If you can't beat 'em, modem. (playing computer games against others by using a modem) (Column)
by Paul C. Schuytema
Playing against the computer is great, but victories either seem to come too easily or are nearly impossible after a while. What's needed is a true flesh-and-blood opponent. Thankfully, head-to-head (human versus human via a modem link) capability is now being included in a large selection of really great games.
I've always been a fan of flight simulators, and now more and more of them come equipped for modem play. One of the most advanced simulators, Falcon 3.0 (Spectrum HoloByte, 2490 Mariner Square Loop, Alameda, California 94501; 800-695-4263) offers breathtaking graphics and speed. Over the phone lines, the game presents you with a dogfight between F-16s (you can play cooperatively, but the dogfight is a whole lot more fun).
While Falcon is the current king of the high-tech, modern-era flight sims, MicroProse (180 Lake Front Drive, Hunt Valley, Maryland 21030; 410-771-0440) is soon to release modem-capable F-15 Strike Eagle III. From what I've seen, the graphics will be amazing.
MicroProse also publishes Knights of the Sky, a World War I dogfighting simulator. The graphics seem simple after Falcon, but Knights makes up for its graphics with incredible playability. Hours melt away when you're playing. In Knights of the Sky, you're given a choice of Allied and German planes to fly so you can set up a handicapping system based on the abilities of the plane, placing an advanced player in a primitive plane.
If flight sims aren't your cup of tea but you like the war genre, check out Perfect General (QQP, 1046 River Avenue, Flemington, New Jersey 08822; 908-788-2799) and the WW II Battle Set for historical war gaming. This war game places you in a generic WWII setting. The interface is a wonderful evolution of the old hex-grid war games of the 1970s. When you're playing against a modem opponent, the game takes on a new dimension: line of sight and hidden troops. It's very spooky to see a line of enemy tanks suddenly appearing from behind a grove of trees.
If you prefer your war gaming to be more abstract, check out BattleChess (and the soon-to-be-released BattleChess 4000) for Windows (Interplay Productions, 17922 Fitch Avenue, Irvine, California 92714; 800-969-4263). The animations of battle coupled with the unpredictability of a real opponent work perfectly together. And for some deep psychological reason, seeing the pieces duke it out and knowing that there's another human on the other end make victory mighty sweet (and losing almost bearable).
If war gaming isn't your style, there are a couple of great addictive word games out there. Wordtris (Spectrum HoloByte) and Lexicross (Interplay Productions) offer special delights in modem play, if words are your thing.
Most of these games contain a small communications program, allowing you to dial and answer. If you have a friend who owns the game, call your friend and get one computer ready to receive the call and the other ready to send. Hang up and let the computers do the work (the manuals do a very good job of explaining the procedure).
But what if you don't have a friend who has the game you want to play? Try the classifieds in computer gaming magazines. They have listings of opponents, complete with phone numbers, and lists of the games they have.
And if you find someone halfway across the country you want to play against, you don't have to pay premium telephone rates. CompuServe runs a modem-to-modem (MTM) gaming lobby, with a standard $12.80-per-hour connect charge (for 1200- and 2400-bps modems), regardless of who or where your opponent is. You can set up a profile of yourself or search the database to find an opponent and issue a challenge. You finally meet in the MTM lobby, where you can chat and then begin play.
To use this service, you'll need a communications program that allows you to exit without hanging up (such as Procomm Plus). CompuServe will prompt both players to exit and start the game, and then you're playing. When you're done, you end up back in the lobby to set up for another game, issue a challenge, discuss strategy, or just hang up. Use your modem to mine the online world; there's fun to be had.