NEW YORK — If there was an increase in the number of people who took the day off from work or stayed home from school Tuesday, it may not have been the flu that kept them at home and on the couch.
"Halo 2," the long-awaited sequel to the 2001 game that set the standard for first-person shooters, went on sale Tuesday (November 9) at midnight, and thousands of people around the country waited in line for hours, just to be among the first to get their hands on what promises to be the biggest video game of the year.
"It's the 'Halo 2' flu!" 29-year-old Brooklyn, New York, resident Dimitri said as he waited in line at the Toys R Us in Times Square, explaining why he, like so many other die-hard fans of the game, won't be leaving his living room for the foreseeable future.
"I don't think there's going to be a lot of work done tomorrow," concurred Miguel, 36, from Queens, New York.
If a dip in the labor force does indeed impact the economy, Microsoft, the publisher and developer of "Halo 2," won't be suffering. More than 1.5 million copies of "Halo 2" were sold through pre-sale, and Microsoft is estimated to rake in more than $100 million after the first day. One of the improvements "Halo 2" has over the original is Xbox Live, the subscription service that allows players to compete against one another online. In its first day supporting "Halo 2," Xbox Live broke its one-day record for most users: At press time, more than 108,000 unique users were online trying to blast each other's brains out.
"Bill Gates is even richer tonight!" screamed 18-year-old Johann from Brooklyn as he waited to add his $49.99 to the Microsoft kitty.
Some fans weren't satisfied with buying "Halo 2" on the first day; they had to buy the game first, period. Paul Girardi and Joe Delea, both 22 and from Staten Island, New York, began their sidewalk sit-in at 10 a.m., some 14 hours before the game went on sale.
"We didn't think we would be first, but no one was crazy enough to be here before us," Girardi said, his hair colored bright green in honor of the event. A greasepainted "Halo 2" logo, meanwhile, adorned Delea's face.
Their long wait paid dividends when Girardi and Delea were allowed inside the store an hour early to get a first-hand look at the game in a makeshift VIP area complete with a dozen LAN-linked flatscreen TV sets, an open bar, a snack table, and a surprise visit from "Halo" fan and New Jersey Nets star Richard Jefferson. The time outside must have taken its toll on the guys' appetites: Upon entering the room, they made a beeline for the chicken satay, fried dumplings and other hot hors d'oeuvres.
After posing for photos with a Bungie Studios executive and a guy dressed up as the game's protagonist Master Chief — and being taped for an appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" — the guys finally had copies of the game ceremonially presented to them by noted "Halo" fanatic and star of "That '70s Show" Wilmer Valderrama. As a member of the "Halo 2" Council (see "Linkin Park, Hoobastank, Wilmer Valderrama To Get First Shot At 'Halo 2' "), Valderrama got his copy a few days earlier, but that doesn't mean his jones for the game has subsided any.
"The best thing about 'Halo 2' is not only are you this one guy who's the chosen one, you're also this bad-ass guy who can kick ass everywhere you put him," he said. "Every single one of my friends — even the guy who plays the dad on ["That '70s Show"] Kurtwood Smith, he's a 'Halo' fan, too. It's so random, everybody's so excited to play each other. You can be at home and the other player can be in New York. It's sick."
Besides looking for Valderrama online, players can search for him within the game, too.
"There's a bunch of celebrity voices in the game," he said, "so you might be able to make some of them out. I know that a few things that I said may have gotten into the game, but I'm not sure since I haven't finished the entire thing yet. As one of the soldiers, I said, 'Boy, that looks like taco meat.' "
"I'm immortal," he added, as a smile overcame his face. "I'll be forever a part of this game."