I was once called "Mr. Halo." Once, I wore that crown.
Turn the calendar back to autumn 2004: I was in an underground meeting room at a fancy midtown New York hotel. Microsoft had rented out the room for prerelease demonstrations of "Halo 2" on the original Xbox. As a member of the press, I was welcome to stop by for a few hours, sit in a comfortable easy chair, put on a set of wireless headphones and play as much of Bungie's first-person-shooter sequel as I could.
A guy sitting a couple of chairs away from me played the full single-player game in one sitting. He got up in a bit of a daze and told me he was done. He sounded unsettled, which I thought was a byproduct of bingeing on the game. Later I would hear about the game's inconclusive conclusion. I think that's what was bugging him.
In addition to offering headphones and "Halo," Microsoft provided snacks. It was two and a half years ago, which is many, many finger foods ago, so I don't recall what was served. But I do recall a reporter, Michel Marriott of The New York Times, getting up for food just as the big surprise in "Halo 2" was about to be revealed. (It's OK to talk about the surprise in a two-and-a-half-year-old game, right? The big twist is that after starting the game in control of "Halo" hero Master Chief, players are given missions to control from the perspective of one of the aliens fighting on the other side, the Arbiter.)
Michel was getting up at just the wrong moment. I had already been watching his game out of the corner of my eye. This happens when you sit down to play a single-player game in public and someone sits next to you and starts a game of his own. I would go somewhere and do something in the game. Then I'd glance over and he would be reaching the same part. It wasn't a race, but of course it felt like one. I noticed he was dawdling at one point in the game and mentioned it to him good-naturedly. He said he was happy to take his time. When he got up — headphones still on — to grab some snacks, he was turning his back to the screen at just the wrong moment. I called him out on it. I was trying to be nice — I didn't want The New York Times to miss the big twist.
He shot back, "OK, Mr. Halo."
Now, I'm not that good at first-person shooters. I've at least beaten "GoldenEye" for the N64 on 00 Agent difficulty, but otherwise, the genre is not my area of expertise. One of the reasons I'd been watching Marriott's game out of the corner of my eye was because I was insecure about how well I could play "Halo." I was afraid he'd pass me and I'd be exposed. Little did I know he wouldn't stand a chance of catching "Mr. Halo."
This is on my mind because on Friday I'm going to a fancy Manhattan hotel — downtown this time — for a session with "Halo 3." Truth be told, this will be my first major "Halo"-playing since my "Mr. Halo" moment. I never played much of "Halo 2." I played so much of the single-player at that prerelease event that I never had the urge to start from scratch once I had a copy of the game for myself. I wasn't good enough to not get blasted in multiplayer, so I stayed away from the competitive stuff. I know these are not the confessions of someone worthy of the "Mr. Halo" title. I accept that I am not qualified to take the name.
At Friday's event, I and other reporters in New York will be able to spend eight hours playing an early version of the "Halo 3" multiplayer maps. Microsoft is doing this to build awareness of the three-week public beta test of the game that goes live May 16. I'm going because I need to cover it. I also want to see if maybe I can earn back my crown.