Seattle is known for two things: Rain, Coffee, and Microsoft. Well, that’s three things, but two of Seattle’s icons were out for the Gears of War 2 Release party in Bellevue, Washington. The Best Buy in Bellevue is just a stone’s throw from Microsoft’s Redmond campus, and was host to their previous Halo 3 launch party, which attracted national media like G4TV.
Seattle is known for its rainy days, but Thursday night was particularly wet, and hundreds of local Seattlites stood in line and braved the water for their chance to play the highly anticipated Gears of War 2. Since this was a Microsoft launch event, the developers and writers of the game were also there to meet the fans.
I was expecting more of a turnout, given that this was a Microsoft sponsored event. Previous launches of games and consoles had dedicated fans camping out in tents up to two days prior to the release. Some of the fans have started lining up since 7:00 earlier that evening, and their patience did not go unrewarded. Everyone in line received Gears of War 2 swag (like hats and T-shirts), but the first 3 in line were greeted by Josh Ortega.
Josh, who is the writer for GoW2 in addition to other video games and graphic novels, handed out several limited-edition COG tags to the first few in line. One of the GoW developers mentioned that there were only 1,000 of these made, and were a serious collector’s item. Some were also selected to receive a special Gears of War 2 Special Edition Xbox 360 Elite, signed by Josh Ortega himself.
The party also attracted one of Seattle’s largest radio stations. 107.7 The End’s Jordin Silver was there to talk with the fans, and even gave away limited edition Xbox 360′s (which were signed by Josh Ortega) and limited Gears of War Zune players. Jeff Bouge won the Zune, and Jason Blackenwise won the Xbox 360 which was painted with a custom Gears of War graphic.
Josh, who sported a leather jacket, jeans, and sunglasses tucked inside his button-down shirt, spent several minutes speaking with the fans, handing out T-shirts and shaking hands. He seemed genuinely grateful for the fans that came out, referring to some of them as “hard core” Gearheads.
Best Buy had everything set up for the hundreds waiting outside. There were several long tables that must have had a thousand copies of Gears of War 2 (if you include all the special editions). Also for sale was a remote-controlled Gears of War tank, and special GoW Xbox 360 units. Specially-branded backpacks were at the end of the table (free with purchase). Those who pre-ordered their copies were directed to the Customer Service desk. Customers were eventually let into the store: 20 at a time to help control the chaos.
Once their games were purchased (many people bought several copies) they were directed past a group of the GoW developers to a small table where they could pick up an embossed GoW2 poster, and limited-edition baseball cap. Right after this table was a booth set up with Josh Ortega, who was signing all the swag the fans could throw in front of him. Josh was reminded by the PR folks that he only had time to sign two items each, but he was so appreciative of the fans that he gracefully signed caps, T-shirts, posters, games, and other things. Some fans handed him their copies of the original Gears of War, and one person even had an art book with all of the other signatures of the Gears development team, including Cliffy B.
Josh was very concerned about making sure everyone got what they came for. The game box was covered in cellophane, so Josh warned them that unless they unwrapped it now that his autograph would be gone. When customizing autographs, he asked everyone how to spell their name, because even he acknowledged that “even the most obvious names can have some weird spelling”.
Josh was also signing the Gears of War comic book (or graphic novel for those who realize these are legitimate art forms). Josh was not only the writer for the game, but also wrote the graphic novel, which is the “prequel to the sequel” so to speak… it leads up to the events that occure in Gears of War 2. Josh advised everyone to read the novel before playing the game, as there is a lot more story this time around, and the campaign is much longer than the first game.
I’m sure that there are hordes of people calling out sick today, with “Gear Fever”. Many people stayed up all night, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some have already made it through the entire campaign. Gears of War is one of the most popular franchises on the Xbox 360, and I’m certain we’ll be seeing more of our friend Marcus Fenix. Gears of War 2 came at just the right time: it just isn’t “Tanksgiving” without shooting things to smithereens amongst family.