Today’s cool kids are growing up seeing online multiplayer as the main part of many a game, with single player campaigns all-too-often feeling a bit tacked-on, serving more as a brief introduction to the controls and lore of the game than anything that will give you value for your money by itself.
Back in the day things were different. For a start there was no online gaming, nor indeed any online… at least not for Joe Bloggs at home. Any game you bought was based around a single player taking on the challenge, with perhaps space for a second player to join in and provide support. There were games that were better enjoyed with multiple players, such as Street Fighter 2 and Super Bomberman, which required you to go for dinner at a mate’s house after school and sit next to them. Fancy that.
This article will detail my own story with relation to online gaming, beginning with Sega’s Dreamcast and Phantasy Star Online.
So, Dreamcast. It came with a modem built in! Around 2000 I had my own disposable income, and paid British Telecom to install a phone line in my bedroom. Signing up to AOL with a CD that had been posted through my door, I had my first experience of the internet since searching Yahoo! for images of naked ladies that took 5 minutes to download. 56kbps, high speed internet. Yum.
Around the same time a friend had a Dreamcast and sold it to me for not much money, along with a selection of games. Phantasy Star Online was one such game, and I loved it! Plugging my Dreamcast into my phone socket, I’d spend hours roaming about the land, joining parties to take down the beasties. Well, that career was short-lived for one reason you may not believe – way back in the days before ADSL, you connected to the internet by using your modem to dial a phone number, which connected you to your Internet Service Provider’s servers. The problem? BT charged for these numbers by the minute. Not by the Megabyte, not even by the month, but by the minute! Needless to say my first post-PSO phone bill left me housebound with no beer money for the following month!
It was a while later that I recognised that I could change ISP, and found one that charged a flat monthly fee, giving you a freephone number to dial, avoiding further fees. Besides getting deeper into PSO, I had also noticed an online mode in one of my favourite games of recent times – Half Life. Slow-paced Phantasy Star Online had not struggled with my 56kbps connection, so I had no idea what I was about to experience! Let’s just say it wasn’t enjoyable. I would die before I even knew I’d spawned, watching something equivalent to a 1 frame per second movie of my attacker approaching and wasting me. So I had to restrict my online gaming to Yahoo! games and the like.
So, it was a couple of years before I was able to upgrade to “broadband” ADSL, with similarly flat-rate access, but at a considerably improved speed. My first connection was rated at 512kbps, though I received about half of that. Still, it was around 5 times as fast as I’d previously been used to, and thoroughly changed my online world. I had a USB modem, which meant my computer was required to access the internet, which meant to use my newly-purchased Xbox online, I had to connect it via Ethernet to my computer and forward ports and all that nonsense.
It was worth it though. This was my first real attempts to enjoy online gaming, and I’d spend evenings playing Links 2004 (golf) with my mate Mike over the internet, a relaxing was to while away the dark winter. Rainbow Six 3’s terror hunt mode was another we enjoyed.
With Xbox 360’s release, and the sudden need to pay for online gaming, I instead put money into my PC, building a pretty decent system in around 2007 – with 8 dual Nvidia 9800GTX cards, it even played Crysis! It was around this time that I began World of Warcraft, and its expansion The Burning Crusade. Oh my. I won’t go on about it, but I played it a lot over the next few years, spending hundreds of hours on the main storyline from the angle of several of the game’s races. I was never into PvP, preferring instead to explore the land and its lore alone, sometimes entering dungeons with real life friends. After my brief experiences being screeched at, threatened with rape, and all the usual things we’re suppose to endure in the online realm, I didn’t have time for it. I continued playing, and replaying, WoW up until I played through the Mists of Pandaria expansion, by which time I was bored and wondering what else I could have done with the money I had paid for server access.
In late 2008 something big happened, that changed my life. Literally. And not necessarily for the better. Left 4 Dead!
I’d been hyped for the game for some time, from magazine articles in which the four playable characters looked considerably different to their final versions. Knowing that I would play as one of four zombie survivors, and that upon my death I could be a zombie… well, that was enough to get me on board from day one. My Steam library at the time was more or less empty. I’d only opened the account because I was forced to by Half-Life 2, which I’d been bought for my birthday by friends in 2004 – incidentally that game served to force me onto, and put me off of, Steam for years, because it took an hour to install the game, then several hours for it to “confirm” my copy was not pirated, when I had the disc! But I digress. Left 4 Dead was MASSIVE in my life for about three years. I joined my first clan, The Art Of Warfare, accompanying them for their weekly sessions. It was tremendous fun, and I learned a lesson about the difference between playing with randoms or people you know. It wasn’t long before skills were sharpened, and knowledge of the game’s levels and mechanics were committed to memory.
Over the course of my first year or so, I “rose through the ranks” and ultimately came to lead the team. This was a good time, coordinating practices with my colleagues, using custom training maps and little contests for everyone to try and keep things fun. We also had a competitive team on the side, and we won a European ladder at one point, but no one wanted to make the effort to take it to the next level so ultimately it fell apart – especially when I rubbed the grand masters of TAW the wrong way somehow and was unceremoniously ejected….
Which led to those of us banned from the old group forming our own, which we called Digital Delinquents, stylised as >>Đ². We expanded our games list to include Trackmania (two of us spent a particularly large amount of time in this game, dominating the leaderboards of the servers we visited – one time we came joint first with the exact same time!) and a couple of others, which I forget now. Actually, we also ran a Minecraft server, which was a lot of fun for a time, set to Creative mode most of the time, we would build for weeks on end before switching to survival and seeing how we did against the world, hanging out in our massive fortress. We started in earnest, but it didn’t last very long before it folded. I still wear my D2 tags on Steam though, just because. Well, just because I haven’t logged into Steam for years….
Since then I’ve not really partaken of online gaming, it just doesn’t interest me any more. I played a little GTA Online on PS3 when it was in its infancy, but every time I was making my way to my goal it seemed everyone else was already there, and so I became frustrated. A few races on Blur and Gran Turismo with my cousin and his son, and that’s about it. I maintain my PlayStation Plus subscription, partly for the included games ever month, but also because I keep thinking I’ll try GTA Online again, and Gran Turismo Sport is coming up. Otherwise I do quite enjoy Dirt 4’s daily/weekly contests, coming in the bottom 2% most of the time.
You may find it strange that, whilst I maintain an online persona (and a couple more you don’t know about), online gaming doesn’t particularly interest me. What about you? Do you play online? How often? Is it your main source of gaming entertainment, or do you prefer to go single player, or prefer “couch multi player”? Let me know in the comments below, or look me up on Twitter for a chat.