The Best Week Ever

– Originally written on June 20th, 2015 – 

Like many who are reading this, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) has been something that has excited me since I was a kid.  I cannot remember when it exactly dawned on me how important E3 was, but as far back as I can remember, it was a time of year where a lot of exciting news in the gaming world happened.  Back in the old days, it would make the gaming magazines more exciting than ever, and in the the past fifteen years it has made gaming websites the place to go for the latest news.  E3 is where a bulk of the big gaming announcements are made each year and it is an event that many developers will sacrifice development time for in order to build a great looking trailer or demo of their in-progress games.

In the past decade or so, it has been especially exciting because, since E3 2006 particularly, the Xbox team at Microsoft has done everything they could to bring E3 right to the living rooms of anybody who wanted to participate in the happenings.  These efforts would consist of game demos that went live online right that day, high-definition trailers of the games announced that year during the Xbox briefing, and even live streams of that year’s Xbox briefing.  The Xbox briefing in particular was always the highlight of E3 for me and I was always sure to be home with some chips and salsa to watch it live.  Besides the deluge of amazing games that come out each fall, the morning of the briefing has been my favorite gaming moment of the year for the past decade.

So on May 14th when the Xbox team announced that they were going to let 500 lucky Xbox fans into the Xbox briefing itself (plus a lot of other cool E3-related events) I instantly decided I was going to LA for this year’s E3.  I had only flown twice before in my 28 years of life, had never been to Los Angeles before, had never rented a car before, and had never flown alone before.  These things are not the hardest things to overcome of course, but it was just something quite a bit out of my comfort zone.  I spent several hours researching the flight, hotel, and car options that night and after around seven hours of research I felt confident that I had found the right combination of location and price that I was comfortable with.

The afternoon of May 15th, I confirmed my purchase through Orbitz for the hotel, flight, and car and was set to go.  I tweeted out to a couple of the higher-ups at Xbox about my decision to finally meet them and come to my first-ever gaming convention and in a huge show of support throughout that entire day and evening, my tweet and other’s tweets about my plan to go received upwards of a hundred retweets, favorites, and replies, including from the Xbox team itself.  The outpouring of support that evening was truly touching to me, and was a confirmation that I had made the right choice when I decided to head to LA for all of this.

When I think back to it, I don’t remember even debating with myself whether I should go to LA or not that previous day; it was as if it had already been decided and suddenly I was there on my computer researching it all and was 100% determined.  I had wanted to meet these guys for a long time and had wanted to finally experience all this for myself.  E3 2015, for the Xbox brand especially, was building up to be the biggest one ever, and the Xbox team was not shy in touting that fact.  It was essentially a perfect storm of several different factors coming together and I felt absolutely honored to be there live to see history made.

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Honestly, I was nervous about being away from home for over a week for a couple of reasons, most importantly my cat of fifteen years who has cancer and that I give chemo to every two weeks.  His appetite isn’t the best at this point (nor has it been for just under two years now) and he has actually now lived longer than he ever should have post-diagnosis, so I was worried that my being gone for longer than I ever have before would throw him off and put him into a descent that would cause him to go prematurely.  As I write this portion in the LAX airport, I have yet to actually see him for myself after all this time, but it seems he is doing fine and has remained stable.

I was also nervous something might happen to the rental car, especially since I also planned to drive from Los Angeles to San Diego on one of the days prior to the briefing.  I knew that the LA-area had some of the worst, craziest drivers in the country and I did not have much more to spare after the cost of the trip in the case that something happened to whatever car I ended up getting.  Overall, it all just felt like this was all too-good-to-be true.  No matter how good of a job I did at ignoring it or trying to diminish the feeling, it was still there a bit.

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However, this E3, and this Xbox briefing in particular, felt like the most important one in Halo and Xbox history, and that definitely gave me the courage to go through with all this from beginning to end.  Knowing that the Xbox team I had followed for so long, the Halo team, and so many other gaming personalities and franchises I had followed for most of my life would all be here and having their moment made living in LA for a week on my own, knowing absolutely no one here, not as scary.

