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LAN party coverage from Swindon

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Image credit: Eurogamer

The latest and greatest of the i-series LAN parties run by Multiplay UK took place this weekend in Swindon, a town which is probably better known for its love affair with mini round-abouts than hardcore gaming...

That wasn't about to stop more than 350 frag-happy gamers taking over the "Winners Lounge" at Swindon Town football club though. Winners? Swindon Town? Shurely shome mishtake?

The Half-Life zone at i4


The gaming arena was already more than half full when I arrived in Swindon early on Friday afternoon, with players busy setting up their machines on row after row of wooden tables, filling a room underneath one of the stands at Swindon Town's ground that is normally a bar. This must be the biggest crowd that the club has seen in years...

It's not football that they're here for though - Quake 3 Arena, Unreal Tournament and Half-Life are the games of choice, with little pockets of Starcraft and Age of Empires players dotted around as well. The bar is open all weekend to fuel their fragging, serving up much needed alcohol and caffeine, as well as a range of sandwiches and cooked meals. A steady stream of delivery men bring in pizzas from nearby take-aways throughout the day and well into the night.

Having found a spare table, I set up my own gaming rig .. my Pentium II 450 laptop, more suited to updating EuroGamer while I'm on the move than playing 3D games on perhaps, but thanks to the not-quite-useless ATI graphics card inside, it does at least work. Within minutes I was connected to the LAN and fragging away in Unreal Tournament, and what was supposed to be a quick game to test that the network connection was working properly stretched on for hours...


Into The Night

Eventually I took a well deserved break from the action, and headed for the conveniently placed bar to get dinner. Curry and Guinness - truly a winning combination.

The night was yet young though, and as I ate my dinner things were just warming up. Players shouted taunts at each other across the room, and the combined background hum of hundreds of pairs of headphones pumping out the screams of their owners' victims and the thudding of bullets and explosions all added to the noise.

Even the bar staff were getting in on the action, using the PA system to call for people to come and collect their meals - a difficult task given that most of the people were busy playing Counter-Strike or Unreal Tournament, and couldn't hear a word they were saying. "364? 364, your dinner is here and it is getting very cold"...

Many players were still going strong when I decided to call it quits at about 1am, unrolling my sleeping bag and settling down for what was left of the night on the floor under my table. Some people didn't even make it that far, falling asleep mid-game with their face on the keyboard, and waking up with "QWERTY" stamped across their forehead for their troubles. Probably.

Time for a swift one?


At 8.30am I was back up again, as the lights came on and the bar staff started calling out breakfast orders. Several people were already up and about even at this ungodly hour though, some of them still awake from the night before and some of them just getting started early.

After a full English breakfast (bacon, egg, sausage, fried bread, beans) and a healthy dose of caffeine to further accelerate the onset of heart disease, I started to feel vaguely human again, and decided to head into the servers again for a spot of early morning Unreal Tournament. Flavour of the day was the appropriately named "Excessive" mod, custom-built by one of the event's organisers.

The mod beefs up all of the game's weapon effects and pyrotechnics, with burning shrapnel, rockets and streams of plasma hurtling around in a display worthy of New Year's Eve. Every player starts with 300 health and all of the weapons (apart from the redeemer), from Hong Kong style enforcers-akimbo to rapid firing rocket launchers and sniper rifles. Ammunition isn't unlimited, but it does regenerate with time, so as long as you remember to switch weapons every now and then you won't have to worry about running out.

The rate of fire of the shock rifle is greatly increased, and it's possible to fire a whole stream of slow moving shots and blow them all up at once with the weapon's other firing mode, producing a spectacular string of explosions that can clear entire corridors. The pulse rifle produces a spread of shots like something out of an old school arcade shooter, and the bio rifle's alt-fire mode can paint a room green, with dozens of globs of luminous goop dripping down the walls.

It's hardly a serious mod, but if you've got a fast computer and a LAN to play over it's the perfect thing to get the juices flowing ready for a hard day's fragging.

The boat race under way

On The House

The main tournaments kicked off just before lunch-time, with everything from Counter-Strike and TFC clan matches to Quake 3 Arena and Unreal Tournament duels.

