And so, the way was paved for the breakthrough megagame - something that would really and truly puncture the mainstream and induct them into our dark brotherhood. It would have to be a little more interactive, a little more accessible. It would have to contain less blue menus, and it did. It starts with the letter H, and rhymes with halo. Because it is Halo.
There is a lot of meat in Halo story-wise if you want it, but if you can't be bothered with narrative you won't find your progression hampered. Halo included cooperative play - something we're already starting to see the next generation of consoles take very seriously - and it's a feature which no doubt projected the game to a wider audience by infusing what was essentially a single-player experience with camaraderie. PC gamers had already tasted it, and tasted it at exorbitant expense. What Halo did was bring the excitement and social experience of a LAN party to virtually anyone who wanted to have it. That's no small thing.
The conversion of gaming from a solitary activity to a group activity that did not require thousands of dollars and considerable technical savvy is not insignificant. At the time it was released, the lack of Internet play seemed like a serious omission to the old guard - but as it stood, Halo forced you to get your stuff, get out of the house, eat Fritos brand snack chips and tote imaginary shotguns in drive-bys on frozen tundra. It's extremely rewarding, and I think it's as responsible for Halo's legendary status as anything else you'd care to name.
When I was waiting in line to grab my copy of Halo 2, it became clear that what had started with the original Halo had intensified - three years of addictive, communal Combat Evolved had created a culture with its own jokes and shared culture. I could see that the line in front of me all the way to the register was filled with people I would never see in the ordinary course of my life. These were not young men who turned to videogames because - as it sometimes was in my day - the pleasures of a social existence were unavailable to them. These were people just as hardcore, in their way, as I was - and yet they were somehow able to blend into the larger population unnoticed. Mark II, I thought. These are Geeks Mark II.
I hid behind a display.
Now, they walk among us. Try not to be startled by their odd cuisine or strange mannerisms! They're here to stay, and the effect of their presence on the industry and the games it produces is pronounced. Look at The Sims, or Nintendogs - a game whose actual, real objective is to make a puppy love you. They're targeted at, and bringing in, an entirely different kind of person. That's something we can get into next time, if you like, but I kind of have to go. I haven't checked my e-mail in, like, an hour and I'm starting to itch all over.