Thursday, March 5, 2009

Does not play well with others

One of these things about my childhood is true: I was circumcised on the kitchen table; I had a 56k modem until age 19; until birth I was assumed to be female and was named Meghan.

Well, maybe two, but I definitely had a 56k for a damned long time. The 56k modem is my generation’s equivalent of the “four-miles-in-the-snow,-uphill” bit your grandfather used to give you: It gave up whenever the server was even remotely stressed; it took forever to download porn; it made a sound like the apocalypse when dialing in. And it made multiplayer gaming a goddamned chore.

I feel like I should gain sainthood for trying to play Starseige: Tribes when it first came out. While one of the great multiplayer games of all time (and the first truly great multiplayer FPS, in my opinion), 16 players fighting simultaneously over an ambitiously large map gave many modems occasion to stutter, lag, and produce all manner of strange phenomenon (including, but not limited to, one player’s actions being mapped by replica bodies behind him, like some sick stop-motion experiment).

Having been felled one too many times by someone with a faster modem than me, you can imagine my reaction when Quake Live broadsided the internets. Oh yes. You can dodge a railslug, but what about my adolescent rage? Splash damage, bitches.

For those with the information-age equivalent of an ear trumpet, Quake Live is essentially id’s Quake III, optimized to function on a browser. This is no mean feat – Quake III is not Curveball, nor is it some flash game cum Xbox Arcade app like Castle Crashers. This is a sophisticated 3d engine that, once upon a time, well-paid professionals spent considerable time and money producing. Cramming that into a Firefox window, as well as accommodating the inevitable millions of users, was ambitious indeed.

And it worked. Despite initial reports of long lines, I’m now able to join a match in a matter of seconds. I’ve done this exactly twice.

Once, when cleaved by a skillful trans-map railgun shot, I hit the CHAT ALL button land let fly:


After being mashed into hamburger by a rocket, my rebuke was more succinct:


The problem with multiplayer games is that everyone is always better than you. Those that run the games do so because they have nothing better to do than hone their skills kill by kill by awful ill-won kill. N00b cannons or not, they’re the ones racking up the numbers, and you’re the asshole spending half your time in respawn.

Quake Live has a “practice” mode, so I now spend my time beating up bots. I don’t play well with others, and I don’t feel the need to. I can summon an infinite number of hapless, self-deprecating bots to explode into giblets when I drop a rocket on their skull. The fun I’ve been having almost redeems the years spent suffering under the demon groaning of my 56k, or that harrowing kitchen-table circumcision.