Editor’s note: Online play has never been very important to me. I’m happy playing the single-player modes of a number of titles with great multiplayer options. Brian’s a big fan of multiplayer games, and he details how playing with others without leaving the comforts of home has inspired and entertained him. I wonder if it’s too late for a old grumpy guy like me to join in the fun? -Jason


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In pop culture, online gaming’s often portrayed as an addiction, a hangout for juvenile or socially awkward males — and even a breeding ground for racists. So unfortunately, the positive aspects of these online experiences often get swept aside. It’s a shame, because I know that I’m one of the millions of people who’ve had thrilling experiences in the virtual realm that I couldn’t get anywhere else.

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Online games have allowed me to form my own organization, make international friends, communicate with people that have similar interests, and most importantly, they’ve made for a damn good time.

My first online gaming experience was with Starcraft, a real-time-strategy title that made Blizzard enormously successful. I already detailed my experiences with this wonderful title in another article, but to summarize, Starcraft enabled me to communicate with friends that lived far away, gave me the opportunity to create my own clan full of people with similar interests, and allowed me to engage in strategic multiplayer battles without any real bloodshed. In addition, forming a clan in Starcraft allowed me to immediately have friends when I entered my next online experience: Diablo 2.

 

Unlike Starcraft, Diablo 2 didn’t inspire me to hold regular Friday and Saturday night mutliplayer sessions, but it did provide for an enjoyable cooperative experience that I’ll never forget. When my friends were online, I was able to team up with seven other players to slay demons and gather loot in this famous dungeon crawler. Whenever we weren’t hindered by lag, my friends and I had a blast coordinating attacks with our various characters: Barbarians, Amazons, Necromancers, Sorceresses, and Paladins.

Class-based Diablo 2 was enjoyable for awhile, but the next title on my plate was the last bastion for Blizzard RTS fans. This title that was all but forgotten with the release of World of Warcraft is none other than the finale of Blizzard’s Warcraft series proper: Warcraft 3.

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In Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos and its chilly expansion’s servers, I enjoyed taking part in ranked ladder matches — until I started getting beat by those pesky Night Elves every game. No matter how often I changed my strategy, my bases would quickly become smoldering rubble. Still, I’ll never forget this highly competitive RTS because of the amazing comebacks I was able to stage with my army of Steam Tanks.

The last two titles in my online library were merely warm-ups. The real fun began with my purchase of an Xbox and Crimson Skies. I had missed out on the Dreamcast and only had a few forgettable online matches of Madden and SOCOM on my PS2, so the Xbox was where my online-console fun began.

In Crimson Skies, I took part in online 16-player dogfights — sometimes with my brother in splitscreen play. The controls were a bit hard to get used to, but once I learned the ropes, I had a blast flying around Crimson Skies’ spectacular arenas.

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Whether I was evading enemy fire by darting through a narrow skyscraper window or escaping through the mouth of a cave with the enemy’s flag, the experience was a rush that I imagine could only be eclipsed by a real dogfight. Sadly, online gamers cast aside Crimson Skies only two months later. But I didn’t shed any tears. Why? Because Halo 2 arrived.

In November 2004, the game that I’d bought an Xbox for had finally arrived. I enjoyed the first Halo, but Halo 2 was the title I’d unknowingly dreamt about several years preceding its release. Its debut was certainly a milestone, with a late night launch that was celebrated by all kinds of individuals.

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Halo 2 was one of the first midnight launches I can recall for a console game, but sadly, I was not a part of it. My friend decided to stay up all night playing Halo 2 before our 8 a.m. class, but I wasn’t that crazy. When I finally got to Halo 2, however, I couldn’t put it down. For the first time since Starcraft, I had an online game that I’d rather play than an engrossing single-player experience.

It amazed me that Bungie was able to develop a 16-player online title with graphics that were significantly better than those of the original Halo. Players could now pilot an assortment of vehicles with improved abilities, and they could jack vehicles, Grand Theft Auto-style. And with awesome weapons such as the Beam Sword and a lock-on Rocket Launcher, what was not to like?