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I left for LA early in the morning on Friday, June 12th, and had a good three days to myself prior to the Monday morning Xbox briefing, which would take place at the University of Southern California’s Galen Center, which is right near downtown Los Angeles.  On Friday I drove around a bit after getting my rental car and then checked into my hotel.  That evening I walked around for a few miles and visited the Venice Beach and Boardwalk.  Every sight and thing that I would see was amazing to me, it was just so cool to actually be in Los Angeles.

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Saturday morning I woke up and immediately drove the ~117 miles to San Diego, which took three hours in Saturday morning traffic from LA.  Once there, I returned to the exact location I first saw the ocean back in March 2013 (Pacific Beach).  I had always dreamed of going back to this location and had often felt like I would probably be quite a bit older if or when I finally did.  I certainly never thought I would be back there with so many things still the same, like my aforementioned cat Oreo still being alive.  It was an extremely surreal and powerful moment for me to be there again, and by my own effort.  I had driven a long way on an wholly unfamiliar freeway in an unfamiliar car and all within quite unforgiving traffic and drivers.  The trek had definitely built my confidence up that I could go out on a limb and things actually would turn out alright!

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After a couple hours in that area, I drove over to La Jolla and revisited the kayaking tour I had also experienced back in March 2013 as well.  For over two years I have said that kayaking on the ocean that day had been the best time of my life.  Thankfully, I had an amazing sequel to that experience this past weekend.  It was the same general area, but with a different guide and group of people and it was, all things considered, probably even better than the first time.  It was familiar, yet different, but the particulars of it were so unique that it could never be replicated.  A couple of the people tipped over while in the sea caves (which I had never even been in since the first tour in 2013 had not gone into them) and I was helping the guide with all that and it was just an absolute blast.  I was laughing so hard, sea lions were everywhere around us wrestling around and making noise, it was nice and sunny, and it was all just perfect.

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An important thing to mention is that I would not have even had the time to make this day-long trip to San Diego if not for the continued generosity of the Xbox team helping me out with my schedule.  One of the first things I did when I got to Pacific Beach is actually send out yet another thank you.  Overall, the added personal touch from the Xbox team throughout all of this was the strongest thing that counteracted any anxieties I had.

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That same evening I drove back to LA, with a view of the sun setting on the ocean nearly the entire drive back.  Around the halfway point to my hotel, I was going 75mph and suddenly had a motorcyclist (of which there were many crazy ones throughout my adventures) race up along my left side and he was going at least 100mph, probably much faster though.  He was a blur.  A few moments later, a police motorcycle was in the far-left carpool lane with his head leaned down trying to catch up to the lunatic that he was in pursuit of.  Another few seconds after that, a police SUV, going as fast as possible, came from a far right lane behind me, crossed all lanes of traffic diagonally, and also went into the carpool lane to try and catch up to the speeding motorcyclist.  Up ahead I could see the motorcycle zig-zagging through the traffic at 100mph and since I never saw him pulled over (or dead) up ahead as I continued driving, I am fairly certain he got away.  It was insane to see, and also dangerous for all of us, but I knew at that moment I had encountered yet another memory for life and had many more ahead of me before I went back home to Minnesota.

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It got dark about a half hour prior to getting back to my hotel, and it was around this time I saw my first glimpse of downtown Los Angeles.  I was on an incredibly high, winding bridge/rampway of the Interstate 405 (I think) and I looked over to my right with the slight thought that I might be able to finally see the iconic LA skyline, and there it was.  I could only look for just a moment, but it was breathtaking.  I wish I could have snapped a picture at that moment like I did so many other times, but it had become too intense of a drive due to the time of day, the day it was (Saturday) and the proximity to Los Angeles.

If I only think of just the last half-hour of that drive back to the hotel, I saw more close-calls for fatal car crashes than I have in my entire life, and I’ve been driving for over twelve years   It was absolutely incredible to watch.  People were honking left and right, cars were nearly getting slammed into by cars flying into merging zones at speeds of 70mph , and it was just an absolute free-for-all.  I am shocked to say that during my eight days on the road I was never once honked at or yelled at and I never used my horn either (although I did have a couple legitimate reasons to do so).

