Hack 20. VoIP While Fragging
This sure beats typing "OWNED!" in an in-game chat window.
If you're like most übergeeks (and I say this as an admitted übergeek), there might be no pastime more satisfying to you than online gaming. Indeed, it's hard to beat the pure excitement of fragging your best friend with a rocket launcher in Quake or laying down the Horde smack onto a World of Warcraft n00b. Of course, if you're a Ventrilo or Teamspeak user, you can use Voice over IP to rub it in your opponent's face verbally when you crush him.
Ventrilo and Teamspeak provide hands-free conference calling designed for online gaming. This way, teammates can coordinate their strategies verbally, communicating by mouth without interrupting their in-game action, rather than by typed messages, which can be a real distraction. Nothing's a greater mood killer than having to stop to type a chat message to call for a rescue, only to get hit from behind by a stray rocket while typing your plea.
One great feature of both Ventrilo and Teamspeak is their "push-to-talk" capability. This allows you to treat them like a walkie-talkiecutting out the background noise that would otherwise be transmitted if the chat were always live. With this feature, you can even forego headphones if you keep your transmissions brief so as to discourage echo.
Ventrilo, from Flagship Industries (http://www.ventrilo.com/), is a team voice chat system that uses the Global System for Mobile (GSM) codeca very bandwidth-conservative codec that's excellent for use with games (you don't want your voice traffic to create in-game lag, so a codec like GSM is perfect). Ventrilo has client and server components. The client runs on Windows and Mac OS X, and the server runs on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. A version of the client for Linux is said to be in development.
To run the Windows client, you'll need DirectX 8.1 or later (available from Microsoft and standard with Windows XP and above). The Mac client requires OS X Version 10.3.2 or higher. You'll also need a microphone and a pair of headphones (the headphones are superior to using freestanding speakers, because ambient noise from the speakers will "spill" into the microphone, creating really annoying echo for your game-playing buddies).
Teamspeak (http://www.goteamspeak.com/) is similar in purpose to Ventrilo, though its web-based chat room administration tools are more advanced, and its bent toward gaming is a lot more obvious (Ventrilo professes to be useful for other things in addition to gaming). Teamspeak uses the Speex codec, which, like GSM, is very lean on bandwidth, making it a good choice for lag-sensitive gamers.
Teamspeak offers clients and servers for Windows and Linux. They're fully interoperable with each other. Like Ventrilo, Teamspeak requires DirectX 8.1 (or later), and its designers insist on a pair of headphones to reduce echo. Also offered is a hosted, pay-for-play service based on the software.
Though not officially sanctioned by the designers of Teamspeak, a great Mac client called Teamspeex has been developed. You can download it from http://www.savvy.nl/blog/download.
Perhaps the easiest way to VoIP while fragging is with Skype. This desktop voice chat package supports conference calls with five participantsperfect for maintaining open communications for a marauding patrol of Halo warriors behind enemy lines. Skype has several things going for it: it has handsfree operation, making it ideal for gaming; it's fully cross-platform (even Linux has a client); and it's stable.
But since only five conference participants at a time are permitted in Skype (four plus the person hosting the conference), you aren't going to accomplish your entire 500-person EverQuest guild meetings using Skype. That kind of scalability is something you'd need Teamspeak for. For small conferences, Skype is adequate. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the maximum size of a quest group in World of Warcraft is five membersideal for a Skype conference. Just be sure the host PC has plenty of horsepower and a solid broadband Internet connection.
Skype for Windows runs on Windows 98 and up, while Skype for Mac runs on Mac OS X 10.2 and up. For more Skype details, sift through the delicious goodies in Chapter 3.
2.14.4. The Skype Alternatives
Gizmo Project, which is a lot like Skype but uses industry-standard SIP for call signaling, is (as of Version 1.0) very limited in terms of conferencing. In fact, it doesn't have any VoIP-based conferencing built in at all. Conference calling using SIP requires a centralized conference-mixing server, a complexity that makes Skype preferable to Gizmo for in-game conferencing.
Google Talk (http://talk.google.com/) is another Skype alternative. Like Gizmo Project, Google Talk, which has two-party voice calling features, supports a well-known standard for call signaling, called Jabber. And like Gizmo Project, Google Talk is free. iChat can be configured for use with the Google Talk Jabber network, as can various other IM clients such as Trillian and Adium. So you aren't confined to using Google's Windows-only client if you want into the network. But that's where the pros end and the cons begin. Like Gizmo, there's no way to do conference calls. And worse still, voice chat between official Google Talk clients and non-Google clients such as iChat doesn't work at all. So Google Talk's usefulness as an in-game voice conferencing tool is, well, nonexistent.
2.14.5. The Hardware
To have voice communication while blasting the competition to bits, you're going to need headphones and a microphone. The mic can be built into the headset, or it can be freestanding. But, definitely use headphones. They'll cancel the acoustic feedback you would get if you were using regular speakers, and they'll substantially reduce annoying echo. Your gamer buddies will thank you. There's nothing quite as unnerving as a VoIP-enabled four-player round of Warcraft III when one of the players is echoing like crazy. Friends don't let friends frag without headphones.