Dreams Come True

Never in my life did I imagine having my lifelong favorite actor standing in front of me, or the voices of my favorite characters in gaming asking me what my name is. Thanks to the events that the teams at Xbox and 343 Industries put on in the last few weeks I was able to experience those moments with many of my fellow gamers from all around the world. At a time when other companies are stepping back from doing events like this for fans, the Xbox team doubled-down on their focus for being fan-centric – a movement they have always innovated at and been at the forefront of.

When I initially went to Los Angeles in June 2015 for E3 and had the best week of my life, it was the first time I’d ever gone anywhere like that from my home state of Minnesota. It was so far out of my bubble of simply working, gaming (and also many years of school prior to that). As I left E3 2015 I thought it would be several years until I was back, if ever, but then I went again in 2016, and then the next, and so on. It was all so fun, and I was also hoping to be there in attendance when the next big Halo was finally announced in some way – which finally happened in 2018!

Plaza

2019’s E3 promised to be even better, with everyone expecting a major showing from Gears 5, more on Halo Infinite, and also some news regarding Xbox’s new console. What made it all even more exciting is that Microsoft had now transformed a large part of LA Live (the area around the Microsoft Theater) into the “Xbox Plaza”. Plaques now adorned the sidewalks around the restaurants and bars, as well as out front of the theater itself, each plaque recognizing a milestone in Xbox’s history. They also future-proofed the concept by adding some blank plaques that will someday recognize accomplishments that are still yet to occur.

My first evening in Los Angeles, two days prior to Xbox’s 2019 media briefing, I walked over to the new Xbox Plaza and was in heaven as I saw it for the first time, as well as all the surrounding billboards and advertising space all showing off the upcoming big games. Gears 5 was being hyped in various places, Master Chief was on the side of the building, DOOM Eternal was covering the iconic Hotel Figueroa. It is that walk, those sights, that I look forward to all year – and here it all was happening again.

DOOM

This being my fifth E3, that “new” feeling to it all does not exist as much, since I’m now actually quite familiar with that area of town, but it has all become even more special to me. The nostalgia I have for it all doesn’t simply run back just a few days, or a year or two, but now all the way to 2015 – when life was so much different.

Plaque

As I walked through Xbox Plaza I thought back through all the years and memories, thought about the confidence and good spirits I gained from coming to E3 in the first place; meeting so many great people and being treated so well by the Xbox team and fellow fans  It helped me stop being content with the status quo and strive for more back at home, and get to a place that is so much better in every way.

HaloPlaque

Before and after college, I often had a sort of an abusive relationship type of dynamic with myself and past jobs – never trying for something better due to an ongoing lack of confidence – often agitated on by the job itself. So I would always find myself in a job that was “below me”, I would be frustrated with my pay, my co-workers’ lack of care or pride in their work (especially when working with animals) and knowing deep down that I could do better – but never having that spark that pushed me out of that negative, yet still comfortable spot in life

The experiences at E3, and knowing I’d be going again the next year – became that spark for me four years ago. It was the spark that pushed me year after year to make things better by the time the next event came around – and it worked! With hard work, and some good timing and luck, I now enjoy where I am and it makes gaming and looking forward to the future so much easier and more fun. Nothing is perfect, but when you no longer dread the next day of work, or maybe even enjoy it sometimes – it changes your life, personality, and perspective for the better.

So here I am in Los Angeles once again, in this new era of Xbox’s life and my own life – just as I’d hoped to be one year ago, and it is mere hours from another historic experience.

My second day in LA, on the eve of the briefing, I went to the Petersen Automotive Museum to check out their new exhibit that features Halo’s Warthog along with many other iconic vehicles from past movies and TV shows.

In the whirlwind of preparing for this year’s trip, I’d missed the fact that the HoloLens was part of this exhibit. It was such a treat to wear one of these devices again (for the first time since E3 2015) and even cooler was to have 343 Guilty Spark flying around me in augmented-reality in front of the Warthog. In addition to that, I saw some surprise vehicles from a few favorite movies that I never expected to see with my own eyes.

