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The Xbox Halo 3 Community Lock-In Event, September 24, 2007

Close the Door! On Sunday, September 23, a small group of bloggers and gamers gathered in Seattle for an event coordinated by the Xbox PR team. It was called 'Community Lock-in', and that name describes pretty well what happened; we were brought into a building on the Microsoft Millenium campus, and effectively locked in for 12 hours, to play Halo 3. Attendees were from Xbox community sites, from forums, from podcast and internet radio sites. Some had been part of events like this in the past, some were new to the experience. What they all had in common was an ability to connect with gamers.

We all arrived on Sunday (except for the Seattle locals, of course). A number of us met in the airport, and worked out rides to the hotel. (I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Viscious696 for the sumptuous digs in the capacious trunk of his rented SUV.) We settled in on our own until 8 pm, when we met in the bar of the hotel most of us were staying at for drinks, appetizers, and conversation. (And butter balls - lots and lots of butter balls. For some reason, every single time something was brought to a table, it arrived with a dish containing a couple of dozen balls of butter (the sort you get in fancy restaurants for putting on your bread). There are pictures out there somewhere - a number of people had cameras - but I'll just say that after the 8th or 10th bowl of butter balls, we began to wonder what, exactly, they were expecting us to do with all this butter. The alcohol was flowing freely (also paid for by Microsoft), so maybe the butter balls were simply an attempt by the bar staff to see how far we'd go for a laugh...)

We met Chris Paladino and Tony Hynes, the organizers of this event, as well as our fellow attendees; it was a nice icebreaker. It gave the next morning more of a feeling of cameraderie as we trooped off the bus that took us to Microsoft from the hotel, that's for sure.

We were split into a pair of conference rooms, each with 8 stations. (There were seventeen of us, so one of the stations had a gigantic screen that could be used by a pair of people - but for the majority of us, it was one player to a screen.) We spent the morning playing Campaign - some struck out on their own, others teamed up for some coop action. I teamed up with MechAngel, from Gamerchix, and Knuckles Dawson, from Xbox 360 Fanboy, and we set off to kick some Covenant butt on Heroic. Even with 3 players doing the fighting, our group got through less than half the game in 3 hours.

They fed us tremendously well - I'd weigh 400 pounds in very short order if I ate like this on a regular basis. (Good food, too, not junk.) Plenty to drink, too, including (of course) Halo 3 Game Fuel. (I haven't had a chance to find this in my local area yet, so this was my first experience with it... and I must say, one can was more than enough. Tasted a lot like cough syrup to me.)

After lunch, we switched to multiplayer. A Microsoft employee took care of gametype setup; we just played. We tried out some stock gametypes, but mostly played slightly odder variants - Gravity Hammer slayer on Narrows, 1-flag CTF on Snowbound with Rocket Launchers, Last Resort CTF with an invisible flag carrier, that sort of thing. Some of the participants had played very little Halo before, while others were long-time enthusiasts. Teams were mixed up after almost every match, and while games were hotly contested, nobody was really keeping score. (Player names were set by the console - Elite 1, Brute 2, Spartan 07, etc - so you didn't really even know who you were fighting most of the time.) There was plenty of trash talk - but it was totally good-natured, and focused on team performance rather than individual faults. In discussions after the session, a surprising number of players suggested that this was the most fun they'd had playing Halo multiplayer - ever. I've played a bunch of Halo multiplayer - system link in Halo, both online and LAN for Halo 2 - and I'd agree, the sessions during the Lock-in were inordinately enjoyable. Part of it was certainly the friendly atmosphere of the play session, but part of it is that Bungie has NAILED the fun factor in this one. Weapons are tweaked since the beta, and (although I'm sure there was SOMETHING I didn't like) I can't think of any weapons I didn't enjoy using. Maps are fantastic - the three we played in the beta have been complemented with eight new ones, and although I didn't play on all of them enough to really get a feel for all strategies, there weren't any that I didn't enjoy playing on. I'm going to LOVE exploring Construct more carefully; it's got so many levels, and routes from point a to point b, that it seemed easy to get lost on, at first - but the encounter spaces were really fun. Oddball on Narrows is FANTASTIC.

Late in the afternoon, we took a break to explore Forge - and the potential seems vast. Build your world, your way. Granted, we did a lot of blowing stuff up... but apparently, that's pretty much the first thing anybody does in Forge. Looking beyond that shows a nearly limitless vista in what you can create. A couple of guys were playing rocket baseball, and that looked REALLY fun - even with a Hornet firing heat-seeking missiles at the batter, just to be annoying.

At a bit before nine, we bundled up all our stuff (they gave us a lot of stuff) and piled back onto the bus to head to the Best Buy in Bellevue, to give away schwag to the crowd waiting for launch and just interact with people. (I didn't get on this bus - I cheated and ran over to Bungie Studios to spend a couple of hours at their ridiculously lavish launch party, because doing shots of buttery nipples chilled in an ice run seemed like an activity I simply shouldn't pass up... but Bungie, too, climbed on busses soon afterwards and headed to the same location, so I met back up with the crew well before the doors opened.)

All in all, this was a really enjoyable way to spend the pre-launch day, and for a lot of the attendees, especially the not-so-hardcore Halo fans, this was a really positive introduction to Halo 3 and its enticements. As a social activity, Halo 3 is a heck of a lot of fun - whether or not you spend 4 hours a day playing it. Many thanks to the Xbox Community Team for the invite, and to Bungie for creating a game worth promoting like this!

Gettin' Off the Bus
Getting off the bus at Microsoft