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Why You Should Have a LAN Party, and 6 Tips to Make It More Awesome
The second annual LAN party held in my house was a rousing success, despite many, MANY setbacks (some of which still haunt me), and it has been brought to my attention that I should share my wisdom in crafting such a brilliant experience for my computer-gaming friends. Now it should be noted that I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination – I’ve only thrown two LAN parties, and was a guest at a third – but I’ve dealt with enough pitfalls and obstacles to think that I can still help some LAN newbies save some time, money, and aggravation.
But more than that, I feel compelled to convince others to have LAN parties as well. They’re one of the last few great multiplayer experiences you can have while being in the same room (or house, depending), especially now that four-player splitscreen is an endangered game mode on consoles. It’s mind-blowing to me that neither of the two big FPS franchises managed a solid couch multiplayer mode in their latest iterations – but with a LAN party, you have a metric ton of options, and a LOT of them are completely FREE.
Aside from that, you get a lot of multiplayer options that are a bit thin on consoles. Real-time or turn-based strategy? Sure. Multiplayer RPG’s, MMO or otherwise? Got ‘em. Flight sims or space combat games? Don’t even exist on consoles. Sadly, consoles still have the edge in sports games. I would seriously kill for a solid hockey game on PC. But the win for FPS’s easily goes to PC’s, what with a lot more choices and styles available, and again, a lot of them are free.
So if you have some friends with computers, I highly recommend getting a LAN party together. And to ensure that your networked gaming time is as awesome as humanly possible, I’m going to give you some pointers.
1. PLAN WELL AHEAD FOR A LONG SESSION
You’re going to want to have this last a long time, to justify the effort of your friends lugging their computers across town. Sometimes you can go 24 hours or an entire weekend, but sometimes just 8 hours will suffice. Regardless, set up a date with some time to prepare. Some friends may need or want to put in for time off of work. Others may have to make arrangements to allow them to spend the night. Giving them that time is courteous and will ensure maximum attendance – and gives you plenty of time to get your ducks in a row.
2. GET A SWITCH
If you have broadband internet at home with a wireless router, the temptation will be to just have everyone connect through that, but in my experience, you’re better off using a wired connection through a switch. I found an 8-port 10/100 switch at Best Buy for $20 a couple of years ago, and I’ve never needed more than that. My LAN parties have always been at most seven computers linked up together, but if you’re inviting or expecting more people, you may want to pony up for a switch with more ports.
3. HAVE A GAME SELECTION READY
Do some research ahead of time. There are tons of suggestions for great LAN games all over the internet (and loads of them are free), but you know best what your friends will like. Having said that, I am willing to recommend a few – Xonotic is a fantastic arena FPS that is completely free, and OpenRA, which just released, contains free remakes of Command and Conquer: Red Alert, Tiberian Sun, and Dune. The biggest hit at our LAN parties is undoubtedly Artemis, though. It’s not free, but if everyone chips in, it’s fairly inexpensive, as purchasing one copy gets you six licenses.
Having said that, do not be surprised or dismayed at all if you spend the whole time playing games other than the ones you found. At our most recent LAN party, I had seven or eight games ready to go, and we wound up playing none of them. Instead we spent most of our time playing Rust, Call of Duty: Ghosts on two Xbox 360’s (four player couch play the hard way – go screw yourself, Infinity Ward), and of course, Artemis.
4. HAVE SPARE EQUIPMENT READY
It will save you time and effort if you have extra surge protectors and Ethernet cables on hand. And you most certainly do not want to be caught without them, forcing your friends to wait while you run out to Radio Shack. And if at all possible, have a spare computer on hand. This can allow someone who doesn’t have a computer to join in the fun, or in extreme cases, can serve as a backup in case someone’s computer dies – like mine did a mere two days before the event. Oy.
5. SNACKS, SNACKS, SNACKS
Stock up on snacks early and often. Unhealthy eating is a cornerstone of LAN gaming culture. A variety of choices is preferred, from salty pretzels to chocolate and candy. Mountain Dew is generally accepted as the drink of choice, but don’t be afraid to venture into less sugary or more alcoholic fare. And a selection of chips is always a wise idea. Someone will inevitably make and bring dip, and every time they do, I am terrified of the farts to come.
Seriously, though, you will be sitting for extended periods of time, so if you’re in it for the long haul (more than 8 hours), plan for some food breaks where everybody can get up and move around for a bit. Maybe you can pile everybody into a couple of cars and run out to the Chinese buffet, or have a late-night Denny’s visit. Good food with friends can be just as memorable as good games with friends.
6. LEARN SOME NETWORKING
Take some time and learn the basics. The command window and ipconfig will be your best friends when things go wrong. The most common problem we found was games reporting incorrect IP addresses. Setting up static IP addresses for everybody can help out a LOT. Setting up a Workgroup is reported to help with connection issues, but I’ve never had to try it. This page in particular was very helpful in getting us through some rough patches.
Whatever you decide to play, I highly recommend hosting or joining LAN parties whenever possible. Even with the occasional roadblock to overcome, they are a total blast, and result in some amazingly unique gaming experiences.