Those vehicles were far from the only shocking thing I would see with my own eyes on this trip though. At Sunday afternoon’s Xbox briefing, everything was going perfectly. The usual pre-event fun was happening: seeing friends,  taking pictures with some of the Xbox team and friends, sitting in the crowd with favorite people all around me (Aaron Greenberg himself just two seats away) but I had no idea what was about to happen – I get chills even thinking about it.

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My entire life I have been a fan of Keanu Reeves. I was very young when he became my favorite actor a few years before The Matrix came out, which still remains my favorite movie more than twenty years later. When 2014’s John Wick came out it filled me with pride and excitement to see Keanu not only back in prime form, but also with another huge success – and he’s been on fire with the good press and admiration ever since. You no longer hear the cliche “he’s a bad actor” line whenever Keanu is brought up like would happen in the past – it’s nothing but love for him, his movies, and most importantly the person he is.

Even though I love seeing him in a movie, I’ve always admired how he stays out of the public eye elsewhere. He never causes any drama or issues, and is simply a genuinely nice person who works hard when it comes time to. He was a huge role model for me, even from a distance, and I feel like I subconsciously became somewhat the way I am because of how much a fan of his I’ve been my entire life.

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When I’m at the Xbox briefing – that’s my high point of the year. Nothing is going to top that excitement except for maybe those rare moments back at home when I’m launching a new Halo game for the first time (which only comes along once every 3-5 years). So I’m sitting there in the theater watching the CGI trailer for Cyberpunk 2077 – likely the most anticipated release overall in gaming, when suddenly Keanu Reeves appears at the end of the game’s trailer, causing everyone in the crowd to gasp and cheer. Keanu is already beloved, hot on the heels of John Wick 3’s release in mid-May, but the demographic of people in the Microsoft Theater this afternoon is even more likely to be longtime fans of Keanu – so it was LOUD.

Keanu.gif“We have a city to burn.”

Now these next moments still feel cloudy to me, because the shock and sensory overload was almost concussion-inducing. I was sitting on the far-right side of the stage and looking up and to the left at the giant 4K screen the CGI trailer had been shown on – when suddenly I see the wall in front of me on stage rising up with a light behind it – and I already knew then what was happening due to watching these kinds of shows for almost two decades: Keanu Reeves was here and about to walk out.

As music blared and his silhouette stood in front of us, an announcer welcomed Keanu Reeves. The crowd went wild, I had tears of happiness, and it was all so incredible to me as the biggest shock of my life was suddenly unfolding – and on this day of all days.


Click play to relive the exact moment

In the weeks leading up to E3 I had actually researched red carpet premieres and had this longshot bucket list hope that someday, probably in the distant future, I would simply be able to see Keanu in real life. I’d met so many of my other favorite people in the world – most of them members of the Xbox team – but I still had two people I’d like to meet. More realistically, I wanted to simply see them in person since they were hugely popular actors, and Keanu was one of those two people. In my wildest dreams I never expected that dream of seeing Keanu to come together with the Xbox media briefing, an event that has meant so much to me for so long, especially these past few transformative years.

After that moment with Keanu, Halo Infinite’s segment was still to come and it indeed closed the show with an announcement that it would launch next fall, not only on the current Xbox One consoles, but simultaneously with Xbox’s new console – currently codenamed Project Scarlett. This will be the first time a new Xbox launches with a Halo game since the first Xbox’s launch back in 2001, so to say holiday 2020 will be a special one for Xbox gamers would be an understatement.

GetReady.gif“Get ready.”

The rest of E3 week was filled with fun as well. I was able to check out Gears 5’s new multiplayer mode “Escape”, Halo Reach on PC with mouse and keyboard, the new Forza Horizon 4 LEGO DLC a few days before it officially launched (which is fantastic by the way), and also had the chance to take a picture with the Master Chief for the first time ever.

