The days when a summer holiday meant no college for six whole weeks are where I recount my fondest memories. Most summers till the one of '99 had been enjoyed in the traditional sense. Living in the countryside meant most of my friends and I would spend many a day on some sort of adventure; climbing trees, building rafts for river racing, playing a football match against the nearby village, going to war with the nearby village and other such wholesome and healthy activities involving the great outdoors and sticks.
Then, during the build up to this one summer something went terribly wrong. I decided to spend my savings upgrading my dying PC. I'm looking back now and shaking my head... in retrospect I kinda wish id spent the money on something else and let it die - I miss the great outdoors now.
However I'd like to take you back to a particular gaming related summer, a time of multiplayer discovery, when networking a handful of PCs was still a skilled achievement for GCSE level students.
It was July 1999 and just a few days away from the summer break. We had all just learnt how to get a few PCs working together without the help of the fat computer guy from the shop - we were chuffed. Briefly testing out our multiplayer capabilities in Quake 2 we knew we were in for some serious fun. There was one game in particular that stood out in all our minds to play. It had just been released the end of last year and all of us had completed it single-player. I still remember shouting out its name from excitement in a physics lesson only for the teacher to say "good answer Nick!". The game of course was Half Life.
When the time finally came to get off school grounds for the summer, a handful of us all headed straight to Simon's house (the very same ginger that graces us here at the VideoGamer.com mansion). With heavy computer units under our arms and oversized CRT monitors on our backs we were ready for war. The sun was shining but we shamefully didn't care; closing all the blinds in the house and causing an eerie eclipse, we prepared to dig in.
Simon's house was the perfect refuge for any kid. It was always stocked up good and high with cans of coke and only the best snacks piled in the cupboards. Everything you could possibly need to stay awake on a sugar rush was there. Every upstairs room quickly became LAN central. Forget the Omega Sektor, this was it only without the air con.
Pushing everything off the desks, chucking school bags out of the window, exchanging our pens for keyboards and our thinking minds into that of soldiers, war was officially about to be declared...
Unfortunately not everything goes as smoothly as you previously imagine. I'm going to skip over the details of this next bit, but suffice to say it took us almost the rest of the day to get the computers recognising each other over the "Bloody proxy settings!", a phrase that is still laughed about today - mainly because it had nothing to do with the problems.
Finally at something around 11pm we were good to go... For our first taste of Half Life multiplayer one of us suggests we try playing the map 'Crossfire'. Little did we know then of its dangerous addiction, so addictive in fact that we didn't change maps again that sitting.
The map has a nuclear fallout bunker on one side of it and within its walls was a red shinny button, the sort that you can't help but think "ohh nice, what does it do?" - well obviously since one of us pushed it we soon found out. Once plunged a siren proceeds to scream out across the map - a sound that still distresses me to this day, cold sweats and all! Triggering an obliterating air strike across the map, the only safety was of course to get inside the bunker. Easier said than done since the bunker starts to go into lockdown mode, closing doorways and windows with protective shutters.
Needless to say, the button got pushed a lot. You wouldn't believe the yelps that came from every room once the siren started. Suddenly each player was hurtling back to the bunker, no tactics, no sneaking, just pure legging it with terror, something I can only associate with a scene from 28 Days Later. It was of course completely over exaggerated since most of us would die far more by just trying to cross the open ground to get into the bunker. It was these moments that offered the best time to kill, shooting players in the back as they scrambled like mindless lemmings.
Many times one of us would make it just too late to get under the bunker door; you would just see the legs of a scientist or security guard character standing outside waiting for death as the door slammed closed. How many times I laughed when I peered under the shutters to see a scientist in a white coat being sniped in the head just inches from safety.
Even when the building went into complete lock down, the tensest time was just sitting and waiting for the explosion to pass and death indicators to pop up on the screen. When no deaths appeared on-screen, however, you knew you were potentially still in trouble. This was the most frightening yet hilarious moment of all because it meant everyone got into the small bunker without realising it. With such limited space and hiding places how on earth could this happen undetected? In all the franticness of the moment many deals were made for safety, which is why one could often find two, three or even four players hiding together in the small ammo room towards the back.
Of course once the storm passed there was no need for such bonds, and as one character plucked up the courage to pull out a grenade, another would suddenly appear to have a red dot across their face as another player armed the guided rocket launcher from their pocket.