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Gaming communities create entire worlds on the Web



Images courtesy of GT Interactive, Sierra Studios, Ultima Online and ID Software.

My life as an Everquest newbie

By Atticus Fisher

I took Everquest for a spin to find out firsthand why MMORPGs like EQ are so popular and addictive. I was fortunate enough to meet Sean, aka Dragons, who offered to give me a tour of Norrath, Everquest's huge online world. Dragons is the fearless leader of a guild called The Syndicate, an organized group of more than 500 EQ players.

Following Dragons' instructions, I entered the world of Everquest at a pre-arranged time as a Half Elf and promptly killed myself by inadvertently walking off the tree platforms that comprised the town Kelethin. The myriad controls take most new players awhile to master, involving not only movement and points-of-view options, but character interaction and inventory controls.

A chat message appeared at the bottom of my screen: "I see you fell several times." Unbelievably, Dragons had found me. Playing an experienced magician called Agamon, Dragons had access to spells and powers that would quickly transport us to far-flung locales in Norrath. For an EQ newbie and reporter on deadline, Dragons' tutelage was a gift from the deities; some players have estimated Norrath to be a fourth of the size of Rhode Island.

We met up with another Syndicate member, Tazool, who protected my character from the newbie-hostile environment with a magic spell. (Even so, I was still killed by an unseen enemy.) Activating the auto-follow command, I trailed behind Agamon as he teleported our group in an aura of purple light to deserts, forests and other strange lands, all beautifully rendered in full-color 3-D. As we stood in the desert and forests, I watched the sky turn light with the first rays of dawn and took note of the dozens of other players, pixies and giant spiders wandering past.

At the end of our journey, we met with several other Syndicate members back in Kelethin. Asking questions to the half a dozen or so characters who surrounded me, the effect of being a visitor in a strange, new world was eerily complete.

Am I hooked? Oh yes.

MESSAGE BOARD: Share your own online game experiences and adventures with our readers.


By Atticus Fisher

"...The flight of BSD bombers I was escorting attacked a Japanese supply convoy and its destroyers. I watched the planes in singles and pairs attack with very accurate steep dives.... I could see the bombs hurtle toward a destroyer ... the third plane scored a hit on the stern, which started a fire, and I watched the destroyer sink."

-- Carl "Enforcer" Gould

Carl isn't a World War II veteran recalling his harrowing days of combat for the History Channel, and the combat action he describes never occurred in the Solomon Islands. The scene took place in Microsoft's online video game Combat Flight Simulator 2, and Carl is one of thousands of avid video gamers who inhabit a vast online gaming community.

If you think video games are about pre-teens plunking quarters into a machine and playing a few rounds of Pac Man, hold on to your helmet; the depth and breadth of today's online gaming world is downright amazing, and it ain't just for kids.

From MUDs to MMORPGs

Online multiplayer games aren't new. They've been around in various forms for almost 20 years, way before the Internet or the World Wide Web. Some of the earliest online gaming communities grew around Multi-User Dungeons, or MUDs -- text-only, fantasy/adventure-themed role-playing games that ran on early university computer systems.

Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) like Everquest and Ultima Online are direct descendants of MUDs. Everquest and Ultima Online feature huge, ongoing, online fantasy/sci-fi worlds that support hundreds of thousands of players at a time. A quick check of the Everquest site shows more than 135,000 gamers logged on. Thanks to today's powerful computers, you can experience EQ or UO in three-dimensional, full-color, graphical glory.

The basic gameplay for EQ and UO is similar in that you don't "win" the game. There are no set objectives other than to explore the world around you and to improve your character's attributes by acquiring money, spells, weapons and experience.

Probably owing to their complex social environments, MMORPGs have attracted female players to the role-playing ranks. Marilyn Bonomi, a 57-year-old English teacher and mother, surely doesn't fit the popular image of a video gamer. She has been playing EQ for more than a year and estimates about 10 percent of EQ players are female.

"The cooperative nature of the game is as appealing as is the lack of visible gore," she says, although her daughter says EQ is "namby-pamby" and prefers shoot 'em up games like the Quake series.

Combat made fun

If slaying ogres or interacting with pixies isn't your cup of grog, EQ and UO aren't the only games in town. First-person shooters (FPS) like Valve Software's Half-Life, Id Software's Quake series or GT Interactive's Unreal Tournament have spawned their own intensely loyal online gaming communities.

"Smashcase," a 38 year-old graphic designer, says Half-Life gets every player involved. "If you're willing to learn, you can customize every aspect of the game to suit your tastes," he says. "Plus, you can freely exchange ideas...with every other H-L player in the world over the Web."

Because meeting and interacting with other players is what online gaming is all about, the social structure in many online gaming communities is surprisingly rich and organized. Players have assembled virtual teams from all over the globe, many with leaders, chains-of-command and some with strict admission requirements and their own Web sites. Teams battle against other teams in international tournaments and help new players learn the ropes, meeting both in the games themselves and in Web-based chat rooms and message boards. As Carl Gould says about the Combat Flight Simulator community: "The talent and knowledge of these people amazes me, and I've yet to have any of my questions go unanswered."

Calling all newbies

There's so much to consider, where should a newbie begin? Good places to start are gaming sites such as Games Domain and Computer Games Online, both of which review the most recent titles and keep review archives. How-to sites such as BarrysWorld Guide to Online Gaming offer helpful guidance to the beginner. Visiting the FAQ (frequently asked questions) pages on game developer Web sites can answer basic questions about game features and system requirements; you can also look there for links to message boards and forums. Although some online gamers like nothing better than to harass newbies, on the whole, veteran players are eager to help newcomers to the games they adore.





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