The LAN party is an event that started out of necessity. PC gaming was a thing well before the Internet, and no Internet meant no multiplayer – unless you took your machine to a friend’s house. Geeks had no choice but to descend on each other’s homes to play games togethers.
The Internet has made local play somewhat obsolete, but LAN parties are still a lot of fun. Playing a game with friends in the same room (or rooms) is undeniably more entertaining than communicating via a headset. Here’s what you need to set up your own get-together and ascend to a new level of gaming geek.
To host a LAN party you first have to become a home decorator. Okay, not exactly – but furniture is kind of important. If you’re like most folks you probably have a desk and a kitchen table suitable for a few people, and that’s it.
Folding tables are the way to go if you need more table space. You can expect a 6-foot table to sit two or three people and an 8-foot table to be good for three or four. I like the 6-foot portable tables because they’re easy to store and move, which means you can change the location of your LAN party whenever you’d like.
It’s very important to make sure you properly set up the table. The legs need to be straight and the metal sleeves that prevent the support bars from collapsing must be in place. A table that suddenly goes boom is going to end your LAN party in the worst way possible.
Next up we have chairs. You might have enough seating in your home, but if you don’t, folding chairs are the obvious choice. Just buy the metal ones that fold flat. They’re cheap, easy to find and comfortable enough.
It’s common knowledge that everyone brings their own PC to a LAN party, but you’re going to need other equipment that individuals are unlikely to provide.
Chief among these is the network switch. A switch is a little box that can connect multiple computers to your home network via Ethernet. It will provide the best possible connection between everyone’s PC and you won’t have to give out your Wi-Fi password to everyone who attends. Switches are cheap, too. 5-port models are usually $30 or less and 8-port models are $50 or less.
While you’re at it you’ll want to think about Ethernet cables. You should tell everyone who attends to bring their own (and heavily berate anyone that shows up without one) but it’s inevitable that someone will forget, so have some spares. Also remember to think about where people are going to be playing. If some people will be in one room, and some in another, you might need a 25 or 50-foot Ethernet cord to connect them.
Don’t forget surge protectors, either. You should have at least two open power outlets for each person that is going to be playing in a given area (one for a desktop, and one for a monitor). The network switch needs power as well. Cheap protectors work fine but a fancy one, like a pivot-plug model, can help organize cords and reduce the chance someone will trip and land in the bowl of Cheetos.
It’s very common for players to share files at a LAN party. Many games that support local play also support modding and fan-made maps that must be exchanged.
If everyone is using Windows 7 it’s easy to exchange files using shared folders. Just right-click the folder, click on Properties and then go to the Sharing table. Click the “Share…” button and share with everyone. Windows may ask if you want to make the network you’re currently connected to a private network. Select that option. After that, open the Network and Sharing Center and scroll down to the Password Protected Sharing section. Turn off password protected sharing. Anyone on a Windows 7 computer connected to the network should now be able to see that folder and access files on it.
Another option is a file sharing program like D-Lan. This can be the better option if you have people with various versions of Windows at your LAN party. You can skip messing with Windows software and just interface with other computers via the third-party file server.
Be sure to have a USB drive as backup. File sharing is supposed to be simple but there always seems to be that one computer that can’t anything else on the network. A USB drive is almost as quick and nearly foolproof.
Games To Play
The ubiquity of the Internet has chipped away at support for LAN play. That’s unfortunate because multiplayer connectivity built for the Internet can sometimes directly conflict with your party. What happens if all your friends are over but the servers go down? Suckage, that’s what.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any frequently updated list of games that support LAN play. But I can point you in the right direction by highlighting my personal favorites.
Age of Empires III – This excellent real-time strategy game is great for LAN parties between three and eight players. It offers a ton of variety as well as a good balance of strategic and tactical play. Make sure to buy the Complete Collection which includes all expansion content.
Torchlight II – Runic’s new action-RPG is probably the best LAN game to come out in the last decade. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it’s only $20. Be sure to buy it from Runic directly (not from Steam) so online authentication is not required.
SWAT4 – This game is an excellent go-to if everyone wants to play a shooter at a small LAN party. It offers co-op multiplayer that’s well suited for just three or four players. You can pick up the gold edition for about $10.
Unreal Tournament 2004 – This game is nearly ten years old but it remains a staple of many large LAN parties. It has fundamentally excellent mechanics that are enhanced by gobs of different maps and game modes. You can buy it for $9.99 from Good Old Games or get a used copy for even less.
World In Conflict – This real-time tactical game focuses on commanding small groups of units to complete objectives. It has a focus on team play that forces friends to work together. Be sure to buy the Complete Collection for the expansion content. It can be had for $9.99 or less.
There are a few other things you’ll need, as well. Snacks. Pizza. Beer. I doubt you need must advice on acquiring these, though a LAN party can be the perfect place to try out your favorite pizza provider’s new online order feature. Just remember to keep the food-stuff away from the computers!
Image Credit: Jeramey Jannene
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