domain   The Zone   Where do you want to lag today?    

The zzzzzz-Zone.

God bless Microsoft; they can take a simple computing process and make it really processor intensive and buggy. The Zone is MS's bid ta take over Internet gaming. You'll need Internet Explorer or Navigator 4 or higher ta even get in there.

A hell-hole of Active-X gimmicks.

Once ya do get in
you'll find out why the Zone requires 'em: it's a hell-hole of Active-X gimmicks. To use the Outlaws matchmaker service you have to download two multi-megabyte files. What's really annoying is that you can't use a program like GetRight to download them safely 'cause of all the weird cookie stuff Microsoft does. Arg.

So you gotta go through this big sign-up and download process. Then you'll find you need a different version of IE, and hafta download that, then go through the whole Zone download and install process again because you can't download and unpack the files in the normal manner. Yay!

A big ad at the top of the screen actually takes up more space than the chat window gets.

Okay so ya get it all workin'
an after goin' through a server connect process with a login and password yer finally at the Outlaws section of the Zone. They redesigned it some time back so it's even uglier than it use'ta be. There's a big ad at the top of the screen, and on a 640x480 display it actually takes up more space than the chat window gets. Huzzah! You can no longer widen the window--yer stuck at a 640-pixel width. You CAN lengthen it so as to at least make some room for the chat area. There are no real chat functions besides just typing. A section on the left lists the players and their pings. Of course MS has ta do everything their own way so pings are called "Latency" and you don't actually get ta see the ping number--just a colored bar that is supposed to represent ping. Hurray! They probably didn't wanna show ping numbers cause they'd be real lousy...

You host or join games in little graphical fields at the top of the screen, and wait for the host to start. Once that happens MS takes over your computer and wacky stuff happens. The Zone window seems to close and Outlaws loads up in multiplayer mode, automatically trying to join the game you selected. This usually takes a lot longer than joining a game by entering the IP address.

Somehow MS has managed to create an incredible amount of net lag through the Zone. Any game played through the Zone suffers from a certain characteristic jerkiness. It just doesn't run smoothly at all. It's really hard to play in if yer used ta normal IP play. I remember the first non-Zone game I played. It was incredible-- the chunky movement I had thought was an inevitable part of MP Outlaws was gone, and I was gliding along... of course I got wasted 'cause I couldn't concentrate on shooting, the smooth play was such a revelation.

Games usually end not when people want to play a different match but when the server or most of the players crash.

It's really baffling
to me how MS took something as simple as passing IP addresses and screwed it up so badly. It's a shame because someone who buys the game and wants to find where ta play it online will probably go to Lucasart's site, which points them right to the Zone. Then they'll do all their playin' in the Zone 'cause they don't know there's a better way.

So the one thing the Zone has goin' fer it is that there are a lot of players there. Even right now, on Thanksgiving afternoon, there are 32 players there. I've seen it have over 100 quite often. Oh yeah, in th' new Zone ya kin also join games in progress, a real handy thing that ya couldn't do in th' ol' Zone.

But do ya want quantity or quality? Lots of the players there are either newbies, jerks or both. Not that there aren't nice folks there, but I've encountered much more unpleasantness there than elsewhere.

And the quality of the Zone
software is just unforgivable. It tends ta lock up my computer when I join or leave a game. And the games themselves are laggy and jerky as hell, and players and even the host tend ta crash outta the game with frightening regularity. Games usually end not when people want to play a different match but when the server or most of the players crash. Hell, even chatting in the Zone window is laggy. Urg.

Not to mention th' fact that even with th' 2.01 patch mos' people playing Outlaws under Windows 98 will have significant trouble getting into a game through the Zone's automated interface. Game freezes at the "Connecting" screen or crashes back to the desktop in mid-join seem to happen more often that not. See th' demos and patches page for more information on steps you can take to maximize yer chances of getting into an Outlaws game when running Windows 98.

Sometimes there's even a Microsoft monitor there ta make sure ya don't start cussing. And as far as I could tell from talkin' ta one of these guys, they don't even get paid! They sold their souls fer nothin'! This is frightening ta me as I live in Seattle, the heart of the Empire as it were.

Steer clear of the Zone, fer cryin' out loud!


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