First published in the I.T. Times, February 2006 Edition

In the Beginning…
Humans have killed each other since the dawn of time. It is a fact of history common to all cultures. It’s almost tradition.

However, guns, bombs, sticks with pointy ends do tend to be a little on the messy side and can sometimes cause structural damage when used in the home, so a better alternative was always welcome. Thankfully for the last 20 years we’ve had the opportunity to move our violence and competitiveness into virtuality and prove once again that someone somewhere will take any piece of technology created for the betterment of humankind and stick a sporty steering wheel and fluffy dice on it.

Vroom vroom.

The Dark Ages
With the advent of multiplayer gaming people everywhere could find an outlet for their natural aggression and competitiveness that may otherwise spill over into the obituaries. From early text based role-playing and strategy games the world of computer gaming and multiplayer gaming in particular has progressed, diversified and disseminated itself throughout our culture. The earliest examples functioned on university networks that were the sole domain of Geeks. A usually docile subspecies of Homo Sapiens, the Geeks soon found themselves overcome by the new worlds opened to them by the new technology and began competing with each other in ways normal humans could never hope to fathom.

Into the Light…
And then came Doom. It was the kind of game Joe Average could understand. Take Gun. Point & Click. Boom. Dead Imp. Repeat. And you could have your friends over for the ride, playing cooperatively through the single-player game or, for ultimate thrills, against them in a four player Deathmatch. Finally, our natural competitive urges could be let off the leash without leaving pools of bodily fluids on the floor. And while multiplayer gaming would go on to saturate the World-Wide Web with its gaming goodness, its true power lies in its ability to cause otherwise anti-social and reclusive gamers to congregate. Somehow hearing the anguished cries of someone seated a few feet away from you whom you just blew up with a virtual grenade is vastly more satisfying than when perpetrated on someone half a globe away.

Ohhh! Supercalibrefragaballisticexploallydocious,
Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious!

Ahem, where was I?

The quickest fix for your multiplayer gaming addiction is to step into any one of the numerous LAN Café’s popping up all over the place. However, you are often forced to play with a bunch of adolescent halfwits with too much pocket money who think that the whole point to Counterstrike is kill scores. Or you are forced to pay money to play by someone else’s rules. Of course, they can be excellent entertainment if you go with a bunch of friends whom you enjoy playing with, but the longer you play the more expensive it becomes.

So, what’s the alternative? Join a monastery, shave your head and chant “Om”s for the rest of your life?

Surprisingly, no.

Invite your friends over with their computers, start up a server and party like it’s 1969. If you feel like chanting “Om” every time you blow someone up with a rocket, more enlightenment to you.

That, my friends is called a LAN party, the enjoyment of which separates us Nerds from those who have real lives. “And how does one organise such a gathering O’ Benevolent One?” thou asks.

Read on and become one with the Geeks.

How to Create a Kick-Ass LAN Party and be the Envy of all Geekdom>
Step 1: The List (in descending order of importance)
1. Electricity
2. Tables
3. Chairs
4. Extension cords
5. Network Cables (and maybe a crossover cable or two)
6. Network Hub (preferably a router)
7. Computers
8. Games
9. Headphones
10. Food
11. Drink
12. Sanitation
13. Alternate entertainment
14. Porn
15. Illegal MP3s
16. Sleeping arrangements
17. Porn

Step 2: The Participants
Typically anyone whom you get along with and shares your interest in gaming. Even the inexperienced but curious may also apply; the more the merrier. Typically, a LAN party can consist of as little as two people, but a good starting point would be four. Some of the largest LAN parties are large commercial affairs with 4,000 or more participants but you may want to steer clear of these for now.

Step 3: Setting Up
Arrange the tables, extension cords and network cables in such a way that each position has easy network and power access. The network hub shouldn’t be too hard to find. A dumb repeater type is fairly cheap these days, but it would be better to invest in a mid range router. Or you could just nick one from the office, just remember to wipe off the pizza crumbs before you sneak it back in. A router with DHCP functionality also simplifies IP address assignment later on. Multiple routers/hubs can also be daisy-chained together to provide extra capacity. Routers are also a better choice if participants start transferring files over the network while games are in play.