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Sunday I had kind of decided to have a nice, relaxing day since I had to be up super early the next day for the Xbox briefing, but it turned out to be so much more exciting than what I had originally planned on!  I drove around to an area near my hotel I had not been to before and it had a much more home-like feel to it and I went to Target and got some supplies.  From there I decided to finally see a bit more of downtown LA and see what the drive to the Galen Center would be like the next morning, since that’s where the Xbox briefing is annually held in recent years.  Once I got to the area surrounding the Galen Center, it looked so nice that I knew I would have to find a place to park and get some pictures around the campus and of the Galen Center itself.

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After walking  around a bit, taking various pictures and talking to some Galen Center/Xbox staff outside, I began to walk down the sidewalk of Figueroa just to hang out and see the area.  Suddenly, surrounded by no other cars, there was the Halo 5 truck driving right past me!  I had first seen it posted on twitter back on Friday right after I landed in LA.  I had figured the picture originated from LA but had never heard back on where the truck actually was being shown off, if at all.  That moment was one of the many examples that made me often think that any time I looked up from my phone or looked to my left or right I could very likely see something I would remember and treasure for the rest of my life.

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I immediately pulled out the digital camera that I specifically purchased solely for this trip and began to snap some great pictures.  I then stopped into a Subway and got some cookies and water and then started making my way back to the Galen Center with the hopes of finding the truck.  Anyone reading this who was was following me on Twitter during this knows that I was quite excited during this time and said I was going to go #HUNTtheTRUCK, a play on Halo 5’s hype campaign entitled #HUNTtheTRUTH

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As I made my way around to the back of the Galen Center, I found it.  The driver had already exited and no one was nearby except for a bunch of security-type people about a minute up the sidewalk.  I pulled out both my phone and my camera and started taking pictures and selfies like crazy.  I didn’t know if I was even allowed to be back there, but I was getting some pictures no matter what!

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I then continued walking down the sidewalk and every vehicle was branded with Xbox One logos and there was also a huge production truck.  I knew that all the Xbox guys were likely inside the building for rehearsal so I didn’t know if I was about to finally see anybody I “knew” from online and had talked with for many, many years, but I was just so excited to be in the presence of THE building that so many historic Xbox announcements had taken place inside of.  It was exciting for me just to see the “Xbox” graphics and signs all over the entrance doors.

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For some comical proof of how exciting it was for me just to see this stuff, look what I did back in October 2013 when one of the Xbox One trucks came to my state just a month prior to the Xbox One launch:

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Shortly after that adventure at the Galen Center, I returned back to the hotel, which was about 15 miles away, and it was during that drive that I felt the anxiety of the trip melt away.  I also felt more confident with driving the rental car than I had in previous days.  Everything was clicking now and being in the presence of the Xbox briefing’s building had made the nearly complete isolation of the past three days go away as well.  Besides the nearly two hours of kayaking with some people 130 miles away in San Diego, I had not spoken with anyone besides a cashier for a few moments once or twice a day.

But all that was about to change.  The next day, Monday, was the day I would meet so many people I had waited upwards of a decade to meet or had never even dreamed of meeting.  It was June 14th, and except for the past month, I had never envisioned being at the Xbox briefing live, and now here it was just a few hours away and with such a personal connection to it all and the people behind it.  The briefing is not a public event I could someday buy a ticket to (it is media and/or invite-only) so it had always felt completely untouchable for me.

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I woke up at 3:30am that Monday morning.  I played some more Halo: Spartan Strike for Windows 10 and officially hit a Gamerscore of exactly 190,000 (a goal I had wanted to attain for this trip) and then I started getting ready.  Once I arrived at the Galen Center, all of the Xbox staff people I met outside and at the concierge were so nice and friendly.  I had a few great conversations with people and just prior to getting in line for my seat inside, I met Chris, one of the main guys behind the entire Xbox FanFest that had been created.  It was my first encounter with any of the core people that had orchestrated all this and he couldn’t have been nicer.  He gave me his cell number in case I ran into any trouble finding where I needed to be later that day or week.

