'Descent' into computer network madness

By Michael Eilers
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 16, 1996

A few months back I wrote a piece about the Macintosh vs. PC "platform warz," and since that garnered such a huge response (3 e-mails) I thought I'd bring you up to date on a new and rapidly expanding front line on the battlefield: cross-platform network games.

That's right, now you can do better than just telling that PC weenie or that Mac moron to take a hike - you can mop the floor with them in your favorite video game! An increasing number of network games are appearing on both the Mac and PC at the same time, and allow cross-platform competition. Remember that PC clone-head down the hall who's always taunting you? Take 'em on in the arena of combat!

Now you can literally defend your platform against infidels in multiplayer battle. Here's a short primer on what's out there and what you need to play it. Note that this column is truly interactive: E-mail me and I can hook you up in network play with any game mentioned here, usually for free. Warning: networking techspeak ahead!

First on the list are Descent and Descent II by Parallax Software, simply two of the most mind-blowing games on any platform. You pilot a ship through a crisply rendered 3-D maze of corridors and passages, with full 360-degree freedom (bank, tilt, swivel, hurl) and lots of nasty weapons.

By yourself, this game is pretty compelling - you've got to nuke the enemy robots, shoot the reactor and then find your way out of the maze before the whole thing goes critical. To call this game merely "intense" is to do it injustice: I've seen people get so motion-sick they had to leave the room.

Network play is of course where the real action is. There's nothing quite like pinwheeling down a darkened corridor only to have an opponent pop up out of the shadows and carve his or her name on your butt with the plasma cannon. Computer opponents are fun, but limited and predictable - not so with your human foes. Tremendous amounts of strategy and quick reflexes come into play, and the sweat and adrenaline starts to pour. Slick maneuvering and savvy weapon-use is a must, but the victory often goes to the truly savage player.

Networking Descent is a pain, but well worth the effort. To play cross-platform you need both computers on the same Ethernet network, with some garbage called IPX running on the server. Luckily, Descent II (available for the PC, and for the Mac in June) will include much better cross-platform options, including modem play. Between two (or more) Macs or multiple PCs the networking is very easy, and you can even play over the Internet. I played a net game with a guy in Texas last night, without long-distance charges. The only drawback to Descent is that you need some pretty fast computers (Pentium and PowerPC only) and speedy modems or network connections.

Another fun "shooter" is Havoc by Reality Bites, a fun "tank game" similar to the old Battlezone coin-op. You pilot your craft over a true 3-D landscape, blowing things sky high and generally causing mayhem. The action is fast and fluid, and the visuals are mind-boggling.

In multiplayer combat this game really shines. The rough terrain and huge variety of weapons allow for some very nice strategy elements, and there are several "games" (capture the flag, team combat) you can play within each round. Networking options include modem, Appletalk, Ethernet and Internet (TCP/IP.)

Even over a lousy 14,400-baud modem connection, the gameplay was fast and fluid. Against an opponent with a PC (which must be running Windows 95) we had no problems linking up, and I certainly had no problem crushing him into dust. The game comes with 2 CD-ROMs so you can begin pounding opponents immediately.

Also in the 3-D genre, Marathon 2 by Bungie software deserves a mention as the best multiplayer game on any platform, without reserve. Bungie has recently announce that M2 will be coming to the PC this summer, with cross-platform play as an option. Trust me, PC folks, it will be worth the wait.

Marathon 2 is a game in the "DOOM" genre, but so much better than DOOM there is barely a comparison. Fast, crisp, colorful visuals and an amazing variety of arenas/terrains make this one breathtaking either solo or networked. You can play as teams, try "king of the hill" or "kill the guy with the ball" or just go for carnage and rack up the body count. This game is nothing short of amazing, and more addictive than Cheez-its.

For those with less trigger-happy fingers, there are a few strategy games available cross-platform. Warcraft is a real-time battlefield simulator that requires the tactics of a general and the talents of a politician. You have to coax your troops (Orcs or Humans, you pick) into digging trenches, making weapons and finally making war on encroaching opponents. Eventually you end up managing vast battlefields, organizing many retreats or attacks simultaneously - a true thinker's game.

Networking is available as modem play or Ethernet. The game looks and functions identically on both platforms, with great sound and visuals, but it takes patience to finish those three-hour games.

There are also several chess and card games that go both ways, but do you really care? In the cross-platform wars, combat is where it is at. E-mail me at eilersm@aruba.ccit.arizona.edu if you want to play ...