CARY, N.C. Epic Games’ launch for “Gears of War 2” is turning into a worldwide phenomenon typically reserved for a major Hollywood production. And why not? After all, videogames produced more revenue than movies and DVDs in 2007, with the original "Gears" helping to boost interactive entertainment sales ever higher.

The November 2006 release of "Gears" sold more than 5 million copies. It also has won numerous awards and lifted Cary-based Epic to the elite among game-development studios. With publishing partner Microsoft throwing its hefty weight behind the new "Gears," Epic has sold movie rights, published a novel, and – as we have noted numerous times before – launched an entertainment franchise. Early reviews of "Gears" have been very positive for the most part, with hero Marcus Fenix vs. the Locust Horde adorning numerous game magazine covers around the globe.

Plus, Epic is reporting that advance sales for the have already exceeded those for the original. And the first "Gears" was heavily hyped as well, becoming Microsoft’s top 2006 Christmas release.

"Gears 2" goes on sale at 12:01 a.m. Friday, with the Best Buy in the Crossroads mall near Epic’s headquarters staying open late for a “Midnight Mayhem” event. Select will be there to sign autographs and give away some “swag,” or promotional merchandise, Epic’s Dana Cowley tells The Skinny.

But as we said, the "Gears 2" kickoff is global:

More than 20,000 retailers around the world plan to have 12:01 a.m. kickoff events, according to Epic and Microsoft.

These include huge launch parties in London, Los Angeles and New York.

Cliff Bleszinski, lead designer for the game (and a feature profile in the new issue of New Yorker magazine) will be at Universal Studios in Los Angeles to sign autographs. He’ll be joined by the actors performing the "Gears" voices, John DiMaggio as tough guy Fenix included.

Nightmare Armor Studios, which created a line of battle armor gear that replicates the attire of Fenix and his fellow “Delata Squad” warriors, will have a full squad on patrol at the event.

Epic senior producer Rod Fergusson is off to attend the New York event. And Joshua Ortega, a co-writer of "Gears," will be in Microsoft’s hometown of Bellevue, Wash., for another launch gig.

Bottom line? What a week this should be for Cliff and crew.