On the 18th of November, I had to get out of bed at stupid-o’clock in the morning. Not because I suffer acute workaholism, dear reader, but because I was due to catch a plane to Los Angeles. A plane that would be my official transport to Origen - Microsoft’s supposed “heaven for gamers.”
So come midday, I had bid farewell to my girlfriend and was sitting in Economy class on a British Airways 747 waiting to take off. This would be my first long-haul flight and I was relatively nervous since 10 hours in the air seems like a lifetime. Thankfully, I have no fear of flying so I was somewhat more excited than the poor chap sitting next to me who appeared to be slowly eating his fingers down to the knuckles.
“Been watching ‘Lost’?” I asked.
“No,” he curtly replied, obviously not sharing my twisted sense of humour.
Take off was uneventful and was quickly followed by our first in-flight meal - smoked salmon salad for starters followed by the quintessentially British dish, Chicken Tikka with fruit salad for dessert. The food was really quite palatable considering it wasn’t too far from a supermarket TV dinner. Having said that, maybe the wine had effected my judgement.
The rest of the flight consisted of some hardcore Nintendo DS, a lot of reading and “Batman Begins” through the dodgiest headphones I have ever heard. Trust me on this - 10 hours simply flew by.
Apon landing at LAX and sauntering through customs, I was greeted by an all too cheerful Xbox representative and led, with several other Origen winners and a couple of European game journalists, to a stretched HUMVEE limousine which would take us to our hotel. The Hummer was incredibally cool and we swiftly cracked open the complimentary Champagne whilst marvelling as Los Angeles passed by our windows.
Our hotel turned out to be just as posh as it appeared on it’s website and the Xbox reps quickly made sure we were comfortable and handed us our ID cards and Welcome Packs.
The Welcome Pack contained lots of high energy, high caffeine foodstuffs to help us through the impending 36 hour stint of gaming we were to undergo at Zero Hour. It also contained an agenda of the event as well as the news that I would be receiving an Xbox 360 apon it’s release in Europe on December the 2nd. The pack also contained an Xbox 360 beanie and some self-warming fingerless gloves since it gets pretty cold in the desert at night.
Having had a shower, gone photo crazy and unpacked a little, it was time to head back downstairs for a little quiet socialising in the hotel bar. Boy was I in for a shock.
As it turned out, the hotel bar was actually something of an “it” bar for the local jet-setters and, when I stepped out of elevator into the lobby, it was awash with stuck-up hollywood wannabes and posh young proffessionals. Having obtained a bottle of Corona at the bar, I quickly went in search of Geeks - easily identifiable by their pasty complexions and gamer oriented apparel. Thankfully I discovered that language wasn’t a barrier and had a very pleasant evening talking mostly with the journalists. I also spent quite a lot of the night explaining to Americans that I wasn’t from New Zealand and that Europe wasn’t just one country.
The next morning I awoke with a fairly minor hangover and went downstairs for breakfast. Whilst munching on a variety of fresh fruit, I was reliably informed that there would be a paid-for coach tour around LA in the afternoon so I spent the rest of the morning wandering around Santa Monica and Venice beach with Rob from MSXbox World and Morton from Console.dk.
The tour in the afternoon was pretty cool as we were ferryed from one spot to another on a classic American Yellow School Bus. Our tour guide was a lady named Priscilla (and not a stoner named Otto) and she showed us such sights as Venice Beach, Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, the Hollywood sign and West Hollywood. It never ceased to amaze me just how much Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas looks like the real thing. All day the weather was gorgeous - a whopping 30 degrees C in the middle of November. We were informed this wasn’t usual and was down to a Santa Ana Condition.
We returned to the hotel after dark and were all invited to a cocktail party by Digital Outlook, the agency who had organised the Origen competition. This was a fairly uneventful affair that once again resulted in a fairly minor hangover.
Come Sunday, you could feel the excitement in the air. The day we would travel to Palmdale for Zero Hour had finally arrived. Cameras primed and game-related clothing on, we were ferried to Santa Monica private airfield by stretched HUMVEEs where we were swiftly flown to Palmdale via 3 private planes. This was awesome. Our views of Los Angeles and the Mojave desert were second to none.
Apon landing we were once again ferried (by Hummer) to a new hotel where we would be able to catch some z’s at any point during Zero Hour should we wish to (a shuttle bus ran every hour). After a brief pause for some food and time to get our stuff together, we piled on a bus bound for the event…