Even better were the amazing multiplayer arenas that never seemed to grow old, even after three years and hundreds of matches. Each of the arenas were intricately designed with numerous switches, gates, and hidden passages. Who could forget the sandy beaches of Zanzibar that led to a rotating Ferris Wheel and a heavily fortified base with multiple entrance points? Likewise, how could a person forget the unforgettable Headlong that allowed players to enter a skyscraper via a crouching jump on a narrow beam, or by the more conventional teleporter?

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Halo 2’s courses made for unforgettable battles that were full of heroic exploits, teamwork, and strategy. One of my favorite memories is performing epic flag runs on the gigantic course known as Coagulation.

When players were cooperative, it was fun organizing a two-pronged Warthog assault while leaving a shotgun-toting defender or two in our base. If our team had expert drivers, we’d usually be able to evade enemy air support and ground vehicles while making our way into the base. Once we arrived at our destination, a player would hop out and enter through the side while crouched to assassinate the flag guardian. Then, if everything worked out, the circling Warthog would pick up the flag carrier and make its way back to our team’s base. Sure, strategies like these didn’t work all the time, but they proved that 16-player matches could be thrilling when players coordinated their actions.

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Working as a team in Halo 2 was one of my greatest online experiences, but I also enjoyed making bold moves in seemingly hopeless situations. When my team happened to be incompetent, I’d often stage daring assaults on courses like Headlong. While most of our forces messed around or entered the enemy base through the teleporter, I’d lob a grenade at the Rocket Launcher’s position, cross into the enemy’s base via a narrow beam, and peek through the skyscraper window while waiting for an opening to grab the flag or plant the bomb. Sometimes, I actually succeeded on my own and managed to carry our team to victory. Situations like this were just as thrilling as defeating a skilled opponent in a real sport.

However, on the occasions in which my team struggled, I’d sometimes resort to tricks that I’d learned from playing hundreds of Halo matches. While playing on a particular desert course, I’d rush to the Sniper Rifle and quickly hop in a Ghost (if one was still available). I’d then boost up a hill on the opposite side of the course that you couldn’t climb on foot. There, I would snipe opponents from the heavens until players figured out that I wasn’t god.

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In other courses, I’d use similar tactics, such as taking the Banshee (Halo 2’s sole air vehicle) to normally inaccessible locations where I’d snipe my foes from afar. In addition, I’d use clever hiding spots, arc Wraith projectiles into the enemy’s base, and I’d splatter as many opponents as possible with any accessible Ghosts. I once even managed to splatter an entire team of eight in quick succession, which resulted in me receiving one of Halo 2’s most prestigious titles.

Unfortunately, no multiplayer game since Halo 2’s been able to hook me, but I did have one last memorable online experience on the PS3: LittleBigPlanet. In this cutesy platformer, I had a grand (albeit slightly frustrating) time creating a level based on the initial area of one of my favorite Super NES games: Secret of Mana. With LittleBigPlanet’s level editing tools, I managed to re-create the battle with the Mantis Ant and the hero’s subsequent banishment from Potos village. In addition, I composed a music level with partially complete sheet music, some improvisation, and my ability to identify notes. My levels weren’t the greatest, but it was fun hearing other players’ thoughts on my simple creations.

Surprisingly though, some of the most fun I had with LittleBigPlanet came from interacting with other players while earning the game’s tools online. On LBP’s servers, I was able to chat with players from Japan, Spain, and even Norway. Fortunately, most of them communicated in English, but I had fun communicating with Japanese players in their native tongue. It’d been awhile since I practiced my Japanese, so it was fun typing back and forth with players from another country.

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Even though I despise the racists and other foul-mouthed individuals that I sometimes encounter in online games, I’m appreciative of the opportunities these titles provide. Online games have allowed me to meet people with similar interests and take part in activities that require teamwork, and they’ve allowed me to compete with individuals from across the world. Without titles like Starcraft and Halo 2, my life would feel a bit hollow, because there aren’t many other opportunities where I get to share my passion for games with others.

Hopefully a multiplayer title will appear in the near future that’ll once again distract me from my engrossing single-player adventures in the way that only Halo 2 and Starcraft have done before. Perhaps it’ll be Blizzard’s upcoming Starcraft 2.

Let’s just hope that I won’t have to wait until 2020 to play it.