Games continued well into the evening, at which point the Multiplay team took time out to see off a rag-tag group of challengers in a drinking "boat race", with the two eight man teams polishing off a total of sixteen pints between them in the space of just over a minute.

Despite Multiplay head honcho Craig Fletcher offering to buy the pints just before last orders, amazingly they had difficulty finding even a single eight man team to take them on in the event! Finally they had assembled an unlikely looking team of would-be alcoholics, and the contestants stood around warming up as the bar staff pulled the pints.

Lining up along the main entrance route in the center of the room, the two teams faced off across the narrow gap, pints at the ready, and a large crowd had soon assembled to watch the event. After much arguing about which order they would down the pints, and who was going to referee the event, they were finally under starters orders.

Both teams got off to a good start, and it was neck and neck at first. The challengers seemed to have gained a slight lead as they reached the end of the line, but then disaster struck! The last member of the team (who shall remain nameless) seemed unable to rise to the occasion, having difficulty downing even half of the pint before stopping to recover his breath and take another slurp. Multiplay's team went the distance though, and managed to just pip the challengers by a few seconds.

WhaQ might have been one of the Unreal Tournament admins, but he spent most of his free time during the weekend playing Total Annihilation!


While the competitions raged on into the night, the rest of us continued to play on the open servers, with everything from Quake 3 Fortress and the ubiquitous Counter-Strike to Unreal Tournament insta-gib on offer.

But after more than a day of first person shooting, it was time for a change. The answer? Total Annihilation. It might be a few years old now, but it's still arguably the best multiplayer real-time strategy game out there. I had brought the game along on the off-chance, and soon ran into a group of other players wanting to play it, including Whaq, Duellist and Craigath. None of us had played the game for a year or more until this weekend, but it didn't take long for us to warm up.

The first few games were played on Metal Heck, a fairly small map when you have anything up to six players in the game, and with a plentiful supply of metal that means you will never be short on resources. The result was unpredictable, but always fast and furious.

Eventually we moved on to a bigger map - Seven Islands, a massive ocean-based map with (as the title suggests) seven metal islands sticking out of it. A mixture of a powerful surface fleet, plenty of air support, and an ample supply of nuclear missiles seemed to be the recipe for global domination, but having taken out two of the other players things were getting ragged. After a series of costly battles, Unreal Tournament admin Whaq eventually trapped my commander in a pool and nuked him, going on to defeat Craigath to take the match.

"Time for bed", said Florence "Boing!", said Zebedee "One more game damnit!" said Gestalt

Big Is Beautiful

The game had taken almost three hours to complete, but as the sun started to rise outside we weren't about to quit. Whaq, Craigath and myself fired up one last map, Evad River Confluence, a much smaller grass and forest map split up by a forked river that makes land assaults impossible.

Despite running out of metal at the beginning of the game, I was the first player to get bombers into the air, and took out several vital metal extractors in the first few minutes of the game as they flew over the enemy bases. It soon became obvious that air power alone wasn't going to win the day though, and I switched to building Big Berthas, massive cannons that could hurl shots clear across the map.

By the end of the game I had three of them, using stealth fighters and scout planes to target them on energy sources, factories and defensive turrets. Despite sustaining heavy losses after being nuked by both of the other players, I eventually managed to pound them into submission.

It was a great game, but by now it was 4.30am, and with another early start ahead of us it was time to call it a night...

Mmm .. beer

Songs Of Praise

Just four hours later we were all waking up again, grabbing an early breakfast before heading back on to the Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament servers for a few quick frags with our bacon and eggs.

After this early morning work-out I headed for the bathroom to freshen up, but as I opened the door I heard what sounded like a choir singing. It turns out that as we were offering up our prayers to the lords Carmack and Sweeney, accompanied by the sound of exploding rockets and bouncing gibs, the church hall outside was hosting its own morning service with the more conventional soundtrack of selections from "Hymns Ancient & Modern". It's a strange old world...

By lunchtime the party was back in full swing, and over the next few hours the finals of the various tournaments were played. ECSF saw off Mofo in the Counter-Strike competition, while the Biatchs beat Team Armaggedon in the Team Fortress Classic tournament. The Unreal Tournament finals saw EED being beaten by Tut in the CTF competition, while Fury took the duel competition.

