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   Monday, 20 January, 2003, 13:11 GMT
Let's play: Xbox Live

You've beaten the computer and humiliated your friends but how can you be sure you are the best at your chosen virtual sport?

The simple solution is to play online.

As Sony and Microsoft pour ever bigger sums of money into their rival systems, for the first time gamers all over the world can find out who really is the best.

But be warned, humiliation is commonplace.

Half-time in an American football game, I'm 30 points down and my opponent is screaming obscenities in my ear.

Xbox Live offers a glimpse of gaming in the future

Darren Waters

My friendly foe, however, is thousands of miles away in Florida....and is just 12 years old.

He and I are playing each other using Xbox Live, the online gaming service for Microsoft's games console.

Launched in the US last year, it is currently being tested in Europe ahead of a launch in March.

Two of the most popular games are NFL Fever 2003 and Moto GP, a motorcycle racing game.

Xbox Live allows you to jump quickly into a match or configure the type of game you want, so you can play against people who are better, worse or the same as you.

I opted for a quick match and found myself up against the Florida tyrant. He was masking his voice - a facility of Xbox Live that lets you alter your speech - so I was totally unaware of his age until after the game.

Insults

Early on it was immediately clear I was going to get thrashed, which is hardly surprising given I don't even know the rules of American Football.

The gaming experience was impressive: I could chat to my opponent as we played and game ran smoothly with none of the dreaded 'lag'.

(Where internet slowdown means there is a painful pause between pressing a button on your controller and something happening in the game.)

The motor-racing game was much more to my liking and ability. You can race up to 15 other players around the world.

The high octane nature of the game means you will soon be trading insults with people as you overtake them or nudge them slightly so they go flying off their bikes.

NFL Fever 2003
I didn't even know the rules of American football

Xbox Live will also rank you so you can see where you are in the global ratings.

I'm 19,265th in Moto GP and 25,456th in the NFL, so there's some work to be done before I can claim my crown as world number one.

It is relatively easy to set up. All you will need is a broadband internet connection, and within minutes you will be online.

At the moment the market for online gaming is small - limited by the spread of broadband connection and cost.

The Xbox Live starter pack costs 39.99 for a 12-month subscription and broadband suppliers charge about 29 a month.

If you can afford it, then Xbox Live offers a glimpse of gaming in the future. Playstation 2 owners can look forward to similar delights from March this year.


Let's Play..
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