An hour or so later, while standing in line, I saw Larry Hryb, the Director of Xbox Live Programming (also known by his gamertag “Major Nelson”, for the first time.  This is a man that any Xbox fan is going to know.  I have followed his blog and his podcasts for over ten years at this point, talked to him countless times online, and even played a couple games with him on Xbox Live (the first of which happened on Perfect Dark Zero back in late 2005).  In February of 2006 I even won his show’s “Name the Game” contest and got a couple of cool prizes from him.

Even back when it was not a part of his official job description, he spent his own personal time and money to create a dialogue with us, the Xbox community, and did his best to get our input and make sure we knew what was going on.  He would record podcasts in his hotel room during events like E3, write up blog posts keeping us all up-to-date, and it was his efforts that truly got me into being excited for each of the numerous gaming events each year.  A little over a decade ago, he was one of the original creators of the Achievement and Gamerscore system, something that I loved from the moment I read about and to this day am still enamored by.  To see him in person was both surreal and familiar at the same time.  When someone is that friendly and community-oriented, even someone mostly shy like myself had no problem approaching him, and that is just what I did after the briefing (but more on that in a bit).

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I was in line still at this point, so I was mostly just on my phone and trying to wrap my head around the fact that it was the morning of the long-awaited Xbox press briefing and I was THERE.  For once, I wasn’t at home getting super excited and getting my snacks ready, I was there, live, and had even been personally invited to do so!  I cannot say enough how much it meant to me, especially since I knew they were going to have the show of their lives and had made sure some of their biggest fans were there to share in the moment.

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A few minutes later we were led into the Galen Center and I had an amazing seat waiting for me.  The briefing started about a half-hour later and consisted of numerous announcements and demos that had the crowd (and the Xbox gaming community in general) roaring with shock and excitement.  Larry Hryb later that day would post the following on twitter:

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I won’t go into details of everything that happened during the briefing, since that can be found elsewhere, but I will say that I felt the briefing was perfect and I will forever be thrilled to have been there.  After the briefing was over I went and shook hands with the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, and got a few closer-up pictures of the stage.

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After that it was time for the briefing after-party at a nightclub further into downtown Los Angeles.  Once I found parking in the city, I made my way there on foot and at the door I once again saw Chris, the man who had helped shape the FanFest experience and within moments I was inside an Xbox-dedicated nightclub experience.  There were gaming stations (all for games that don’t come out for several months), free food, free drinks, and free Xbox goodies everywhere!  Every inch of that place was a dream-come-true for an Xbox fan and I could not believe something like this even existed.

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Almost immediately after walking in the door, there was Larry again, and it was at this moment we finally met.  He was obviously busy and was probably being pulled in a lot of different directions but as soon as he turned around and saw me he stopped and said he had been looking for me earlier in the morning (at the briefing) and was so glad I made it.  We talked a bit about the briefing, took a picture together, and it was so cool.  I walked away from that interaction a very happy person.

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Later on at this party I finally met Aaron Greenberg as well, the main man behind making this whole experience happen for me and also the Head of Global Marketing for Xbox and its studios.  I had asked both Larry and Chris when I arrived if Aaron would be making an appearance at the party and had been told he would be there soon.  I had looked forward to that moment for a long time and had first come to truly know of Aaron sometime in early-to-mid 2006 when I listened to an interview between him and Larry while I was working overnights back when I was still just a teenager.  To be able to walk up to him, shake his hand, and thank him for all this was one of the moments I had looked forward to the most about this whole trip and was something I made sure to make happen.

