Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Zero Hour, work, and the fact there's no "i" in WldCard

Well, I'm back from the 360 Zero hour Launch event. It was an adventure, to say the least. By all rights, I should be curled up in a bed still, catching up on some sorely lacking sleep ... but I'm an insomniac by nature. So, how did things go? Here are some highlights:
  • The Road Trip to Zero Hour
    Pete and I took off from Vegas about 2:00p (Note: All times are in PST for this, even though I'm an East Coast boy). We figured that would put us getting into Palmdale before 6:00p, and since the event didn't open til 7:00p, we'd be set. Of course, the gods of traffic had other ideas. At two different points on I-15 South, we hit some major traffic due to accidents. Oddly enough, both were cleared away by the time we got to them. In fact, the only proof we had that there WAS an accident was the ambulance that sped down the emergency lane, and the small scattering of glass and such. Once we finally got close to Palmdale (the location of Zero Hour), we were trying to figure out if we were still heading the right direction, when like a sign from above, a bright green beacon shot off in the distance. Zero Hour had just started, and the hangar was lit up in a mass of neon green light. So, like sailors chasing the North Star, we plotted our course and made landfall around 7:15 or so ...

  • Tagged and Released ... Over and Over Again
    One tip for the minds behind Zero Hour ... plan out your access just a little better. I checked into Zero Hour at the Media Check-In area, and was surprised to find out that just fifteen minutes into the show, they had completely run out of Media badges. As a backup plan, they started giving out Crew badges instead. For the most part, this worked out fine ... but there were snags. Mainly, every time there was something set up for attendees, I had to keep explaining that I was press and not part of the event crew. Plus, people kept stopping me to ask where things were taking place and such.

    Then there was the problem with occasional security guard who was trying to deny access to the VIP/Press lounge to those of us with Crew badges (after the first night of getting in w/ no problems). I'd even brought one of the guys from Edleman (the PR firm coordinating the event) with me to verify me as press, and they STILL wouldn't let me in. So, Charlie decided to fix that problem real quick by slapping a green VIP wristband on me, giving me full access again. I saw some of the other press guys got fixed up as well, so things seemed to work out and the issues with passes seemed over, right? Not so fast.

    Apparently, the standard issue white wristband (general entry), was the key factor in identifying who was eligible to buy a 360 at Zero Hour. VIP's were assumed to have already won one of the consoles. Now, I'd already registered to attend Zero Hour prior to getting on the Press list, so I was still reserved a time to buy a 360 system ... but without that white wristband, I couldn't get to the registers to pay for it. So, it was time for another walk ... talked with Charlie again, and ended up taking off the VIP wristband, checking in outside like I just showed up at the event, got my white wristband, and then had to get ANOTHER writband (orange this time) to allow access to the lounge again.

    In an ironic twist, at about 5:00p on Monday, Microsoft announce that it was going to allow EVERYONE to hit the registers and buy a system ... whether you had a white wristband or not. So, I ended up jumping through a lot of unneccessary hoops ... though as they say, it's better to be safe than sorry. Besides, it wasn't just me I was looking out for. Pete had cancelled his 360 pre-order at EBGames because we were supposed to be able to buy the 360 at the show. So if he couldn't get HIS system, he'd have been screwed royally.

  • "Sleep"? What is this "sleep" of which you speak?
    By about 3:00a or so, some areas of Zero Hour looked a lot like Jonestown. Bodies were lying all over the place, as people started to feel the effects of a 29+ hour event. Bean bags were strewn about all as people trying to create makeshift beds. Still, some gamers were toughing it out, as the various gaming stations were generally full throughout the event. The early morning hours weren't quite so crowded, as some of the attendees had obviously decided to bail out to nearby hotels in exchage for a comfortable bed. Me? I toughed it out witha quick 30 minute nap in the lounge. Meanwhile, Pete found himself a couch and crashed for about 3 hours or so. This sleep schedule would come back to haunt us later.

  • The Presentations
    All throughout the event, publishers had presentations going on at the main stage area. For the most part, these were demos of games due out at launch, along with some footage of a few new games. Tecmo ran some DOA 4 tournaments, Activision had some Call of Duty 2 multiplayer action going on, and Rare gave players a chance to win a copy of Perfect Dark Zero by battling it out in Deathmatch.

    Microsoft ran some demos showing the advantages of the Xbox Live Gold memberships, and what the 360 can do online, not only as a gaming system, but also as an entertainment device. Microsoft even incorporated some of the new multimedia features into the games. One key feature for those of you out there that like your custom Xbox soundtracks (Shane), the 360 can stream music from your portable audio player or PC straight into the game you're playing. The 360 uses a seperate audio channel for this as well, meaning that your soundtrack doesn't impact the sound effects and voiceovers in the games you're playing. Instead, it simply replaces the music of the game you're playing. So, there's no need to turn down the TV and listen to your tunes ... you can have the best of both worlds. There were also demos run on how to use a Media Center equipped PC, the 360, and your home entertainment center to create a pretty amazing entertainment package.