It wasn't all about the latest and greatest games though. The imaginatively named Silver and Green teams reached the finls of a Starsiege Tribes team play competition, with Silver taking the game in the end. Vorv won a Quake 2 duel competition, while Team Guru won the Rocket Arena 2 contest. There was even a QuakeWorld competition for the real nostalgics, which was won by XC_Armaggedon.

Some people playing Quake, yesterday

Rail Guns At Twenty Paces

The last of the tournaments to be completed was the Quake 3 duel competition, with Q50 from teamplay tournament winners 4K playing against the unknown (to me at least) GeN.

The first game on Q3Tourney2 soon turned into a total massacre, with Q50 going 20 : 0 up thanks to some great shaft work. GeN on the other hand seemed to have an aversion to the lightning gun, and was mostly using the rocket launcher. He was also having trouble hitting Q50, let alone killing him.

Things got even worse when Q50's lightning gun took GeN down to just four health during a battle in the pillar room. Losing his footing, GeN fell into the rocket launcher pit and cratered! The final score was an embarrassing 26 : -1.

Next up was Q3Tourney4 - "I'm just full of confidence for the next map", GeN joked. Q50 was already one up within the first half minute, catching GeN with his rocket launcher. The game was almost painful to watch as Q50 stretched his lead to 10 : 0 after about four minutes, and it soon got worse for GeN. Heading for the red armour, GeN was caught by a rail gun shot by Q50 which sent him spiralling groundwards to crater.

The score was now 15 : -1, and Q50 was just getting warmed up. With Q50's score rising by the second, GeN was at least determined not to end the game on negative frags, and stopped to type a desperate plea of "give me a frag"! But just seconds later the game ended, with the final score on 30 : -1. Ouch.

There is a spoon, and here it is...

Trophy Time

With the tournaments over, all that remained was to grab one last round of beers and hand out the various trophies, medals and prizes to the winners and runners-up, as well as a special award for "team spoonage".

This one went to a clan called KEA, whose members spent the whole weekend practicing on the Unreal Tournament servers, and still failed to win a single match in the competition. Their prize was, appropriately enough, a big wooden trophy in the shape of a spoon...

Finally there was a massive prize draw raffle, with a pair of AMD Athlon processors, four GeForce graphics cards, and dozens of games being given away to lucky punters. A copy of Sega Rally might not set the world on fire as prizes go, but it was all good clean fun and made sure that few people went away completely empty-handed.

One of the more unusual contestants in the Counter-Strike competition

The End

And so it ended. Going on for four hundred gamers had fragged away to their hearts content for more than 48 hours, playing everything from Starcraft and Total Annihilation to Unreal Tournament and Counter-Strike.

All in all the event seemed to be a huge success. There were none of the power and network problems that have effected some previous Multiplay events, and everything ran smoothly throughout the weekend. The intranet was a nice touch, with web, FTP and IRC servers. The website wasn't updated very often in the end, and not all of it seemed to be working properly, but it did let you check where your friends were sitting and find out information about the event and tournaments. The FTP site was very useful though, with all the latest patches, mods and maps for the main games being played.

Having a fully licensed bar in the LAN room was handy as well - after all, every great gamer needs a little lubrication between battles, whether it's with caffeine or alcohol. The food was good as well, although having people shouting through the PA system to come and collect your breakfast wasn't necessarily the best way to be woken up, especially at 8.30am...

I had a great time at i4, and judging from what I saw everybody else did as well. If you missed out though, don't fear! Multiplay UK are already planning two more events for this year, with a new venue - the famous horse racing course at Newbury! Their next event will be at the end of August, with space for up to 750 gamers, making it one of the biggest LAN parties ever held in the UK.

And if you can't wait that long, The LAN Party are planning a massive 1000 player event in Edinburgh for early August, while we will be holding another (much smaller and cosier!) EuroLAN event during the early summer. The future looks good for LAN gaming in the UK!

In the meantime, be sure to check out our gallery of photographs from i4.


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