Y O U
A R E
H E R
Strange symbols, but very appropriate in terms of the Hex 168 contest and its winners who drove or flew all the way out to the California desert. Completing my drive out to Palmdale, I am greeted by the above sign (reading "You are here" in hex code) and more security than you could find defending Fort Knox. Twenty years ago, this location was used by Lockheed amd was among the most guarded and important secrets in our Cold War arsenal. Today, the secrecy remains, only this time, it defends Microsoft's next-gen console, the Xbox 360.
The winners of Hex 168 had many names, both official and unofficial, for this event. Regardless of what you called it, the event left smiles on everybody's faces. One can only hope that Sony has something big planned for their PS3 launch, as Microsoft's Zero Hour has to be one of the coolest launches to date. With one of the strongest starting lineups in gaming history, the Zero Hour event was a phenomenal success with both fans and press alike.
Things kicked off promptly at 7 p.m. on Sunday night. The temperature outside was freezing, even by Green Bay Packer standards. Hangar 703 could be seen a mile a away, as it was bathed in an eerie green light, and the inside was lit much the same way. A huge Cold War-style aviation hangar, the metal siding and rafters made the place look like a Borg Cube. Bathed in a monochromatic green and yellow pattern, the event made you almost feel as if you were <i>IN</i> an Xbox.
Events – Sunday kicked off with a very laid-back speech from Microsoft's own Jay Allard. This was followed by Cliff "CliffyB" Blezinksi from Epic Games, who showed off next year's Gears of War and invited many of the attendees on stage to actually play it. In a style that only he can bring, he got the crowd pumped up for the rest of the event. Todd Hollenshead of id Software got on stage next, and without delay, he got the gamers into the first-ever Quake 4 tournament for the Xbox 360. The winner was awarded his very own X360 and bestowed the title of "First Ever Quake 4 Champion on the '360." Members of the Dead or Alive 4 team batted next and held their own tournament, giving out free swag to all in attendance. Gamers played launch titles into the wee hours of the morning, and after midnight, it felt very much like a LAN party, only much cooler! Monday started off early with some outdoor events. The most notable was a five-foot tall foosball table that was so big that each paddle required one person to control it. Deejays were spinning the whole time, playing everything from Depeche Mode to Jay-Z. The event closed with Louis XIV, a San-Diego based rock band.
The Line – As most of you know, this event was to provide the most loyal Xbox fans with the chance to purchase an X360 on site. Best Buy set up shop inside the hangar, and the line got off to a modest start, with 20 or 30 people lining up around 3 a.m. Monday morning. Those in line sat comfortably in queue with bean bags, compliments of Microsoft. Slowly growing in size, the line reached the far end of Hangar 703 by 7 a.m.. By 10 a.m., the line was well out the door and still growing, but fortunately by this time, the Best Buy staff had opened up shop and started selling '360s.
Accommodations – Although there were a number of nearby hotels & motels for gamers to go to, most were satisfied with the complimentary bean bags. As it turns out, most of the hotels were empty. If you were looking for the gamers, chances were that they were sleeping on the hangar floor with two or more beanbags as a bed. In keeping with the LAN feel of the event, a great many fell asleep by the main stage watching Akira and Appleseed. Press and VIPs were allowed into a smaller area, with a nice lounge that actually had beds. A few slept, but I found myself wanting to play more games and meet others. I didn't sleep a wink and kept walking around and met some really interesting people. Perfect Dark Zero Deathmatch was played almost non-stop the whole night.
Closing thoughts – Zero Hour was a great event with very positive results for fans and press alike; I didn't see one unhappy person there. The only crowd was the line to buy a pre-ordered Xbox 360, but the rest of the time, there was little to no wait to get on a system. Microsoft was sure not to pack too many people in so that unlike events like E3, where it's difficult to even walk 10 feet, Zero Hour wasn't gridlocked. Food and drink were plentiful, and the music was mixed and appealed to a wide selection of listeners. The outdoor events on Monday were so entertaining that they actually got nerds like me outside (in daylight!). The best way to describe Zero Hour was a cross between E3 and a LAN party, like QuakeCon. It had much of the glitz and polish of a major event, but with plenty of game consoles for all to enjoy. Afterhours, it definitely had the vibe of a LAN event, with movies, snacks, even more games and music. At first, I had my doubts about Microsoft selling the X360 on site, but those concerns were abated when I saw the sheer number of people buying them. As far as launches go, I can only hope that this has been the most successful to date. Looks like Nintendo and Sony have some catching up to do!