Standing next to Aaron at this party was Yusuf Mehdi, a corporate VP at Microsoft/Xbox, and I talked with him briefly as well.  Aaron told him who I was, where I came from, and (from what I can remember of this surreal moment) Yusuf asked me what I particularly liked about watching the briefing live rather than at home and I instantly had a few good reasons for him.  Thinking back to it all it still doesn’t seem real, but it did happen, and it was awesome.  I once again was taken aback from how incredible this all was and all the people I was meeting from the Xbox team.

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After another hour or two at the afterparty, I saw online that Larry had gone over to the Los Angeles Convention Center and was going to be hosting the first day of the 90-minute live “Xbox Daily” show that would be shown to gamers worldwide each day of E3.  I had watched Xbox’s similar shows during previous E3’s and knew I definitely wanted to be there live in the crowd for this E3’s first show.  I ran back to my car and put my custom-made Xbox FanFest poster away, and then began making my way on-foot to the Convention Center, running whenever possible.  I was having a blast just from the fact that I was there, in downtown LA, and was racing down the streets to make my way to the famous Staples Center/Convention Center area and was about to see those buildings with my own eyes for the first time ever.

 

I made it there just a few minutes after the show started.  I had stopped outside to attain my E3 badge for the next day (which proudly showed that I was there as a “Microsoft Guest”) and then made my way to the Xbox stage.  Less than five minutes after I arrived, Larry actually came off the stage and walked up to me near the back of the crowd and said, “Hey man!  You made it!”  Shortly after that, they asked a few of us near the back of the stage to go stand next to the huge Halo 5 statues and they were going to do a live-shot thing with one of the other hosts and a few fans.  I posted up right next to the Master Chief statue in footage that I will, once again, forever treasure.  At this point, my trip so far had surpassed the most ideal, perfect vision I had had for it, and it was about to get even better.

 

That day’s episode of the Xbox Daily show ended with an interview with Bonnie Ross, the founder and head of the studio that owns and does everything Halo, 343 Industries.  After she was off-stage, five or six people had gone over to her and a couple people got pictures and a couple people were asking her questions about something I couldn’t hear.  I assume that Bonnie probably had about a dozen different places to be, but she was talking with them and taking pictures with a couple people.  A guy in front of me wanted to get a picture with her and I told him I would take it for him.  I then asked him to do the same for me and there I suddenly was, standing with Bonnie Ross, our arms around each other, taking a picture!  Bonnie had kicked off the Xbox briefing earlier in the day with an amazing segment dedicated to Halo 5, and now I was there getting a picture with her and talking with her.  I had not even looked forward to this happening, because I never thought it could or would happen.

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At this point there was nothing left to do at the convention center since E3 didn’t officially start until the next day, so I walked right out of the doors and was on my phone and on twitter basically freaking out.  I even sat outside there on a retaining wall for a bit just to digest everything that had just gone on and get my bearings since I had a long walk back to the car and then a crazy drive back to my hotel 15 miles/45 minutes away and at rush hour of all-times.  Fortunately, I was able to maneuver my rental car out of the heart of downtown LA and back to my hotel near Venice Beach.

The next day I got there about a half-hour before the E3 doors opened and immediately was trying to find the Xbox booth to get in line for the Halo 5 gameplay demo, which I had just found out included a portion of time where the player would wear the Microsoft HoloLens, a device that is still in-the-making and has only been worn by a very exclusive portion of the public.  It was a 30-minute experience in all and it was THE thing I wanted to experience.

After I finally found where the Xbox booth was (I surprisingly went into E3 having no idea where to actually go for the Xbox booth) the line was already 4+ hours long.  I stood and sat there for over four hours and directly behind me was Steven Ellison, (better known as FlyLo) an LA-based musician and rapper.  I had heard his music in the past and he was there as a guest of Rockstar’s (the developers of Grand Theft Auto) but I didn’t realize when he first walked up with his friend that he was a known celebrity with nearly a half-a-million followers on Twitter (https://twitter.com/flyinglotus).

Several times while him and I would be talking or just sitting and waiting, someone would interrupt him and ask to get a picture with him and he seemed somewhat embarrassed by all of the attention, but he was always very nice to his fans and would talk with them.  I teased him a couple times about it and once said, “I don’t have anybody asking for pictures with me!”

