PlayStation 2 broadband has its own challenges [Corrected 11/18/02]STANLEY A. MILLER II
Stanley A. Miller II
PlayStation 2 broadband has its own challenges
By STANLEY A. MILLER II
Tuesday, October 1, 2002
Playing games against others over the Internet is more satisfying than defeating computer-controlled opponents, and now that Sony's PlayStation 2 is online, a fresh facet of fun is opening up to a new audience.
People who play computer games online have known about the Internet's virtues for years. By connecting their computers over the Internet, players face living adversaries with similar frailties and limitations, avoiding the in-game artificial intelligence that is often either too hard or not challenging enough.
Now, video game systems are evolving to provide similar experiences, and Sony, which started shipping network adapter kits for the PS2 in August, is the first to put its system online for the public. Microsoft will launch its Xbox Live online gaming service for its console system Nov. 15, and a one-year subscription will cost $49.
But online video games might not be the entertainment nirvana the game industry promises, because of the core difference between most computer game players and the majority of console system players: the concept of "console simplicity."
Many console system players are used to popping in a game CD and playing, with no extra tinkering time or headaches. The term "troubleshooting" isn't in their vocabulary.
Experienced computer game players know that when they buy a new game, they might have to install new drivers for their video card, download a program to fix bugs or even edit program files to get up and running.
There are plenty of hybrid gamers who play on computers and consoles, but data from the Interactive Digital Software Association shows the majority of each camp favors one way of gaming over the other.
Bringing console systems online creates a level of complexity that many video game players won't enjoy, despite the industry's best efforts to make the process simple.
However, preparing the equipment for the Internet isn't hard.
For example, the PS2 network kit -- which costs $39.99 -- is a dual modem and network card module that attaches to the back of the system. Installing it involves popping off a plastic cover on the back of the PS2, lining up the device and using a dime to tighten some screws. Plug in a telephone line or network cable, slide in the configuration CD, and the system is ready for the Internet, although players must have an account with an Internet service provider.
Getting a live wire to the outside might be more challenging than the typical PS2 owner can tolerate. Players using a telephone line to dial out to the Net just need to run another cord to the back of the PS2 -- a simple task assuming most people have a telephone jack in their living rooms.
High-speed Internet subscribers might face more challenges, especially if their broadband connections are in a room other than where the family entertainment center is based.
Now, some players face the task of integrating the PS2 into a home network. Connecting the console system using network cable and a hub might be all that is needed to link it to an existing home network, depending on the distance involved.
My video game systems and high-speed Internet connection are on different floors, so I used several networking tactics to get a PS2 connected -- from Wi-Fi wireless networking to stringing 70 feet of network cable through the house.
Wireless networking -- using a wireless ethernet bridge from Linksys -- connected the PS2 to my home network, but there were random disconnections during online games even though the wireless signal was strong and constant.
The bridge, which costs about $99, is designed to plug into any device with a network card and make it wireless using the 802.11b networking standard, which is also known as Wi-Fi. It took more than an hour to configure the unit and my other wireless equipment, and the results were mixed.
Networking using a power line network adapter from Netgear took even more time to get working. This technology uses a home's existing electrical wiring for computer networking and is designed to work across circuit breakers and multiple phases. It worked, but it was a time-consuming setup, and the kit costs about $99.
After weeks of experimenting, I found the only quick, sure solution was a long network cable running from a hub in my home office, which provided a connection the PS2 liked but was an aesthetic nightmare.
The experience suggests putting a PS2 online might not be the plug- and-play experience many console gamers are used to, and "console simplicity" will be lost.
Reviews of some online PlayStation 2 games will be available Thursday at MJStech.com. E-mail Stanley A. Miller II at firstname.lastname@example.org
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