Also keep in mind that your average desktop will suck up between 300w to 500w of power which will become an issue for larger parties. Cooling is also an issue especially in this climate so plan accordingly. Or just pray that everyone games on their laptops, which isn’t quite as bad as it was five years ago.

Headphones are the better option for sound in this setting as it lessens the chance of your neighbors calling the police down on you for suspected genocide. In addition to giving you greater audio-awareness of your environment it removes the chance that your opponents might be listening in and gaining an advantage over you. You can further reduce the chance of spoofing by ensuring that computer screens are not easily visible to other players. In the cutthroat business of virtual warfare every little bit helps.

Step 4: Network Configuration
For groups with more than 4 to 8 participants it may be advantageous to have a single computer as a dedicated server. This generally makes for smoother gameplay as the number of players increase just make sure the server has as much bandwidth as possible. A 100Mbps adapter is good, and a 1000Mbps is better.

If using a router with DHCP client machines may be set to automatically configure their IP addresses. No DHCP means setting fixed addresses so take steps to ensure that everyone is assigned unique addresses, are on the same Subnet Mask (255.255.255.0 anyone?) and are logged into the same workgroup/domain. Non-responsive clients usually have not been configured with the above in mind. Still, it is always best to have someone at least mildly conversant in networking around or you really have no business organising a LAN party. I’m going to end off this stage by stating the inanely obvious: Remember to have TCP/IP (and IPX/SPX protocols for legacy gaming) installed on all machines.

Game server configuration differs from game to game so a little experience and prior experimentation goes a long way.

Step 5: Refreshments & Alternate Entertainment
LAN parties are usually full-day affairs, or may be stretched over an entire weekend if so desired. Apparently humans especially the male of the species suffers distress if not fed every couple of hours. Hence providing of food and drink is essential for an enjoyable LAN party. Just get everyone to pitch in and you won’t break your bank.

Ideally, gamers should spend at least 10 minutes away from their computers for every hour they spend on them. In the real world, this is usually around 10 minutes for every three hours. Providing an area where gamers can relax away from their rigs and contemplate the meaning of life is what separates the good LAN parties from the slightly better ones. Screening your latest Animé download or playing the latest Brittany Spears single may also take you one step closer to attaining gaming Nirvana.

Maybe not.

And after lugging, sweating, bleeding and tweaking your way to a functional network there remains just one thing left…

The Games
Quite simply, the whole reason behind this crazy exercise. If after all this planning and implementing you can’t blow something up while you leech some porn then you really need to look at less expensive ways of wasting your time.

Russian roulette perhaps.

You’ve got the meat, now to load up the grinder. There are many to choose from and the one chosen depends on who’s around to play. Pander to the audience and you will be fine. The general rule of thumb is stick to the older games. They tend to be more stable, more familiar to the average gamer and less of a strain on older hardware. It takes a while for a new multiplayer game to be accepted among the community. Just make sure everyone’s got the game installed and patched to the latest version.

Now, on to the games!

First Person Shooters
Probably the most prevalent. Let’s start off with Counterstrike and get it out of the way early. Sure it’s still the most played team-based multiplayer game out there and has a formula that’s hard to beat. The newer Counterstrike Source version is going to stretch it’s appeal a little longer, but ploughing back into CS might distract you from greater rewards to be found elsewhere.

Say hello to Unreal Tournament. Several flavours to choose from starting with the original of around seven years ago to the more modern incarnations with even prettier charms to snare the avid gamer. A wealth of different game types, gameplay options, maps, mods and mutators make UT a true blast to play. I personally recommend the Boomdeath mutator, if it’s still around. Use bots to provide more targets to shoot at.

Half Life. The greatest game ever made. Half Life 2. The other greatest game ever made. So much done right. Multiplayer is still some of the best to be had and the available mods give almost endless variety to be sampled. Day of Defeat is one of the notable standouts which has survived an upgrade into Half Life 2. And what an upgrade it was. The Source graphic engines and Havok physics engines are a joy to behold. If at all possible this should be one of the must play games for your weekend of mayhem.

