I’m yet to get any grey hair, this might be because most of it has fallen out, but to compensate I have a quite large beard. I always secretly looked forward to going grey, to me it’s the sign of wisdom and if people just own it then it can look great. Despite my lack of grey I do have a bad back and knee, and I’ve started squinting whilst gaming, I also get annoyed by children running near me and have a dislike for anything ‘youth targeted’ on TV or Radio. All of these point to the fact at age 28 I’m finally starting to feel like I’m getting older, not old, but older. The main reason I believe this though is because recently I’ve been using one phrase a hell of a lot; Back In The Day.
Back in the day I had a friend called Luke, he was my best friend for a number of years and I always looked forward to hanging out with him. He was cool and despite being interested in football, he would hang out with me and play video games. It was with him I first played on an N64 and first saw how a nice PC could make games that I had already been playing look many times better. He was also the first person I played LAN games with.
LAN, Local Area Network, games are multiplayer games where you would hook up a number of PC’s with serial or network cables, thus allowing you to play with or against someone in the same room. This was back when internet in the UK was still only 56K online gaming wasn’t really an option, unless you enjoyed lag and the 2 minutes of random noises a modem would make. This was a fascinating time for gaming as developers were producing multiplayer games but it wasn’t the main focus, this was a time where it wasn’t worth putting huge effort into developing multiplayer for the handful of people that could be bothered to set up the machines.
Luke used to have to get his parents to drive him to my house with a heavy PC tower and monitor. We would set up the machines on the kitchen table and then spend the next 5 hours playing Duke Nukem 3D, Doom, Quake, Age of Empires and anything else we could find.
So what was the appeal of this? Well until then multiplayer had to be played on the same console, often in split-screen. At first you may wonder what the problem is with that, it’s a format that lives even today. Well back then it would cause rifts in friendships. Goldeneye will be the game that for many people introduced them to FPS’ and also death matches, the problem is that it also introduced a number of people to the concept of Screen-Cheating. Not sure where your opponent is? Want to set up a trap? Want to ruin an opponent’s trap? Well just a little glance over 5 inches and you can see what they see and steal their location. All challenge and skill was modified to fight this plague. I knew people who would put cardboard divides on their TV’s to ensure fair play. There lies problem two with split-screen, the TV. We are now used to TV’s generally being between 30 and 40 inches for the more media interested gamer, when I was younger I played these games on a 14 inch TV in someone’s bedroom, DK Mode was nearly essential to see where to shoot. These were the reasons why LAN parties were best.
One thing that makes me miss those times a lot was not the games, though most were classics, but it is in fact the people. I wrote a piece last year about the death of my father and his role in my gaming life. He and I used to play across the top floor of our house, Flying Heroes and Age of Empires being our games of choice. We’d play for entire days, something I would never have thought could be possible at a younger age, apart from the occasional help from him on Monkey Island we led separate lives. Between my father, Luke and my recent reforming relationship of LAN with my friends Will and Adam it has made me realise something. It’s the people, not the game.
It’s easy to blame the death of LAN on a couple of elements, namely, the internet. With voice chat and the quality of online play it’s easier to just stay home and play with Skype running in the background, but to me that’s not the same. I recently played Torchlight 2 to completion this way with a buddy, we spent many evenings dragging our characters around the colourful world. We used Skype on iPads next to laptops to communicate, it worked, it did the job, but it wasn’t the same as sharing a room or a sofa. Taunting and mocking was harder and it essentially becomes and elongated phone call whilst you happen to be playing.
With LAN gaming, the game facilitates the friendship, there’s something to be said for “face to face” gaming. I can’t bemoan Steam and other platforms for making online gaming easy, it’s a good thing, but it doesn’t stop me reminiscing for the days of old. I’m not sure whether it was the games, the people or the hassle of setting up that I have the most nostalgia for, perhaps it’s because of the novelty, at the time multiplayer was a rarity, with LAN it became the norm. For me I still insist my friends and I a couple of times a year hook up a few PCs on a network and break out games like Age of Empires 2 HD and Payday, games that would work if we were sat 500 miles apart, but become so much more fun when sat 5 feet apart.