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Commonwealth Games 2002

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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Game players gather for huge party
gamers gather at i10, Multiplay
I-10 - The UK's biggest ever gaming party
test hello test
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent
What do you get when you put nearly 1,000 computer gamers in a room together over the bank holiday weekend?

No, it is not a joke. In fact, it is one of the most serious events in the UK's gaming calendar.

Serious because the multiplayer game convention or "Lan party" staged over the 2002 Easter weekend was Britain's biggest ever.

The letters Lan stand for Local Area Network and describe the linking up of PCs so that players can take each other on in games like Quake: Team Arena, Medal of Honour and Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force.

Doom game

The original aim for this party was to break the 1,000 player barrier.

Sadly, new fire regulations at the venue, Newbury racecourse, meant that this was not possible. But organisers Multiplay did find room for well over 900 gamers, far more than at any previous event.

It's for people who have played each other online and in some cases have never actually met

Craig Fletcher, Multiplay
There could have been many more people there. Despite the 70 entry fee, Multiplay was turning gamers away.

"These events are always sold out," said Craig Fletcher, managing director of Multiplay and organiser of the huge event.

Multiplay has bigger plans for the "I" series of game gatherings (the I stands for insomnia). Mr Fletcher, aka Wizzo, said that when the new stand at Newbury was completed it would be big enough for 1,500 gamers.

Combine the two buildings and you have a potentially enormous event.

It is a far cry from Mr Fletcher's early days of multiplayer gaming. He started back in 1995, linking up Dos machines to play Doom 2.

The number of people keen to join in gradually grew until it became a business. Now, Multiplay and partner Games Domain stage different sized Lan parties throughout the year.

In July, Games Domain will use a Lan party for the finals of its online game championships that will give out 20,000 in prize money.

Fun and games

One of the trickiest parts of staging such an event is finding a venue big enough to hold all those people and that has a good enough power supply. Those 900 PCs soak up a lot of juice.

a modified PC, Multiplay
Some gamers machines were heavily customised
Newbury was a good venue because it was close to the M4 and A34, making it easy for a lot of people to reach by car, said Mr Fletcher.

And reach it they did. Some eager gamers paid more to turn up a day early and get themselves, and their machines, installed before the Friday rush.

Everyone attending had to bring their own machine, though they can hire monitors, and connect it to the network Multiplay supplies.

The technical complexities of setting up a 900-seat computer network in 24 hours are eased because most people attending are very knowledgeable and can troubleshoot some of the problems that inevitably arise.

The complication is also lessened because Multiplay, and organisers of other parties, ask that anyone attending set up their machines in a particular way to make them easier to connect up.

Chopping the cheats

But people do not just come because of the opportunity to tinker with technology.

"It's for people who have played each other online and in some cases have never actually met," said Mr Fletcher. "It's the first opportunity for them to meet up and get stuck in, have a beer and a chat."

Medal of Honour screen shot, EA
Medal of Honour was popular at I-10
"It's as much about the social environment as the low ping," he added.

For keen online gamers, a low ping is essential. It describes the speed at which two computers can swap data. Gamers playing each other via dial up modems and the internet will be lucky to get a ping rate of 100 milliseconds.

On a local network, the ping rate can be less than 1 millisecond. The tiny time lag can be key in games like Counterstrike or Quake that can turn on a single shot.

Players Andrew Woodcock and Jack Green came from Derbyshire to attend I-10 and said one of the reasons they liked Lan parties was the fact that they eliminated cheating.

Mr Green, who is an administrator for some online games, said many players used auto-aimers and other software helpers to boost their chances of winning.

Anyone caught cheating at a Lan party is summarily thrown out. But even with the cheating eliminated, the standard of game play can be fierce.

Doom screen shot, id Software
Doom: Where it all began for Multiplay
"When you go in and have 10 deaths it can get a little dispiriting," said Mr Woodcock.

To keep themselves sharp, gamers fuel up on the caffeine drink Red Bull and pizza. The Domino's pizza outlet in Newbury reputedly does more business over the four days of a game party than at any other time of the year; especially now that pizzas can be delivered to individual desks.

And it doesn't stop there. The next step for Multiplay is Lan parties for console gamers - a much larger potential audience than PC owners.

It is likely that some of the next few Multiplay Lan parties will have some small-scale console tournaments for PlayStation 2 and even Xbox owners. Eventually, the console community may have their own events.

Clearly, the party is just getting started.

See also:

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No party like an Xbox party
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