A few days later I was home from my week in LA for E3, but would soon be heading out to Orlando for the first-ever Halo Outpost event, which would also be my first time in Florida. Before that though, less than 48 hours before my flight there to be exact, I had quite a special concert to attend here at home.

Rewinding back to before E3, on the afternoon of John WIck 3’s mid-May release night, I was home from work and of course in a great mood – this was the movie I’d counted down to for over two years. I went online briefly before heading to the theater for the first showing – and one of the only things I happened to see was an announcement that my other favorite actor, Kiefer Sutherland, is coming to Minneapolis for a show two days before I was to leave for Orlando.

Due to it being a small venue, I also assumed (incorrectly to be honest – since most people aren’t lucky enough to encounter him) that a moment with him before or after the show is basically guaranteed. Overall, it was an exciting day between buying my ticket for that show and seeing Keanu on the big screen, but I had no idea what would be coming up in my near future with the aforementioned Keanu moment, and my eventual meeting with Kiefer on a July afternoon in the city (which Keanu was also a part of in a small way).

It was another dream come true talking with Kiefer on a sidewalk I had walked on for so many years on my way to various other concerts or events in past years – many of those times with 24 on my mind as it is still my favorite show to this day and has engulfed many hours of my life as I’ve watched the entire series several times over.

Kiefer

A couple of days later, in the early morning hours of July 4th, I was on a plane to Orlando where even more dreams than I’d planned on came true. I had hoped to attend a Halo-focused event ever since 2011 when Halo Fest was announced – which was a ten-year anniversary celebration of Halo at PAX West that year, as a one-time event. If I had won the giveaway and gone to Seattle for my first gaming convention years prior to E3 2015, it would’ve changed the course of everything that all of my articles have been about. Of course I wish I could’ve gone to that event so long ago, but with the way things have turned out I can’t have many regrets overall anymore.

 

On day one of Halo Outpost, I met a man who I think of as the best wrestler alive today – Adam Cole, the current WWE NXT champion. I don’t talk about it much on my Twitter, as I mostly just focus on my fandom for Microsoft and Xbox on there, but I’ve been a wrestling fan since late 1999. To have one of the elite stars of that industry intersect with Halo, in the form of Adam Cole attending the event as a passionate fan of the franchise I love so much, was a big highlight of the event to me. He was so nice and gracious when I approached him just prior to him going up on stage to play some Halo 5 with some of the 343 Industries team, and Xbox Live’s Major Nelson.

I was hoping to maybe catch up with Major after the show for a quick hello and picture, but instead – he called me up on stage! On the opposite side of us – our opponents – sat WWE’s Adam Cole and 343i’s Unyshek.

ColeandUny

In a series of two custom matches of Halo 5, Major and I put up a long and hard fight in each match, but ultimately lost. I definitely left that stage feeling like a winner though as I shook Adam Cole’s hand once again, this time in the center of the stage, before hopping back down to my seat.

To be playing Halo with Major, who I’ve been a fan of from the start nearly fifteen years ago is cool enough on its own, but for it to be on stage, in Orlando, against 343i and Adam Cole of all people? That is unbelievably awesome to me, and made the whole trip worth it right then and there on day one.

However, the fun was far from over. The next afternoon (and the day after that) I met Steve Downes and Jen Taylor, the voices behind Master Chief and Cortana – the voices of so many of our childhoods. They hear it all of the time from fans, but Halo has been with me and most of us through so much – the good times, the bad times, and I know for me personally it was always nice to have the next Halo game out there on the horizon as something to look forward to when daily life wasn’t so great – filled with full days of school, and then work after it, etc.

