What to do at a LAN party when you suck


posted 8/13/2007 by Ben Berry
other articles by Ben Berry
Every few months, Chuck hosts a LAN party for a mixture of GN staffers and friends. The same people have been attending for a couple of years now, and it’s always a good time. The staples of these parties are the usual suspects like Battlefield 2, Unreal Tournament 2K4, and an assortment of the hottest demos at the time of each party. After participating in a few of these, you begin to learn what you’re competitive at, and what you’re not. And let’s just say I’m not the world’s best FPS player [Ben’s FPS skills are in the 15th percentile]. So while I always enjoy it, I rarely end up with the top score [in this example rarely means never]. And in matches where you have a limited number of lives to play through, I’m usually one of the first players eliminated [if video games were horror movies, Ben would be the teenager who just had sex, smoked a joint, and walked into the dark woods].
This prompted me to think about the kinds of things people can do to add to have fun at the party, when they aren’t in the game the group is currently playing. In light of the fact that I have some experience with this, I figured who better to share some ideas on how to help pass the downtime at your next LAN party than myself.
One easy place to start of course is the console. Anyone who is hosting a LAN party is going to have at least one of the major consoles in their house, and in Chuck’s case, all three next gen consoles are at our disposal. An option this provides is for constant side action, such as a SingStar or Guitar Hero II tournament, whose short games are ideal for players rolling on and off the current game. We haven’t tried this at Chuck’s yet, but I’m going to suggest it for the next party, and with the popularity of these games amongst some of the people in our group, I’m sure it would be well received [Guitar Hero yes, Singstar not so much…John still has nightmares from his last Singstar experience].
After a particularly bad showing in UT 2K4 [Which one? This is like asking Lindsey Lohan about that one time she got drunk], I often find I have an axe to grind. And after getting a guitar for Christmas, I’ve learned that playing my “axe” is one of the best ways I have to get rid of some stress. While Guitar Hero II is close, sometimes it just isn’t enough. So, next party I’m going to bring my guitar, along with my SoundTech LightSnake. Advertised as a “Soundcard in a cable”, the LightSnake is a ¼” audio to USB cable that works plug and play with Sony (and other) music software on PC (and GarageBand on Mac). I’ve been using the chord for months now, and I cannot say enough about how clear and nearly lossless the sound transferred to the PC is. One of the best features is that you can tell the LightSnake is working just by looking at it, because it lights up when properly connected, and flashes when music is being transmitted. That way, you can work out some angst without having to hook up your amp.
If getting your groove on through the console or electric guitar isn’t how you want to spend your gaming downtime, there’s always food. There are some staples at every party, usually pizza, beer, and highly caffeinated beverages. I’ve found that it’s also good to have some snack foods in the gaming area, and at the Chuck’s parties, there are always Hershey’s Bites candies located somewhere near the middle of the mess of Ethernet cables. My personal favorites are the Kit Kat Bites which are less messy than actual Kit Kat bars. In my continuing effort to lose weight, I’ve started bringing healthier snacks, and with the baked chips, low-calorie beer, and Diet Mountain Dew, I can get my snacks on without adding to my waistline.
Of course, there’s always cheating. No, I’m not talking about running a hacked version of a game client, or putting in a “god mode” code as the game starts. I’m talking about distracting your opponents. And what could be more distracting than being buzzed by a HobbyTron.com Hornet 3 Mini RC Helicopter. The simplest way to describe it is “lots of fun”. Made of durable EPP foam, this crash resistant little guy is ideal for large or small indoor areas. It charges directly from the controller, which offers digitally proportional controls that are somewhat close to hobby grade. There’s definitely a learning curve to flying an RC copter, but fortunately the materials and construction of the Hornet 3 are such that it’s going to take some hard landings and get right back in the air. If your opponents get pissed that you’re flying in their air space, simply slap the included News stickers on, and tell them you’re covering how much they “pwn” at Battlefield 2. With 7 to 9 minute flights, you’re sure to be able to pass plenty of time seeing how close you can come to the back of your friends’ heads without hitting them. Just be careful, the controls take a good bit of getting used to, and your friends probably aren’t as crash resistant as the Hornet 3.
If you’ve got a big enough space, or it’s a perfect windless day outside, you can really distract your opponents with the HobbyTron.com RC AH-64 Apache 4 CH Electric Helicopter. At 16 inches long, this isn’t a toy; this is a serious hobby helicopter. With a fully adjustable four channel controller and dual propellers, this unit is for someone who wants to really learn to fly an RC helicopter. The controls are precise, the rotors are powerful, and as opposed to the Hornet 3 where you’re going to be able to move the in the general direction you want, you feel like you’re really directing the AH-64 exactly where you want it to be. The batteries offer about a 10 minute flight time (though I’ve found them to exceed 12 minutes fairly regularly), and recharge very quickly. As with any RC flying vehicle, takeoffs and landings are the most difficult part of operation. Several manufacturers offer what amounts to “training wheels” for learning how to land. Essentially some wire rods with ping pong balls on the ends; they serve a dual purpose of keeping the helicopter upright, and cushioning a harder landing. Even with the training wheels, I still managed to break my first set of blades with a sideways crash. Fortunately extra blades are included, and spare parts are pretty cheap. With the AH-64, even if you have the lowest frag count at the end of the day, you’ll still have the coolest toy.
Lastly, there’s always a need for someone to keep score. And it only makes sense that the person with the largest amount of free time does this. We don’t give away prizes at our parties, but for those who do, solid frag counts can be the key between winning and going home empty handed. While I haven’t found any software specifically for this purpose, a simple Excel spreadsheet should suffice. You may even want to get to the point of handicapping players as your scoring system expands. Your best FPS players should get fewer points per kill than your worst, in order to help level the playing field. [Ben’s FPS handicap is at 30 kills right now] Working off the average score from 5 to 10 games should give you a pretty accurate picture of what each player is capable of, and allow you to determine the multipliers for points per kill.
Of course, you could always just practice a lot and get better, and then you’d have less time on your hands. But I think my answers are more fun.

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