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!

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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.

Serious Sam

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.

Unreal Tournament

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.

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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...

Comments

Hee! Of course, you realize the problem, don't you? You can't do voodoo in Rochester...DS should have come to you in N'awlins...where the voodoo is easy...

Man I remember setting up a peer to peer network using a crossover cable back in the day with Win 98, it was such a god damn pain in the ass to do, and we had to keep disconnecting the network, look something up online, then reconnect the whole thing to test whatever we had just looked up. Probably took 4 hours to get the thing working properly, but man is it ever worth it. There is just something uniquely awesome about LAN gaming that even console gaming can't touch, I wish I had the time to do that again because I have some real fond memories of it.

Sinatar wrote:

Man I remember setting up a peer to peer network using a crossover cable back in the day with Win 98, it was such a god damn pain in the ass to do, and we had to keep disconnecting the network, look something up online, then reconnect the whole thing to test whatever we had just looked up. Probably took 4 hours to get the thing working properly, but man is it ever worth it. There is just something uniquely awesome about LAN gaming that even console gaming can't touch, I wish I had the time to do that again because I have some real fond memories of it.

Ahh, Stunt Car Racer using a null modem cable on the old Ataris/Amigas...

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."

I take exception to this, Fletcher has a good six years on me and after working out in the sun all day he's WAY crotchety.

I think in general PC gaming has been a lot more stable and easy to get working with the release of Windows XP, newer versions of Direct X and newer games. Most of the games Certis (you bastard) could run were from back in the more shaky Windows 98 days. Certis probably just needs more RAM and some beer. And home made cookies.

The true-3D OpenGL port of Duke3D is called Jonof's Duke Nukem 3D port.

Good times, Lobo. Good times.

Oh, and we have joined forces against you, BTW. Stay tuned for the onslaught of evilness.

That's awesome. It brings back fond memories of trying to make Doom work over a network before I knew anything about computers, and the trouble I had getting modem games to work in Warcraft 2 because of some crazy driver issue.

Fun article Lobo!

It's also slightly relevant since I just got home on Sunday from a four day venture to one of the bigger LAN parties in the country with a couple of good friends of mine.

Wee!

Certis wrote:

Certis probably just needs more RAM and some beer.

SD Ram is more difficult to find then you might imagine. We tried, we really did. CompUSA was a failure, and Newegg would take too long. The beer however...oh, we got the beer part down. Some whiskey, too!

Flecher1138 wrote:

Oh, and we have joined forces against you, BTW. Stay tuned for the onslaught of evilness.

Oh, no you don't. I swear, if you hinder me any more, I will personally hunt you and Certis down. I mean, seriously man, why can't you give me a reasonable 20 fps? It's not too much to ask...Lobo barely touched upon the insane problems we've had, why can't you just freaking work!!!? I blame you, Fletcher1138 and Certis! The fault lies with you!

I remember when I used to live with Certis and we had our computers connected in the office. There were several attempts at playing lan games and several failures, but when we did finally get the lan to work, there was nothing like it.

Sweet memories...

I remember driving up and down to a friend 5 kilometers (3 miles) away to get Duke Nukem 3D working through a dial-up modem... behind my parents' back on their ancient P166 (which is still there, working)! It was hell, but the excitement when everything FINALLY worked was well worth it (that's Tom running there! Weeeeee!)!

Or playing Duke3D with a serial connection when my parents where away on vacation without me the first time... kicking every kid in the neighbourhood's butt. Now they kick mine in Counterstrike (sigh)...

Great job Lobo, brings back alot of memories for me. When we first started LANing we would be trying to create a stable network on daisy chained hubs (not routers) with at least 4 different versions of Windows running on the network. I could see Friend 1, Friend 2 could not see me but could see Friend 3, and Friend 3 could not see anyone on the network but was somehow magically able to join the games. In a 9 hour LAN party, we probably spent 6 of those hours trying to get it up and running. My most memorable highlight: trying to figure out why Friend 4 could not see anybody on the network or join a game. After installing/reinstalling the network card and drivers and even a complete system format, my friend who was trying to "fix" the problem looked behind the computer and saw the ethernet cable was not plugged in

Sadly, we do not LAN anymore which is ironic. Today, with everyone running XP (my friends anyways) and the great job routers do with networking we would be able to have kick ass LANs, but there is no one around anymore to have them.

You could've summed that whole article up in four words.

It is Certis's fault.

Anyway Lobo, don't feel too bad. While you were off playing old games on old computers, someone named Lobo was teamkilling me repeatedly in Battlefield 2.

By the way, if you guys ever want to go a few rounds of Aliens VS. Predator 2, I own the drone.

I remember taking my comp over to my friends house after work on a Friday night. We'd have various other friends showing up throughout the night to game with us.

Our network was all coax based, we'd be in the middle of a huge Duke 3D free for all only to have to shut it down to add on another coax T for the new computer. Then having someone roll a chair over a cable and crimping it and not knowing which cable was bad. It took forever to trouble shoot those old network rings, ugh.

This thread reminds me of LAN parties freshman year in college--5 guys dragging desktops into a dorm room and passing one brood wars disk around. I remember duct taping blankets over the window because the sun coming up Saturday morning and hurt our eyes. Kept ordering delivery and played until some time Sunday. Kinda makes me want to give those guys a call...

