Last night, Microsoft rolled out the red carpet for Halo 3. The UK launch, held at London's IMAX cinema, was supposed to be just like a movie premiere. It was supposed to show games finally joining the mainstream party, the crowd stepping aside as Master Chief, flanked by pop stars and TV celebrities, led the way to the bar.
It wasn't and it didn't. Games might have joined the party, but they're still standing in the kitchen picking at Pringle crumbs and talking amongst themselves. Master Chief might have been flanked by a pop star, but chances are the pop star barely knew his name and was only there for the beer. The TV celebrity might have been famous for only four months, but it was her the mainstream media were trying to get off with.
There were plenty of Master Chief fans there all the same. They were dedicated enough to stand in the rain outside the IMAX and watch the stars arrive - the stars being Pharrell Williams, Christian Slater and Chanelle off of Big Brother. There were others walking down the red carpet, but they were mostly met with blank looks and shouts of "Who are you?" from the crowd.
Standing in the crowd was 25-year-old Londoner Ahmet Devici, who wasn't there for the celebs - "I'm here to see the game. I've read a lot of conflicting reviews and I don't know what to think. I've seen a lot of videos and it doesn't look that impressive. Maybe today will change my mind, maybe it'll blow me away."
Unsurprisingly, considering the focus of the event, all the crowd members we spoke to declared themselves to be dedicated Xbox fans. "I've never owned a PlayStation and I don't intend to. They're overpriced," said Devici. "The Wii's fun, but only Wii Sports is fun, and I wouldn't pay GBP 120 to play tennis."
Some of the attendees said they owned a Wii, but none would admit to having bought a PS3. Why not? "There aren't any games for it," was one reason given, along with "the lack of exclusivity", "Xbox Live's better" and, time and time again, "the price." And of course: "Halo's on Xbox. Why buy a console that doesn't have Halo?"
Self-titled "Xbox person" Gary Thompson, 28, had travelled all the way from Aberdeen for the Halo 3 launch. "It's going to be an amazing game," he predicted. "Judging by the first one, the second one, the trailers and the beta - it just looks the business. Better than anything else."
What about suggestions that it hasn't pushed the series forward as much as fans might have been hoping for? "If it's the same as Halo 2 that's no bad thing, because Halo 2 was so good. If it's just improved a little bit - fine," said Thompson.
There were only a handful of women in the crowd, certainly less than at the launch of The Burning Crusade and none wearing elf ears. 20-year-old Holly Bennett from South Wales said Halo wasn't her favourite game, or even her favourite FPS - she'd come for the event first and foremost. "Ten years ago you'd never have this for a launch of any game or even a console," she observed. "Gaming is mainstream now, it's finally being recognised."
Unlike most of the people trooping down the red carpet. It was time to leave the crowd behind (including the bloke shouting, "I recognised someone! 100 points!") and head into the IMAX foyer, where the drink had run out and the journalists were getting restless. Luckily, reinforcements arrived before everyone was ushered into the cinema and the show began.
It began with a movie recapping Halo's history. Talking heads were shown describing it as "more than just a videogame", a phenomenon which "changed the face of entertainment forever". The movie was only projected onto a middle portion of the giant screen and Master Chief looked a bit blurry blown up to 1000 times normal size, but it was still rather exciting.
Iain Lee, TV presenter, gamer and host for the evening, was jolly excited. He introduced Bungie's Joe Tung and Lee Wilson to the stage, and they proceeded to demo a Halo 3 level. To jeers from the audience - comprised mainly of competition winners - they set the difficulty level to "normal" rather than "heroic", with Tung claiming this was due to a lack of skill on Wilson's part.
Then it was time for the night's main event, or so Microsoft would have it - a Halo 3 match on Xbox Live, played by celebrities in various cities across Europe. The celebrities included Carmen Electra, LL Cool J and, as Lee described them, "the Italian Chuckle Brothers", but representing the UK was Pharrell Williams.
Despite Lee's boisterous welcome and applause from the crowd, Williams trundled onto the stage with all the excitement of a man walking into Argos. Things did not go well for him from the start. It turned out the axis inversion was all wrong and the game had to be paused while someone sorted it out for him, and LL Cool J continued to rack up points. There were jeers from the audience for Williams and cheers for Mark Webb, a MySpace competition winner also playing the game and doing it much better than his pop star rival.
In the end Williams managed two kills and came second-to-last, beating Carmen Electra but unable to defeat the might of the Italian Chuckle Brothers. There were a few boos as the results were read out to which Williams responded: "It was my first time playing." The Microsoft execs in the audience must have been hoping they kept the receipt.
The real excitement of the night came next. Lee announced that four players would take to the stage to play a team deathmatch battle, and that the victorious team - red or blue - would win copies of Halo 3 for all those in the audience with wristbands of the relevant colour. This news got much bigger cheers than Williams.
But the cheers were followed by confusion over who was actually going to take part in the match. Then, once it was underway, there was confusion over whether one of the player's controllers was working properly, with Lee shouting "He needs a new battery!" with desperate urgency. Then there was more confusion over axis inversion. Then a member of the audience stood up and shouted, "It's the wrong way round." Turned out the red team on the screen was actually the blue team on the stage.
At the end of the 10-minute match the score stood at red 57, blue 34. Except it was really blue who won. Lee made the best of it by calling for a Microsoft executive to take the stage and Stephen McGill, Microsoft UK's head of gaming and entertainment, was brave enough to step up. Lee demanded that he promise copies of the game for the entire audience to make up for the confusion, adding, "They deserve it." He led a chant of "Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve!" and McGill asked the crowd, "Do you want it?" A resounding "Yeah!" came back. McGill replied, "You can have it." The first proper whoops of the night ensued.
And it was all over, at least for the members of the audience who headed straight out of the IMAX, pausing only to pick up their copy of Halo 3 and a t-shirt on the way. Plenty stayed in the upstairs foyer to try out the game on demo pods. A smaller proportion headed off to the after-show party in Soho.
There was no sign of Christian Slater there, although Pharrell Williams made it along with Caprice and Sarah Harding of Girls Aloud. Chanelle and fellow ex-housemate Chantelle were there too, sticking together like hair extension glue and competing to see who could look through their fringes the hardest. There were a few games journalists, including one who was thrilled to be approached by Richard Branson's handsome son only to realise he was just warning her there was toilet paper stuck to her shoe.
So that was the Halo 3 launch. It didn't prove that gaming is mainstream now; if anything, it highlighted how far gaming has to go. The problem is gamers are cynical, they know their subject and they won't be impressed by a pop star who can't be bothered to practice a game before he goes on stage.
Gaming and celebrities don't mix well, because games don't really have their own celebrities. Yes, there's Master Chief and Lara Croft, but they don't exist in the real world in the same way Brad Pitt or Britney Spears do.
Master Chief's never going to split up with Jennifer Aniston, and Lara Croft's never going to make headline news for poor lip-synching - however guilty she is of it.
The Halo 3 launch did make the Proper News yesterday, and it's true the gaming demographic has broadened. Millions play World of Warcraft, old people love Brain Training, everyone loves the Wii and everyone's Mum plays Solitaire. But if you showed your Mum a picture of Master Chief, could she put a name to the shiny yellow face?
Probably not. So to get the name of its game and its hero known by the wider market, Microsoft has to hire celebrities. The Sun won't report that Pharrell Williams is rubbish at Halo 3, but they might report that Pharrell Williams was at a videogame launch, and they might mention that game is called Halo 3. But perhaps Microsoft, and some other platform holders, just need to make sure that they're not leaving gamers in the kitchen.