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Monday, March 29, 1999 Published at 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK


Thousands die on screen - at PC party

Insomnia 99 resembled Mission Control, Houston

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

"Deep in the bosom of the gentle night... I struggle to fight dark forces...without fear...insomnia...I can't get no sleep." Faithless - Insomnia

In the half-light of a darkened theatre - fittingly run by the Ministry of Defence - 300 PC gamers fought each other at the weekend across a corporate-strength network at the UK's biggest-ever LAN party. That's where gamers physically meet up and connect their computers together for multi-player clashes on Local Area Networks,

Join the insomniacs - click here to watch
They came from as far afield as Ireland and the tip of Scotland to an army base in Bicester, Oxfordshire. The meeting of the gaming clans brought together the Happy Campers and Qaos, and pitted Pitbull against Thrud in first-person shoot-'em-up Quake clashes which left more than 11,000 screen dead.

Insomnia 99 lasted 55 hours and managed to blow the fuses at a local electricity substation. Organised by BT's Wireplay with the technical help of Multiplay UK, it may be a prelude to an attempt on a world record with 1,000 gamers hooked up in one venue later this year.

The 'raves of the 90s'

"An American guy described this as the new raves of the 90s - I don't know about that - it's more sedate, but you can see how popular it is," said Wireplay organiser James Kaye, referring to a scene that resembled Mission Control in Houston more than a dance floor.

LAN parties have been growing in popularity. They were born out of frustration with the poor response times when gamers try to arrange multi-player clashes over the Internet.

BT Wireplay has its own dial-up network and proprietary technology to speed up gaming, but this was nothing to the 10mb/s speeds available over the LAN.

Net jockeys make the connections

If LAN parties are end-of-millennium raves, then "Wizzo" of Multiplay UK is a roadie-cum-DJ of the networked age. His crew, which travels up and down the country organising LAN parties, set up a network powerful enough to satisfy a large corporation in four-and-a-half hours at the MoD's Graven Hill Theatre.

The 30 servers, including one provided by a player with dual Xeon processors, were linked to six switches, numerous hubs and five kilometres of cabling. Players without an ethernet network card in their PCs could buy one for £20.

"We see every kind of computer here," said Wizzo. "You even get people bringing their broken ones expecting you to fix them."

Male-dominated matches

The vast majority of the people there were male - many of them taking a break to watch England v Poland on Saturday - but there were some couples.

Rizzo and She-Devil from Harrogate were meeting members of their clan, spread from Scotland to southern England, face-to-face for the first time.

"This is getting bigger all the time," said Rizzo. "The last one we went to at the NEC in Birmingham only had 80-100 people."

[ image: Gamers metamorphosed from sleeping bags]
Gamers metamorphosed from sleeping bags
Computers arrived by car, coach or courier. By Sunday afternoon, the theatre was littered with empty pizza boxes, Pringles' crisps tubes, coke cans and sleeping bags. One player even brought his own chair, which helped him to carry on for 24 hours non-stop at one point.

Ninety participants were under 18 and parents were able to keep an eye on their teenagers through a Webcam on the Wireplay site. One father rang up when he was not able to see his son.

"He didn't know how Webcams worked," explained an embarrassed Stitchface of the Happy Campers clan. "So I had to get up and stand in front of it."

Quake World and Quake II were by far the most popular games, although there were also a number of strategy games being played, as well as Carmageddon and Half Life.

Over £1,000 in prize money was handed out and, to reduce those lag times even more, the latest Voodoo graphics cards and AMD K6 chips were also up for grabs.

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