Great article! Brings back fond memories of me and a friend's PCs null-modemed together for hundreds of hours of Rise of the Triad death matches. Drunk missle pwns joo!

It was at some point during that span of time that I first really cursed in front of my dad. I vividly remember it: I got fragged in some humiliating way, and my friend went, "funny?" to which I tersely replied, "yeah Pete, that's funny sh*t. That's f*cking comedy." I then realized that my dad had walked in and was looking over my shoulder watching me play. He seemed to find my discomfort inordinately amusing. Anyway, I guess my point is simply that LAN action will often bring about those sorts of life changing moments. Good times indeed.

yeah..this brings back memories of the 20+ hour marathon Diablo and Diablo 2 co-op LAN sessions we would have..

I'm still waiting for a new game to justify all these computers I have in my house...

Certis wrote:

I take exception to this, Fletcher has a good six years on me...

Yeah, it was the crotchetiness that I was striving to emphasize there.

Certis wrote:

...and after working out in the sun all day he's WAY crotchety.

That so?

Certis wrote:

Most of the games Certis (you bastard) could run ...

Tsk tsk, Mr. Grumpyhead!

Hopped Up On Koolaid wrote:

I remember duct taping blankets over the window because the sun coming up Saturday morning and hurt our eyes.

Oddly enough, there are three sets of linens, some duct tape, several thick posters, a few pillows, chairs, and stools blocking all the windows in the apartment. In many ways, it reminds me making a fort in your room when you're young. And it makes so much sense, too...when the sun comes up, AvP just isn't quite the same. So, we made it perpetually nighttime!

Good to know that these trials and tribulations Lobo so artfully put to text bring back painful memories for the lot of you. I say, if I'm going to suffer, so will you all

Proof that one needs to read the beginning in order to understand the article:

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.
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.

Honestly, if someone missed that one sentence at the beginning, they'd start thinking that Certis likes having his gamma slider played with and that Fletcher hard-locks every time there's some man-on-man co-op action going down.

Certis likes having his gamma slider played with and that Fletcher hard-locks every time there's some man-on-man co-op action going down

*so* tempted to sig that...

Edit to mention that temptation is the one thing I can't resist...

I feel the time has come for me to speak up.

That computer "Certis" is actually my old desktop (its name is Fornax, douchebags!). I thoroughly resent Lobo and Drunkensleipnir (how could you! you traitor!) laughing at my 'ancient, crotchety rig'. Poking fun of a poor, defenseless CPU online! You monsters!

My poor baby has been through a lot and has never failed me. Sure, it might have been state-of-the-art in 2000, and it might not be as shiny and perfect as Sleipnir's computer.... but that doesn't mean it isn't any good! Did it ever occur to you that the troubles you were having were because of you, and not because of the monitor? What trash you've printed about my monitor - it isn't too dark! Its just perfect!

Maybe my computer just didn't like you. Maybe YOU disappointed IT. Maybe it just needed a woman's touch. Did you ever think about that, huh, as you were manhandling my circuitry with your filthy, clumsy paws? Honestly! This is the thanks I get for allowing you to use my computer in your LAN set up. I ought to send Psionic Ninja Monkeys on both your asses.

KaterinLHC wrote:

I thoroughly resent Lobo and Drunkensleipnir (how could you! you traitor!) laughing at my 'ancient, crotchety rig'. Poking fun of a poor, defenseless CPU online! You monsters!

Looks like I'll be reclaiming some of that couch from you, Lobo...

Looks like I'll be reclaiming some of that couch from you, Lobo...

Damn right you will. And what's this I hear about you duct-taping sheets to the apartment windows? I don't think that sounds like good interior decorating...

KaterinLHC wrote:
Looks like I'll be reclaiming some of that couch from you, Lobo...

Damn right you will. And what's this I hear about you duct-taping sheets to the apartment windows? I don't think that sounds like good interior decorating...

*whipsh*

It is the sworn duty of every male to make that noise at every opportunity.

It brings my old nightmares back. Trying to get games to just f*cking work.

Say what you will, but we have it much better these days.

KaterinLHC wrote:
Looks like I'll be reclaiming some of that couch from you, Lobo...

Damn right you will. And what's this I hear about you duct-taping sheets to the apartment windows? I don't think that sounds like good interior decorating...

Hee! Katerin, I think I love you. It's true. You bring Fornax down here to visit me...I've got DOS boxes so old it's not MS DOS, I've got 286s, 386s, Mac Pluses, and windows 3.0 boxes. We'll let Fornax be the empress of the museum for a day. (Plus, we can plug her into the fiber network and let her run wild with the power of 5 T3's. )

*whipsh*

It is the sworn duty of every male to make that noise at every opportunity.

I totally agree Pyro. As a matter of fact, I made such a sound at Skeletor9000's expense in TS just last night as his better half was off in slumberland, so he had to be vewy, vewy, quiet....

hehehehehe

Except it's *wah-pah!*

Edit for link to audio for those wondering WTF I'm talking about.

Oh Duckideva, you're just saying that to make me feel better. Everyone knows that 286's don't exist, just like unicorns and Minnesota. But thank you for the invitation nonetheless.

Here's a brief little update...

Despite the fact that just about every game we tried to play was met with overwhelming failure, one game did in fact work.

System Shock 2

We co-oped this from start to finish. Well worth any amount of trouble, if you ask me. Did someone say "Best Computer EVAR?" I think so.