Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Digits & Dragons
  by Greg Allen
March 2006

A Man of the LAN

After spending a few years with a high-speed internet connection, it is easy to forget the woes and struggles of those forced to deal with dial-up connections. I had long blocked from my mind the random disconnections and couple minute page-loading delays that came from such primitive technology. Lagless internet games, lightning fast web browsing, massive downloads in minutes, all of these were a part of my broadband world until the unthinkable happened: I lost my broadband connection!

No problem, I thought, four months on dial-up shouldn't be too bad, right? It was what I originally used, how bad can it be? Ah, how quickly the mind forgets… gone are my days of massively multiplayer games, gone are all the downloads, gone is my connection to the outside world. Yes, dark days indeed, but through the darkness has come a new light, an aspect of gaming I had forgotten… the LAN!

When you can find people to play with literally all over the world it is easy to forget the fun that comes from playing with people you actually know and to play in the same physical location. Local area networks not only bring you lagless games but they also raise the intensity and the fun because of their personal nature.

Until my internet umbilical cord was cut, I didn't realize that I had the elements necessary for LAN gaming already with me. All you need is a router with the necessary cabling, a couple of friends, and a few decent computers. These computers need not be top of the line either, many of the best LAN games were made years ago so before you go throwing out your two-year-old system, think of the fun you could have with someone else playing on that machine.

With all the necessary pieces in place, all that was left was to find a couple of games that would give exciting multiplayer gaming but not be too much for older systems--in my case, three or four years old. What I found was some of the best gaming experiences I've ever had in strategy, shooters, and role playing.

Man of Cooperation

Real-time strategy games, while giving your trigger finger a break, will push your mind to the limits. Controlling resources, attacks and defenses will keep your mind racing as you try to save, or destroy, your allies. The best RTS games are those that give a different playing experience every time.

For some games, like Starcraft, that quality comes from brilliantly balanced units that force you to craftily counter what your opponent is planning. For others, like Rise of Nations, a plethora of nationalities allow you to experiment with different racial bonuses and tactics. TA: Spring, an open source game still very much alive and growing, has a huge number of units and landscape types to keep things fresh.

My earliest LAN (or any kind of multiplayer) gaming was with Warcraft 2. The unit balance and fast pace demonstrated by the Warcraft series has continued with Starcraft, one of the most successful games ever created.

Chances are, if you are much of a gamer you have already played it and perhaps put it aside, but despite being eight years old, Starcraft is still ridiculously popular both in the US and internationally. When I spent a few weeks in Korea last summer, I found to my delight two TV channels dedicated to showing the country's top Starcraft players in intense, sponsored tournaments. While that level of play is probably a bit more than you and your buddies will put up, Starcraft still remains a great game that will play on just about any old PC you have lying around.

Both Rise of Nations and Age of Empires (and its sequels) give great LAN gaming in a historical setting. The AI in both of these, Rise of Nations especially, is a lot more advanced than Starcraft, and at the tougher settings the computer can be quite a challenging opponent for your group. These strategy games will really push your teamwork to the limit. Failing to send backup to your ally will usually lead to his, and eventually your team's, destruction.

Despite these great offerings from Ensemble Studios and Big Huge Games, my current favorite RTS for human-vs.-human action is TA: Spring. TA:Spring is an open-source 3d real-time strategy game based on the popular but dated Total Annihilation. Not only does TA:Spring dwarf its competitors in the number of available units, it also has some cool features like malleable terrain that you won't find in any of the other major players.


TA:Spring- the best 3d RTS you'll find

If real-time strategy is your thing, you certainly don't need an internet connection to have some great gaming. As I have dusted off my copy of Starcraft and reloaded some of these RTS games I've found that friends who go to war together, stay together.

Man of Competition

But if you would rather shoot your buddies in the back than watch their back, perhaps first person shooters are the way to go. I enjoy FPS but often get frustrated when I go online because, frankly, most of the people who play out there are better than me. Now, I'm a pretty competitive guy so that's tough to admit, but I just don't put in the time to these games that a lot of these guys do. So, I die. A lot.

Fortunately, the group of guys I game with are all about the same level as I am so things stay interesting. First person shooters tend to be the games pushing hardware to their limits so a lot of the newer games are too much for some of my older systems to handle. Besides, if you want to feel good about your current gaming system, try playing a game that is two years old: it is a nice change to be able to turn all the settings to the max.


Nothing turns friends to foes like a well placed sniper shot

Both the Unreal Tournament and the Quake series are great options for FPS gaming. I primarily play UT but not for any particularly good reason. As fun as shooting each other is, I guess I am more of a cooperative player because I prefer to team up with my buddies to take on the computer. UT's assault maps are a great way to do that; each team takes turn trying to accomplish a set of objectives while the other side does everything in their power to stop them. The team to complete its objectives in the shortest amount of time, wins. These team-based objectives really bring a group together, as with each goal the stakes get higher and higher. If you don't have the time for a long RTS, a quick deathmatch with your mates is a great way to spend some time!

Man of Many Roles

Perhaps the overlooked form of LAN gaming is the RPG. Role playing games have traditionally been single player affairs: Morrowind and Fable are two that come to mind that are excellent games despite no multiplayer options. This does not mean, however, that there aren't some RPGs that make great LAN games. My friends and I recently got immersed in a RPG I have neglected for way too long: Neverwinter Nights.

I had originally heard about Neverwinter Nights because of the extremely powerful dungeon master system that allows players to create, and then direct, their own dynamic adventures. As one who loves to tell stories and create adventures I thought this sounded like an awesome tool, but somehow I got distracted and it is only now that I am beginning to explore NwN.

Perhaps the coolest feature of NwN is that it is extremely multiplayer oriented. Even the official campaign can be played with a party of people, which makes things a lot more interesting than just flying solo or having a computer-controlled henchman. The characters you create can be used to play on your own and also to join with your friends as you travel together.

Not only can players take the role of dungeon master but they can also create their own levels or modules for others to enjoy. BioWare has fostered this community and there are now hundreds, if not thousands, of unofficial multiplayer worlds to explore. These can either be downloaded for use on your own LAN with your friends or you can connect to someone else's server and explore the world they have created and are running.


Killing goblins is really best done with friends

Looking back, I can't figure out why I didn't discover this gem sooner! NwN really has it all: decent graphics and controls, an interesting storyline, and a plethora of multiplayer possibilities. For LAN gamers who love role playing, it doesn't get much better than this. With huge campaigns ahead and a rich dungeon-making toolset, my friends and I won't be putting NwN down any time soon!

Life after Broadband

Browsing the web and downloading files is still a joke but one thing has become very apparent to me: there is gaming after the internet. These games, NwN especially, are just as fun as those I played online and most importantly, they give me a chance to game with buddies who I wouldn't see too much otherwise. I am, a man of the LAN.


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