Back from the Halo 3 launch

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Tonight I saw the Master Chief, screaming gamers and screaming little girls.

One of the great things about this job is that it lets you experience stuff you’d otherwise never do. I’ve never been part of a launch event where people camp out in lawn chairs. But, since the “Halo 3″ release is kind of a big deal, I took a camera and hung out with the diehards. I had to file the daily story a little early, but I stuck around until midnight. The following are my personal highlights. Join me on the journey!

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Perhaps not the most eloquent statement of support for a game character, but this lets you know what kind of fans the “Halo” series has in its stable. There were people dressed in green, and a LOT of people with some kind of Halo shirt on, but nothing said it quite like this. I also had a shot of the dudes holding the sign, but my stupid self is in the reflection of the window. I fail at photography.

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These guys showed up early for a “speed run” through the first “Halo” game for the Xbox. Good thing they had the big screens, so people waiting in line could see how they were doing. If you don’t know what a speed run is, it’s essentially blazing through a game in record time. Look on the Web, and you can see games beaten in under 20 minutes. Scary.

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This display of the Master Chief was in the store when I got there. The real Chief wasn’t showing up until later at night, so I figured staring at this would help.

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Some fans get their stuff signed, this dude got his paper graded. The “student” in this case was Hans Leon of San Bernardino, who actually wrote a paper on the “Halo” phenomenon for a school assignment. The grader was Allen Murray of Bungie, one of the producers of “Halo 3″ who showed up for the launch event. As you can see, Murray gave him him high marks. That’s good … it would have been totally awkward if he thought the paper sucked.

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The guy in the middle is Jonty Barnes of Bungie, the executive producer of “Halo 3″ and a guy who was literally dodging worshippers throughout a chunk of the day. I managed to steal a few minutes to talk with him, just shooting the breeze with him about all things “Halo.” One point he brought up about Halo’s popularity is how “anyone can be the Master Chief.” True, but I always found that odd — out of all the franchise characters in gaming, the Chief is the one with the least flashiest personality. I’ll elaborate more on our talk in another entry this week.

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One of the highlights of the day was the “Halo 3″ tournament, which featured 32 players, 2 screens and a 3 frag limit. The crowd chatter was funny, especially the “ohhhh” after someone got killed. The best reactions came when someone picked up the gravity hammer, a new melee weapon that sends the enemy flying through the air like a ball of Barry Bonds’ bat. Deeply satisfying. The winner of the tournament was Chris Brubaker of L.A., who was also the first guy in line. That’s a hell of a day. Props to him, since he was there since freakin’ SUNDAY morning.

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I wanted to play with this thing. I don’t think the GameStop people would have appreciated it, though. Come on, who doesn’t like articulated moving parts?

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That’s Kristin Holt of G4 in front of the crowd of fans. She was another person who a lot of people wanted to take pictures with (most of them guys), and I couldn’t remember a moment where she wasn’t smiling from ear to ear. I wonder what it’s like to be that happy. I’d expound more, but you’re not listening at this point. Go ahead, stare at the picture. I’ll wait.

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Chief, thank god you’re here! By far, the biggest reaction I’ve heard for a man in costume. The air was filled with the testosterone-laced howls of “CHIEEEEF!!” as he was walking along the line. Very cool costume, by the way, but I’m told that this was nothing compared to the one at Comicon, where he was apparently mobbed. What cracked me up was how some of the photogs there talked to the Chief like a real star celebrity: “Master Chief, over here! To the right, Master Chief!” You watch … he’ll be rocking the ice on the battlefield in no time.

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I just noticed that he was standing next to a Wii banner — just now. That wasn’t planned. But I see some humor in it — two different worlds of gaming right there.

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The fresh face in the middle there is Zac Efron, the “it” kid who starred in “High School Musical.” And yes, I just looked that up. Efron is apparently a very skilled Halo player, and he showed up to sell the first copy of “Halo 3″ to the first person in line. We (the media) got cleared out of the room for a chunk of time so Efron could get in some game time and mill around with the developers. They let us back in for a few minutes before the sale was about to happen.

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Check out the new “Halo 3″ Xbox 360. Looks pretty cool, and there were some people who wanted to pick this up along with the game. I wish I had that kind of money to drop. If only it game with the shield system like the Spartan armor. If this gets the red rings, is it a sign?

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Overshadowing the 360 was the controller, which I couldn’t stop looking at. Props to the artist. If I were a big “Halo” fan, I’d think about getting one of these.

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Wow. That’s a lot of cameras on one sale. Flanking young Zac is Kevin Frazier of “Entertainment Tonight” and the really cheerful GameStop employee who seemed to be taught by the same happiness sensei as Kristin Holt. Efron didn’t actually ring the dude up, but he did give him a signed poster.

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That’s Brubaker (tourney winner and first guy in line) on the left for the obligatory “exchange” shot. I even remember saying, “Fellas, over here” at one point. It felt wrong, all wrong. This is the shot that practically ended my night, and I walked out to a line that was at least a few hundred strong, all chanting “Halo 3! Halo 3!” Someone asked me how long I thought it would take for everyone to be processed. I guessed at least an hour and a half. At this point, what’s the rush? It’s not like he wasn’t going to play it all night.

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This guy was so pumped. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I got the game on Saturday : )