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After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine

I have lousy hand-eye coordination -- but that's okay, because my reflexes suck, too. And I blame both shortcomings on my coping skills.

I've been myopic all my life. In fact, without corrective lenses, I'm legally blind, (20/200 in one eye and 20/220 in the other.)

The thing is, my parents didn't realize there was any problem with my sight until I was 12 years old -- although I have to admit that I actually figured it out a couple of years earlier than that. (I just kept it to myself, because I didn't want to admit it. Dreams die hard, and mine required perfect vision.)

I don't blame them. Back in the 1950's and early 60's, parents weren't nearly as aware of the importance of early childhood development as they are today -- and, again, I became very, very good at compensating for my visual disadvantage.

The one area in which I couldn't offset my near-sightedness was in the arena of sports. I couldn't catch, because I couldn't see the ball coming until it was right on top of me. Same deal with hitting: I could just barely make out the pitcher's throw, but I couldn't see the ball itself until it was practically at home plate. As for tennis, ping-pong, racquet ball and the like?


By the time my lack of visual acuity was diagnosed, it was too late. Hand-eye coordination skills and reflexes develop when you're very young -- a lot younger than twelve. For yours truly, the damage was done and that was pretty much that.

That's why I prefer games involving strategy and problem-solving skills -- war and economic simulations, role-playing, board and card games -- rather than action -- sports sims, first-person shooters and fighting games. After all, it's hard to like games at which you're terrible.

And I really like games. I only wish I had more time to play them -- which is why the holiday season is one of my favorite times of year. Come December, most of my consulting clients go on vacation until January and most of the civic bodies in whose activities I participate likewise go on hiatus, so I can indulge myself with a clear conscience.

Happiness Is A Warm Gun

Despite my general lack of enthusiam for FPSes -- think Doom and Quake and Duke Nukem and..well you get the idea -- I really like Valve Software's Half-Life -- Game of the Year Edition. That's because it has a lot more to offer than routine fragging, even though it's based on id Software's Quake II engine. In fact, in more ways than one, it's more like an RPG than a FPS.

For instance, it has an elaborate plot line that requires you to solve complex puzzles in order to survive and advance. As in an RPG, those conundrums often have multiple solutions -- and all of them require you to interact with your environment. You can push and pull objects, bash open crates, grates and doors with a crowbar, and jump, swim and climb through a beautifully-rendered environment where sudden, messy death lurks around every corner.

I also like the fact that the aliens, the military clean-up crew and the female assassins all benefit from an advanced AI engine that makes them extraordinarily wily and dangerous opponents. And for those of you who enjoy networked deathmatches against real, live humans, Valve's Team Fortress Classic add-on comes bundled with the Game of the Year Edition.

By the time you read this, Sierra Studios, which distributes Half-Life, should have Team Fortress 2 -- which uses even more advanced modeling than Half-Life -- out the door. Even cooler, Half-Life: Opposing Force, the sequel/expansion to Half-Life should also be in stores. Both will use some of the myriad maps generated by the legions of Half-Life fanatics, using the beta version of the Worldcraft 2.0 level editor -- which is bundled with the Game of the Year Edition.

In the meantime, if you're tired of the same old single-player scenario, there are a Godzillion variations available or under development by members of the Mod Alliance. Most of these third-party-authored modules are available through HALFLIFE.NET or one of its affiliates, as are assorted walk-throughs, strategy guides, FAQs and console mode cheat codes.

As you can see, I'm not the only one who likes this game.

The major alternative to Half-Life and its Quake II-based brethren is Unreal, which uses its own graphics and sound engines and its own level editor. Unreal's rendering is slower than that of games based on the id technology, but, as a trade-off, the detail level is very high and the level editor is easier to learn and use.

Needless to say, it, too, has a lot of fans. And I'm sure they've all been looking forward to the sequel, Unreal Tournament, which was unavailable for review at press time.

Everybody Wants To Rule The World

Meanwhile, I still don't have the reflexes for real time deathmatches. That's why, when I'm playing live opponents, I mostly prefer strategic conquest games like Master of Orion II, Spaceward Ho!, Heroes of Might and Magic II and the like. They have their drawbacks, of course -- in most of them, turns don't happen until everyone is done moving and allocating resources, so efficient and/or experienced players can find themselves waiting an irritatingly long time for pokey competitors to complete their moves.

That's one of the things I like about playing the venerable gang-warfare strategy game, Chaos Overlords. You can set a time limit on player moves and everybody moves simultaneously, so slowpokes can't hold the game up.

Now, all these games -- in addition to solo play vs. the computer AI -- are designed to be networkable. However, a lot of older multi-player games don't use TCP/IP as their native networking protocol. Instead, they use Novell's IPX, even though Novell itself is now phasing IPX out.

To play them you need an application that will let you tunnel IPX over TCP/IP and connect you to other players. And that means you need Kali, the oldest, best and basically only one in the business. Kali is available for a wide variety of platforms, including Win 9.x/NT, DOS, OS/2, MacOS and, at long last, Linux. Registration costs $20 and includes unlimited free upgrades. Unregistered copies time out after 15 minutes.

Of course, once you're ready to start playing other folks over the net, you'll need to find them. There are probably thousands of multi-player servers on the Net and -- unless someone you know hosts one -- you'll need GameSpy, a $20 multi-player game server browser that finds servers to which you can make a decently-fast connection. Like Kali, GameSpy offers unlimited free version upgrades to registered users.

For the truly committed gamer, there are hookups available from an increasing number of commercial multi-player networks, such as HEAT.NET and the World Opponent Network. There are also proprietary multi-player online RPGs, such as Ultima Online -- for which you have to register your CD -- 989 Studios' EverQuest, Hero's Journey and Asheron's Call -- still in beta at this writing. All of them are as addictive as crack and all of them require you to pay monthly fees -- typically around $10 -- in addition to the $50 or so cost of purchasing the CDROM game itself.

For quite a while, pundits have been predicting a flood of game console users into the Internet multi-player arena starting Real Soon Now. For instance, we've been primed to expect a whole new influx of gamers courtesy of Sega's Dreamcast Network in Q1, 2000.

I wouldn't hold my breath. My sources tell me that practically the entire Dreamcast Network development team resigned in late Summer.

Every Little Thing

Real-time games -- particularly the FPSes -- can generate a considerable load on your servers. It doesn't take many Quakers to bury even a DSL or cable modem line.

That's why you might want to encourage your users to check out lower-bandwidth alternatives.

Tom Jolly, the author of the classic beer-and-pretzels game Wiz War and co-author of the extremely popular Disk Wars maintains a nice little collection of free pencil-and paper and card games on his Web site. One of them, Clans, works particularly well as a play-by-email game.

The folks at Cheapass Games -- makers of the hilarious Lord of the Fries and Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond -- also offer a page of free games that only require a deck of cards, a set of dice or a pocketful of loose change to play. I recommend them all.

There's a lot more I'd like to say -- and I'll sneak in the odd update or two in the coming months -- but this month I'm almost out of space, and I have yet to even mentioned Web-based games, or multi-player board or casino games. I guess you could say that's short-sighted of me, but, hey, what else is new?

Meanwhile, I'll spend the holidays here in front of my monitor, conquering worlds and battling aliens until I can't see straight.

(Copyright© 1999 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)