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Living the fantasy: Game companies go online

August 15, 1997
Web posted at: 7:04 a.m. EDT (1104 GMT)

From CNN Interactive writer David Mandeville

Our party peered cautiously down the corridor, if that is what it could be called. The floor was made of some strange green substance, almost translucent, and wide bands of silver metal. It vibrated gently. Strange blocks of some black material rose above us, pillars of silver and gold anchoring them to the floor. In the darkness beyond we could hear the hum of moving air.

The thief was out there somewhere, searching for a safe passage through this maze. We waited, the cleric, the warrior, and myself, ever more anxious over our unfamiliar surroundings.

A sudden call startled us. The warrior was on his feet instantly, sword in hand. Through the dim gloom we could see the thief running towards us, shouting and waving.

"I've found it. I've found it. It's the most fantastic thing I've ever seen. It's..."


Wizards of the Coast

Wizards

Wizards of the Coast is the company that makes Magic. "Magic: the Gathering," that is, the most popular card game since poker. If you don't play yourself, you know someone who does -- your friend, your brother or sister, your child.

Their Web site is the place to go if you want to find out more about Magic or any of the other games they produce. It's simple, and not too graphics intensive. The top level is framed but most of the content isn't. If you're on a really slow connection, they even have a text only page. The navigation is a little confusing, as in "should I go to Games or Game Center if I want information about games?" (The answer is Games.)

The site's content is top blade if you're a fan. You can read the online version of Wizards' house magazine, The Duelist, or the company's latest press releases. If you have a question about the rules, you can get them online or check the FAQs for every game they make. If that doesn't answer the question, you can always e-mail them via their online customer service. The Web Fun section lets you take a small step into a virtual world of Wizards' games with RealAudio broadcasts and a CGI puzzle-solving game based on Netrunner.

If you're really into the Magic you can even catch the RealAudio cybercasts of major tournaments. They also have links to game fan pages and to the companies that make licensed material for them.

I found very little about TSR, the venerable fantasy game company recently purchased by Wizards of the Coast, but I expect that to change soon.

You don't need anything special to see most of the site. A browser that supports Javascript and a RealAudio plug-in will enhance the experience.


...the most incredible thing I had ever seen. My brain was wracked simply trying to look upon the Cyclopean edifice. Strange, unearthly carvings twisted up vast columns which disappeared beyond the impossible angles of the roof. Figures of creatures beyond the ken of man adorned the tremendous bronze doors. They were things of horror, both formed and formless, writhing beneath my gaze for all that they were carved in metal. I feared that my mind would be lost in madness were it not for...


Chaosium, Inc.

Chaosium

Cthulhu has a home on the Web. Right next door to King Arthur. Chaosium, Inc., the makers of "Call of Cthulhu," "Pendragon," and other fantasy role-playing games, maintains a site that makes finding out about their products even easier.

Navigation on the site is simple, just find the picture of what you want to see and click. The content is divided into sections by product line, recent releases, and upcoming releases.

Each line has a complete list of available products and links to a printable mail order form. Chaosium has plans to change over to a secure web transaction system later. If you play "Mythos," the Cthulhu-spawned card game, the site offers card lists, rules, FAQs, and links to sites that sell cards.

Click the button for Nifty Links at the bottom of their home page and you'll find links to Web pages, newsgroups, and mailing lists for all things related to the games Chaosium produces, and a few esoteric surprises.

You won't need any plug-ins for the site, it's straight HTML. The server is speedy, too. The front page has lots of graphics, but the rest of the site is fairly restrained.


...the Yankees on the ridge across the valley. They'd brought more men than we could muster, but that didn't shake us none. A Carolina boy is worth a dozen of them anyway. Just the same, we knew it'd be a hard thing when they charged.

That was comin' soon, too. We could see their officers movin' along the lines, gettin' everybody set. All at once they gave a mighty shout. Their cannons fired, and they come at us in a wave of blue, feet pounding, shaking the earth like...


Avalon Hill

Avalon Hill

Avalon Hill is another company taking it's gaming efforts to the Web. A long time producer of historical and modern day strategy boardgames, the company began translating it's popular products to PCs in the eighties. Now they are going a step further, producing multiplayer games that allow opponents to confront each other across the Internet.

From Avalon's home page you can preview featured games (usually a new release), read the Infiltrator's Report (activities the company is involved in), get limited tech support or take a look at The General (the company's magazine). The Demo & Patch Gallery lets visitors download fixes for existing games. Further in, you can take a look at every board- and computer-game that Avalon Hill currently makes.

Computer game previews offer a brief description hardware and software requirements, and feature sets. For featured games, you can also see screen shots. Boardgame pages show box or book covers and provide a brief description, with price lists available on a linked page.

The Company Store lets you can order Avalon Hill games by mail with your credit card. The transaction form is not secured.

The site is nuts and bolts HTML. You won't need plug-ins or a superbrowser. While not really graphics intensive once your off the front page, downloads can take quite a while. Server performance seems to be hit or miss, with some pages coming down rapidly and others timing out. My only real complaint -- blinking text on some of the pages.

Oh, and if you're interested, you can take a look at available jobs, too.


...giants of gleaming metal, each piloted by a man or woman trained for years to control the titanic machines in combat. Our lance of lighter machines broke through the tree line, trying to flank the mercenary's force. If we could tie up the mercs' long-range support long enough our assault forces could smash the base's defenders easily. Once that fell, we would control...


FASA

FASA Corporation makes "BattleTech," a game where players pilot titanic engines of destruction across alien worlds in drives to capture the prizes sought by warring interstellar governments. Well, actually, they just push pewter-cast minitures around on maps, but with a little imagination it works out the same way.

Like other game sites on the Web, FASA's provides all sorts of product information -- pricing, publication dates, links to licensed products, FAQs, etc. But they also offer a little more, with listings for U.S. and international retailers, submissions guidelines for those who want to try their hand in the game industry, and previews of upcoming game-related fiction and new products.

Then there is the game source material. Each of FASA's product lines has its own section with background and rule information supplementing the information appearing in their regular publications.

The site is fast and clean, with no fancy plug-ins and no oversized downloads. Unfortunately, they don't have (or I could not find), links to fan pages for their games, some of which are quite impressive.


"...the modem. I've found the modem." She reached us quickly. Leaning against the warrior's shoulder, she breathlessly gasped out the way to our goal.

"At last," I cried, "The goal of our quest. To go beyond the motherboard and into Web. Well done, thief, well done."


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