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Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*
Posted By: StuntmuttDate: 9/5/04 1:15 a.m.

My alarm didn’t go off yesterday morning. Bloody Casio. Not to worry, I woke up early anyway. By early, I mean really early. What we British affectionately refer to as ‘sparrow fart’. My eyes were still half closed as I stumbled up to an East London bus stop. Presently, a red double decker rounded the corner and squealed to a halt in front of me. The bus’s destination read Stratford. This morning, it was actually going to take me to Zanzibar.

The Docklands Light Railway is a cute affair. It’s a bit like a Tube train except it runs overground and has big, open carriages. To my mind it’s reminiscent of a theme park ride. Albeit a theme park of redeveloped urban wasteland and various monstrous edifices that have never quite managed to attract the businesses they were built to house. The Millennium Dome shuffled past apologetically. A massive space no-one really knew how to fill that people wandered round, scratched their heads and shrugged about. Pay attention. I’ll be coming back to this later.

The next stop was Canning Town. Various young men shambled on to the train. The aforementioned young gentlemen had a similar caste to them. They were pale, wan creatures with wide eyes and earnest expressions. Gamers. The carriage was half full of ‘em. It was safe to assume they were heading where I was heading, the ExCel exhibition centre. It was home to a gaming expo called Gamestars. Which in turn was home to a playable demo of Halo 2. The expo didn’t even open for a good hour and a half yet, but still there were quite a few of us keen to get there ahead of time, keen to beat the queues. I noticed one chap with his back to me had a symbol on his shirt that I recognised. I’d seen it somewhere before. Ah yes. It lives in the bottom left hand corner of the HBO front page.

I got up and wandered down the carriage. Now I not only recognised the logo, but also the tall, young man standing opposite the guy wearing it. I walked up to them and smiled. There were four gentlemen in this group. They lookd at me then look away again. It was a bit uncomfortable for them; I was in their space. My grin broadened. The young man in the HBO shirt looked at me, looked away quickly, then looked at me again. Suddenly, he smiled as realisation dawned. A bloke in a shabby black jacket who appeared to be staring at him was the bloke he was supposed to be meeting at the venue in about ten minutes’ time. Me.

Three of us had talked at great length on many occasions via e-mail or irc. I felt we actually knew quite a bit about each other even though we’d never met before. But we only really knew each other by our online nicknames. In the shirt was c0ld Vengeance. The tall guy opposite was Boll. All of a sudden, calling each other c0ld, Boll and Stunt seemed rather silly. Yet bringing myself to say our real names felt rather odd too.
“Ross? Andreas? I’m Jason.”

Smiles and handshakes were exchanged. I was introduced to Ross’s friend John and Andreas’s cousin Johan. Ross and I made small talk about modes of transport, how we got here, how amusing it was we ended up on the same train and so on. That took us nicely up to Custom House and our destination. ExCel. We headed up the stairs and off towards the venue itself. Ross nudged me and pointed out a bar as we passed it on our way to the entrance. A bar. Just outside the expo. Nice one.

We shuffled into the main hall. Ross and John had been here, seen it, done it the previous day. Andreas and Johan had flown in specially for today’s event. And I mean specially. I believe it was actually the first time Andreas had left his own country. Ross pointed out where the queue would start, and that no-one had actually bothered to form one yet, so maybe we should get a coffee. Ross was friendly, outgoing and very easy to get along with. Andreas was very quiet. In fact, he was silent. From many chats online, forum posts and emails, I was expecting a cross between the Muppets’ Swedish Chef and the Tazmanian Devil – hyperactive, crazy, off the wall.

The reality is he’s a serious, thoughtful and quite shy young man. At least, he is when you first meet him. There was a flash of craziness though. Andreas turned round and I suddenly saw the back of his T shirt. In big, heavy-metal lettering it said BOLL.

