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The Xbox 360 rush is on

Microsoft kicks off the Xbox 360 era with three trucks loaded to the rafters with the next-generation consoles at its special launch event in the Mojave desert.

PALMDALE, Calif.--It looked as if Norm Edwards was going to get the shaft. Until he didn't.

Since 1 p.m. Monday, Edwards, a 33-year-old video game writer from Brentwood, Calif., had been at the head of the line to pick up his Xbox 360 at Microsoft's Zero Hour launch event here. Before long, hundreds of other gamers had fallen in behind him and he had taken on something akin to celebrity status.

Not long before the official 9 p.m. launch time, however, Edwards was informed that, despite his having spent nearly six hours waiting, he would actually only be the third to get an Xbox. That's because, he was told, two winners of a Microsoft and G4 Network contest were being awarded the right to show up at the last minute and be the first in line.

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Video: Gamers spend long day in Palmdale
Microsoft launches Xbox in the desert.

But at 9 p.m., the line was huge and word had spread about Edwards' perceived injustice. So someone at Best Buy--Microsoft's Xbox retail partner--intervened and in the end, despite the presence of camera crews filming the contest winners, Edwards was handed the very first console.

Monday night's distribution of the consoles in a 200,000-square-foot hangar in this desert town was the official launch for the new console. Across the country, retailers will be opening their doors to buyers at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. But the more than 2,000 people here by invitation only since Sunday night had come from across the country and around the world for nearly 30 hours of playing games, listening to music and hanging out with other gamers.

As it grew close to 9 p.m. Monday, the line snaking out from the rear corner of the hangar got longer and longer. It stretched to one end of the hangar, curled back and went back nearly the whole length again. Most of the people in the line were sitting on white beanbags. The lucky ones whose position in line had them sitting next to one of the many Xbox kiosks in the room were able to play games while they waited.

Meanwhile, Anthony Sager, a 23-year-old from Anaheim Hills, Calif., had gotten in line just after Edwards. He said he was impressed with Microsoft's and Best Buy's system for selling the consoles in which buyers paid their money earlier in the day and got wristbands entitling them to an Xbox. The idea was that once the distribution started, those with wristbands would be quickly ushered through the line.

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Microsoft launches Xbox 360
Gamespot's Ryan MacDonald talks with Microsoft's top Xbox marketing man, Peter Moore.
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In fact, it worked even better than expected. Best Buy and Microsoft personnel had predicted the line would take about two hours to resolve. But in the end, the last people in line had their Xboxes in their hands after only about 45 minutes.

Still, to those who had been in line for as much as eight hours, being at the front was worth it.

"It's (being) part of video game history," said Sager. "You could go to Target, but at least here you could play video games" while you wait.

Further, he said, he planned on driving by the Best Buy near his house where his friends would be waiting until it opened at 9 a.m. Tuesday and crow about already having his Xbox.

In any case, at precisely 9 p.m. Monday, security pulled back the police barriers near the cash registers at the far end of the hangar and three huge trucks pulled in. Best Buy workers jumped out and opened the trucks' huge rear doors. To deafening cheers from the crowd, hundreds of Xboxes appeared, stacked floor to ceiling in the trucks.

As the line streamed forward, gamers emerged with huge smiles on their faces, looking as if they'd won a huge reward--not paid $400 for an Xbox.

And with their Xboxes in hand, many of them headed straight for the exits. Over and over again, groups of friends crossed the hangar floor, one with a stack of Xboxes, another with two or more of the beanbags, which Microsoft was giving away.

And to some of the gamers walking away, ready to get in their cars and head home, the hours of waiting was worth every minute.

"I feel great," said Steve Brammer, one of the first to get an Xbox. "I've been here for freaking ever. I came all the way from Minneapolis."

Asked why he'd come so far when he could have bought his Xbox closer to home, he cited the experience of being part of Zero Hour. And why spend so many hours waiting in line?

"I wanted to be gaming this evening," Brammer said.