"D3" and the Ultimate Halo 2 LAN Party
A few weeks ago, members of the Bungie Team made the trek to Los Angeles to support our upcoming Multiplayer Map Pack at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. While E3 can be a good time for the most part, it was D3 that proved to be the real highlight of my trip this year. This annual gathering of Halo fans gets better and better with each iteration and anyone looking to throw a LAN party of their own would do well to borrow a few ideas from the guys in So-Cal.
Since the vast majority of our audience couldn't actually make it there, I wanted to recap the night and also talk with Dean himself about what it takes to throw a great LAN party. With a little planning and coordination, anyone can pull of a great Halo 2 event.
D3 is just the latest of many LAN parties to happen at Casa de Dean. "I've been hosting LAN parties since the launch of the XBox in 2001. The Catalyst to throwing large parties was E3 2002, when I joined the MIGHTY Marty Army", explains Dean.
"I had offered my place to the MA for practice for an upcoming tournament. I had invited a bunch of friends & co-workers to play against our team, when Miguel Chavez brought in some "surprise guests" (Bungie folk). It was a memorable occasion for everyone in attendance. I remember thinking, "Wow. Bungie is in my house!"
Since the first official event in 2001, the guest list and scope have continued to grow. Dean admits, "The 2005 Plasma Fiesta is, by far, the largest event I've hosted yet."
(ed note: This year's event was officially called "Plasma Fiesta", however in a moment of inspiration, a few of us came up with "Dean's Deserts and Deathmatch" which then morphed into D3.)
Throwing a LAN party at your house for 50 or more people is no small task. As Dean explains, "The hardest part is coordinating people to play on a specific day. It can take upwards of a couple months to find that one day when everyone can make it." Lucky for us, the day was more or less pre-determined by history and the E3 expo. But once the day is picked don't assume that everyone will remember it.
"You need to continuously remind everyone as the date draws near. Never let a week go by without some kind of reminder," recommends Dean.
This applies not only to attendees but to the other residents of the house as well. Nothing would spoil the party more than a wife's knitting club double-booking your living room on the same evening.
According to Dean, the single most important aspect to throwing a great LAN is "the people." Sure, you can have great games, huge screens and some free food but ultimately it's the crowd that's going to set the tone for the event.
D3 attendees take a break from the action to checkout the new Multiplayer Documentary
"The Plasma Fiesta wasn't about gaming, ice cream, or salsa (sorry Frankie). It was about getting together with cool people that I haven't seen in awhile, or met. I think what makes the PF special (at least to me) is that I get to hang out with people I normally don't get a chance to visit, due to geography, family, etc..", says Deanero.
I couldn't agree more. Every time I travel out into the world one of the highlights for me is meeting such a variety of really cool people, all drawn together by some common enjoyment of Halo or Bungie. Dean's is no different and this year I was honored to meet so many great people. Though, let's not kid ourselves, the catering at Deans is the stuff of legends. The salsa really is THAT good. More on that in a bit.
Depending on how many players you're planning to accommodate, your equipment needs may be modest or may require a second mortgage. For D3, the goal was to have 4 Xboxes with a total of 16 players (though some folks would later arrive with additional televisions and Xboxes).
Dean has literally devoted his entire house to gaming bliss and it's truly a site to behold. Seeing 3 entire walls filled with Halo wonder thanks to HD projectors all wired into the house is enough to give any geek goose bumps. The fourth station was a beautiful 60" DLP projection TV that was so bright you nearly had to wear shades. Still, despite having a cornucopia of wires and adapters something always seems to come up missing.
Hanging out in the backyard and seeing entire windows filled with Halo 2 was a beautiful thing.
Even with Dean's experience and stockpile of technology we were forced to make a last minute run to the store to grab a few missing components. This stuff can add up quick so do yourself a favor and make sure it's all safely stored away after the event. Dean suggests putting everything into large tubs with lids, "That way, everything is in one spot. It's also like Christmas. You open the box on LAN day, and all this stuff is there waiting for you to play with!"
