The Internet has brought some of the biggest changes to hit video gaming since 3D graphics.
The most celebrated effect has been multi-player gaming, allowing players to make games installed on their PCs - such as Quake and Warcraft - connect with games installed on other players' computers.
But the Internet, combined with Sun Microsystem's Java programming language, has spawned an entirely new creature - the Net Game. Written in Java, these games can be automatically downloaded on even slow connections in minutes. They require no installation and can be played right inside the browser on any make of computer with a Java "engine" installed. Most recent browsers come with Java capability.
Limited by their size, Net games tend to use simple graphics and sound, so they lean toward board games, card games and puzzles. Classic arcade games are also popular subjects for Java coding. A simple net search will turn up versions of Q-bert and Tron, along with dozens of Tetris clones.
You can easily spend a day surfing through hundreds of game sites, and a lot of time dealing with browser crashes and other annoyances that poorly written Java can create. So it's a better idea to start with some of the more refined net gaming sights.
Mine Games (www.minegames.com), one of many sites in the vast marketing venture known as the Netizen Islands, offers a superb net gaming experience in a beautiful environment filled with computer rendered art. The site's load time can be tiresome on slower connections but well worth the wait.
The games include classics such as Dig Dug (called Holey Moley), Connect Four (called Fourinnarow), and Mah Jongg. There are new twists on old themes, such as Fortress (four-way Tetris) and Triangle (a triangular Rubick's cube), along with lesser-known efforts such as a Chinese puzzle game called Century.
In addition to the games, Mine Games also features video gaming news, reviews and a chat room.
Yahoo's Java gaming site (http://play.yahoo.com) lacks the beauty and originality of Mine Games, but it has something most competitors lack - multiplayer capability.
All of Yahoo's 14 offerings - including classic card and board games such as chess, checkers, blackjack and poker - can be played by two or more players.
A chat box is displayed at the bottom of each Yahoo screen so that players can discuss the game, socialize or talk trash.
This adds a social element that is missing from even the best commercial network-enabled games.
So give Mine Games or Yahoo a try. They're quick, simple entertainment, they're relatively glitch-free, and best of all, they're just plain free.
Pub Date: &/27/98