Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Multiplayer is a mode of play for computer and video games in which multiple people can play the same game at the same time. Unlike most other games, computer and video games are often single-player activities because the computing power exists to create artificial opponents.
In most multiplayer games, players compete against each other in a test of skill. There are some games in which players ally to achieve a common goal, and in others, groups of players form teams which fight as a group.
Usually multiplayer games either use computer networking to allow players to play together or require the players to gather around a single game system to play.
In modern computer games, the word multiplayer usually implies that the players play together by connecting multiple computers via a network, usually either a LAN or the Internet. This form of multiplayer is sometimes called "netplay" to refine the meaning. Networked multiplayer games tend to be most enjoyable when played on a LAN because it essentially eliminates problems common in Internet play, such as lag and rude, anonymous players. As a result, multiplayer games usually are the focus of LAN parties. Play-by-email games are multiplayer games that use email as the method of communication between computers.
Some online games are "massively multiplayer" games, which means that a large number of players participate simultaneously. The two major genres are MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing games, such as Ultima Online or EverQuest) and MMORTS (massively multiplayer online real-time strategy games).
Some networked multiplayer games do not even feature a single-player mode. For example, MUDs and massively multiplayer online games are multiplayer games by definition. First-person shooters have become very popular multiplayer games and games like Battlefield 1942 and Counter-Strike gained their fame despite not featuring extensive (or any) single-player plot or gameplay.
Notable multiplayer games in which each player uses a different display include:
- Both incarnations of Neverwinter Nights
- The Doom series and Quake series by id Software
- The Warcraft series and StarCraft by Blizzard Entertainment
- Any number of card games played on gaming web sites
This category of games currently requires multiple machines to connect to each other over the Internet, but before the Internet became popular, MUDs were played on time-sharing computer systems, and games such as Doom were played on a LAN. Spacewar, created in 1962 for the PDP-1, is credited with being the first multiplayer computer game.
Gamers often refer to latency by the term ping, which measures round-trip network communication delays (by the use of ICMP packets). For example, a player on a DSL connection with a 50 ms "ping" will be able to react faster to game events than a modem user with 350 ms average latency. Another popular complaint is packet loss and choke, which can render a player unable to "register" their actions with the server. In first-person shooters, this problem usually manifests itself in the problem of bullets appearing to hit the enemy, but the enemy taking no damage. Note that the player's connection is not the only factor; the entire network path to the server is relevant, and some servers are slower than others. While latency is frequently complained about, lack of finesse and decent tactics is probably more lethal than a slow connection in most games. Major and frequent variations in latency, however, can be another story; these can make it very difficult to properly play the game.
As in most games, some players choose to cheat to gain an advantage in online multiplayer games. Often this is done by exploiting bugs or design limitations in the software. Games companies try to prevent cheating in a number of ways. Technologically, they use software called PunkBuster which continually verifies that the game being played is unaltered. Socially, games companies can demand a subscription fee for access to the game network which is non-refundable, so they can effectively fine cheats for cheating.
In modern console games and arcade games, the term multiplayer usually implies that the players play together by using several controllers plugged into the game system and hooked up to a single television monitor. Sometimes the developers must resort to split-screen so that each player can see what they are doing in the game. In PC gaming, a multiplayer game where the players share a computer is usually called "hotseat". However, online adapters now exist for the GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox consoles, and some multiplayer Internet games on consoles have become popular.
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