I told Steve and Jen about how I enjoyed Halo 4 the most, especially due to how their performances were in that one, and I found out there (and at their panel afterward) that it is actually their favorite as well, and that it was the first time they were able to actually work together in the same room when doing their lines. I said that it showed, and that the passion and humanity in the delivery was unlike it had ever been before. I’m surprised I was even able to speak, since my mind had gone completely blank (twice) when trying to remember what I wanted them to write on my Halo 4 Steelbook, but overall it went so well. Both of them were so nice, and it was so cool to have those voices, those people, talking to you. I don’t know if they’ve ever done a signing together before, but I know how rare of a chance it was to meet them at all and I will bn forever grateful for those couple of minutes I had with them in total and with what I walked away with.

JenSteveandI.jpg

In this period of life now, with so much less daily strife, to have all these dreams come true and to be lucky enough to have all these amazing moments happen, it definitely feels like my life has peaked. Back in 2015 I had what I called the Best Week Ever at E3, but this past month was no doubt the best month ever – from Keanu to Halo Infinite, to Kiefer and all of the memories made at Halo Outpost – I have no idea what series of events could ever hope to top this marathon of moments that I’ll think back to for the rest of my life with a huge smile.

On the third and final day of Halo Outpost, I met with 343i founder Bonnie Ross for the first time since saying hello just prior to the Xbox briefing kicking off last month. She was nice as always, and it makes me think back to that first time I met her – the same day I first met Major and Aaron on the day of the 2015 briefing. I was part of a small group of people who approached her right as she stepped off Major’s Xbox Daily show stage in the lobby of the LA Convention Center the day before E3 2015 kicked off. Although it was all impromptu, she was happy to take a picture with each person who asked.

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Bonnie Ross and I (2015)

That picture was the last thing to happen on that unforgettable day four years ago, and I was so thrilled to not only have met almost all of my favorite people in the span of one day, but to have them all be so nice.

BonnieandI

Now here we are in 2019, where life, Xbox, and Halo have come so far (with the future brighter than ever for each) and I’m lucky enough not only to see Bonnie and so many others again – but to have them now actually know who I am? That’s real special to me in and of itself (and many others can say the same due to how fan-focused these people are) but it also makes me proud of myself.  Proud that I spent the time and money, and took the risks to go on these trips in the first place – sometimes with no idea or guarantee that anything would come of it. To think back to all that, and how it always went so well – most times going even better than I’d hoped – gave me so much confidence back at home and in daily life. The trips aren’t cheap, of course, but the ways they changed my life for the better and how happy they made me during and after are priceless.

XboxGameStudios

On the horizon we have so many amazing games coming from a variety of studios, and most of you that are reading this likely have dozens of amazing released games sitting in your backlog right now. This fall is going to be another incredible one with all of the new games coming out (Gears 5, Borderlands 3, DOOM Eternal – just to name a few). Then next spring we have Cyberpunk 2077, among many others, and of course next fall with a new Xbox and Halo. There is a bit of new hardware coming this fall too, in the form of the Xbox’s Elite Series 2 controller.

Scarlett.jpg

I played Gears 5 with this new controller at E3 and cannot wait to play with it at home, especially with the Xbox 360-era thumbsticks and tension it comes with. I joked with Major while gaming on stage in Orlando that we would be winning if only I was using that new Elite 2 controller (but to be honest I don’t think even that would’ve saved us). Honestly though, it does make a huge difference, and it’s going to be a big bright spot of this fall to get this next iteration of the Elite.

MSTheaterNight

Thank you for reading all that I wanted to share about these last few weeks of life, as one dream came true after another. Next June’s E3 2020 looks to clearly be the biggest one for Halo ever with Project Scarlett also slated to be heavily showcased – and likely demoed for the first time. There is so much to look forward to for us gamers, and I thank you all for reading this article and for always being there on Twitter with all the fun and chaos that happens on a regular basis. See you there!

– Rob

Twitter: @ReclaimerRob

Instagram: @reclaimerrob

Gamertag: Reclaimer Rob

In loving memory of Kitten:
Kitten.jpg
July 22nd, 2003 – February 11th, 2019

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