In our lives we go through a plethora of memorable experiences. We live out different moments in time that ultimately define who we are. I like to think that these moments are often bookended by particular milestones that resonate within us for the rest of our lives, specific instances where we can remember every detail vividly because that moment was just so impactful. Today, I want to talk about one of these milestones, because every time I do it takes me back and makes the nostalgia I carry almost feel real again if but for a brief moment. Let me take you back to 2006, a very important year when the gaming industry was starting to heat up with the launch of the first HD consoles and the beginning of a new generation. It was an exciting time for multiple reasons, but most importantly it was exciting for one specific video game, that game was Halo 3.
I had spent the majority of my free time in 2006 browsing the web, pouring over video game magazines and saving my money for what I thought would be one of the greatest moments in my gaming history. That’s right, I was going to buy a Wii at launch. Not the direction most probably thought this was heading but that’s where my head was at the time. Nintendo had managed to captivate me just like it had everyone else with it’s revolutionary motion sensing waggle technology. Sure, the Xbox 360 and PS3 were now in HD but Nintendo was making waves because they were going to change the very way we play games. At the time I thought I was all for it. As it got closer to the fall when the Nintendo Wii was going to launch, I had convinced my parents through the outpour of my enthusiasm that even if I wasn’t able to get the funds together to pay for a Wii they would help me out to assure I had my console on release day. I had it all planned out, I was going to get the Wii with a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Excite truck. It was going to be glorious. Everything was going according to plan and my hype level was at what I thought was an all time high, until something catastrophic happened. The worst thing that could possibly happen to Nintendo’s absurdity that they had managed to lock down my three hundred plus dollars (not that it mattered, the system was sold out for over a year at the time due to high demand, and also went on to become one of the best selling consoles of all time) my friend Kyle called me to tell me that the trailer for Halo 3 just dropped. Halo 3? There’s going to be a HALO 3!?! I immediately dropped everything I was doing and ran to the nearest gaming site to watch the trailer to a game I hadn’t known was going to exist just moments prior.
Two seconds into the beginning of the trailer I hear just the single drop of a piano key. Just like that I am back in the Halo universe. Do you know what I mean? That’s just how Halo music was. You heard even the slightest modicum of that stellar score, and it sucked you right into the world. I’m pretty sure Marty O’ Donnel’s gotta have the biggest head on the planet by the way I and the rest of the industry continues to prop him up, but I don’t care. The man is a damn legend. I continued to watch as the camera panned back and I started to see the slightest flash of what we all knew was Cortana. Relatively nothing had been shown at this point and the company had already secured my $60, the hype was just astounding. “I have defied God’s and demons” Cortana says as the trailer continues to pan backward. Let’s be honest, I don’t think most of us even knew what Cortana meant by the things she said at the time but did it really matter? It was freakin’ Halo and that made it badass. Soon the camera comes back far enough to bring us through a cloud of smoke that manages to fade in and out until suddenly the Master Chief appears in all his HD glory. It was a giddy nerd moment seeing my favorite alien slaying two ton tank of a man walk out of that smoke and gaze off into the distance of what we eventually came to find out was the burial place of the portal to the Ark. We had arrived, this was it. Halo 3 was actually coming out. I finished watching the rest of the trailer as the score kicked in, the visuals picked up and words “Finish the Fight” eventually flashed across the screen. I had no words, this was going to be the single greatest moment of my life.
If you’re wondering why I even bothered to ramble about my interest in the Nintendo Wii at the beginning of this post let me say that it was for context. Context to give perspective on just how hyped I was for Halo 3. I told my parents right after watching that trailer that I didn’t want the Wii anymore. The Wii was only a few months away from launch and Halo 3 was over a year out but I didn’t care. The hype surrounding the announcement of Halo 3 was so high that not only could I not find the interest I had just had moments ago for a Nintendo product but I wanted to make sure I started NOW in my quest to save enough money to afford the much more expensive Xbox 360 and a copy of Halo 3. So began the long wait.
“I just wanted to hear people talk about Halo 3.”
Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months as I continued to watch the announcement trailer over and over again. I tried to find every video gaming magazine I possibly could that had any details on Halo 3. I didn’t even mind if they weren’t new details. I was so excited I was more than happy to read a different magazine talk about the same details just to foster the hype that I carried. I just wanted to hear people talk about Halo 3. Fast forward to the next year, the year that Halo 3 was launching. I did not manage to have an Xbox 360 in time for the Halo 3 beta. This may sound disappointing, but truth be told I was so used to my family having poor internet or no internet that I didn’t really find the prospect of being able to play Halo 3 online realistic at the time. Plus, most of my hype was centered around seeing how the story unfolded and getting to actually finish that fight. Not long after the beta released, I managed to be able to work with my grandfather over the summer to earn some real cash. I used this money to buy my first white Xbox 360 with a 20GB hard drive. I didn’t have the money to buy a game with it but I still had my copy of Halo 2. Just being able to play that on the new hardware was satisfying enough, plus Halo 3 was now roughly two months away from launching and it was really the only reason I cared about owning a Microsoft console to begin with. This did eventually change when I picked up the first Gears of War and fell in love with that series, but that is a story for another time.
