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Two Doomguys fighting like hell
Segment 3: Multiplayer Gaming over Infrared

Originally encoded on October 28th, 2018 and published on December 13th

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It Is a Serial Port, After All...

Infrared port blinking

Infrared technology is most commonly known to be used with television remotes, but for a time, it was the driving force of a really neat wireless communication protocol that never really caught on. By 1995, infrared ports conforming to the standards set by the Infrared Data Association were popping up on portable devices everywhere, and were capable of communicating with each other regardless of which company manufactured what device. Perhaps today's telephones could take a cue from that?! I used to beam up some text documents directly to a laser printer all the time!

IrDA devices have been criticized for not being completely reliable due to light interference, which is an understandable complaint... though I haven't really run into such issues in my experience. I still don't get why it had to fail, though. The stupidly simple concept was genius - rather than browsing through some kind of menu trying to find the right device to send to or receive from, you just point your own device directly into the infrared port of the target device like a TV remote, hold it steady, and BOOM, you've got data!

To make IrDA communication even less complicated, device connections could act as if they were standard RS-232 serial or printer connections. Some devices did implement Fast Infrared to get up to 4 megabits of throughput per second, but otherwise, you didn't have to rely on super niche or proprietary solutions in order to connect devices. Many 90's multiplayer games like Doom support local one-to-one netplay using a null modem. Hmm...

On October 14th, I brought someone over to help me show off this very unconventional use of infrared ports, where one could instantly play some two player game with another person without needing any kind of link cable handy. Ha! So much for the Game Boy Color's infrared port only being used for mystery potions, these laptops were two steps ahead! Of course it's not reliable due to regular breaks in the connection, but it is fun. You're playing Doom 95 with someone wirelessly, what's not to love?

By default, Windows 98 will use COM4 as a virtual serial port for the IrDA port to use. The difference got kind of awkward as I found myself wondering why the computers wouldn't load Doom for a while; turned out I had a brain fart and was using COM1. After selecting COM4, we were up and running in a jiffy.

Windows 95 OSR2 also supports infrared communication out of the box, you just have to go into Add New Hardware and select the infrared device category. For Windows 95 Gold, you can download the necessary software from Razorback's FTP server.

These Maps Are Too Large!!

Multiplayer map design in the 90's was kind of a Wild West. When deatmatch came into fruition, it was treated as supplementary to the mainline single player experience. I'm not sure it would've even taken form in Doom if not for John Romero's enthusiasm for the idea. Of course, with the concept being in its infancy, deathmatch basically reused the same single player maps with altered configurations optimal for a multiplayer setup. This meant all of the spicy weapons normally obtained later in the game were be concentrated in a single map. Having those alternate configurations sure did help, as a plasma gun fight is far more interesting than a pistol fight.

Doom's implementation of deathmatches expected a lot of manual work, so to speak. It's like going to the kind of bowling alley where the pins don't reset themselves and you have to write down your score. There definitely wasn't any way to set a frag limit, and I don't think there was any way to set a time limit, either. You or a referee had to call the shots on when the game ends. Changing levels was an entirely manual process as well; you had to flip the exit switch to move to the next map.

These are so far out of the way of modern practices in first person shooters, but that's why vanilla Doom's deathmatch feature is worth visiting. If you want to see where everything came from but don't have local access to other players with old computers, the DOSBox Deathmatch Club hosts weekly events around Doom II and other MS-DOS games using DOSBox to emulate exactly how they used to be played over local area networks!

Thankfully, Doom has been mod-friendly from the beginning, so anyone could create their own maps and pack them into WADs specialized for multiplayer environments if need be. Several now famous WADs have been created specifically for a short-lived service called DWANGO, in which players could interact with each other on a central hub using modems. It wasn't quite Internet, but being a thing from 1995, it was pretty innovative.

Kyle Katarn has no idea where to go because the Force betrayed him

Once FPS games finally did start offering standard-issue multiplayer maps, it was still an unrefined art at that point. Which maps worked best with what amount of players, and what weapons should each map have? That was something newcomers would end up having to learn themselves, by finding out that some of them are so large for 1v1 matches that the game ends up becoming more about trying to find your opponent rather than blast his freaking head off. It wouldn't be until Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament that deathmatch would become more well-refined, as development of said games was entirely focused on multiplayer; they had no real single player campaigns.

Now, can a server for Jedi Knight even be run 24/7, let alone on Linux? For the most part, no... that game wasn't as forward-thinking as Quake, so unless the source code for this game ever gets released (I doubt it will), the only theoretical way to get a Jedi Knight server running on something like Razorback would be to somehow get Wine set up on a server, have a player always idling there, and figure out how the fuck one is to automate the process of getting the server back up and running should it go down. It's really more trouble than it's worth... at least Jedi Knight's immediate successors are far more versatile.

How It Was Recorded

Slaying an imp with a chainsaw

Whenever I'm recording two clips at once, my go-to solution for synchronizing them has always been clapping my hands once at the start, loud enough for the microphones to pick up the noise. From there, aligning the two copies of the same clap is fairly simple; just add markers in Premiere or another editing program at the right frame where the clap takes place.

Normally this solution is used when I'm recording with both a camera and a capture card, but here, a capture card was out of the question. I had two laptops facing each other, sitting on two cheapo wooden folding tables, but I only had one good camcorder at the time of making this series. I was gonna have to put some other fucking annoying device to use again, being my Samsung Galaxy S5. Previously it enjoyed regular usage in recording about one third of Hardcore Windows NT, but now it was treated as a secondary camera than anything else. After all, it was a smartass telephone, the worst product of mankind to date.

I recorded a test clip playing through the first level of Doom II on October 10th just to make sure the recording coming from the Galaxy S5 was going to look good. Getting these old LCDs recorded with maximum clarity can be a bit tricky, because you really have to adjust the angle perfectly so one half of the screen doesn't look like total darkness. We've really come a long, long way with LCD technology in the last 20-30 years...

While the actual recording session was completed in one day, I was left unable to edit anything for a good while as a result of turning my attention to knocking down the filming of the seventh segment, where I had to move my brand new Ryzen build out of my bedroom just to get a good setting for running Windows 98.