LAN Yarns : Fear Of The Dark

Back in a time that my children referred to as ‘ago’ we used to like staying up at LAN parties late into the night.  Games stretched into the small hours with the only light coming from the glow of our monitors and the odd peripheral.  The silence was infectious so the normal shouting was replaced with long bouts of silence; quiet occasionally broken by the frenzied mashing of keyboards or the odd sigh of dismay.   Pure gaming atmosphere.

Of course this kind of immersion had its downsides if someone was feeling unscrupulous…

“Let’s rock!”

One of our favourite games at the time was the original Aliens Vs Predator.  It was a great asymmetrical FPS with players picking one of the three races from the movies;  Marines, Aliens or the Predator.  It was a great game, with the developers seeming to spend more time putting in cool stuff from the movies than in balancing the sides;

Dev 1 : This is great!  The Predator has tonnes of cool stuff we can give it. Invisibility! Heat-seeking missile launchers!  Self-healing!  One shot-kill melee weapons!  How are the aliens doing?

Dev 2 : We’ve finished giving them teeth.

Dev 1 : Brilliant!  And what have we given the marines?

Dev 3 : Rifles.  And easily detachable heads.

Dev 1 :  Job done!

It had loads of different game-modes but our favourite was Alien Tag.  This was simple and brilliant;  one player was the Alien and they were the only person who was able to score points (by eating the marines).  The marines couldn’t get any points themselves but the person who killed the Alien respawned as the alien.

The Alien was always out-numbered 7 to 1 and was very squishy;  a couple of bullets were easily enough to kill him.  Additionally the marines had smart-guns (auto-targeted the Alien), motion trackers, proximity mines (sigh) and flamethrowers (lights the Alien up in the dark and couldn’t miss at medium range).

We also have sharp sticks!

Additionally the Alien was very difficult to play.  It’s big advantages were speed and maneuverability but these often operated against the player as much as in his favour.  The Alien’s move speed was so fast it made accurate attacks tricky and the ability to use a key-press to stick to walls often meant he’d get stuck on a small outcrop or fitting (light-bulbs were the Alien’s silent nemesis).  Additionally its vision mode (allowing him to see in the dark) was very, well, alien.

So how did the Alien compete?

Most of the time he didn’t;  if the marines worked together he had almost no chance.  We had games where the Alien role would rapidly swap between players with each getting a tiny smattering of points (at best).

Aliens 2
I’m suddenly feeling more confident.

But while the odds were stacked against him, there were a few quirks that sometimes made the games close and interesting;

1)  Our skill levels at FPS games were wildly different.  The skill ranged from people who rarely played through to me who played regularly in one of the top Quake 3 clans.  That meant I practiced a lot and that meant I was pretty good.  In our clan we used to practice by increasing the game speed dramatically and all serious Quake 3 players used to reduce their graphic settings so everything (bar the opposition) was a smeary mess.

This meant that when I was the Alien the odd vision didn’t bother me and the ludicrously fast speed wasn’t as much of a wrench.  While it didn’t equal up the sides it did mean I could control the Alien well enough so that if a marine made a mistake he’d get messily devoured.

Overall I was decent enough at the game so that I didn’t spend all my time wrestling with the byzantine controls and I didn’t need to play for The Easy Kill.

I could play for … The Fear.

fear itself
… and the xenomorph made of teeth.

Some examples of playing for The Fear were;

  • Instead of just grabbing the marine running about on his own I’d creep up behind him, hiss and THEN kill him has he span around, screaming.
  • I’d run around the outside of the room, breaking the lights and knocking over objects as the marines panic fire at all the noises in the dark.
  • Sprinting underneath a marine so his motion tracker would go wild, then freezing, glued underneath the walkway he stood on.  As he blind-fired you could either sneak around behind him or wait until he’d just calmed down before leaping out and tail-striking him.

You could argue that I was intentionally making the game more difficult for myself and make it a fairer fight.  That’s a great argument and I like that line of reasoning as it makes me sound like some honourable Ronin.

But making you friends scream loudly over Team Speak as their marine gets squished or shout to each other in a panic as they do the ‘Ten Little Indians‘ thing is pretty awesome too.

2)  The game-mode mechanics were genius.  The marines had to work as a team to beat the Alien (and stop the Alien player getting a large score) but on the other hand each marine wanted to be the one to actually kill the Alien.  This meant individual marine players would often take risks to get the killing shot so they’d get a turn as the Alien (and start getting points).teamwork

If the Alien player was clever, he could bait out marine players by faking weakness to make them chase, or ‘helping’ a marine player by revealing his location.  Often players would investigate without calling for backup, keen to get the drop on the Alien themselves.

Just like in the movies, investigating strange noises on your own is never a good idea.

3)  My friends tend to put the ‘fire’ into ‘friendly-fire’.  You could damage your own team in Aliens vs Predator and because of the fragility of all the races even small-arms fire was deadly.  As the panicked marines used high-explosive ordinance like they were throwing confetti at a wedding the fatality count would hit double-digits before they got down the first corridor.

I’m fairly sure I saw something move.

Of course as the Alien you could use everyone’s twitchy trigger-fingers to your advantage….

In one game the marines had holed up at the bottom of a giant statue.  The room was brilliant for them to defend;  it was on the ground floor (so no sneaky ‘grab them from underneath’ shenanigans from me), it was a wide-open room (so plenty of time to see the Alien coming with nice, clear arcs of fire) and there was a great supply of ammunition.  There were only a couple of door-ways in they’d mined them.

However the room had a very high ceiling on it and I’d been sitting there motionless for some time trying to work out a plan of attack.  Most of the marines were divided at the two ends of the room, ready to annihilate me when I came in.   But occasionally someone would break off to walk across to the other side.  They didn’t need to, but the mounting tension and desire to be the one to kill me meant moving was difficult to resist.

I waited, and the next time a marine crossed the room I made my move.  I zoomed down one wall, went straight across the floor and tail-lashed the marine without stopping.  As all his body parts flew off in different directions I was already running up the opposite wall.  As the player yelled into TeamSpeak I’d already got back to the ceiling and turned to watch.  The whole process took 2 or 3 seconds.

Which gave the remaining marines JUST enough time to open fire across the room with everything they had.  Trigger discipline went totally out of the window and the entire ground floor lit up my Alien heat-vision with a massive display of pyrotechnics.  By the time the gunfire and my vision cleared most of the remaining marines were dead.  The remaining marines had just enough time to realize what they’d done before I dropped back down from the ceiling….

Lets try the sticks again.

The games were brilliant cat-and-mouse affairs which got very heated and very tense.  Screams were not unusual but during one very close game there was massive scream and an enormous crash from the next room.  I’d been stalking this player for ages but I was nowhere near him at the time.

It turns out that while my friend was hunched over his keyboard, nose pressed against the screen, desperately looking for any indication about where I was one of my other friends had crept up behind him and grabbed him.

The scream was very real and crash was him falling backwards off of his chair in a tangle of chair, headphone cables and computer peripherals.

To this day at LAN parties he always insists he sits with his back to the wall….


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