My brother and I played Halo 2 co-op through the campaign on my Xbox 360 as we giggled at the excitement of playing on a next gen console while conversing about what life was going to be like once Halo 3 was here. We had watched the several different trailers as well as beta footage basically on repeat. Of course, one of the standouts of this marketing material was the famous “believe” ads that captivated us all. When I watch that trailer today, it still gives me chills. The hype just increased as every new trailer, ad campaign and article continued to prop up the event that was the conclusion to this great trilogy of games. Soon I noticed there was even a new mountain dew flavor themed after Halo 3. Mountain Dew Game Fuel was an incredibly smart marketing tool that tasted great and eventually went on to be used to market other video games years later. It was a no brainer now that my brother and I had to have hordes of this beverage present at our sides when we booted up that sweet Halo 3 campaign for the first time.
I had just moved to a new school months before Halo 3 launched and it proved to be a very effective tool at not only meeting new friends but gauging the cultural significance of Halo. You see, since I was new to this school and the town I was in I didn’t know any of these kids. That didn’t stop me from overhearing literally everyone talk about Halo 3. I couldn’t believe it, everywhere I went it seemed as if Halo 3 was dominating the conversation. It’s how I met one of my oldest friends Justin in that very same year. I really didn’t have much gumption to try and get to know anybody, but I couldn’t resist when I saw him standing outside by the bus stop gripping a worn copy of The Fall of Reach in his right hand. I’m so glad I approached him because we went on to become great friends and built many memories around our love of Halo among other things.
It was finally upon us, the launch of Halo 3. In what seemed like a lifetime I had finally managed to ride the hype train all the way to Halo 3’s front door and I was ready to knock. The plans were all set. My copy of the game was reserved at a nearby GameStop and my parents had been filled in to what the day’s festivities would look like. They would take my brother and I to the store at 8 PM to start our long wait until midnight to get our copy, then they would drive us home and call us in sick to school the next day. As a side note, I’d like to say that even now over a decade later I still have mad respect for my parents for giving my brother and I the day off school. I know a video game seems like the worst reason in the world to skip out on your child’s education but that’s not how they looked at it. My parents saw the passion we had for this game, they wanted to honor that passion and let us experience it in the way it was intended to be experienced, free of obligation. I’ll always thank them for that.
It was a long day at school, I couldn’t wait to get home and set up what would be the premiere gaming area for my brother and I. I would make sure all the furniture was placed in exactly the right position with proper areas for snacks and of course our two twelve packs of Halo 3 game fuel. As you can imagine, I had everything ready some five hours before we even left for the store. At least I take solace in knowing that we hadn’t gone to wait in line at 8 AM in the morning like my friend Justin did. The poor guy swore you wouldn’t be able to get a copy if you didn’t wait in line for at least twelve hours…boy was he wrong. The moment was upon us, my mother took us to the store and we waited outside anxiously. We were one of the first five people there. For a moment it looked like maybe we had overhyped the event as no one else started showing up till closer to eleven but when they did it became quite clear to my parents that I knew what I was talking about. The line was wrapped all the way around the building, fans were cheering, and the staff was giving away free merch. Midnight hit, it was time to get my copy of Halo 3.
The game was in my hands, I could hardly believe it, My brother and I salivated over the front and the back of the case as we held a mutual distaste for the fact that my mother was driving the speed limit. This is Halo 3 mom, don’t you understand it’s absolutely essential we are home as soon as humanly possible? I still chuckle at this mentality because it’s so ridiculous. Though, that’s hardly as ridiculous as what was to follow. When we got home with the game I told my brother I was going to take a shower first, which nearly blew his mind. How in the world could you take a shower when we just got Halo 3? I don’t really understand what I was thinking, but I do know this…I used a special kind of hemp shampoo that night and because of it, to this day whenever I smell anything hemp related my mind is immediately filled with memories of Halo 3.
I can still remember my dad standing there in his underwear waiting to see what this game was all about before he went to bed. On the one hand I don’t think he ever really got what the appeal was, but on the other, the simple fact that my dad was up till almost one in the morning to see what was going on told you just how big this game really was. I mean heck, it was populating the mainstream news channels as Halo 3 had reached national recognition. Rumor had it that movie theatres were expected to lose over twenty percent of their revenue that weekend due to Halo’s influence.
Of course I stayed up the entire night playing Halo 3 from beginning to the very end because I just couldn’t fathom going to sleep without seeing how it all ended. It was a night I’ll never forget. There is so much I could say about the experience of playing Halo 3 but I want to do that justice in an eventual blog post of it’s own. I was happy with the way the game turned out. I had finished the fight September 25th, 2007, the hype had finally run it’s course. What a ride it was.
“It was as if the whole world had taken a collective deep breath in anticipation, not exhaling until a copy of the game was in their hands.”
I think it’s important to conclude by saying that Halo 3 wasn’t just the release of a video game, it was a major life event. There was just something so different about this particular game. It was as if the whole world had taken a collective deep breath in anticipation, not exhaling until a copy of the game was in their hands. It’s a shame that I’ll never be able to properly convey what that time felt like to people who weren’t there to experience it but I imagine those of us that do remember will cherish the memories forever. What was it about this game? It was so much more. A time when the industry was gaining more mainstream popularity and games that had a cinematic-like experience were few and far between. I’m so thankful for this time in my life. It helped me to build long lasting friendships and it’s the fuel my passion for gaming is still running on today. Halo 3 also taught me one of the harsh realities of life in that there comes a point where something can be so built up that your expectations are impossible to meet. That’s what makes the game even more special, it happened during a time in my life where my naivety thought something as simple as a video game could fulfill all the happiness I would ever need. It may have been an immature outlook at the time but it was quite a lot of fun while it lasted. To sum up my closing thoughts, Halo 3 was remarkable. You might say it was the music, the characters or the time in which it was released but somehow I think it was all of those things combined. It would be better described as a lightning in a bottle moment. One I’ll never forget.