Ultra Game Players,
New World Gaming
The word to know here is latency - the time it takes info to get from your machine to a machine over the network and back. Even a half-second latency is a major problem. Imagine if it took half a second between pulling a move in Tekken II and your character executing it, and you begin to grasp the magnitude of the problem. The reason for high latency times is the structure of the Internet itself. The Internet was designed by the government to survive a nuclear attack, so it is decentralized. Information almost never travels from point A to point B in the most efficient (and fastest) way possible. While some games (like WarCraft II) dont need low latency times to work well, others, especially games designed before Internet gaming was considered possible (like Doom), do.
There are now several Internet-based gaming services gearing up for operation. Not only will they provide an easy way to find opponents for the hottest multiplayer games, each has a strategy for beating latency. All of the competing services will provide some common functionality. Youll be able to chat with other users to set up games, keep track of your stats in different games, and find news and information about gaming and other interests. Youll also be able to enter contests and gaming competitions.
Where the services differ is in their latency-beating strategies, the games they support, and the extra services they offer. Many games will be exclusive to one service - youll be able to install that services software from inside the game and log-on automatically. That doesnt necessarily mean you wont be able to play those games on other services, but it will probably be a little harder to configure the game to play on a service that supports it unofficially.
Heres an at a glance run-down of each of the major online multiplayer gaming services that will be starting up over the next six months or so. Unlike AOL, CompuServe or other traditional online services, most gaming services will not charge a monthly access fee, so it wont be a problem to belong to more than one. Just how much will you pay? Its unclear. Only one service is up right now, and the others have made no announcements regarding price. Heres our prediction: expect to pay $2-$5 per hour for actual playing time, with the rest of the time you are online (chatting, reading news, etc.) being underwritten by ads.
That charge is over and above what you are paying for Internet access. It doesnt sound cheap, but compare it to the amount youd spend in an arcade and youll see that it really isnt that much. As more gamers take advantage of the services, prices will begin to fall rapidly. Because the field is changing so fast, we have not listed the games supported by each service - that info would be out of date by the time you got the magazine. We suggest you visit each site and check it out for yourself.
The Top Ten Multiplayer Games
*Compiled by the Editors of PC Gamer, NEXT Generation, and ULTRA GP
Total Entertainment Network
TEN is already the 600-pound gorilla of the multiplayer game services, with hot exclusives for games like Duke Nukem 3D, and deals with many other publishers including Spectrum Holobyte (Civilization) and SSI (Panzer General). If youve heard of any of the online gaming services, chances are its TEN - its marketing budget seems almost unlimited.
With three massive T3 connections to the Internet, latency problems wont be due to TENs servers. Instead of joining with a low latency ISP or dial-up service (TEN will provide dial-ups in larger cities), TEN is dealing with the bandwidth by checking the latency each user is getting, and only allowing users to play certain games when the latency is low enough to support them. In practice, this means that although TEN is nationwide, youll probably be playing mostly with people in your area. We definitely like TENs way of letting you know what your latency is - a little mascot named Mr. Bandwidth. Cool.
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