Comedy of Errors
Look at you, hacker. A pathetic creature of meat and bone, panting and sweating as you run through my corridors. How can you challenge a perfect, immortal machine?
Shodan's metallic voice has always simultaneously entranced and repulsed me, but until now her taunts and barbs have done little to demoralize me outright. This time, though, I fear that Shodan has a point. What can I, frail man that I am, do against a computer that is determined to defeat me at every turn? That is the question I am forced to confront as DrunkenSleipnir and I conclude our weeklong LAN-athon, which has been plagued from the outset by a slew of technical problems. We have shed nearly every conceivable male bodily fluid -- blood, sweat, tears, and probably even a little catatonic drool -- in our efforts to prevail over these damnable computers. As far as we're concerned, the war between the humans and the machines has already begun, and right now things are looking a bit iffy for carbon-based life.
Two Mondays ago I flew from New Orleans to Rochester, New York with one clear goal: to crash on DrunkenSleipnir's couch and play as many games as possible over his LAN. I succeeded in annexing his sofa from him, but we've had the worst luck when it comes to gaming, with hardware and software problems each rearing their multifarious heads. The games were to be played using Sleipnir's two desktop computers, the first of which consisted of a relatively spry Athlon XP 1800+, 1GB DDR RAM, and ATI Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card running Windows XP. The second computer was a bit long in the tooth, being comprised of an aging P3-733, GeForce 2 64MB, and only 64MB of RAM, running Windows 98 SE. We knew that the RAM would prove to be the bottleneck, so we accordingly restricted ourselves to older PC titles. I decided to name the more powerful computer "Fletcher," and the ancient, crotchety rig I cleverly dubbed "Certis."
You know that recurring nightmare... the one where Fletcher and Certis join forces and turn against you, ceaselessly gnashing their teeth and laughing as you cower in fear? No? Well then, read on for all the grisly details!
Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear
Sleipnir and I have been playing Rogue Spear cooperatively ever since the game's release in 1999. We consider ourselves experts at Rogue Spear, but it goes without saying that none of our fake gun-wielding expertise may be brought to bear if the game refuses to run. Unsurprisingly, it was Certis who decided to get grumpy and inflict untold worlds of hurt upon us. Rogue Spear's main menu loaded up just fine, but none of the missions would launch without first crashing to the desktop.
I noticed that after a crash, if I loaded the game again and tried once more to launch a mission, it would succeed, but the levels and textures looked absolutely dreadful. As I stared at the abysmal, low-res images dancing across Certis' screen I could feel faint and terrible memories surfacing in my head... memories that had not stirred in many years. Finally I recognized the ugly smear of drab colors for what they were: software rendering. Horror of horrors! Somehow the game couldn't recognize the GeForce card, and as a result it was using the CPU to render the graphics. Thinking that a driver update might solve things, I downloaded the latest 77.72 drivers from nVidia and tried to install them. Imagine my dismay when nVidia's driver installation program failed to recognize their own graphics card! Apparently GeForce2 support is broken in the latest release; not even a manual install of the graphics drivers (using Win98's standard install procedure for hardware) would work.
Fortunately nVidia maintains a driver archive, and I was able to download the older 66.94 drivers. These installed properly, but failed to fix the Rogue Spear problem. I eventually worked up the courage to install yet another driver package -- this time, the 56.64's -- and this finally allowed me to load my Rogue Spear missions. However, I'm sad to say that Certis did succeed in eating up several hours of our valuable time.
The monitor affixed to Certis is old and dim, and so in order to use it for games I had to frequently adjust the gamma slider. However, Serious Sam has no gamma slider. In fact, it has no gamma adjustment capacity of any kind. Gamma adjustment has been present in every first-person shooter since the 2D gaming era... except for Sam, it would seem.
No problem, though. nVidia's graphics applet lets me adjust gamma in Windows. I used the applet to increase my brightness and gamma, loaded the game, and everything was just fine. Sleipnir and I started a co-op game and were enjoying ourselves immensely, but after about twenty minutes of play Fletcher hard-locked. We started anew, but Fletcher locked up again. We patched the game to version 1.05, which seemed to fix the lock-up issue, but to my amazement the patch rendered my gamma adjustments on Certis ineffective. The applet that worked so well for me before would not work at all with the 1.05 patch. I downloaded Powerstrip and tried to use its gamma adjustment in place of nVidia's applet, but with no luck. Fletcher and Certis defeated us handily, resulting in an entire afternoon's worth of wasted time.
