It might have flown under your radar, but there was a Halo fan event in Anaheim this past weekend, the last stop on its tour of five major US cities over the summer. Outfitted with activities like an escape room, shooting range, laser tag arena, a museum, along with the usual panels and play areas, Halo Outpost Discovery was an ambitious, well-designed event that focused on family—the Halo community and the concept of family as a whole. It was not your conventional approach to conventions.
Over the last two years, John Friend, head of Halo and Xbox consumer products, and his team thought about ways to broaden the Halo audience, which now includes PC gamers (again). One consideration was where their fans live.
"Not everyone can go to LA for E3 or come to San Diego for Comic Con," said Friend. "How do we bring our Halo universe to life, where our fans live?"
Those locations, in addition to Anaheim, ended up being Orlando, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston. Friend tells me that these five US cities are where many of the Halo fans in the US live. Another consideration was proximity to US borders, as there are many Halo fans in Mexico and elsewhere. But for the Anaheim convention specifically, people drove hours from Northern California, flew in from other states, or flew in from countries as far as Norway.
A family-oriented good time
The traveling convention pitched itself as a family-friendly event, and a number of parents did (seemingly) pull their kids out of school for a day or two to attend. One father-son duo flew in from Oregon, another family from Mexico City, friends drove down from Northern California or drove from military bases around California. The generation gap was wide, too, with kids who got their parents into Halo and vice versa.
While waiting in line to enter the show floor, a mother and her son, who looked to be around ten years old, came up and stood next to me. While the kid fidgeted with excitement, she paced back and forth in a small circle, chatting with everyone around her. As she turned in my direction, she locked eyes with me, raised her arms up and let out a long 'woooooo!' Suddenly she was everyone's excited mom.
Later, I was standing in line for the The Ring exhibit—an interactive museum about the Halo universe that covered key points in the games' lore. A dad and his young son, who was about four-years-old, were discussing grunts, the fourth species to be assimilated into the Covenant. "Do you remember the grunts?" "What are the grunts?" The dad patiently explained their backstory to his kid, even though he was distracted by all the electric candy in the room.
At one of the panels, the moderator gave a happy birthday shout out to his ten-year-old son who was sitting in the audience. Another panel sang happy birthday to an audience member. A couple got engaged in front of Master Chief.
"I've seen over and over again so many people who met playing together but hadn't met in real life, and then came to the US to spend time together," said Friend. "In the VIP room this morning two guys who didn't know each other meet because they were literally wearing the same shirt. They were joking and chatting about it and then ended up spending the entire day together."
Halo's return to PC
My experience getting some hands-on time with Halo Reach was similar to James' time with it at E3. Aside from some weird keybinds, the game was a natural fit for PC. It had been 15 years since I played a Halo game, so I got to fall in love with Convent weapons like the Needler all over again. It brought back memories of playing local multiplayer with my friends in someone's dorm room, all of us scrambling to find the energy sword because it was funny as hell to one shot kill our friends and listen to their tantrums about it being OP.
"A lot of people who started on console have either graduated to the PC or play on both PC and console," said Friend. "It's an opportunity for us to re-engage with fans or with people who have liked Halo for a long time. There are a lot of fans out there who are PC first or PC only."
That's me. I moved away from consoles about two years after Halo 2 came out and became strictly a PC gamer, largely due to MMOs and the fact that it was always hard for me to use a controller. Playing Halo with southpaw controls make it a bit easier, but the physical barrier I experienced pushed me toward the PC. Others have their own reasons, but a brief glance at the landscape—PC esports are huge, Steam just keeps growing, a new genre blows up every year—confirms the trend Friend is describing.
Which, of course, is why Microsoft is bringing Halo back to PC after so many years of non-commitment to PC gaming. Better late than never. Halo Outpost Discovery, meanwhile, was a wonderfully wholesome event full of warm and enthusiastic fans. As Halo makes its return to PC, I hope some of them come along as well.
Some folks got a fun surprise this weekend in the Covenant Escape room at #HaloOutpost 😱😱😱(watch with sound ON! 😂)🎥Vid: Chris Pense of the @405th 👾Elite: Nick Yelsa | https://t.co/zKbhCWaRER pic.twitter.com/fisnOVlrSwSeptember 2, 2019