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Lost in Cyberspace

Next generation of online gaming is here

This article was originally published on November 23, 1999 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

Online gaming just keeps getting better. The graphics are more realistic, the game play is faster, the explosions are more impressive.

Some of the latest games, like Unreal Tournament, Quake III and Team Fortress2 are so far above previous entrants of the first-person shooter genre that they truly represent a new generation of entertainment programming.

Unfortunately, modem speeds haven't been increasing for most of us; the 56k modem has become a plateau of sorts, and is likely to remain so for a few more years. While improved programming has let the current crop of games use smaller data packets over the net – and thus from playing too much more slowly online than their predecessors – most are not playing any faster, either. Unless you're on a cable modem, DSL or a T1, playing over the 'Net can range from frustrating to impossible.

Still, the new games are so darn impressive that they're worth checking out.

Team Fortress2 has the same look and feel as the best-selling Half-Life, on which it's based. The gameplay is different, though. Instead of choosing teams or engaging in a free-for-all, as in the multiplayer version of Half-Life, each player is assigned a specific role out of 12 choices: sniper, Marine, spy, commando, medic, engineer, etc. The role you choose influences not only your weapons, but your assigned tasks to allow your team to win. And there are different scenarios. Sometimes you'll have a band of Marines assigned to take out a spy – which is another player who has to get from one end of the map to the other without being killed. Other times a small team must infiltrate a fortified area, or deliver a prisoner.

All that variety, combined with the outstanding graphics and sound, made for a pretty interesting game in Team Fortress Classic. More so than any other multplayer game either out there or on the horizon, Team Fortress2 offers more different ways of playing over and over again. The Web site (above) offers a QuickTime video preview of the game, which shows some new weapons and characters.

Unreal Tournament is as different from Unreal as Team Fortress2 is from Half-Life. Unreal provided one of the best single-player first-person shooter games ever, with 3-D graphics that remain the state of the art. Unreal multiplayer was always buggy from the get-go, though, and Epic Games promised from early on to release a solid, stable multiplayer game worthy of the single-player version.

Unreal Tournament does that, with smooth animation and easy-to-use weapons. The 3-D graphics aren't quite as good as the original's, though – perhaps that has to do with keeping the data packets smaller. But the three levels available in the game's free demo version (through the above link) are spacious, fun and eminently playable.

For the first half of this decade, id Software absolutely owned the first-person shooter genre. After remaking an old Apple II/Atari classic, Castle Wolfenstein, into Wolfenstein 3D, id then followed with Doom, Doom II, Quake and Quake II. Each new release set a new standard, which other games like Duke Nukem' could only approach.

But with Unreal and Half-Life, id is suddenly fighting for market share. Quake III (which is still in beta testing, but has a playable demo version on the id site) is a nice improvement over Quake II, but, at least in the version out now, isn't quite at the same level as Team Fortress2 or Unreal Tournament. The weapons are just okay, the levels aren't breathtaking, the buildings in the game aren't even particularly distinctive (both Quake and Quake II had some really neat architecture).

In addition, unlike Quake and Quake II, Quake III is going to be multiplayer-only, with no first-person game included. (Both Unreal Tournament and Team Fortress2 also are multiplayer only – speaking to the growing popularity of online multiplayer gaming.)

id needs to do more with Quake III before its final release if they want it to be able to succeed in a suddenly competitive market.