Not quite satisfied? Looking for something more cerebral than a reflex-biased shooter? Have no fear, the Rainbows are here. Redstorm Entertainment’s shooters are amongst the best shooters around, Ghost Recon, The Sum of All Fears, and more recently Raven Shield provide satisfaction for the gamer with brains. Authentic weapons used against solid AI in realistic environments. Cooperative play may actually be more fun in this game than player vs. player engagements.

The list of games in this genre are too many to list. Some of the other stand outs that come to mind are the Battlefield series, Halo, Tribes, Far Cry, and the Quake series.

Real-Time Strategy
The next most popular genre and quite a few to choose from starting with the venerable Starcraft. It’s been around since just after the beginning of time and still has it’s charm. Perfect play balance, humour, rednecks on psychotropic drugs and giant alien bugs. What’s not to like? Can you say ‘Zergling Rush!’? Too late.

Our next stop takes us to the magnificent Command and Conquer Generals. Average single player campaigns, but this game truly comes into its own in the multiplayer. Load up them Hummers with Ranger snipers, drive them downtown and give those fundamentalists lead-flavoured Righteous Justice. And the sight of a dozen Mammoth tanks advancing under cover of nuke artillery is truly a sight to behold.

Feeling a little Elvish today? Then Warcraft is the game for you. The game that truly makes you want to don armour, mount your horse and chop up some Orcs. Zug zug. Always frantic, never letting up on the action. Large battles can sometimes be a case of find-the-mouse-pointer-in-the-melee but this game never really stops being fun.

The serious RTS gamer would never forgive me for not mentioning the The Age of Empires series. Now in its fourth installment this is one of the favourites of the genre. This game’s well balanced gameplay has been refined over the years and seldom disappoints. AoE caters to all styles of play and is very accessible to the new player.

Not quite a popular example, nor the most easily accessible, the Homeworld series is still the leader in the fairly small sub-genre of the 3D-RTS. Few games offer full tactical movement in all three dimensions and this opens up limitless opportunities for creativity in play. Anyone with the courage to give this beauty a try will not regret it.

And Everything Else
We’ve looked at the two most popular genres which account for a significant fraction of all multiplayer gaming. Let’s take a quick look…

The king of the Turn-Based Strategy Game; the Civilization series has been with us for over a decade and the fourth official article is the best one yet. Truly beautiful in looks, atmosphere and execution this game is just a simply stimulating play. And with great support for modders this one’s going to be around for a long time.

The armchair pilot’s dream toy. Falcon 4.0 is the ultimate flight sim experience. Now you can truly fly as if your country’s oil interests were threatened. Virtual banana republic dictators everywhere are quivering in their boots because you’ve got wings and claws and can’t wait to use them. Now if only we could make missile runs on Air Force One. While the original release was riddled with bugs the game’s hardcore fans have gone a long way towards making this as perfect a flight sim as it could possibly be.

A little obscure and a bit fiddly to get off the ground, this baby sure is worth it. X-Wing Alliance was last decent Star Wars licensed simulator released and is probably the most fun you could have in a virtual vacuum. Kept alive by a small but dedicated fan base this game has some of the most fun and intense space combat around.

Not having fun unless you’re doing 200 mph round a hairpin turn? Want to know how the Mini Cooper S would perform against a Porsche 911? Rev up GT-Legends and find out. With over 90 cars to choose from and support for up to 36 players at a time this game has what it takes to make your average gaming Autophile sell various body parts on the black market to be a part of.
Are We There Yet?
The final objective, grasshopper, of any LAN party, is to have as much fun as possible while remaining seated. There are no rules to getting this right. What works for one group might sink another. If you’ve got a half a room full of people screaming in anguish â€cos their entire team was wiped out by a sniper and the other half doing the Macarena chances are that things may be on the right track.

Or you may be high. Don’t do drugs. Do high explosives instead and try and maximise collateral damage. If you see your enemy, shoot him. If he dies, shoot him again.

Capture the flag.

Run like Forrest.

Spank that monkey.

Crush that bug.

Cry havoc!

Yeehaw!

Zug zug!

May your Frags be plentiful and your Gibs particularly squishy.

Just keep at it and remember to always pick on the newbie.

Run, newbie, run!