[Written in 1998 as part of a feature on multiplayer gaming, published in Ultimate PC magazine]

 

Those were the days

You might think that multi-player gaming means plugging in a second controller, but there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s the future, and it’s here to stay.

 

Grandpa Smith drew the blanket tighter around his legs, and inched a little closer to the fusion heater. Outside, the rain battered at the triple-glazed window as though trying to get in. The room was comfortably warm, but old bones often feel a deeper cold.

The children huddled around the miniature TriDee display unit on the floor shuffled over slightly to make room for his feet without once taking their eyes from the miniature landscape projected in solid-looking 3D on the lounge floor. The scene was a battle, set in fantasy world. In the centre of the floor was a small castle, and an army of monsters was laying siege to it. A frantic battle was taking place on the drawbridge as a group of lizard-like creatures tried to get across it with a large battering ram.

“You know, I remember when we had to make our own entertainment” said Grandpa.

The six children sitting around the scene ignored him, but he chose not to notice. Each of the children held a control pad connected by digital radio to the LinkStation console which was running the game. Each of them was controlling a warrior defending the castle, fighting the attackers with swords and spells. Bolts of light shot from the castle turrets, causing powerful explosions amongst the enemy troops, sending bodies flying in all directions. The defenders had finally managed to raise the drawbridge, but a new danger was approaching. A cannon pulled by a team of six-legged lizards had just appeared at the edge of the scene and was lumbering toward the castle.

“Oh yes, we didn’t have any of this global data link when I was a boy. We had one console each, and they didn’t even talk to each other. Most of the games we used to have you had to play all by yourself. I used to write about it, you know.”

As the cannon rumbled over the stony ground, a line of glowing text appeared in mid-air over the battlefield: ‘Behold your doom’. Suddenly the children were all talking at once. Grandpa Smith leaned closer to catch what they were saying, but they were talking to fast for him to make any sense out of it. He did catch one word however.

“That’ll be those friends of yours in America, will it? They ought to be in bed by now. Still, it’s nice you’ve got friends. When I was a boy, people used to worry that videogames – that’s what we used to call them – would stop you having a social life. Silly buggers. I told em, you know. I said networks were the answer. You’ve got more friends now than I ever had in my day.”

One of the children picked up a remote keyboard and tapped out a defiant reply, which appeared in mid air below the previous line. All the other players taking part in the game would be able to read it. There were over sixty other people in the game, controlling the attacking army.

Grandpa continued his monologue. “I remember the first time I played a game over a network. Quake, I think it was, or perhaps it was Quake II, back in ’96. Or was it ’95? I forget now. Of course that was before your parents were born. Eh, that was a great game. I think that was the first time anybody saw what games could really be like. Things changed a lot after that.”

He leant down and picked up a small FlashCrystal case from the floor. On the cover it bore the title Quake XII Arena. The children had been playing it earlier.

“Quake twelve eh? Not like it was in my day. Proper fragfest that used to be. What’s this one called that you’re playing? Eh?”

He bent forward again, with a small wince of pain as his back clicked. He picked up the empty case lying next to the LinkStation.

“Everquest Universe? Never heard of it. Now Ultima Online, that was a game. I used to like playing that when I was a lad, not much older than you are now in fact. Of course, that was on one of those big old-fashioned computers, back in the days before British Telecom abolished all their local call charges like the rest of the civilised world. The Internet – that’s what we used to call it, y’know - really took off after that, and everybody got connected with their PlayStation 2’s and their Dreamcasts. You wouldn’t remember Sega of course. I wonder whatever happened to them? Still, we weren’t to know back then, eh?”

One of the wizards defending the castle suddenly disappeared, to reappear a second later on a small hill near the approaching cannon. The tiny robed figure waved his arms about, and a glowing cloud began to form around him. Suddenly, lightning bolts shot from his hands and the cannon disintegrated. The animals that had been pulling it ran off in terror, some blundering through the enemy ranks and causing considerable damage.

Grandpa gave up trying to talk to the children. He looked over at the rack of FlashCrystals on a nearby shelf. Most of them were games of one sort or another. Using the global satellite data network, every LinkStation console could communicate with all the others, allowing free access to a huge global database of knowledge, as well as a wide range of interactive entertainment. The games on the shelf included historical battles, fantasy adventures, racing games, and spy stories. He was pleased to see that there was even a title based on the eighteenth Star Wars movie, in which one could play a Jedi Knight in the army of Emperor Artoo.

Grandpa looked up at the antique digital clock on the wall. Where did the time go? He tapped one of the boys with his foot to get his attention.

“Come on, you’d better start thinking about packing up now. It’s way past your bedtime, you mum will be home soon, and I bet you haven’t touched your school work, have you?”

“Aw, grandpa…”

“Now, don’t you ‘aw grandpa’ me, young man. Put your game away, and tell your friends you’ll see them later.”

The boy muttered something rude but inaudible to his friends, then reached over and pressed a button on the LinkStation. Instantly, the battlefield faded from view, as did the images of the other five children. The boy stood up slowly.

“Right, now go and get ready for bed, and don’t forget to clean your teeth.”

“Aw, can’t I-“

“No.”

“Oh, okay. g’night Grandpa.”

The boy left, heading for the bathroom. Grandpa Smith looked at the FlashCrystal case he still held in his hand. He opened it and took out the red transparent memory crystal which held the Quake XII game, holding it up to the light to see the tiny patterns of refraction in the holographic memory structure. He leant down and opened a hatch on the top of the LinkStation, and pulled out the crystal which held the Everquest game. He slotted the other crystal into place, closed the hatch and picked up the controller.

“Just one quick game…” he said, with a smile.