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
In lieu of Sam 1, we decided to give its sequel a shot. Unfortunately The Second Encounter was just too much for poor old Certis to handle. Even with all the graphics and audio setting at a minimum, and even running at a ludicrously low resolution of 320x240, the game was unplayable. I tried updating Certis' graphics drivers from 56.64 to 71.84, but it didn't help. In fact, it seemed only to hurt.
UT was also unplayable on Certis, likely owing to the small amount of system memory. We were a bit mystified by this, though, since Sleipnir used to play the game just fine using an old P2-350 with 64MB RAM and a Voodoo Banshee video card. Certis should have handled UT without any hiccups at all, particularly on the low detail settings, but for some reason he just wasn't up to the task. It wasn't the first time Certis had disappointed me, let me tell you!
Duke Nukem 3D
We expected some problems from this old DOS game, and problems we received. We succeeded in getting the game installed and running, and when Sleipnir hosted a LAN game on Fletcher I was even able to detect it and attempt to join. However, I could never successfully join, and we were forced to abandon our efforts. Sleipnir was also unable to get the game to run at any resolution other than 320x240 VGA, so it looked pretty bad on Fletcher anyway. I remembered hearing about a 3D-accelerated update to Duke3D, similar to jDoom for Doom 1/2, but no amount of Googling would pin it down.
Lobo Says: Sleipnir and I also played Alien Vs. Predator, Worms Armageddon, and Heroes of Might and Magic 2/3. In fact, we played those games quite a lot, since they were the only ones not to give us serious problems. In all, I'd estimate that we spent at least twelve hours trying to get certain games to work as they should, with varying degrees of success. Although we had lots of fun, our marathon LAN session was undeniably tarnished by some pretty unpleasant technical bugs.
I am not a computer neophyte; I know that along with the benefits of PC gaming must also come inevitable complications. However, this was the first time that I've ever attempted an extended LAN, and now I have a different perspective. The problems that we encountered are in no way atypical of PC gaming as a whole; if they seem remarkable, it is only because we attempted to play so many games over a relatively short period of time, and the problems simply stacked accordingly. Normally when a PC game on my home computer gives me a problem, if I then fix that problem, it stays fixed for good and I don't have to worry about it; months may pass before any other bugs present themselves to me. Under LAN circumstances, when I'm installing a whole bunch of games over the span of just a few days, the problems of PC gaming become less dispersed, and therefore more unpleasant. I have long conceded that consoles present a far easier and more approachable gaming experience than PC's, but I never realized just how much easier consoles are until I tried to play many PC games one after another.
The games we played were all older titles, but I think that little has changed in recent years. This, PC fans, is not a good situation.
DrunkenSleipnir Says: Lobo has done an excellent job as chronicler of our forays into LANdom. Such resilient adventurers we are, trying time and time again to succeed, when we are instead met with overwhelming failure at every turn. It's discouraging to be sure, but what does it all mean? Anyone can fork down a hundred bucks and buy a Playstation and an extra controller. Oh sure, they could have all the fun multiplayer gaming they want. But you know what? That ain't earning it. Blood and sweat and tears are required to confront this sometimes taxing hobby, and only by meeting these challenges head on can we feel true glory when we stand victorious over a defeated PC. The headaches which arise from hours of tech forum browsing are a badge of courage; the scarred hands from poorly handled screwdrivers are a testament to our worth as PC gamers. The juicy taste of victory is more complete when you swear loudly at an inanimate object for several hours before it will play a game which came out six years ago, and justifiably should play smooth as butter.
A good LAN is something any gamer strives for - but it's not good just because it's a LAN, but rather because you make it good. This weeklong marathon of humiliation has been enjoyable nonetheless; if only for the 20 minutes of terrorist hunting achieved after a day and a half of pathetic weeping. Of course... others might feel differently.
Shodan Says: Step right into my trap, little hacker...