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volume 1, issue 8

Today in loonygames:

New!! The Archives have been cleaned up, fead links fixed, and printable versions restored! Also, don't miss the new comments on the front page!

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LAN Parties: It's a Scene, Baby!

2. Anatomy of a LAN Party

There are several things that are required at a net party, people, computers, games, and a network. The people must like to play similar games, for instance Quake, or Quake 2. They are usually younger, but there are documented cases of 65 year olds playing at some of the larger parties. All partygoers have computers of their own, so they typically have an interest in computers, or at least computer games.

Everyone brings his or her own PC's to play on. Each PC has to have a Network Interface Card (NIC), which allows them to be part of the network. The typical PC today is at least a Pentium 233 with a decent graphics accelerator. 3Dfx's Voodoo Graphics chipset cards are a minimum. At the top of the spectrum there is the Pentium II 400 (sometimes overclocked to 450 or more) and a dual Voodoo2 setup called Scan Line Interleave (or SLI) which boasts resolutions up to 1024x768 while getting more than 60 frames per second (FPS). To compare that with the minimum machine, it can usually get about 640x480 resolution with 30fps. At least those are the benchmarks for Quake2. Other game benchmarks vary widely.

Section three will discuss the games that are played at a LAN party, so the discussion on networks is next. Of course there are different network structures that can be implemented, and larger network parties have all sorts of additional issues with networking, like segmentation of the network, switches and routers, and attenuation issues. Those are all different articles on their own, but they will be touched on in the following paragraphs.

Segmentation of the network: when a network gets large, it gets cluttered with people sending and receiving information. On an Ethernet network, all the packets are sent over the same "wire", and every NIC sees each packet. Each time the NIC in any PC wants to send, it has to wait for the wire not to be in use. When 2 NICs try to send data at the same time, it's called a collision. As more and more computers get attached to the same segment, the collision rate goes up. So - to reduce collisions and improve performance the network is segmented into smaller pieces, with fewer computers per segment, and a router, or a switch between segments.

Switches and Routers: a network switch is a device that forwards packets to a segment that needs them, not to all segments. They don't look at much of each packet before deciding what to do with it. It does this at a very low level, so they are quite fast. Routers on the other hand need to look at almost all of the address information to determine where a given packet needs to go, so they are slower. Routers are typically used to link Wide Area Networks and the Internet more than they are used at LAN parties.

Attenuation issues: when there is a large network, more and more people plug in hubs. If they level of hubs gets too deep (about 4 daisy -chained) then the network won't operate properly. Ethernet uses electricity to send information. If there is too much draw or current being sucked out by many devices, then the network no longer will function. So - to deal with this problem, there is usually one person who tells everyone where to plug in his or her equipment. This person also has to deal with the other problems that people have with their networking. They tend to be a busy person, who does not get to play a lot of games while people are still setting up their PC's.

3. LAN Party Games

The games that are played consist of four different genres that were discussed at the bottom of section one. FPS games, RTS games, flight simulation games, and sports simulation games. The RTS games are popular, but take a long time to play a single game. The pace is not furious like the FPS games, so there is time to think, and develop strategies to defeat the current opponent(s). Flight sim games are in a different category. They are seldom played at large network parties, and are typically played by people who are very interested in flying. Sports simulation games are similar, but usually played over the phone with friends, not in a large setting like a QuakeCon or tournament type setting. FPS games are the most popular of the games at network parties today. FPS games produce a reaction similar to chocolate in the people who play them. They are addictive. There is a great deal of adrenaline that goes into a LAN party where FPS games are being played.

Most FPS games don't need a dedicated machine for the server, but there are a number that do benefit greatly from one. Quake, Quake2 and Unreal all like to have dedicated servers. It makes everyone have similar performance, and nobody has an undue advantage by running the server on his or her own PC.

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Credits: Illustration © 1998 Mike Sanzone. LAN Parties: It's a Scene, Baby! is © 1998 Charles Bedford. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it...we'll find you at a LAN party and woop yer sorry butt.