Tuesday, November 2, 2004
One dot and two lines.
That's how the revolution began. 'Pong' was the first widely available home video game and was responsible for launching the gaming revolution back in 1975. Patterned after ping-pong, the game's black and white square graphics and simple beep sounds were extremely primitive yet Sears sold about 100,000 copies of Pong for nearly $200 each.
Fast forward to November 8, 2004. Generations of seasoned gamers-reared on everything from Super Mario Bros. to Final Fantasy-are lining up at their local game stores, which are staying open late for a "Midnight Madness" release of the most highly anticipated video game ever: Halo 2 for Xbox and Xbox 360. The game is expected to sell 5 million copies in the weeks leading up to Christmas, far outpacing any other game in the video game industry.
Most video game stores have been taking Halo 2 pre-orders for two years. In the U.S. alone, pre-orders have topped 1.5 million copies. At $49.99 per game, sales should break opening day revenue records set by both Hollywood and the music industry.
Brian Harris, owner of Game Guy, 7 E 7th St., said Halo 2 has brought more people into his store than any other game.
"I haven't said three syllables more than I have (said) 'Ha-lo-2' all year," Harris said. "There's a level of excitement around Halo that I haven't seen for years."
Halo as life
When Halo 1 was released in 2001 it revolutionized gaming, in part, because of its unique ability to accommodate up to 16 players in the same game on up to four TVs. Groups of kids no longer need to fight over just two controllers. Older gamers need not choose between watching others play or holing up by themselves. Halo made gaming a social activity like it's never been before.
An evolution of gaming
- 1975 - Pong
- 1977 - Atari 2600
- 1978 - Space Invaders
- 1980 - Pac-Man
- 1982 - Pole Position
- 1985 - Gauntlet
- 1985 - Nintendo Entertainment System
- 1985 - Super Mario Bros.
- 1986 - Dragon Warrior
- 1987 - Double Dragon
- 1987 - Zelda
- 1987 - Tetris
- 1987 - Game Boy
- 1989 - Sega Genesis
- 1990 - Faceball 2000
- 1991 - Street Fighter 2
- 1993 - Doom
- 1996 - Resident Evil
- 1996 - Mario 64
- 1997 - Final Fantasy VII
- 1997 - Playstation
- 2000 - PS2
- 2001 - Xbox, Gamecube
- Nov. 9, 2004 - Halo 2
Conrad Tobias was the first in his circle of friends to seize on Halo's unique ability to bring groups together for late weeknights. At first his friends would pack an extra TV and Xbox, but eventually Tobias decided to be more accommodating.
"Being the good host that I am, I decided to buy a 57-inch widescreen TV that would fit two (game) screens in it," said Conrad Tobias, Halo aficionado. "I decided to eventually get one more 27-inch TV so no one would have to bring their TV over."
His friends much appreciated his generosity-sometimes too much.
"My Halo parties were getting too loud and rowdy and the neighbors called the cops on us one too many times," Tobias said. "We promptly found a two-bedroom apartment with thick enough walls and a big enough living room to properly host my Halo parties. We moved because of Halo."
Though several of KU Philosophy student Paul Mattson's friends had moved out of town when Halo first came out, the game became a powerful excuse for frequent reunions.
"We would have people drive back to Lawrence from St. Louis to play at our weekly LAN parties. We had late night Halo parties almost every week. Every time we got together, Halo was the bulk of what we would do."
But for some, the addictive game proved to be more of a divider than a uniter. For Kevin Augspurger, KU Film student and eventual tournament-caliber player, Halo cost him his girlfriend.
"My girlfriend really supported me at first when I got 4th place at the District Halo Championships back in 2002. But once I started driving to Olathe every weekend for practice on Friday nights, she started to get pretty mad, and eventually broke up with me," said Augspurger.
"Before Halo, Friday night pretty much consisted of going to a movie and dinner or something to that effect. After Halo, Friday night turned into first game at 7 p.m., and last round at 3 or 4 a.m. Halo definitely affected my sleeping habits on weekends for the better part of the last 2 years."
