LAN parties are the perfect way to spend a rainy weekend with friends — all it takes is a little planning to make sure that things go smoothly.
Whether you are planning a PC or console oriented LAN party, getting the right mix of gear together is the first and most crucial step. Console players have it a little easier, since the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are much more portable than their full-sized PC counterparts. However, don’t forget that you’ll need extra monitors, game titles, LAN cables, and a hub/switch big enough to handle as many consoles that you need to connect everyone. Having a buddy with a 16- or 24-port switch is always handy; but an older 10/100 switch is all you need. Spending hundreds on a Gigabit-grade switch is overkill.
When you tell your buddies what to bring to a console LAN party, don’t forget to tell them to haul along their monitor, correct video cables, game titles, wired controller, and networking cable. The A40 Audio System is the ideal solution for a console LAN, so don’t forget your audio gear, even if your friends don’t have ASTRO equipment yet. If your buddies have an extra network cable and wired controller, have them bring those too (after they’ve marked them with initials). Someone is bound to forget theirs. Remember that a wired controller is required — more than four wireless controllers are going to interfere with one other unless you are a fair distance away, which takes away from the fun.
The same advice for a PC LAN applies, with the addition of needing a place to put computers, monitors, and mouse pads — in addition to a spot for everyone’s butt. Beg and borrow every card table, picnic table and folding chair that you can scrounge from relatives, neighbors and friends.
Lastly, whether you go the PC or console route, don’t forget to sort out the power situation well beforehand — using industrial grade extension cords to draw power from multiple circuits in your house is a smart way to go. Nothing is a bigger drag than blowing a fuse or tripping a circuit breaker mid-match. Having your buddies bring their own power strips with surge protectors is also a smart idea.
What to play? This is the all-important question, and one that will make or break your party. Start with your friends: what games do you usually play? This game — whatever it may be — will be the game that gets the most mileage during your party. Being all together will certainly open up new strategies and new wrinkles to whatever you are playing (if only the ‘in yer face!’ factor of in-person versus play), in addition to the tactical advantages of having a ‘Lag-free’ connection that is only possible when you are on a LAN.
If you have another game that people might enjoy, but haven’t necessarily played yet (or perhaps not for a long time), this can be a welcome break from the main attraction. Mix and match your genres as well: If everyone got together to play an intense first-person PC shooter like Counter-strike or Battlefield, be sure to take it down a notch by starting a friendly pickup game of an RTS classic like WarCraft III or Dawn of War. If you’ve got newer gear and newer game collections, Dawn of War II and Supreme Commander are incredibly fun. Most RTS titles have 2v2 (or even 3v3!) modes that enable you to put noobies with more experienced players, and advanced controls that enable you to balance things to a fine degree — guaranteeing that everyone is enjoying fun and challenging games.
If you are gearing your LAN toward PC play, take a break by firing up a fun, tried-and-true console game. Sure, everybody knows Halo can be a great way to blow off some steam, but after playing PC shooters, a console FPS will seem like it is in “slow motion”. It’s better to fire up Mario Kart, Bomberman, or Boom Blox (try it, seriously!) if you have a GameCube or Wii. If you have an Xbox 360 handy, the Xbox Live Arcade selection should have something for everyone: old school multiplayer titles like Gauntlet and Joust are a riot, while new school faves like Geometry Wars are extremely entertaining just to watch. And of course, fighting games like Super Smash Brothers, Street Fighter, and Soul Caliber are perfect for a quick player-versus-player fix.
For console centric LAN parties, taking a break from the controller is the way to go. Try loading up the universal LAN party standard: Unreal Tournament 2004. 2k4 is a stellar run-and-gun action title that is 10lbs of fun in a 5lb bag — even if you are playing for the very first time. It’s also an older title that even low-spec laptops will be able to handle nicely, and available dirt cheap in most stores’ bargain bins, or downloadable from Steam.
Once you’ve attended or held a few LAN parties, you’ll start noticing games in the bargain bin that will be ideally suited to a LAN, especially those “forgotten” shooters. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has an amazing deathmatch mode that is wildly popular in places like Russia, but if you live in the West, you’ll need to create a local server — and a LAN party is the perfect opportunity. Likewise, Prey is an ideal PC LAN game if your group is on the small side — this console-centric shooter fared poorly since it was too claustrophobic for 16-32 player servers, but is ideal for 4-8 friends at a LAN.
One last thing: unless you are getting your Guild together for some in-person raid action, it would be wise to ban World of Warcraft during the weekend. WoW has a tendency to divide your group into ever-smaller chunks, and really takes away from the mano-a-mano spirit of a LAN.
Good luck–and save us a slice of pizza!