It was a long, often hot, wait, but I was beyond-excited to play Halo 5 again since the beta test of it had ended back in January.  The mode we would be playing had just been revealed the day before at the briefing and it looked amazing.  A massive 24-player multiplayer mode that included AI-controlled enemies in the mix too.  This was something Halo had never had before and I already knew I enjoyed the gameplay of Halo 5 more than any before it due to my time with the at-home beta back in December and January.

Right as FlyLo and I neared the “one hour left” moment of the line (his friends had abandoned the line long before this) they cut the line off and said we would have to come back the next day.  We each got a rare (as far as I could tell) Halo shirt as an apology (as did everyone else still in line) and thankfully were able to put our names down on a “priority” list for the next morning since we had been so close to where they closed the line down.

I left and went straight to that day’s Xbox Daily show since I had already missed the first half-hour of it at this point.  After the show I finally met Graeme Boyd, another man on the Xbox team I had first been made aware of years ago thanks to Larry’s blog and podcasts.  Graeme is more on the European-side of Xbox events and community, but he is often present at the bigger events in the US.  From the first time I ever saw him on TV or heard him on a podcast, he seemed like the most genuinely nice and kind-hearted person one could hope to meet, and that impression I had of him certainly stayed true after personally meeting him.

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I met him after seeing him interact and take pictures with other fans that he seemed have previously formed a bond with.  I stood there waiting my turn and was just hoping to say hi real quick and get a picture with him.  Instead, he had a full-blown conversation with me about our excitement over Xbox, the week’s events, helped me craft a great selfie of us two with the Halo statues in the background, and even gave me a rare limited-edition Xbox/E3 2015 pin.  I’m a sentimental person who likes souvenirs of stuff, even if it’s something as simple as a receipt or ticket stub of a great memory, so for him to personally hand me that pin was perfect for me.

Shortly after that I left the convention center and went back to the hotel at rush hour to prepare for that night’s afterparty at yet another downtown LA nightclub.  This party, however, was going to be at night and was slated to go until 2am.  After getting ready for a bit, I was on my way driving into downtown in decent traffic right as the sun went down.  It was another one of the moments where I was driving and just had a moment where it hit me again how much fun this all is.  Great music was playing, the weather was perfect, and I was driving to yet another party that would be full of great memories.

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I once again met Chris from the Xbox team near the entrance to the party, along with a couple guys I had met at the afterparty the day prior.  Once again, everything was free at this club and the hundreds of people there were having a blast.  It really stood out to me how happy everyone was and how much fun everyone was having.  As I stood there with my newly-acquired Xbox pin on my shirt, a man in a suit (who had been standing with three other guys in suits) turned and handed me an even more limited-edition Master Chief pin and then pointed at my Xbox pin in what I assume was a nonverbal way of saying, “Here’s this, cause you have that.”

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I was absolutely stunned.  The guy turned back to the men he was with and then it was clear they were all getting ready to leave and probably go up to one of the upper floors where the Microsoft and Xbox employees were.  I leaned over to the guy and made it known that I am huge Halo fan and thanked him again.  He just nodded and walked away.  It was so cool and mysterious…and I’ll never know who that guy even was, but that pin especially will eternally be special to me.  I could have probably bought one off eBay for a pretty penny in the coming weeks or months and still treasured it, but the fact that I got it while at a party in downtown Los Angeles from someone who saw me and decided I should have it makes it even better.  It was yet another extremely special moment of this whole trip.

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There were still several hours left in the night and they were spent listening to music, milling around, talking with people over the music, and just enjoying it all.

After getting home around 3am and after three hours of sleep, I was back at the convention center and waiting in line once again for the Halo 5/HoloLens experience.  Right as I got to the very end of the line, Larry came by and said hi and told me I was going to love it.  It was just perfect timing for him to pass by right as I was about to experience this thing I had waited nearly five hours for now.