Be sure to arrange your equipment in the most functional way possible. Make sure you've left room for walkways that won't interfere with the projectors as well as plenty of sitting room. "Sofas are nice, but if it's not enough, I prefer beach chairs to wooden chairs," adds Dean.
If possible, it also helps to create additional seating areas away from the gaming for people who are eating or waiting for their turn to play. Ideally you can make as many of your guests comfortable as possible. Keep this in mind when you're deciding how many people to invite.
In addition to seating, make sure you've got some table surfaces somewhere. Remember, all of these people are probably going to be drinking something and they'll need a place to put those drinks while playing. They can either use a coffee table or end table or they can put it on the ground so someone can kick it over and spill it on your Mom's fancy imported rug. (note: remove all fancy rugs prior to the event)
A 16 person LAN party using giant projector filled walls requires a lot of space in a house. Ideally you want everyone in the same room but if that's not possible make sure you've got enough network cable to set up additional areas. Or, in the case of Dean's, you could pre-wire your entire house with CAT5 and A/V cables.
While big screens and projectors are obviously ideal, they do require the most space. In the end do whatever you can, as long as people are playing and having fun it won't matter too much if it's a 30" television or a 100" projector. And for those of us who haven't recently won the lottery, Dean adds "A cheaper way is for everyone to bring their own XBox, TV, and network cable."
Some people brought their own equipment and set it up outside for added fun.
One other item of note is POWER. Running all of this hardware requires a lot of juice. Days prior to D3 the main breaker at Dean's house totally exploded under the strain of so many electronics. Luckily a qualified electrician was on the spot quickly to beef up the wiring and make things right. Make sure that your own house can handle the load and be careful not to overload circuits or chain together too many power strips.
Food & Beverage
You can't have 50 or more people cooped up at a house for 12+ hours without providing some sort of sustenance. Don't over think it. As Dean puts it, "Food is easy. Pizza/soda/beer is the normal staple." Luckily gamers aren't exactly the pickiest bunch when it comes to free food.
At Dean's parties, the food has become a thing of legend. Last year and this year we were all treated to a catered Mexican smorgasbord featuring freshly made tortillas, rice, meats and of course what some call the world's greatest salsa. Frankie was literally so overcome by his salsa experience last year that not a week has gone by since when he hasn't made some reference to it. I'm not going to lie – it's good. Damn good. It's even better when you consider that we live in Seattle which is hardly known for Mexican cuisine and then we spend the days leading up to D3 eating $10 cardboard pizzas at the L.A. Convention Center.
Shishka enjoys the world famous salsa while mocking Frankie's absence.
Of course you don't have to go to these extremes for your own LAN party. Just about anything will do, as long as there's something. Pizza is usually a great safe bet but make sure to plan accordingly.
"If ordering pizza, keep in mind the time before delivery. Don't order pizza when everyone is already hungry and want to eat right then," advises Dean.
Equally important are the drinks. Dean offers a nice variety of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Usually items high in caffeine are popular since these parties tend to last well into the wee hours of the morning. As the host, it's your job to make sure people who are of legal age drink responsibly and of course don't ever let anyone you suspect of being intoxicated drive away from your party.
As an extra special bonus (as if the full blown catering wasn't enough), Dean manages to pull some strings to provide an entire freezer jam packed with every ice cream treat imaginable. I'm guessing the entire neighborhood was enjoying those long after we left town. There was literally enough in this case to feed a hundred or more starving gamers. We had so much ice cream that we were forced to come up with creative alternatives to simply eating it in a leisurely manner. We all had to pace ourselves or risk severe ice cream headache and sugar induced diabetic episodes.
Obviously people have come to play Halo or Halo 2. However, in the case of Dean's (and likely most LAN parties), there aren't always going to be open play spots for every single person in attendance. At D3, despite having 50 people and roughly 16 stations, this never became a problem. There were always people sitting around outside chatting, eating, drinking or getting autographs from Shishka (right). Some folks brought their laptops in for some gaming on the side, other folks lugged in an entire new array of televisions and set up alternate stations outside in the back yard.
