The latest in online gaming
This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on November 23, 2001
I have to admit that I've kind of fallen off the online gaming bandwagon. Outside of a weekly LAN party for Counter-Strike (a Half-Life mod), I've not been doing much in the way of computer gaming lately.
But in snooping around the 'Net, it's clear that I'm not indicative of the norm.
The majority of games being released today have a multiplayer component, and nearly all of these are accessed over the Internet.
A quick look at several of the newest multiplayer games:
A massively multiplayer strategy game, Shattered Galaxy has the visual appearance of StarCraft or Total Annihilation. Not willing to give my life over to yet another addictive game (which this shows all the evidence of being), I can't vouch for the gameplay. The screenshots are impressive, though, and the website's description of the game makes it sound like a bigger, better version of those games.
According to the website, up to 30 players can be in a single battle that's 15 vs. 15, which is pretty impressive. (In StarCraft, you can get up to 4 on 4.) Unlike StarCraft, there is no single-player version of Shattered Galaxy nor can you play a private game with friends over a LAN.
Instead, Shattered Galaxy is an online-only subscription service. The game itself can be gotten for less than $30, but there is a monthly charge as well. (The media kit says monthly subscriptions "start" at $5.)
Still being new, the sheer number of players on the Shattered Galaxy servers at any one point don't seem as impressive as for some other games yet. But the company has reported that sales are doing well it took StarCraft several months to really take off, so Shattered Galaxy may well become one of the giants.
My friends who are really into computing gaming have spent the last year and a half living Microsoft's Asheron's Call. While Ultima Online and EverQuest were hugely popular, it was Asheron's Call that was the giant in the online role-playing arena.
Now, though, Keith and Sheldon report that there is a massive migration going on folks are drifting away from Asheron's Call and over to the new Dark Age of Camelot.
I have to admit that I never got into any of the online role-playing games for whatever reason, they and I just never clicked. But I also know that there are a whole ton of folks hundreds of thousands, if not millions who are. Entire online communities have sprung up among these games. My friends were part of an organizational hierarchy within Asheron's Call folk they'd never met in person were their online allies, leaders and followers.
(Now, about the dumbest thing I ever saw a game publisher do was when the EverQuest folks banned players from selling and/or trading characters and equipment. At one point, eBay had a special category for EverQuest along with the ones it still has for Ultima and Asheron's Call - and it surely helped spark interest and passion in the game.)
Dark Age of Camelot has much the same appearance as Ultima or EverQuest meaning better graphics than on Asheron's Call. But what set Asheron's Call apart from the competition was the sheer number of players who could be online in the same environment at the same time. From all reports, Camelot combines the superior graphics with the larger gameplay which would go a long way in explaining its quick popularity.
Also, the gameplay itself is different. In Ultima, you can fight every other person online kind of like Quake's Deathmatch mod. In Asheron and EverQuest, you only fight computer-controlled monsters. Camelot has three different teams you join one, and then find teammates and go fight against the other two teams.
Like Ultima Online, EverQuest and Asheron's Call, The Dark Age of Camelot is online-only. The base game is available for between $40 and $50; couldn't find the monthly charges on the web site, but they did announce that you can pay by check so you don't have to have a credit card to play.
Where Shattered Galaxy has the top-down view of StarCraft or Total Annihilation, and Dark Age of Camelot is the third-person view of Tomb Raider, Ragnarok appears most like Baldur's Gate or Diablo kind of a 45-degree angle view of things. The characters are larger than in the strategy games, but not as big as in the first- and third-person games like Camelot, Asheron's Call or Quake.
Published in Korea, Ragnarok does have an English section on their Web site but it can be a bit difficult at times to figure out what they're trying to get at.
The screenshots are gorgeous, though the game has a definite style all its own.
To join Ragnarok, you download the game although it seems they're getting ready for another upgrade, because you could sign up for the new alpha testing program, but the main game was not available for download when we visited.
© Copyright Jim Trageser
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