    The biggest highlight of the show had to be the Gears of War demo. I swear that the more and more I see of this game, the more amazed I am. Gears of War is shaping up to be for the 360 what Halo was for the original Xbox. There are really no words that can describe just how damned good this game looks, sounds, and plays ... that's right ... plays. Everything that Epic showed off at Zero Hour for Gears of War was realtime. As Cliffy B said, "No prerendered bullshit." I'm really looking forward to getting my hannds on this one.

  • The Goodies
    What show would be complete without some exclusive goodies for people in attendance. There were Zero Hour hoodies from Adiddas, T-shirts for just about every game at the show, hats, keychains, wristbands, calendars, and more. For Live subscribers, there were exclusive Gamer Profile pictures to use on your account (as you can see here, I'm using one now on my Gamercard), as well as an exclusive Zero Hour Achievement to show off to friends. Also, attendees got to sign up for an exclusive Zero Hour faceplate, which will be sent out to everyone who signed up. As we all know by now, I love the little goodies like this. I even grabbed some stuff to give away as part of the swag bag.

  • The Games
    You didn't think I'd skip THIS part, did you? Besides the demos put on by publishers, Zero Hour had a huge number of gaming stations set up running all of the 360's launch titles, as well as preview builds of some games coming down the pipe. I got to play some Final Fantasy XII on the 360, and it looks like its shaping up nicely. According to the Square-Enix rep at the show, the game still has a few minor bugs to workout, but should be hitting shelves early next year (hopefully by Spring). There was Ninety-Nine Nights. This game plays a lot like Kingdom Under Fire or Dynasty Warriors, with the player taking part in an epic fight on a hugely populated battlefield. On the 360 though, huge batles take on a hole new meaning. Hundreds of characters swarm you on the screen simultaneously as you cut a path through them all. The visuals are quite impressive so far, but even more impressive is that even in this early build, the framerate never once drops. And if killing trolls and such isn't to your liking, how about killing hordes of zombies? Capcom's upcoming 360 title puts the player in the role of a journalist trapped in a town infected by the undead. There's not a lot of thought in this game ... simply you, a weapon, and hundreds upon hundreds of undead to pound into oblivion before they turn you into lunchmeat. It's brutal, it's gory, it's mindless, and it's a hell of a lot of fun. I'm constantly impressed by not only the technical capabilites of the 360, but also in how publishers use it.

  • There's STILL no "i" in WldCard
    It seems like no matter how often people see my nickname, or how many times I tell people, or how many emails or IM's we send back and forth, I'll never make anyone remember that WldCard is spelled with no "i" in my nickname. Hey, it's what sets me apart. For Zero Hour, MS took down the Gamertags of a bunch of gamers and added them to a massive mural it's putting together. I ended up finding my tag written (fairly large as well) on the mural ... but with the damned "i" in the name. What makes it even funnier is that you can see the person who painted it added the "i" after the fact, apparently thinking she had misspelled it the first time ... even though *I* am the one who worte it ... in print. And for those of you who have seen my handwriting, you know that it's easily read and recognized. Oh well, I guess on the upside, that will cut back on the number of unsolicited Friend Requests on Xbox Live.

  • The Units Arrive!!
    After a quick concert by Louis XIV,a clock started counting down from 360 seconds. As soon as the ticker hit Zero, out rolled a motorcade of Best Buys trucks, packed to the brim with 360 units. Pete and I were already in line to pick ours up with Scot Rubin (of All Games Network and formerly of G4). Scot and I were discussing some work stuff during the concert. Once those trucks opened up though, it was all about getting the 360 and getting the hell out of Dodge. I'll give security a lot of credit. They managed to keep everyone from rushing the line and jumping ahead of others (though a few managed to squeak by). The line moved fairly quickly as we all picked up our systems. Pete and I were out the door less than 15 minutes after the line started moving at 9:00p. Technically the even was going to continue on until 12:01a ... but after all we'd already done, we were ready to get out, get back to Pete's place in Vegas, and get some well-earned sleep. So, w/ 360s in hand, we made a beeline for the car, hopped in, and hit the road. Which leads us to ...

  • The Trip FROM Zero Hour
    As happy as we were to see that green hanger lit up in front of us on the way TO zero Hour, Pete and I were at least as happy to see that same building in the rear view mirror leaving FROM Zero Hour. The lack of sleep was racking our bodies. My muscles ached, my eyes burned, and my knee was killing me. I'd already been dealing with jetlag from the flight out, but I'd also done the entirety of the event (the flight out on Saturday, the five hour drive on Sunday, and the 29 hour Zero hour event itself) on a total of five hours' sleep (four on Satuday night and one during Zero Hour). Pete wasn't doing much better either. The directions out of the Palmdale were screwed up, we were tired, and with a four hour trip ahead of us (assuming we didn't run into traffic again) we knew there was no way in hell we'd make it back to Vegas in a straight shot. We alternated driving and made it to the first available rest area, where we crashed for about an hour and a half. Fat lot of good that did ... it only made us more tired. Still Pete tried to tough it out a little further until finally we got to the next rest area and switched off. I managed to take us the rest of the way into Vegas, and gave Pete the wheel to get back to his place.
So today? Today is all about recovery. Once everything settles in, I'll have more to post.

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