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In New York, approaching zero Halo hour. Plus: Master Chief interview!

The debut hour approaches nearer for the final installment of the Xbox 360 trilogy, as Microsoft throws a star-studded bash.

The man of the hour: Jim 'Master Chief' Cush Caroline McCarthy/CNET Networks

Leave it to Microsoft to turn the glitz factor up to eleven. The company that brought us interpretive dancers on bungee cords for its Vista operating system has brought in spotlights, prizes, NFL players, and rappers for the launch of Halo 3, the final installment of its hit first-person shooter trilogy, which launches at midnight on Tuesday.

They kind of need to do it. As Halo is a piece of software, not a harder-to-manufacture gaming console or handheld device, the way that Microsoft has drawn the crowds for this Xbox 360 release is with star power. If there weren't a high-profile launch event, fans could just nap until midnight and then stroll over to pick up a copy. Many of the almost exclusively male, almost exclusively under-25 queuers showed up either to meet other fans, or to be a part of the experience.

Throughout the evening, a host of local NFL players like Osi Umenyiora and Brandon Jacobs of the New York Giants and Leon Washington and Nick Mangold of the New York Jets have been showing up to play the new Halo game--behind the windows of the store, which closed to the public at 9 PM. Outside, the crowds have been picking up free t-shirts and inflatable goodies, yelling "Hi, Mom!" for the cameras from the cable networks G4 and Spike TV (both are broadcasting the launch), and sampling the Mountain Dew "Game Fuel" being handed out in plastic shot glasses. (For the record, it tastes like prescription cough medicine.)

Later in the evening, rappers Chingy and Ludacris (who was the guest of honor at Sony's PlayStation 3 launch last year) and R&B singer Bobby Valentino are scheduled to show up, too. But for now, the center of the photo ops is Jim Cush, an IT professional who is, for the night, the guy dressed up in the armor of Halo protagonist Master Chief.

When asked about the temperature inside his plastic suit of armor, Cush responded that it was "extremely hot. I've been trying to drink a lot of water and everything, but I'm trying not to drink too much so that I'd have to go to the bathroom." He'd apparently earned the gig through connections to some prominent Xbox Live folks, and said that the night had brought him "probably the craziest look form a woman I've ever got in my life."

But it's been a great evening, Cush insisted. "Everyone's pretty friendly," he explained. "Look at these guys," he said, gesturing toward the bubbly young crowds in line, who were waving around inflatable rods and glow sticks. "None of them knew each other before tonight." He's planning to join the crowds at midnight in obtaining the game.

It is, really, all about the experience.