, hope they have something big planned for the xbox3 &/or PS4 or I may never get one...

    Mark, I'm pretty sure you've had a more amazing life than all Kotaku users combined. That's a freakin' amazing story!

      Hahaha -- no way, I've just been alive longer!

        Longer than all the kotaku readers combined?? How old ARE you?

            So you cut people's heads off to get to their sparkly essense? That sounds both criminal and unhygenic.

    Was that the Virgin at the top of Buchanan St? If so, I'm assuming you stayed along Sauchiehall St? I had a place in Foxbar, Paisley. Man, have I got stories about junkies and flats being set on fire. (thankfully never mine!).

    One time I was playing Chrono Cross on the PSX and all of a sudden there was a massive smash and a crumpling/skidding noise. I paused my game and went over to the window and looked out and there, right at the entrance to the close, was an upside down car. Someone hit a speedbump they flipped the whole car and caused it to skid along the street on it's roof only to rest at my front door.

    Another time two guys knocked on my door at 1am and asked for someone I'd never heard of. Beano or Gazza or something. I told them they had the wrong flat and they explained that it was, in fact, the correct flat and that they would like to buy some "eckys". After some further explaining that they had the wrong flat, they seemed to believe me and asked if I had any I could sell them anyway. I said no. I'd like to say that I was brave and handled it with nary a hint of fear, but in truth I had a samurai sword held tightly in my hand and kept it out of sight during the whole exchange.

    The junkie downstairs routinely set fire to his own flat. I'm not sure how, but he did. At least once a month.

    None of these stories resulted in me getting a new games console. If they had, I might have shared your love of Halo. Instead, I've never played a Halo game. Although I do think Chrono Cross is pretty swell!

    Paisley was awesome*!

    *Not awesome at ALL.

    Last edited 05/11/12 2:49 pm

      I'm so glad we have upvotes. This comment just justified their existence.

    I thought you said you were from Glasgow?

    There's no way someone from Glasgow said please... bawbag maybe, but not please.

    My Halo memories aren't even from playing Halo (I've only played Halo 2 on a friend's Xbox). It was around 2003 when I was working on a vineyard when the guy on the other side of the vine started talking to me about Halo, and how awesome it was. I'd heard it was great but had no way to actually play it. Over the space of 3 or so hours as we worked he took me step-by-step through the entire game. That's every level, plot-point and cut scene. I don't think I even asked him to explain any of this.

    'It wasn't my fault! It was a deranged Scottish junkie!'

    You're hiding something here, aren't you Mark?

    I remember Jet Set Radio Future! That game was pretty cool. I've seemed to misplace mine somewhere. On another note, what's the cheapest price in store for Halo 4? Best price i've found so far is BIG W for $68.

    Halo and the Xbox is what got me back into console gaming. I was a PC Journalist at the time and Microsoft invited me and other journos to the head office at MS on US launch day to try the Xbox. I right away fell in love with the system for some reason, preordered one and spent $649 to get my grubby mits on it day 1. Finished Halo that day.

    Ever since I discovered Halo with my son I always make sure that I don't work on a Halo release day so we can do Campaign on Co-op.

    I thought Xbox was interesting, but not must-have when the hype surrounding the launch became fever-pitched. I thought Halo looked good, and was impressed with the screenshots in Hyper, but honestly wasn't all that fussed by a console made by Microsoft.
    Until I played Halo. I swapped my PS2 with my friend who'd bought one for a week and finished it probably three or four times - and when I had to give it back, I went straight out and bought one with the first paycheck I ever earned as an adult. The guy at EB Hornsby was like, "We're selling Halo for $5 with Xbox's today and tomorrow" and it seemed, for the first time in my life, that there was a God.
    It's a major pity that every Halo I've played since then has beenn complete balls.

    Wait a moment... I already know this story. Also at the start it was less about Halo and more of some hidden fondness for Sherbert.

      Ha! Read the fine print you git before posting.

    It's a Repost:

    Nice read, after my hectic crappy day that made me happy. Lts all take a moment to thank junkie who was probably an angel in disguise.

    Wait a second... How did this go from theft... to arson? Did you mention how the fire started? Mark... something smells fishy... THAT GUY WAS FRAMED WASN'T HE. YOU KNEW ALL ALONG!
    (No really, I'm intrigued how the place caught fire hahaha)

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