[an error occurred while processing this directive] Online Games

Adventures in other worlds

As the party of adventurers rides off from the town of Fairtrees in search of orcs to slay, the halfling thief Auburel leans back on the horse he is riding and begins to spout about his heroic qualifications.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 14, 1999

As the party of adventurers rides off from the town of Fairtrees in search of orcs to slay, the halfling thief Auburel leans back on the horse he is riding and begins to spout about his heroic qualifications.

"Oh, yes, let's do pick a leader," he growls. "Why, I've got the mightiest sword in the east lands, and I've slain dragons by the dozens with a lockpick!"

He pats the dagger at his side, narrowing his eyes as he leans out, gazing intently at one of his comrades, a tall human named Vistan. "I've felled tall trees like you for breakfast, rolled 'em for their gold, and left 'em none the wiser!"

Auburel leans so far back that he topples off the horse and lands sprawled on his belly in the dust. Grunting indignantly, the halfling gets to his feet, turns around and dusts himself as he goes.

"I'll walk,'" he says. '"Never did much care fer horses.'"

So began my recent play-by-e-mail Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure as a halfling thief. Adventures by e-mail are just one of the entertaining diversions available to Internet users, and probably one of the best online gaming experiences to be had.

But what about Everquest or Ultima Online, you ask -- games that are sold on CD-ROMs and accessed via the Internet, and charge user fees? Don't their state-of-the-art graphics make them the games to play? After all, e-mail is just . . . well . . . words.

Everquest, Ultima Online, Starsiege Tribes and other graphic environments cost money. What you get for your money are beautifully rendered environments, a chance to hack and slash and blast your way through the virtual terrain, but no real depth or creativity.

E-mail games require only Internet access and imagination. They allow players to take time to consider their actions, then craft and spellcheck a response. They get to work with teammates, essentially writing a group story about their adventures, under the guidance of a game master.

The ancestors of Everquest, called Multi-User Dimensions (or MUDs), still exist in droves and most are free, but lack eye-catching graphics. You can reach them on the Web if your browser supports a Telnet application, such as Hyperterminal.

The most worthwhile multi-user text games focus on role playing, such as the Star Trek and Transformer-based online games that originally attracted Shane Vassar.

Vassar, a 23-year-old Wesleyan College graduate who lives in Fairmont, Va., is married and works in the computer industry. He prefers text-based to graphic games for the same reason some people argue that old-fashioned radio dramas were more intriguing than their television descendants.

"Graphics just make it less appealing," Vassar said. "I like to picture it in my head. Plus, that way I get to add my own effects and scenery."

He can spend hours at the keyboard, pretending to be someone he isn't, in a universe that doesn't exist.

"The imagination stimulation factor plays heavily into why I do it," he said. "It's a means of escape, and having fun all at the same time."

Astra Poyser, 25, lives in Texas and runs an online fantasy game, called Aether (mux.net/TILDEaether/).

"I've always loved to read, and have no trouble immersing myself in a good book," Poyser said. "I used to read those Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was younger, and (online gaming) is sort of the ultimate Choose Your Own Adventure. I love the idea of being "inside' a story and being able to interact with the other characters there -- to help shape the story as it moves along."

Want to try your hand at online gaming in its many forms this summer? Here are some addresses to visit:

* Play by e-mail games: www.pbm.com/TILDElindahl/pbm_list/.

* Graphic multiplayer games: www.mpog.com.

* MUDs and other text-based role-playing games: www.mudconnector.com.

-- Wes Platt is the Times Central/East Pasco bureau chief.

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