Friday, November 7, 2008

Online Gaming in Nigeria

I was talking to a friend the other day about what games we were interested in this Christmas, and I mentioned Left 4 Dead . He then proceeded to ask me whether I was planning to try and play L4D online with our terrible internet connections. Now, even though I am primarily getting Left 4 Dead for system link fun (hopefully I will be able to convince everyone in our 360 LAN circle to pick it up as well), it did get me thinking about what games we can play online from Nigeria.
One game that came to mind was FFXI . Now, even though you will probably lag like hell, it would be playable and you would be able to get a lot out of it. I remember that when I first moved back to Nigeria, I was able to play it over a 56K connection and it was okay. The main problem of course would be how to pay for your subscription. It would be worth investigating to see whether they accept Nigerian credit cards. I guess the same would go for World of Warcraft although if you can actually figure out a means of paying, by all means give those two a try. They work quite well on our connections.
So, I have decided to make a short list of good games that I feel are quite easy to get and play online. This list is of course by no means definitive, but I hope it will be able to introduce more people to the joys of multiplayer gaming.
For this list, an ideal online game that would be suitable to playing from Nigeria would have the following characteristics:
1. Be playable over a slow connection and not be too dependent on having low latency, low ping connections. So that rules out the majority of first person shooters and some RTS games.
2. Not require a subscription fee. With all the hullabaloo of Nigeria being the king of credit card fraud, most companies are unwilling to accept any of our bank issued VISA or Mastercard credit cards even if we are willing to send proof of identity and ownership. So, this is of course going to be a factor. In the case of games that accept our credit cards, I will make a note of that in the short write-up describing it.
3. Not require system specifications that are too high. This is mostly related to PC/Mac gaming. This is because high-end systems are quite hard to come by in Nigeria from my experience with shop owners going wide-eyed when you request a system with more than 2GB of RAM onboard and no clue what video cards are. Any game on this list will be playable with a very basic system. By basic system I mean a computer that has at least a pentium III (or equivalent processor), at least 512MB of RAM, and a graphics card with at least 64MB of RAM onboard.

The List - 

1. Lusternia (or anything else by Iron Realms ). Lusternia is a text-based MUD (multi user dungeon) that is part of a group of text-based games from a company called Iron Realms. They are known for creating games of quite a bit of depth with rewarding gameplay and social systems. Wait! Come back! Just because there are no graphics does not mean that it is not fun! Honest, I promise!
Ok, settled in?
I chose Lusternia to highlight their stable of games, even though all of them are definitely worth at least trying, because it is the setting I liked the most. The dark, almost faerie-like setting with trees being places of power and bards that destroy things just by strumming a string on their harps is quite absorbing and a little bit different from the standard Tolkeinesque fare that most other text-
based MUDs bring to the table. You can play any of these games using the standard windows/mac terminal which allows you to connect to their server and play the game, and all of the Iron Realms games have a java applet that can be launched from the various game websites, but if you want a bit more customisation and cotrol over your play experience, then you can get one of the dedicated software solutions for playing these games. zMUD , GMUD , MUSHClient , all these and more allow you to interface with the games at a level that the java client or windows/mac terminal cannot even offer.
There are a few problems though. With our high latency connections, combat at the higher levels can become very troublesome to get right, where timing and making decisions based on what you see on the screen and with our connections, if you get hit by lag, it could easily result in death. However, it is possible to pay cash in order to advance if combat proves too difficult, and I believe they accept Nigerian credit cards.
So, if you are interested in playing in fantasy worlds with hundreds and even thousands of other players politicking and fighting with the best of them, you should try out Lusternia or at least one of the Iron Realms games. I am sure you will find something you like. And if you don't care for fantasy, there are loads of sci-fi, horror and urban themed MUDs that are also a lot of fun. You can find them at the MUD Connector or Top MUD Sites .

2. Dofus . Dofus is a graphical mmorpg (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game) made by a French company called Ankama Games. It was built completely in Flash and is quite beautiful. The reason I put it here is that the combat is turn-based and so is not explicitly dependent on quick inputs and the client itself is quite lightweight at 150MB compared to the monsters of World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XI which are both close to or above 1GB. I did download and try out this game but didn't get very far in it. There is a block on the amount of content you can access if you don't pay a subscription, but I will check and see if they accept Nigerian credit cards. They are also working on another game called Wakfu which is based in the same universe, as well as a TV series.
It is quite a successful game with about 10 million players on different servers. Whichever way you slice it, that is huge and speaks to the popularity of the game.
So, even if you can't go past the beginner stages due to credit card payment trouble, you can still enjoy a part of the game.

3. Kingdom of Loathing . Kingdom of Loathing is a browser-based morpg (multiplayer roleplaying game) run by Asymmetric Publications. This is a very funny game typified by its use of stick figures and humorous writing. You take on the role of an adventurer, just like in the previous games mentioned here, and you fight monsters and get treasure all while cracking up at the silly writing and situations. You are allocated a set amount of adventures a day which can be augmented by various items with the number being reset at 2pm GMT. Each adventure allows you to battle a monster or do some other activities. This helps limit your play time as one can only do so much in any given day and can be of huge benefit to those who might get addicted and not do any work at all.
It is quite interesting and although I only dabbled in it, it was actually quite interesting.

4. Trackmania Nations Forever . Okay, though not strictly an online gaming experience, it is enhanced tremendously by having other players to compete with, either by racing directly against them, or indirectly by trying to beat their lap and track times. It's hiscore table is collated from all over the world allowing you to play offline and do time trials and then upload your scores and see how you did.
Trackmania Nations is a racing game focused around the art of time trials (racing on a particular track with the aim of getting the fastest lap and/or track time). It is such an addictive game and it scales very readily to very slow systems. As long as you have a suitable graphics card to show it, it will gladly run at a smooth, crisp state for your entire play time.
It was one of the games that we tried to participate in for the World Cyber Games 2008 that I wrote about in a previous article and in fact this is more of a reason for us to play it more. As at the last time I checked, we had 80+ players from Nigeria on Trackmania Nations Forever. I hope we can get more and even get on the global rankings board.

Oh, did I mention that it had a track editor allowing you to create awesome, zany tracks for both you and your friends to try out?

5. Evernight: The Reign of Darkness . I actually used to play this a couple of years back and I am quite pleased that it is still available to play and going strong. It is a browser based turn-based strategy game where you take control of an army/nation and proceed to battle/negotiate with other players for supremacy. Every day you are given a set number of turns in which to accomplish various things. You get one turn every ten minutes and you can make a move as often as that or even once a week if you prefer and all from the comfort of your browser window!

Definitely give this a try.

That's it for now. I will probably be adding to this list in the coming months and of course, if you have any suggestions do leave them in the comments section.

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