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 Monday, 30 December, 2002, 08:55 GMT
Fun, frags and frolics online
Quake III screenshot, Activision
You have to work hard to keep up in Quake III

The most important and difficult decision you will make when venturing online to play multiplayer games for the first time is not which modem, mouse or joystick to buy.

Nor does it concern whether you join the game via a cable, ADSL, ISDN or dial-up connection.

It is not even about the game you choose to play be it Quake, Counter-Strike, Return to Castle Wolfenstein or Medal of Honour.

No, the most important decision is what you call yourself.

Name of the game

The handles that people use in online shoot-em-ups range from the scurrilous to the scatological. The best are a summary of someone's playing style, personality or are just witty.

Some people change their name for every session, but many others pick one and stick with it.

It is the decision that gave me lots of trouble when I was about to start multi-player gaming.

Counter-Strike screenshot, Vivendi Universal
Some players prefer stalk-em-ups to shoot-em-ups
All the other pieces I needed to join the fun online were simple by comparison.

I had a fast net connection and a copy of my chosen game, Quake III Arena. I had even patched it with the latest updated software.

Some of these updates can be tens of megabytes in size and could tax the modem, and patience, of any dial-up users trying to download them.

They are vital to play online as they fix bugs, close loopholes that cheaters can exploit and you may not be able to join a server if your software is not up to date.

If you can wait a while many computer games magazines include the releases on their cover CDs and DVDs.

I had installed the useful All Seeing Eye program which automatically finds game servers all over the world and lets you choose which one to play on.

Before I ventured online I lurked on the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels of QuakeNet and others to try to find out more about game etiquette. Little of it made sense, even the text commentaries of tournament matches.

Slow start

How much I had to learn was apparent when I went online using the name I picked while practising Quake III.

Although the computer controlled opponents in Quake get progressively tougher, humans are undoubtedly the meanest critters in cyberspace.

I did not even score a kill during the first few matches I played.

In one game, a deathmatch against one other player, my opponent quit in disgust after swiftly fragging me three times in succession.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein screenshot, Activision
Wolfenstein is popular online too
My inexperience was truly terrible to behold.

Soon after starting online gaming, I found myself inadvertently perfecting the art of rocket-assisted suicide. Almost as soon as I saw an opponent I panicked, turned towards the wall and fired the rocket launcher instantly fragging myself.

What a lamer.

My self-esteem was not helped when I realised I was getting beaten hollow by people probably half my age.

Despite my clumsiness with the weapons, I stuck at it and slowly improved.

But only slowly. I tried to stick with weapons that can strafe and have a good rate of fire. My reactions and aiming were so bad that I could not rely on making a couple of accurate shots to frag someone else.

Instead I found it better to bounce them around with a rocket launcher or melt them with a plasma gun. Despite this improvement, there is no chance I will get asked to join a clan.

Sneaky tactics

Quake III encourages wanton gunplay, but I found that I racked up a few kills by exploiting the trigger happy rush-em-at-all-costs attitude of some opponents.

I hid around a corner and surprised them when they charged round all guns blazing.

Very infrequently there were good moments when I managed to sidestep someone firing at me and slam plasma bolts into them as they missed time and again. Most of the time though, I am just rubbish.

Despite this multiplayer gaming is pretty much the best fun you can have with your home computer.

I used to wonder why people played games online. Now I wonder why so few people do it.

I have a limited amount of free time available to play online and as a result decided to pick one game, Quake III, and stick with it.

And my handle? Initially it was Beeboy, a feeble pun, and later became Trigger_Hippy.

Now the real name behind the handle is known I may have to change it again.

 Video games
Console wars, broadband and interactivity
See also:

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13 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
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17 Dec 02 | Technology
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