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Almost in!  After less than an hour more of waiting that morning, I was sitting inside of a cool (literally, since it was cold compared to the rest of the convention center) replication of an UNSC ship and being told along with a few other guys that we were about to be fitted with a HoloLens and report to a debriefing room.

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Wearing the HoloLens is amazing enough on its own, but to know how rare it is to experience this technology right now made it even better.  I walked around this “ship” seeing objective waypoints ahead of me, peering out holographic windows to see massive loading docks and flying vehicles, and finally reporting to the debriefing room where a holographic display was before me and interacting with what my eyes were looking at.

After a few minutes of that, I took the HoloLens off and was lead into another room where I played a match of that new Halo 5 multiplayer mode.  It was the most fun I’ve had in well over two decades of gaming.  I’m sure the hype of it all had something to do with it, since I had never waited in line for something even close to as long as I had just waited for this, but it was so much fun and perfect too.  I was seeing the games and franchise I love so much evolve into the best it has ever been right before my eyes with an extremely rare chance to play it.  The number of people at E3 that were able to play and experience this was far below 500 people, and that is including a number of people who already work within the industry or at Microsoft.

I don’t know if the staff member behind me was actually watching me play but I hope he was because I was having the game of my life in there.  My team won by a huge margin and there were quite a few epic moments I had been a part of.  Needless to say, it has made the wait for Halo 5’s official release even harder to bear now!

Also, just prior to playing we were all handed a limited-edition pin of Spartan Locke which I had seen on the staff there and was really hoping to get one.  My collection of pins was growing little-by-little and it had all started with Graeme giving me that Xbox pin the prior afternoon.  I had already let him know the night before what had occurred at the nightclub where I got the Master Chief pin thanks to him giving me that Xbox one.

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After that, I played a few more games, attained a few more pins, and then went to attend the final Xbox Daily show.  Larry and I talked a few more times before and during the show, I stood mere inches away from a few more gaming icons I have adored for many years (like 343i’s Frank O’Connor and Kiki Wolfkill), and I was front and center in the background of the entire third day of the show.  Afterwards, I walked over to Larry off-stage to essentially say goodbye and it was just as nice and special as I could have hoped for.

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From there, I walked a few minutes over to the Xbox booth and one last time looked at it in all its glory and then walked back to the other hall and out the doors to find my car.  Due to the lack of the sleep the night before, I slept well that night.

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On Thursday I mostly spent my time preparing my luggage, where I had to essentially find a way to get everything to fit into my two suitcases, even though they had both come with me to LA already full and I had nearly doubled what I had to fit into them thanks to all the Xbox goodies I had gotten during my travels.  Later that evening I drove over to Santa Monica and finally saw the famous pier with the roller coaster and Ferris wheel.

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It actually felt like I had been there before due to how exact the pier is represented in Grand Theft Auto V.  I could not believe my eyes.  The game had been in my mind a lot since I had begun driving in LA and seeing the sights, but the pier especially was uncanny.

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As the sun went down I was riding the roller coaster, taking lots of pictures, and buying up lots of California/LA-oriented souvenirs, since I had yet to get any thus far.  This was the final night of my trip, and I watched the sunset on the beach there next to the pier.  I walked the mile back to my car and stopped at Domino’s to do a carry-out of some of my favorite pizza as my final dinner in LA.

Friday was a simple morning of getting up early, getting the last of my stuff packed, and heading off to the rental car drop-off and the airport.  Like the rest of the trip, this all went down without a problem.  I even arrived back in Minnesota right as the sun went down, just as I had imagined several weeks ago when I purchased the trip package.

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Throughout everything, all eight days of the trip, all the adventures, all the miles driven, all the people I met, everything; it had all been beyond what I imagined it would and could be.

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Thank you again to the entire Xbox team for all your hard work and for the particular people who helped make this happen for me and who made me (and hundreds of other fans) feel so special!

My love and passion for Xbox pushed me to go way out of my comfort zone and experience all of this, and their generosity made it all happen to begin with  The Xbox team gave a lot of people some of the most fun-filled days of their lives and I know that for me personally it was the best week of mine.