the Mouth of Madness:
By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
In the interest of pointing out possible bias wherever possible, it should be pointed out that I am a former employee of CriticalMass Communications/GameSpy, and prior to starting this here site was webmaster of GameSpy.com.
’ve been playing a great deal of multiplayer gaming lately, thanks to a number of recent releases. Shogo is definitely still my deathmatch game of choice, and I think it’s the best DM game out there, but there has been a definite decrease in the number of active servers of late, which has forced me to try out some other games. This isn’t exactly torture, mind you…I do dig Half-Life and Sin’s multiplayer, but lately I find myself playing Starsiege: Tribes a heck of a bunch.
Tribes is definitely cool stuff. Very well made, and the servers support 32 players better than any game I’ve played yet. Look for my full review soon. If you haven’t seen the game, it’s got a slick multiplayer interface (well, that’s pretty much all there is, since it’s an online-only game). It’s somewhat similar to Half-Life’s, with a giant table that gives you all the info you need. It’s handy and does the trick all right…but I was amazed to find myself wishing that GameSpy would support Starsiege: Tribes. It’s in the works, I know that, but the weird thing is…why would I want GameSpy to support Tribes, when there’s already this slick interface.
As I thought about it, I realized that I’ve only used Half-Life’s multiplayer thing once in all the times I’ve played it online. What’s going on here? Is it possible that GameSpy might actually have a future? You have to understand here. GameSpy and me go a long way back. I’ve always loved the program, but it’s one of those things that deep down, I always figured was a flash in the pan.
GameSpy was created way back when to fill a need. It was QuakeSpy in those days, and was created because there wasn’t any practical way to find Quake servers. Remember: this is still pre-QuakeWorld here…we used to have to manually write down IP addresses in order to find a game. Talk about a pain! And even then, you had no idea what your ping was going to be like until you got there. Yick. So QuakeSpy came along (and actually, so did Rift, my server browser of choice way back then). When they became GameSpy and added Hexen II and other games, I figured they might have a chance of survival, but then…Blizzard had just turned the world upside down with their Battle.net service.
More games started to ship with great online components…Myth had Bungie.net, StarCraft tapped into Battle.net…and I started to think that this was the way of the future. I’m not so sure now. Let’s look at the recent group of games that GameSpy has added. Heretic II, Shogo, Blood 2, Half-Life, Turok 2, South Park, Baldur’s Gate, etc., etc. That’s a pretty impressive list, and only two of those are Quake engine games.
Now, I’ve talked to a number of developers of late regarding GameSpy, and some are enthusiastic, and others…are not. Many people feel that GameSpy exists because of the laziness of some developers. This is definitely a fair argument, but then…look at it from a developer’s point of view. You spend all this time making a great game, and there’s someone out there that’s got this shareware product with a huge audience that’s willing to support your title. You can delay your game six more months while you implement a GameSpy-like interface, or just tap into their existing product. Arguments can be made on both sides, but obviously some very high profile developers have gone GameSpy in a big way.
And then there’s the issue of built-in interfaces. There’s definitely a charm in GameSpy these days…I start up the program, and from this single thing I can hop into any one of those games. If I can’t find a Shogo server, I hop into Half-Life. No Half-Life games worth checking out? Well, then why not look into some good old fashioned QuakeWorld? The list keeps on going.
I think that GameSpy is going to succeed in a way that Kali can not, because they’ve managed to adapt very quickly. Kali is always the one I pointed to, as an example of a program that served a specific purpose (notably being the only place to play Descent over the Internet) and has since faltered. Kali was the first program I ever saw that created a TCP/IP hack for IPX. If that means nothing to you, let me simplify it: Kali convinced the game you were playing that your Internet connection was actually a LAN. Pretty cool. What this meant, is that games like Doom or Descent (or Warcraft or any of the other games they support…it’s a fairly long list) that weren’t designed for the Internet could be played online. A neat idea…except as IPX went the way of the dodo (for games, at least) Kali’s popularity has declined. A recent stopover to the Kali homepage showed 2,000 users in the last hour. That’s fairly impressive, until you drop by GameSpy’s and see that they’ve had over 10,000. Pretty odd, considering that the program supports over 10 times as many games as GameSpy.
While Kali has stagnated, GameSpy has added more and more games, but also more and more options for developers. I have to point out here those swanky GameSpy Lite dealies. These are customized versions of GameSpy that come with certain games (notably Unreal, Baldur’s Gate, Heretic II and others). Basically these are really stripped down "lite" versions of the program, with customized interfaces for each game. You don’t get that multiple-game benefit, but it’s definitely a cool thing for some titles (especially Heretic II, where you’re unlikely to find any games with any other online service). And hey…they’re really well designed. I was really impressed by how swanky the Heretic II and Unreal ones were, and I can’t wait to see the SouthPark version. They also are offering to developers the ability to set up master servers at GameSpy HQ.
This might seem like more of a benefit to GameSpy/CriticalMass than the developer...but think about it for a moment. By going with GameSpy, a developer doesn't have to worry about anything on the multiplayer side (beyond the actual gameplay, of course). They get the program, and someone who's willing to run a central server for them. That's a major load off their backs.
There are other things that keep me using GameSpy despite the other available options: there’s the fact that all my filters apply across every game. There’s the ease of use that comes with the fact that I’ve been using it for so long (lord knows that it’s intimidating to the newcomer). It’s very strange, because I really didn’t expect to still be using GameSpy after all this time.
Where am I going with all of this? Chances are that if you’re into multiplayer games you’ve already seen GameSpy, so this is just silly of me to point out. But, I know there are a lot of people out there like myself who had pretty much written off GameSpy of late…and for those people, I’d suggest checking the thing out again. As more and more games go multiplayer only, and as the major online gaming services continue to choke under their own budget, it’s looking more and more like GameSpy might be the winner here. Who’d have thunk it?
Credits: From the Mouth of Madness logo illustrated by and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. From the Mouth of Madness is © 1998 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, you naughty boy, you.