It was half past eight in the morning now. People started to form up in front of the gates, so we joined behind them. I asked Andreas if he was excited about getting a chance to play Halo 2. He thought for a moment, then replied, “I’m nervous.”
“Why are you nervous?” I asked.
“I’m always nervous.”
One of the reasons Andreas was nervous was that he hadn’t actually got a ticket yet. He’d bought them by credit card and had just been told to pick them up on the day. As yet, there was no way to do so – the ticket booths were empty.
We chatted, read the paper and kicked our heels a bit for thirty odd minutes. Ross, John and I talked about the upcoming England match. Andreas and Johan muttered to each other in Swedish. There were a lot of people behind us now and the place was starting to buzz. Some ladies appeared in the ticket booths so Andreas and Johan hurried off to retrieve tickets. They wandered back a few minutes later with bemused expressions.
“At first she could not find my tickets because she could not spell my surname,” explained Andreas. “I had to write it down for her.”
I felt some sympathy for the lady. I sent Boll a parcel once and writing his name involved a lot more R’s and S’s than I was prepared for. I was halfway through scribbling it when I ran out of envelope.

T-shirted staffers were now passing up and down the length of the queue and handing out flyers. Some were competitions. A lady thrust one at me.
“Win a skateboard,” she said.
I gave her a look. I’m the wrong side of thirty. What the bloody hell would I want with a skateboard? As if to rub it in, Ross chose that moment to inform me that I reminded him of his uncle. Cheers mate. Still, could’ve been worse I suppose. He could’ve said Grandad.

Then, movement. A gentleman in a security uniform ushered us all forward.
“Here we go,” said Ross. But something was not right. We were herded past the set of gates in front of us and towards a second set much further down the corridor. Ross looked concerned.
“The Halo 2 section is back there. We’re on the wrong side.”
All of a sudden, the people who had been way behind us were in our prime spot, and we were miles away from where we wanted to be.
“Right,” said Ross, “when we get in, we run. Don’t worry – most people don’t realise there are two queues for Halo. There’s a second queue round the back. Follow me.”
The gates finally opened and the crowd surged forwards. All semblance of an orderly queue had been replaced by a scramble to push to the front.
We managed to squeeze our way in, and true to his word, Ross set off at a sprint. Andreas had been behind me in the queue and I was worried he might get left behind. I turned to check he was okay, only to see six foot of lanky Swede hurtle past me in a blur. At the recent Olympics, had Andreas been entered for the 200 metres and been told “there’s a Halo 2 demo at the finish line” Sweden would undoubtedly have taken the gold.

I loped after, crossing the floor and darting between the stands. Sure enough, there was already a daunting queue in front of the Halo 2 structure. But Ross’s friend John was frantically waving to us from the other side.

As he and Ross had discovered the previous day, attackers went in one side. But defenders went in the other. A lot of people assumed there was only the one queue. We ran past, rounded the corner and saw just six people in front of us. Within minutes, everyone seemed to wise up and the queue behind us was suddenly enormous.

As we waited, a young lady in a Halo 2 shirt handed out yet more flyers. This time there were Xboxes and Halo stuff to be won. I thought some of the questions were pretty tough. Like “Do you own an Xbox?” and “Do you own a PS2?” etc. To my left, Andreas was ticking boxes like a dervish. We got the impression he owned every piece of computer and console gaming equipment going. But could always make room for more.

After a short wait, and a little wangling, the door opened and the five of us were allowed in as a team.

A female announcer echoed over the tannoy as we formed up in front of our screens.
“This is the E3 build of Halo 2. You will be playing capture the flag on Zanzibar Island. The controls are set to normal, please do not invert them.”
There was much grumbling from all of us. Andreas was standing next to me. He scowled down at the S type controller.
“It’s small,” he said.
So then. A small controller. Set to ‘normal’ view. Ehhhhhhhhh…

And there I was. An Elite on the beach at Zanzibar. Behind me, Ross was already talking tactics, jumping into a Warthog and racing off. I just started to wander round and check things out. I made the Elite look down at its own legs. I threw a grenade to see if it had changed. Indeed, the new animation is very sweet with the restyled frag grenade spinning in a spiral as it’s thrown. I shot the SMG. Not actually at anyone or anything, just to see it and hear it, then reload it and watch the melee animation. This was great fun. So I went off in search of other toys. I found the Battle Rifle propped up against a wall. I zoomed in, zoomed out. Zoomed in, zoomed out. Then I became aware that someone was shooting at me. Oh ho, I thought, take THIS, you blackguard! I jammed down the trigger, and three shots cracked out from my rifle. But just the three. There I stood, with the trigger held down and nothing coming out of my gun barrel. Until there I no longer stood. There I lay. In a heap. So then – Battle Rifle does not equal Assault Rifle. For stream of bullets, use SMG. For repeated fire with a Battle Rifle, keep re-applying trigger. I get it now.

