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Mass Effect 3 boldly goes where no game has gone before

There are promotional stunts and then there are PROMOTIONAL STUNTS. This one definitely deserves the caps, as if it is yelling at you. EA and BioWare’s Mass Effect 3 won’t be available to the hoi polloi until March 6, but for a few lucky (extremely dedicated, even manic) fans, there is a shot that they will be able to get their hands on a few copies of the game as early as tomorrow.

Beginning early tomorrow, EA will begin launching copies of the game into space.

Go ahead and take a moment to re-read that if you need.

Yes, beginning tomorrow morning at 7 a.m., the first of several copies of Mass Effect 3 will be launched clear of our planetary prison and reach heights previously unknown (for a game). The packages will reach the upper reaches of the atmosphere, then return, in a method that

To put all of that in perspective, the plan sounds ridiculously similar to the first American manned space flight, when Alan Shepard strapped himself onto the top of a Redstone Rocket back on May 5, 1961. But rather than an American braving the new frontier and risking himself for his country and a place in history, it will be, you know, a game promotion. And instead of a historic day in which the entire world stopped and took note, this will just be on a Thursday.    

So here’s the deal: Beginning tomorrow, EA will start chucking games into orbit. Actually it won’t hit quite that distance, but it will reach heights most games could only dream about, so to speak. The first launch will occur at 7 a.m. (presumably PST, but that wasn’t specified), and each day a new city will host another launch or two. The order of launch cities will be: San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York, London, Paris, and Berlin. Tomorrow San Francisco will host two launches, the second will be at 10 a.m., and the other two American launch cities will follow suit with two launches at 7 and 10 a.m. The European launch times have yet to be announced.

Once the packages have kissed the heavens, they will begin their descent, and from that point on fans can track the packages on the official page. The first one to rendezvous with the formerly celestial game, gets to keep it.

Now while EA is using the term “launch” and “blastoff,” which conjures images of the game sitting atop a rocket before being shot into the sky thanks to a giant missile, the truth is a little less… well, violent. EA is partnering with Dr. Ben Longmier, a Ph.D. from the University of Houston, and one of the people responsible for Project Aether, a program designed to prove the viability of space exploration using high-altitude weather balloons. Working with students from Texas A&M who plan a similar launch to explore the Aurora Borealis, the project will use weather balloons to help research weather patterns and the interference on satellites by solar flares.

EA will pony up for the new equipment, including HD cameras and GPS tracking devices. Once the packages are spaceward bound, fans can log onto the official website and follow the adventures of the games, as they look down on the Earth from the upper atmosphere. A full set of rules and conditions will be available prior to the first launch.

Although the details are still slim, there must be some measure of control over where the package will end up, but even so, there is still a huge amount of chance associated with this. The odds are slim that the games will end up in the ocean, for example, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one won’t wind up in the middle of the desert, atop a mountain, or sacrificed to a long-dormant volcano god. Granted, that last one seems somewhat unlikely.

A handful of lucky gamers will embark on the high-tech scavenger hunts will also end up with a special prize — the prizes will change by launch, but all packages will contain the full version of Mass Effect 3. And not just any version, but the vaunted Mass Efect 3: Space Edition. What that means in terms of gameplay is unclear, but when your friends tell you about their cool pre-order bonuses, including extra content and some unique weapons, you can confidently point to your prize and casually mention that your game has been to space. That sort of trumps most pre-order bonuses.

So keep an eye on the Heavens tomorrow—actually, keep an eye on your computer screen, which will have an eye on the Heavens. Maybe if you are in the right place at the right time, you can snag yourself a copy of Mass Effect 3. From space! For the rest of us, we will have to be content with our gravity-bound cages and wait until March 6 when Mass Effect 3 is released.