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Hot on the Web

Playing around online

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on April 30, 2004
(Issue 2218, Web Camming at Home and Abroad)

Must be some kind of weird karma at work, but I keep running across more and more sites with free online gaming.

We're not talking the high-end, massively multiplayer stuff like EverQuest or Asheron's Call. Instead, we're talking old-school arcade-type games, or even card and board games.

In the past we've visited numerous times as an example of the state-of-the-art possibilities presented by Macromedia's Shockwave plugin. A few weeks ago, we found a few more sites with free Shockwave games.

Now there's another, and it is just as good as, if not quite as deep in terms of number of games.

GameRival has dozens of Shockwave games, ranging from puzzles to arcade to board to action. All of the games I tried (about an even dozen) were well-designed and had imaginative gameplay.

At their best, they remind of the early days of arcade gaming – you'll see traces of Frogger and Mario Bros. and Centipede and Pac*Man in here.

Not all of the games are quite that good – you'll also see games that remind you of second-tier titles from the old days, stuff that reminds you of, say, Burger Time or Moon Patrol.

I can't really figure out the business model for GameRival, though. You can download the games to your PC rather than playing online, and while I haven't done that, it doesn't seem likely that a Shockwave game would have spyware attached.

Instead, GameRival seems to be a loss leader for its parent company, eUniverse, which has other, paid services – a ladder-type online gaming tournament manager, an online dating service, and a play-for-money online contest site.

None of them were as rewarding or fun as GameRival, though.

If there's a complaint about GameRival, it's minor – how about tracking high scores and letting folks post theirs?

Yahoo games

Looking through my archive, it strikes me as, well, embarrassing that we've never written about one of the top online gaming sites online: Yahoo.

Or, more particularly,

This is really an impressive site – with both games you can download demo versions of (and then pay the publisher to keep playing), and games you can play online.

Of particular interest to me are the head-to-head online games where you play against other people, and then get ranked. If you want to take part in online tournaments, there is an inexpensive subscription program.

I've been playing backgammon and cribbage online, and am in the middle of the pack.

Which means the gameplay is pretty representative of the real world.

As for the game variety, in the online head-to-head area, there are, in addition to the backgammon and cribbage, euchre, canasta, bridge, pinochle and spades in the card area. Under board games are checkers, chess, Chinese checkers, MahJong and dominoes.

Each of these games will then have subareas broken into beginner, intermediate and advanced, plus "social" rooms and ladder tournaments for subscribers (who can then join leagues). But everything outside the ladders and leagues is open to non-subscribers, too.

That's a lot for nothing (although Yahoo, being the number one destination on the 'Net, is able to place ads on just about every page – about the only site able to make money off online advertising).

The Java applets Yahoo uses for the multiplayer gameplay are well-designed, and include chat capability so you can talk to one another.

One night when insomnia was stalking me, I ended up in a four-hand game of cribbage – I was down here in San Diego, while my partner was in upstate New York. One of our opponents was from Canada's west coast, while the other was from the Midwest.

We'll never meet in person, but it was a fun half-hour or so of spirited trash talk, political gossip, weather gripes and compliments on good play.

Even more shorthand

And for those who have been chatting or e-mailing for awhile, it's interesting to note how online gameplay has added even more cryptic shorthand phrases for quick messages during a game. "gh" means "good hand"; "gp" is "good play"; in backgammon, "nr" and "vnr" are "nice roll" and "very nice roll."

Takes a while to figure them all out, and there are still some I've been too embarrassed to admit I couldn't decipher.

But it's as nice a group of folks as you could want to meet – or, in my case, lose to.