Most of the action seemed to be happening off in the middle of the arena. Looking up at the Big Fan, I saw the Plasma Sword. The Plasma Sword. Let me say it again, the Plasma Sword. Woo Hoo! I decided to try something I’d seen Mr Smiley do on a video. I threw a grenade up into the alcove and sure enough, the sword flew straight out towards me. This was going to be great. This was going to be fantastic. I walked towards the sword and pushed my thumbstick to look down so I could pick it up. Which is how I came to be looking up at the sky when the sword exploded by my feet. Lesson number two.

I found the Plasma Rifle. I actually managed to kill someone with it. I found the needler, and dual wielded it with the SMG for all of about ten seconds before I got killed again. I blew up a couple of fusion cores, just because I could. I was really enjoying myself. Just then, one of the staffers sidled up to me.
“You need to get the flag and bring it back to the beach,” he said.

I could barely stifle my laugh. In that room were five people who eat, breathe and sleep Halo. We dissect every screenshot, every scrap of information, make films, make comics, make flash games out of it. We’re obsessed by it, consumed by it, enslaved by it. And here was some bloke explaining what Capture The Flag was to us.

Admittedly, in my case he could be forgiven. I was getting shot in the back all the time as I wandered round, aimlessly sampling the delights of a melee animation here, a sniper scope zoom there, the fact that I could jump as if on a trampoline.
“Woo hoo,” I yelled, “check out the jump.”
My Elite bounced up and down on the sea wall as a voice behind me wailed “I’m on the beach. I…need some help.”
Poor Ross. He was making a brave stab at actually winning the game. And my actions were somewhat counter productive.

I jumped down to help. Straight into the path of a Warthog. I possibly got a better look at the words ‘Respawn in…’ than anything else during the course of the demo. Don’t all rush to sign me up to your clans at once.

Then, it was over. The middle door opened and we were marched out, as irritating tannoy lady informed us we had been some of the first people in Britain to experience Halo 2.

Standing guard over the exit were two gentlemen in Nightmare Armour replica Spartan outfits. One red, one blue. Ross very excitedly hauled out his digital camera. We lined up with the Spartans as a passerby stepped in to do the honours.
“Get in closer,” he called.
At which point, one of the Spartans put his arm around me and gave a thumbs up. I have no idea why, but I automatically copied his gesture. The flash went off. Great. Me. With a Spartan. Both of us giving a thumbs up. I don’t look like a geeky nerd at all. Whatsoever. My girlfriend must NEVER see that picture.

The queues either side of the Halo structure were now ridiculous. Basically, if we hadn’t got to the venue early, got in so quickly or run to the empty side, we would have been standing round waiting for hours. As it was, we’d played Halo 2 and were just about done by half ten. So then. What next?

We moped around a bit. Andreas got very excited by Burnout 3. He and Ross set it up so that you earn points for crashing in to things. The more stuff you bust up, the higher your score. We all took a little turn. Ross became quite sullen when he pointed out that he’d actually had two bad crashes for real in recent weeks. So my advice would be, if you’re ever Romford way and see a Vauxhall Diesel heading towards you, get off the road. Quickly.

Ross and John had seen everything the day before. Andreas and Johan wanted to wander off and explore for themselves. I took a quick turn around the whole venue. It all seemed a bit half-baked to me. There were motorbikes, tanks and stages that seemed to have been tacked on to game demonstration stations almost as afterthoughts; there were young ladies in branded t-shirts who had all obviously been hired on the strength of two things; there was a bloke MCing on a walkway to no-one in particular. He only managed to drum up any attention by shouting out “goodies time” at which point he offered up handfuls of third party controllers and accessories to a knot of outstretched, grasping hands.