Halo's allure stems from its combination of expansive architecture, cutting-edge graphics, beautiful art direction, realistic physics and sound effects, powerful musical score and engrossing story. It's arguably the most memorable video game since the revolution started in '75.
The gamer assumes the role of "Master Chief," a genetically enhanced super-soldier known only by his rank. Guided by the A.I. construct called Cortana, he leads an assault on an alien alliance called "The Covenant," in hopes of keeping them from discovering the awesome power of a terra-formed ringworld/weapon called "Halo."
The game claims expansive maps, intelligent enemies with distinct personalities, a fun variety of weapons and-perhaps above all-an inexplicable "feel" that no other game has achieved. Even after three years, Halo still has no rival.
Halo is so engrossing that the game has inspired widespread fan subcultures.
There are Halo books, Halo action figures (which have sold for $400 and more), Halo web rings and games-within-the-game, like 'Warthog Jump' competitions.
There's even an online sit-com centered around Halo called Red vs. Blue, available at redvsblue.com. The four- to 10-minute episodes use the multi-player map called "Blood Gulch" as a set and several Master Chiefs as characters. The show's creators stage and record theatrics using the only game, and edit the video with voice-overs. The demand for Red vs. Blue was so high that it was released widely on DVD after just its first season (it's now entering its third season).
"Halo's physics work so well, you could do so many things with it," said Lawrence resident and Halo fan Frank Boyd. "It's the best physics engine, period."
The Second Coming
Halo 2 promises are even better artificial intelligence, the ability to hijack moving vehicles, the ability to wield two weapons at once and an expansive online presence including clan support and voice chat. And this time, the Covenant have found Earth, where most of the game takes place.
Kevin Augspurger helps run the local video game site BreakmanX.com and, last year, he was able to visit Bungie's offices in Redmond, Wash., and get a first-hand look at Halo 2 (thanks to a connection with one of the game's designers).
"If I could describe it in any possible way," said Augspurger, "it's Halo going 130 MPH being chased by ninjas through a hospital zone. Oh yeah, and the ninjas are on fire. You won't find any drastic changes to the combat or to the control scheme, so veterans will have a real easy time getting into the swing of things, but there are also enough new tricks to allow the rookies to hang with the veterans as well."
Most of Halo 2 remains a mystery. The game's developer, Bungie, scarcely lets a detail about Halo 2 out of its offices. Next to nothing is known about the plot other than The Covenant are attacking Earth.
"I am excited about the entire package," Mattson said. "Not necessarily excited for Halo 2, but more just the whole Halo universe being taken to the next level, he said. "Plus, I love the story. This is the same way I felt about Return of the King. Master Chief is my Frodo."
The Unstoppable Force
Like the threat of Golum stealing the precious Ring, perhaps the only thing that could keep Halo 2 from the gaming world's throne would be if a pirated version were leaked before the official release. But Halo is a console game-piracy only happens to highly anticipated PC games, right?
On October 13, two days after mass manufacturing of the game began, the French version of Halo 2 was pirated and leaked all over the internet. Because the Xbox contains a 10 gig hard drive, daring gamers can "modify" their Xboxes to store full games on it illegally. The leak of Halo 2 marked the first time that a console game was pirated en masse before the release date.
"Pirating is bad for my industry, but there can be an odd benefit," Game Guy's Harris said. "I'll get kids who think that modifying an Xbox is easy. They'd go home, ruin that Xbox trying, then have to come back and buy another one."
But-as a reflection of the love affair many gamers have with Halo-hardcore fans were vigorously upset at the incident and refused to download it. Halo bulletin boards told of gamers reporting websites and even acquaintances who were supporting the leak to Microsoft legal teams.
The faithfulness Halo fans have to the franchise in unmatched. It gives November 9 much more meaning than a simple cold Tuesday.
"The fact that so many people outside of Bungie have latched onto Halo ... is just unbelievable to me," Augspurger said. "Usually when I think a game is great, that's it. It's just great. But with Halo," he said, "this is quite possibly the best game ever made."