Sometime in 1983, Essex University in the UK decided to open remote access, via British Telecom’s Packet Switch Stream (something a bit like the Internet, but much more Dark Ages in sophistication; more or less comparable with anything currently offered by Telkom), to its DEC PDP-10 network assembly, linking it with America’s ARPANET. By dint of this academic magnanimity, students on either side of the Atlantic could swap crib sheets and porn over a Telnet client between the hours of 2 and 7am. Over in the IT department, however, the local Dungeons & Dragons nerds had bigger plans.
A few years previously, Grand Super Ultra Wizard Dungeon Master Roy Trubshaw had written this way rad multiplayer game in MACRO-10 assembly language (= “really hard sums and stuff”) called Multi-User Dungeon , that wasn’t much more than a small bunch of interconnected virtual rooms with basic text support that could only dream of being a real Greyhawk adventure, although it was bleeding all over the cutting edge of network technology back then. Anyway, with a magic hotline to the New World, Roy and his chums decided to share their favourite Saturday night out with their nerd comrades in America, and MUD took off in a big way. Online multiplayer gaming had just begun its slow but inexorable appropriation of hair metal’s claim to the #1 corrupter of the youth, and Mötley Crüe could only look on in damp spandex and ill-disguised envy.
Fast forward over a quarter century, and online multiplayer gaming is probably the hottest ticket in today’s entertainment schedule, while Mötley Crüe’s legacy lives on only in Rock Band 2 DLC. Sure, some weirdo sociopaths insist on honing their sniper technique in the lonely gloom of mom’s basement, but for the rest of you, if you’re not getting your game online (ho ho), you’re really doing this thing all kinds of wrong.
So what’s going down? Leaving MMOGs and their friends for the moment (well, the entire article, actually), there’s some substantial local support for multiplayer shooters. Both IS and SGS provide servers for popular games including the Battlefield series, Call of Duty 4 and World at War, as well as our personal favourite (and real life most awesomest), Team Fortress 2. All you need is a PC, a legitimate copy of the game you’re wanting to play, and buckets of bandwidth for your exciting new 300+ MB/day habit.
Elsewhere, Xbox LIVE and the PlayStation Network cater to console commandos, both offering privately hosted as well as public (actually usually also privately-hosted, but sort of being all nice and generous about it) online matches of pretty much everything that has a multiplayer option, including our personal favourite (and real life most awesomest), Gears of War 2. If you’ve got anything less than a 4 Mbps line, forget about hosting more than one pal, and just take happy advantage of everyone else instead. (“BUT YOU CAN’T USE XBOX LIVE IN SOUTH AFRICA.” ACTUALLY, YES, YOU CAN.)
Of course, it’s true that South Africa’s internet infrastructure isn’t exactly optimised for great online gaming (or browsing, or anything really), but if you’ve got a 384kbps ADSL (or better) connection, you’re ready to take on the third world, at least. Contrary to popular opinion, even wireless connections aren’t too dreadful for online gaming, although you’ll have to be in a high reception zone to make a good go of it. In the meantime, we can all dream hot, sweaty dreams of Sweden’s experimental 40 Gbps internet connection, and hosting an 8-player Left 4 Dead match without everyone lagging back into last week.