The space was quite big, not quite full, and people were wandering around, scratching their heads and shrugging. See? I told you’d I’d come back to the Millennium Dome.

“There’s only one thing for it,” I said to Ross. “The Eleven Oh One club.”
Eleven O’ Clock is the earliest you can purchase alcohol in most British pubs and bars. So sure enough, John, Ross and I were there at opening time for that all important first beer of the day.

And the second.

And the third.

It was sometime round about then that Andreas and Johan rejoined us. They don’t drink beer, so I got a couple of Coca Colas in and we all sat down and chatted away. Andreas was a bit more lively now. We talked about the origins of our nicknames, stuff we’d seen, what we thought of the demo and so on. I was rather struck by some of Andreas’s facial expressions. In his posts, and on irc, he often types in little smileys that look like this o_O

He really makes those faces. Really really!

More beers and Coca Colas came and went, we talked about HBO (Louis Wu’s ears must have been BURNING in Minnesota) and Andreas mentioned my comic strip. Both he and Ross have done some fantastic One One Se7en strips of their own. But Andreas complained that sometimes he found it hard to get the drawing right. I laughed. The whole point of the cartoon was to make the Master Chief as simple as possible to draw. In fact, the head is made up of about ten simple lines, like a grid. I got a little notebook out and a felt pen, and did a quick scribble.
“There,” I said, “easy.”
When I looked up, to my horror Andreas was fiddling with his digital camera. Issuing from it was my nasal whine, talking ten to the dozen, and a little video of me doing a very, VERY bad drawing.

More beer. More Coca Cola.

A little while later, we decided to go back into Gamestars. Again, Andreas and Johan wandered off on their own. John, Ross and I went to play Fifa 2005. Ross loss to John 4-0. I lost to John 5-0. We then played a ‘Fight Club’ game. Much button mashing later, it became apparent that Ross had invited John along purely so he could kick our arses at any game that took our fancy.

In the middle of the exhibition was an offers outlet – cheap games, preorders, that sort of thing. They had empty cases with dummy Halo 2 covers. Ross’s eyes glazed over.
“I,” he said, “have GOT to have one of these.”
He reasoned that the dummy sleeves would actually be quite the collector’s item after the real game came out. I was interested in the blurb on the back of the sleeve. I jotted it down in my notebook. It mentioned the Covenant coming to Earth and Master Chief being our only hope, but that there would be “…unexpected allies and a secret so incredible it will change the Galaxy for ever.”

Unexpected allies?

When I looked up, Ross was over at the counter, arguing with the manager. I wasn’t quite close enough to hear, but one of Ross’s attempted persuasion techniques was to point at the back of his shirt and try to namedrop “…the number one Halo fansite inna world.” This naturally cut no ice whatsoever, and Ross came away empty handed.

So then we wandered back to the Halo section. By this time, there was no queue at all. Which was great. This was because there was no demo at all, the games having finished for the day, which was not so great. One of the staffers came to shoo us away. Ross began to point at the back of his t-shirt again…

Back at the bar, Andreas and Johan strolled in with bags full of goodies; pens, posters etc. We had a couple more drinks. Ross started to scroll through the photos on his camera.
“Here’s one of you drinking beer. Here’s another one of you drinking beer. And another…”
Hmm. I asked Andreas if he’s had a good day. He smiled and said he had. I hope that was the case. I’m not sure I would have flown to another country for that exhibition. But I’m glad he did, and I’m glad the three of us got to meet in person. For me, the day was as much about that as it was a chance to play five minutes of Halo 2.

Not long after, we said our farewells and exchanged warm, manly handshakes on the railway platform. Earlier in the day, Andreas had said he was always nervous. To be honest, if I had the prospect of a hung over c0ld “Two Crashes” Vengeance driving me to the airport at five o’clock the next morning, I’d be bloody nervous too.

There’s a little epilogue.

