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Gamers get a crack at Halo 2 Long-awaited sequel debuts

NEW YORK -- There's a new media king, only he isn't on the radio or in the movies. His name? Master Chief. His role: Interstellar soldier and star of Halo 2, one of the most anticipated video games ever.

Across the nation, fans lined up for hours at some 7,000 planned "midnight madness" events yesterday to get first crack at the $50 sequel from Microsoft Corp.

Miguel Chavez, a 36-year-old father of two boys, waited about 10 hours at a Toys "R" Us in New York City's Times Square to buy his copy of the game. He took along an Xbox console and a projection system so they could play the original Halo: Combat Evolved to pass the time.

"This is more than just a game for some of us," said Chavez, a self-employed computer consultant. "Productivity in the workforce is probably going to go down for the next few days."

Millions like Chavez have apparently caught Halo 2 fever. Microsoft said it had 1.5 million copies preordered, and predicted first-day sales of more than $100 million.

Three years in the making, Halo 2 pits super soldier Master Chief against throngs of vicious aliens called the Covenant.

Getting to play the lead character is part of Halo's attraction, but Chavez said the real draw is the multiplayer feature. The original game, which has sold 5 million copies, is limited to split screen battles with interconnected Xboxes. Halo 2, by Microsoft's Bungie Studios, is more ambitious, allowing up to 16 gamers to play against each other from anywhere in the world using Microsoft's $50 a year Xbox Live service.

"Bungie nailed it with multiplayer aspect," Chavez said of Halo 2's added features. He already plans a party soon where he and friends will connect their Xboxes and form massive battles. Greg Kasavin, editor at the video game website Gamespot.com, attributed Halo's popularity to its story, which is rich for a video game and has been further chronicled in a series of novels and spawned offshoots, such as the short "Red vs Blue" Internet films.

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