COEUR d’ALENE — Near the 16thhour of Lynn Anderson’s embedded adventure, the tension in the air was palpable as the finish line neared for the midnight release of Halo 3, one of the most-hyped video games in history.
Throngs of gamers numbering into the hundreds queued in a line Monday night starting with Anderson at GameStop in Coeur d’Alene’s Silver Lake Mall. It snaked around to the food court, where stands remained open as a gesture to the crowd.
The 20-year-old Anderson’s day started at 7 a.m., which was early enough to secure the front-row seat as the countdown began. Young and old, couples hand-in-hand, Halo 3-editions of Mountain Dew flowing; a jubilant vibe permeated the crowd.
In Coeur d’Alene, as in stores nationwide, the masses gathered for one reason — to, as the heavily marketed title’s tagline proclaims, “finish the fight.”
“I requested three days off in a row from work for it,” Anderson said. “I’ve been a fan ever since the first one.”
In the Xbox 360 game, the third installment of Bungie Studio’s hallmark trilogy and first for Microsoft’s next-generation system, players take control of the super-soldier Master Chief in an intergalactic war that pits the chief as Earth’s last defense against an invading alien armada. The title, which includes both off-line and online play, is widely expected to be the top-selling video game of the year.
Retail prices range from $60, for basic editions, to $130 for copies with accessories. Halo 2, released in 2004, grossed $125 million in the first 24 hours of its release. With pre-orders numbered into the millions, novels, and a variety of game gear on the market, Halo 3 is Microsoft’s key constituent in its console war with Sony’s Playstation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii.
But for this North Idaho fan base, it boiled down to finally finishing a story arc that’s spanned nearly six years and two console systems.
Across town at the entertainment retailer Hastings, about 20 gamers milled around the cashier stands, chatting all-things Halo and devouring free pizza provided by the store. “The hard-core gamers are here,” said Daniel Kasza, the store manager. “This is the most anticipated game I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been here almost 20 years.”
Bill Hanebuth hung back from the younger pack. At 58, he remembers simpler technological times, such as the early 1980s when the Atari 5200 helped kick-start the console evolution. He doesn’t fit the typical gamer profile, but is nonetheless a Halo fan, ready to take on the alien race called the Covenant to save humanity … with the help of his grandkids.
“It’s just something to have fun with, try to keep me young I guess,” Hanebuth said. As for what his grandkids, who range in age from 2 to 19, think of his gaming habit, he said, “They think I’m cool, they find it hard to believe I do play.
“And sometimes I’m even better than they are.”