At about quarter past seven that evening, I met up with my lady friend and some of her colleagues. I was very polite, well spoken and chatty. Which is how she knew, in all certainty, that I was drunk as a rat. I tend to overcompensate, apparently. Anyhow, there I was doing my best to be eloquent and charming when my watch started beeping away.

So that’s why my alarm didn’t go off in the morning…

Message Index


Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*Stuntmutt 9/5/04 1:15 a.m.
     I don't get itMiguel Chavez 9/5/04 1:28 a.m.
     Re: Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*foxygrandpa117 9/5/04 1:40 a.m.
     Re: Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*djpaddock20 9/5/04 2:04 a.m.
           Re: Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*akba 9/5/04 2:32 a.m.
                 Re: Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*haloplyr 9/6/04 5:10 a.m.
     Excellent Read!MC vince 9/5/04 2:38 a.m.
     Stuntmutt...MikeMan445 9/5/04 2:57 a.m.
           if only gamestars was a few weeks earlier...fludblud 9/5/04 3:12 a.m.
                 Re: if only gamestars was a few weeks earlier...ApoX 9/5/04 6:41 a.m.
           Re: Stuntmutt...Miguel Chavez 9/5/04 9:14 a.m.
                 Re: Stuntmutt...Stuntmutt 9/5/04 9:42 a.m.
                       Is this my cue to swoon?Jillybean 9/5/04 9:53 a.m.
                             Re: Is this my cue to swoon?I don't know what name 9/5/04 9:18 p.m.
                                   I needed my handy Swede translatorJillybean 9/6/04 5:16 a.m.
     So...MereCatfish 9/5/04 5:07 a.m.
     Wow, How Time FliesMintz08 9/5/04 7:04 a.m.
     Heehee, sounds great, great writeup =D *NM*Sarah 9/5/04 7:20 a.m.
     A few picturesc0ld vengeance 9/5/04 8:53 a.m.
           Cool.Saint 9/5/04 9:38 a.m.
           If only I'd been thereJillybean 9/5/04 9:52 a.m.
           Wow...great pictures =) *NM*Sarah 9/5/04 10:40 a.m.
           Re: A few picturesRed Loser 9/7/04 10:58 a.m.
     Re: Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*706 9/5/04 9:11 a.m.
     Awsome story *NM*Someone 9/5/04 10:38 a.m.
     Re: Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*MidnightBlueElite 9/5/04 10:55 a.m.
           Re: Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*RealityMatter 9/5/04 7:38 p.m.
     Awesomenessclarksbrother 9/5/04 12:33 p.m.
     Re: Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*NiVeKeR14 9/5/04 12:49 p.m.
     I always wanted to know what Euro's look like *NM*rapture 9/5/04 1:04 p.m.
     Did not realise Stuntmutt was British...Lothar Hex 9/5/04 2:32 p.m.
     Re: Why does everybody hate Swedes?E.T. the Extremely Tired 9/5/04 2:42 p.m.
           Re: Why does everybody hate Swedes?K-man 9/6/04 5:33 a.m.
                 Re: Why does everybody hate Swedes?BOLL 9/6/04 6:11 a.m.
                       Go BALL =P *NM*E.T. the Extremely Tired 9/6/04 12:24 p.m.
     Re: Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*Rockhard 9/5/04 7:04 p.m.
     Great summary *NM*Jamirus99 9/5/04 7:50 p.m.
     Re: Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*Sparticus 9/5/04 7:51 p.m.
     Re: Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*Hikaru-119 9/5/04 7:56 p.m.
     Thanks for the wonderful read.Jaxx BlackFox 9/6/04 1:33 a.m.
     Very slick :) *NM*Finn 9/6/04 3:02 a.m.
     Re: Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*Karellen Lurksalot 9/6/04 7:16 a.m.
     Great read! *NM*Anton P. Nym (aka Steve) 9/6/04 10:40 a.m.
     Brilliant! *NM*CYBRFRK 9/6/04 12:39 p.m.
     Re: Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*Berrie 9/6/04 12:59 p.m.
           Re: Gamestars. And c0ld. And BOLL. *VERY long*Sep7imus [subnova] 9/6/04 1:41 p.m.

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