Online Gaming - an Introduction Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Online Gaming - an Introduction

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If the early arcade version of Street Fighter had gone on a hot date with the Pacific Bell telephone company, online gaming is what would have come kick boxing and screaming into the world nine months later.

One of the attractions of arcade games has always been the potential to challenge something besides your own scores. Not only do you get to fight aliens or small animals or mail boxes or whatever, you get to compete against someone else's score. Or, as with many modern two-player games, you can have a go at the backside of your best friend instead.

The makers of home computer games, on the other hand, soon realised that their versions just didn't function in the same way. The graphics weren't as good, the sound effects sucked and you were still just trying to beat your own score. And after the initial sorry spurt of two-joystick games, they pretty much stuck with the single-player variety to keep those trying to fill in a little time between spreadsheets happy.

Gradually, however, the diehards shook off the shackles of single-playerdom, and started doing things like hooking two computers up through an ethernet. And that was fine, if a little dull. Then came LAN playing, which was also fun, but still limited by the length of a few metres of cable. And you will by now have probably guessed the best way to get a multi-player game going: the Internet.

Game Types

The Internet caters for all kinds of games and all kinds of game fanatics. Whether you're happiest rolling dice, flying Spitfires or redecorating rooms with Martian blood, you'll fnd the game you want on the Internet somewhere.

If you're into traditional pursuits, such as chess, backgammon or bridge, then it's easy: you simply pick up your board or pack of cards, find some friends and play. Of course, it gets a bit harder when the people you want to play with are on the other side of the world, so that's when you throw the board away and go back to your computer. Sites like Ten and Yahoo Games have all sorts of traditional games (including Go, Canasta and Pinochle) that you can play for free, and there are usually loads of people hanging around to play against.

Of course, many people who want to play games on computers want to play computer games, not board games. Preferably violent computer games. They don't get much more violent than Quake, which was one of the first major game releases to have Internet play sewn in deep. Games like Quake and Half-Life are ludicrously popular, especially among young males who love nothing better than meeting other young males with their computer and blowing them to messy bits. A massive culture has grown up around action games on the Internet; you can make your own levels for other people to play, design your own "skins", join a gaming clan, play in tournaments, and plenty more. There's tons to see and do and blow up and get horribly addicted to.

Most of the popular types of computer games are playable across the Internet, from flight simulators (such as Air Warrior) to strategy games (such as Starcraft), from role-playing games (such as Ultima Online) to trivia quizzes (such as You Don't Know Jack). Not only that, but most of these games have good interfaces to help you find someone to play against.

Game Servers

There are hundreds of different gaming sites and dozens of Online Services and dial-up networks devoted to gaming. These are a good place to meet other contestants, and are often given priority by ISPs to allow for faster playing time, which is handy as the major complaint of online gaming is the most inevitable: time. The Internet is run in fits and starts, and delays are inevitable. All of which is usually fine if you're sending an email, but if you're in the middle of being gunned down in a freakish cyborg accident, what you don't want is what gamers call latency. The other thing you don't want which is endemic on the Internet (as anyone who has ever unsuccessfully downloaded a large file will tell you) is packet loss, wherein portions of information have to be resent, to much the same effect.

Some of this has been counteracted with algorithms designed to guess your most likely move, and generally they work better than you'd think. But then, why should you bother at all if the computer is going to do it for you?

The best way to combat these problems is to use the game servers to which you have the best connection, and which are the shortest distance away on the network. If your ISP runs its own game servers, these will probably be best.

Gaming Services

If gaming is the bit of the Internet that really does it for you, it may well be worth perusing some of the following to see what it is that blows your hair back (floats your boat, tickles your fancy, wets your whistle, you know the score...).

Note: most ISPs and Online Services provide some sort of gaming. Check with yours first, particularly before paying a premium for an additional service.

Internet-Based Services

These are games services accessed through your existing ISP.

  • Internet Gaming Zone
  • Mplayer

Dial-up Networks

Like a regular ISP but devoted to games. Games traffic is the obvious priority, particularly as they don't all provide regular internet access.

  • Ten (in the US)
  • Wireplay (in the UK)
  • Thrustworld (in the UK)


If the mating of Street Fighter and Pacific Bell begat online gaming, then a little heavy titillation between phone chess and Dungeons and Dragons made MUD, which some unkind people think of as being the geek cousin of regular online gaming. Which, of course, it is.

MUDs are like BBSs but rather than being centered on a particular subject, they revolve around their own little game world. MUD users come up with their own unique identities, and navigate the game (typically made up largely of text though some now have graphic interfaces) as that character. The goal, as your mother always told you, is not to win but to play the game.

Existing so frequently in this alternate world as a different person, they are often the object of ridicule (as are most people who listen so attentively to their mothers).

But not you! Your mother was right! You're not like other people! Go sling some MUD!

MUD Links

The thing about MUDs is that they're hard to recommend individually as they 're a very personal thing. It's like buying a hot little number from Fredrick's of Hollywood for a friend - you don't. So the best place to get information about MUDs and to get an idea of where you'd like to go next is the Usenet, the portion of the Internet devided into newsgroups.

MUD Newsgroups

Lurking around these newsgroups is a good way to find out where the best MUDs can be found.

  • alt.mud

MUD Web Sites

If you really are set on pulling down MUD information from the WWW, the following are as good a place to start as any:

  • The MUD Resource Collection
  • AlphaWorld
  • Ultima Online

Further Reading

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