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Come & Join the Party

by Andrew Hayes

Are all LAN parties like the presentation one setup for the February TPC meeting? The straight answer is "no", but the correct answer would be "usually".

FPS (First Person Shooters) make up the major portion of all LAN party gaming content, primarily because they are easier to understand. They offer a view of the world that we are all used to, but allow us to perform actions that are otherwise impossible in RL (Real Life).

Think of it this way... If you have ever played a good FPS before, how many times have you physically leant to the left or right to look around a tree or to strafe your enemies, when all that actually does is tilt the monitor image? I know I do.

Why? Because it's easier to get immersed into a virtual world that looks and behaves (mostly) like our real one, and this becoming that much easier with the increase in graphic detail possible with the latest games like Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Aliens vs. Predator 2 or the upcoming Unreal II, coupled with a high-end graphics card like Radeon 8500 or GeForce 3 Ti 500 (and the soon to be released GeForce 4) to keep the frame-rate up.

This is the overriding reason why MMORPG's (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) using an FPS viewpoint, like Everquest, Anarchy Online and their ilk, are gaining a stronger following that those that employ an isometric view like Ultima Online.

But then, you don't usually play MMORPG's at a LAN Party because of the more open-ended structure to the "missions", which could take several days to complete successfully.

This brings us to another aspect of the LAN party; Time.

Most FPS games are comprised of relatively short missions with well-defined goals (Deathmatch, Capture-the-flag, Tournament, etc.), which means everyone gets to try several different tactics and strategies during an entire gaming session of several hours. Even if you lose one game, you still get an opportunity to do better next time.

This mission-based time aspect is also prevalent in another common LAN party game genre; The RTS (Real Time Strategy) game.

There are so many titles in this field, and they all offer pretty much the same features, that it's hard to really distinguish one over another. Some of the more popular ones from my past were Command and Conquer, Warcraft, Starcraft and Age of Empires, but they have now been replaced with newer versions that offer better graphics, enhanced sound effects, and funky new features.

Warcraft III, Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, Age of Mythology, Civilization III, Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds, Command and Conquer Red Alert 2, MechCommander 2 and a whole host of others, are now carrying the RTS banner to new heights, with many allowing co-operative gameplay.

Of course, not everyone likes running around solo, trying to get the most frags while avoiding enemy fire, and there are plenty of titles in all 3 genres (FPS, RPG, and RTS) that allow human players to help (or hinder) each others' attempts at winning:

Return to Castle Wolfenstein includes Allied and Axis teams; Independence War 2 allows player controlled wingmen; MechWarrior4: Black Night includes player Lancemates, Tribes 2 has vehicles that need one player to drive and another to fire the gun; IL-2 Sturmovik has player squadrons, and so on...

In multiplayer RTS games you are able to trade with each other, share maps, perform diplomatic functions like signing treaties or organizing assassinations, assist with combat against a stronger foe, or sneak round the back and take-over the HQ of a trusting ally while their army is off helping yours...

Baldur's Gate 2 allows human players to control the other party members, Everquest has many, many player characters, and Commandos 2 allows human players to take over 1 or more of the team members.

Graphical RPG's are the newest entrant to the multiplayer scene but have shown the greatest growth, especially online. What started with Ultima Online now has so many titles to choose from that it's difficult to differentiate them, although the better ones seem to be Dark Age of Camelot, Everquest and Anarchy Online.

It's the ability to build a persona based on a set of characteristics, like strength, dexterity, constitution, and to grow that character during play, that makes RPGs attractive. The more your character uses a sword or pistol, the better they become, and as they advance levels this opens doors to new equipment, skills, spells, or even whole areas to explore.

The fantasy aspect is very prevalent in RPGs (who hasn't imaged themselves as a knight in shining armor on a white horse battling a fire-breathing red dragon; an agile rogue scaling walls and jumping across rooftops, carrying a precious gem stolen from a mummy's tomb; a tall, elegant magic-user casting powerful spells to grow a wall of trees to impede the advancing goblin army?) and the latest crop fulfill our desires to "flesh out" the image that we have.

Of course, text-based multiplayer RPGs have been around for a while. It didn't take long for multiplayer capabilities to be added to the Colossal Cave Adventure style text adventure game and give birth to a new genre of MUA's (Multi-User Adventures).

The original MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) was written by Roy Trubshaw back in 1979, then taken up and further developed by Richard Bartle from 1980.

It ran on a server at Essex University before it was made public through the work of MUSE (founded by the original developers) and BT. It was at a Computer Shopper show in London during the early 80's that I bought the small black folder with the immortalized words "You haven't lived 'til you've died in MUD" emblazoned on the front, and that was my introduction into multiplayer games.

Nowadays, these text-based multiplayer RPG's are extensive developments, with large maps, good NPC AI, city-governments, working economies, huge numbers of skills and spells, and a strong community following. Primarily these are played through a telnet client and the most popular is zMUD, which also contains a list of the available MUD's that can be connected to, although my favorite is Avalon due to the system that they have implemented, including cities, farming, mining, guilds, and many other features.

It is the interaction with human players, as friends or foes, which draws many gamers into the multiplayer world and keeps them there.

That is why LAN parties were created.

Although there is communication between players when online (which is even easier with Roger Wilco. A voice chat system for games that utilizes a headphone/microphone headset as a "virtual walkie-talkie"), it is nothing compared to the interaction that is found when a bunch of people haul their gaming pc's to a friends house, network them together, and go crazy with RtCW, Tribes 2, Diablo II, or C&C Yuri's Revenge.

Unfortunately, it is the necessity of having a location with adequate hardware support that limits the number of LAN parties that occur. Not many people have laptops powerful enough for gaming purposes, and few would relish the idea of lugging their base unit, keyboard, mouse, cables, software and monitor to a different place each week.

Having a permanent location with networked gaming PC's is the ideal solution, but it is very difficult to implement. The next best thing is having an available set of monitors, and players bring their own base units.

If you have to take all the hardware yourself, and you don't have a suitable laptop, build a dedicated LAN gaming system using a small pc case with network support, small keyboard, wireless optical mouse, 15" TFT screen, power strip, power cords, 10m LAN cable, and a headset.

Also make sure that everyone has the same version of the gaming software installed, as there are known issues with networking different releases of most games.

Most of the advances in today's multiplayer games are in the AI, graphics and sounds:

  • The NPCs (Non-Player Characters) in BG2 have unique personality traits and will interact with each other as well as you.
  • German soldiers in MOHAA react to your presence, hiding and firing from different locations.
  • U2 uses a game engine with very high polygon counts for all objects, so trees look realistic from all angles rather than flat bitmaps.
  • The EAX support in AvP2 allows positional sound that can warn you of impending attack by a hidden Alien.
Eventually, games will get to the point where you can traverse cities in a number of different vehicles, learn skills and forms of combat, build corporations, and interact with a vast number of races and personalities, all in vivid, photo-realistic, dynamic 3D complete with ambient and pin-point positional sound effects.

Much like RL...

See Andrew's recommended RPG* Links below

* Role Playing Game
not Rocket Propelled Grenade
- although Andrew probably knows a few sites dedicated to those too.

RPG Links

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

April , 2002

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN