Online gaming: the state of the Net
Part One: Top Games
By Marc Saltzman
February 11, 1998
(CNN) -- No less than 20 years ago, the phrase "multiplayer gaming" referred to sitting around a bridge table in the
rec room playing a heated game of Monopoly until the wee hours of the morning. Most people reading this can probably still recall the weekly social event, encircled by wood paneling, a dusty shag carpet between their toes, and the sounds of Kiss's "Beth" crackling on the ol' turntable.
Web posted at: 3:11 PM EST (1511 GMT)
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Fast forward to 1998 and "multiplayer gaming" sure means something different to a wired generation staring over the horizon of a new millennium.
The growth of the Internet -- in particular the birth of the World Wide Web -- has spawned a huge digital playground, connecting players with a PC and a modem to other like-minded individuals from all corners of the globe. And computer gamers nowadays have a hearty multitude of choices to suit all tastes: head-to-head action blastfests, strategic resource management or tactical troop formation. Fast-paced sports games, fictitious worlds filled with magic and mayhem, battles in space or over war-torn skies, and of course good old fashioned head-scratching favorites such as chess, hearts, or Scrabble.
With such a vast assortment of game genres and titles to choose from, not to mention pricing plans and type of services available, where on Earth does a novice gamer begin? Right here.
Here's a brief look at the hottest Internet games and the best gaming networks online today. Everybody in?
With 250,000 registered users and over 2 million games played in 1997, Berkeley's "You Don't Know Jack -- The Net Show" (YDKJ) is one of this decade's most talked-about electronic adult diversions. Playable for free over The BeZerk Network (http://www.beZerk.com/), YDKJ drops players into an irreverent television-like game show that tests their pop culture trivia IQ. Two new games a week are served up with questions delivered by an obnoxious yet entertaining show host, including bonus holiday related shows and special themed episodes. The games come in three flavors: regular, sports and a Macintosh version, and the player is first required to download a small software client to reside on the hard drive. Up to three people at the same computer can play at the same time against one another to compete for weekly prizes.
Berkeley can afford to host these award-winning games to visitors due to their successful line of YDKJ CD-ROM titles, plus the BeZerk Network also contains the first true television-like ads on the Internet, dubbed Interstitials. Every few questions or so, gamers are exposed to these dynamic, full-screen ads, combining audio and fluid animation.
"You Don't Know Jack -- The Net Show" is perfect for trivia buffs or couch potatoes who tend to yell the answers at the TV during game shows (right or wrong ones, that is).
Although it has been out for over a year and a half already, id software's "Quake" is still a favorite among action gamers looking for the spontaneity of real human interaction, as distinguished from the computer's often predictable and boring artificial intelligence. "Quake" is a true 3D shooter, played from a first-person perspective, i.e., the environment is viewed from the gamer's eyes, complete with a gun in hand and the screen slightly bobbing up and down to simulate walking or running.
"Quake" remains at the top of the heap for adrenaline-pumping Internet play due to its revolutionary 3D engine, extreme customizability and utility software packages. Services like GameSpy (http://www.gamespy.com/) allows gamers to find and play others easily and QuakeWorld (http://www.quakeworld.net/) claims that players with average speed modems can play individual or team games with little lag. This means "Quake" gamers can host multiplayer matches on their own computers, making it easier for players to find games in their own geographical areas, resulting in fast, furious and seamless action without annoying Internet congestion.
With the exception of a couple "pay-to-play" networks, "Quake" is a free multiplayer game if the player has downloaded the shareware version or purchased the full CD.
"Quake 2," published by gaming giant Activision, was released just before the December holiday season and remains at the top of the retail charts, according to PC Data Inc.
Other populated virtual battlegrounds on the Internet aren't limited to gravity at all. Interactive Magic's "Warbirds 2.0" is a World War II aerial combat simulation, drawing both newbie and seasoned pilots together from around the world. In fact, iMagic Online (http://www.imagicgames.com/) is visited regularly by more than 70 countries, many of them forming squadrons to compete in special arenas and events. All games are played through the iMagic Online servers in Texas, with a proprietary technology allowing for over two hundred pilots in the same arena.
There are more than two dozen authentic aircraft to climb into such as the Spitfire, the P51 Mustang, and the B-17 Flying Fortress. iMagic Online's new MEGAvoice feature can also be employed to talk to your wingmen or fellow squadron members "hands free" during fervent dogfights.
"Warbirds 2.0" is free to download, as is the iMagic Online client software, but gamers must shell out $2 an hour to fly and fight in unfriendly skies. Five free hours are given to new members, plus the option to practice flying off-line or engage in a two-player head-to-head battle over the Internet at no charge whatsoever.
Future plans for Interactive Magic include a Direct3D version of "Warbirds" by the end of March (version 2.01) adding more graphic detail and speed to gameplay, in addition to 10 new planes and other new features.
Honorable mention for one of the top Internet games is given to Origin's ambitious "Ultima Online," a large multiplayer version of the hit role-playing game franchise from the mind of Lord British.
Literally thousands of players simultaneously interact in the fantasy kingdom of Brittanica -- a continuous, ever-changing game world, complete with day and night, evolving ecology, and a virtual political, social, and economic infrastructure. Visit the official "Ultima Online" (http://www.owo.com/) Web site for more information.
With these extraordinary products, covering all game genres and the majority of them absolutely free, computer gamers really can't afford not to get involved in this explosive craze. And as modem speeds climb, with ISDN, Cable, and ADSL becoming the new speed standards in the short years ahead, it looks like this next generation of "multiplayer gaming" will continue to soar well into the next century.
Let the games begin.
Tommorrow: Part Two: The Best Game Networks
Marc Saltzman is the author of the new book "G@mer's Web Directory: Sites, Cheats & Secrets" (QUE/BradyGAMES).