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Multiplayer Online Shooters 101

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Console Games
3D first-person shooters (FPS) have become a mainstay of online action for many gamers. Once strictly the domain of PCs, online shooters are now becoming available for game consoles as well. Xbox Live is a particularly popular service for online console gaming, largely due to the success of Halo 2.

As well as the console hardware and an Internet connection, you might need a network adapter (for the PS2) or, for the Xbox, a subscription to Xbox Live. For more information on multiplayer console games and getting your console hooked up for online play visit our Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo sites.

PC Games
Titles like Quake and Counter-Strike gave rise to a multitude of first-person shooters designed for play over the Internet. These games tend to have spectacular graphics and high system requirements to match. System requirements are always on the box, and making sure your computer meets the minimum requirements is strongly recommended. You'll probably also find recent games in this genre difficult to enjoy without a broadband Internet connection.

The vast majority of high-quality 3D shooters are retail products, but they don't usually charge for online play. In most cases, game servers are operated voluntarily by the community at their own expense. If the popularity of a particular game wanes, choices of servers to play on can become very limited. On the other hand, there's nothing to stop you from setting up your own server.

Server software is provided with these games, giving you options for setting up a dedicated game server (a computer used solely to serve the game) or using one of the players' computers to serve the game. In the latter case, the person running the server will have an advantage in terms of network latency. Some titles allow you to take on the single-player campaign cooperatively with a group of players. A game between friends can be arranged simply by using a password. The upper limit is usually 64 players per server, although massively multiplayer shooters are beginning to hit the market.

Finding a Game Server
Finding a server to play on gets easier all the time. Most multiplayer shooters for the PC now have the software necessary to browse game servers integrated into the game. The server browser will bring up a list of available game servers, show you how many players are on, which map each server is running, and other information you need to choose and join a match. Sometimes a separate program such as Steam is used, and you also have the option to use third-party browsers like GameSpy or Xfire. Links to these and several other game server browsers can be found in the Tools and Support section.

Currently Counter-Strike: Source and Battlefield 2 are among the most widely played multiplayer shooters for the PC. As well, Wolfenstein: Enemy Terrority and America's Army are both excellent free games of this kind that have a large following. More information on these titles is available in the Action Games category.

Patches
Patches allow developers to make bug fixes and updates to a game after its release. While patches are optional for single-player games, when you're playing online everyone in a match must be using the same version of the game. You will often have to patch a game you just brought home from the store to play on the Internet. Patches are made available as free downloads, either on the developer's site or one of the many independent game file sites. Integrated game patchers are becoming a common feature in new multiplayer titles.

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