Dean reflects back on his earlier days of Halo 1 LAN parties, noting that "It used to be that everyone had to play all the time. If 17 people showed up to a Halo 1 party, we were doomed." More recently, with the introduction of Halo 2, things have changed a bit. "Now, with Halo 2, it's not about "all gaming, all the time". It's about chillin with brothers from different mothers."
Sometimes it may be necessary to get hands-on with the gameplay scheduling. If player spots are at a minimum, set some ground rules with attendees to ensure people rotate fairly or even come up with a schedule for folks to adhere to. As the host, you should keep an eye on the flow and make sure people are enjoying themselves and everyone is getting equal time to play.
At one point during D3, Dean had to interrupt a game, "There was only one time when a game went on too long, and a few people complained (5:00 Team KOTH on Terminal). We had to shut that one down, yet nobody playing complained."
(note – Terminal is a new fairly large map defined by a parallel set of working monorail tracks dividing the map. The king zone was in the middle of the tracks making for a very short lived time in the hill. As such, this game went on for close to an hour before being called.)
You may also want to consider a full blown tournament or a variety of contests complete with actual prizes. Dean and company whipped up some "Plasma Fiesta" souvenir t-shirts and mugs which were awarded to players throughout the night. It wasn't necessary, but it was a super cool gesture and gave some folks a great reminder of the party.
Not content with just gaming, a few of us began to think about other ways to entertain ourselves. What can we do with all of that ice cream? Hey, it would be funny to see people eating ice cream until they get sick! And thus, the first annual Deanero Ice Cream Eating Championship was born. Willing contestants had to finish off two jumbo ice cream cookie sandwiches in the fastest time to advance to the finals. This may not sound like much, but these things are BIG. A few brave souls stepped up to the plate, hoping to win the grand prize – a limited edition Joy Ride metal box featuring the Halo 1 and Halo 2 Master Chief figures. At one point one of the attendees, Max, barely finished his final bite and looked like he was seconds away from puking. Instead of giving in, he shrugged it off and reached for another beer (this is after two gigantic heaping plates of Mexican food). Awesome. The finals came down to two guys trying to eat as many ice cream sandwiches as possible in 5 minutes. Good times.
Sure, it was a bit juvenile and silly but damn if it wasn't a lot of fun for the spectators. I'm not sure the contestants would agree but overall it created some great memories and great laughs.
For your LAN event, the sky's the limit. Don't just restrict yourself to playing Xbox – come up with your own alternative means of entertainment and add some spice to your party.
Overall, D3 was truly a blast – both for the quality of the LAN experience and the quality of the people in attendance. I'm sorry all of the great people in our community weren't able to be there but hopefully this inspires you to throw a LAN party of your own. Remember, you don't have to go to the lengths Dean did to have a good time.
"The PF (Plasma Fiesta) was never about being 'the greatest party ever'. It started as a group of friends who got together once a month (or every other month), and just played. After each event, we kept asking ourselves, 'What would make it better next time?' Each time, we added a bit more to the events."
Also, keep in mind that these types of parties don't happen by themselves and they usually don't happen with just one person. Dean was a great host but a host of people volunteered to make it the great event it was.
"These last two parties would never have happened if it weren't for my wife, Michelle. She did so much behind the scenes (coordinate electricians, caterers, housecleaning, etc)." , recalls Dean.
In closing, Dean had this to say:
"I can't thank Bungie enough for investing time and effort into creating a community that I love being involved with. I look forward to seeing my friends again next year, as well as meet some new faces from the community (Oddworld!). Cheers to all that made it to the 2005 Plasma Fiesta, and I hope good fortune continues to smile upon all of you, so that you can come visit us again!"
As much as some of us are dreading the return to E3 next year, at least we all have a great LAN party to look forward to. It'd be great if Bungie could come to every LAN party but honestly you don't need Frankie or I to have a good time - Just good some good friends, some good food and a few Xboxes.
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