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It's alive! Or is it?

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By Doug Thompson

“Cloud” gaming would use big computer servers owned by a company to run a game. Low-tech consoles and home computers would display the video game to the customers playing it. These players would use their controllers to give the input — to play.

If the system works, people could play video games without buying serious hardware that will be obsolete in a few years.

The concept isn’t new. People have been trying for decades. The problem with this system has always been lag, a seemingly unavoidable delay between punching a key and having the character you’re controlling do the action.

Early news reports on OnLive, the new online gaming service, declare that major problem’s been whipped — at the price of low-resolution graphics and the need for a pretty good Internet connection, which is less of a problem than it used to be.

Frankly, low-resolution graphics never been a problem for me. I’ve frequently toned down the quality of the picture just to get smoother performance and responsiveness on the games I own.

Check out Gizmodo (gizmodo.com), which reviews OnLive with a real home connection with a normal membership, not some set-piece media demonstrations.

I’m interested. Apparently, you’ll be able to get unlimited plays on the system for the same $50 you’d spend for a hard copy of the game.

As readers know, I own a respectable though not awe-inspiring PC. I also still own the PC it replaced, which was quite respectable though not awe-inspiring four years ago. Being a complete pack rat, I even still have the antique I owned before that, although I’d need a new monitor to ever use it again.

Suppose I could play the upcoming massively multi-player online game “Star Wars: The Old Republic” and play it on any of those three machines.

I’d team up with my son and my youngest daughter any day and play just about anything. In “Republic,” the Sith would be in serious trouble.

I’m generalizing from personal circumstances here, but readers should know I’m a severe “single-player only” gamer. OnLine gaming never held much attraction for me, very largely because it’s dominated by the fantasy genre or the Sims — which I’ve never understood, having my own life and all.

What little second-hand contact with online gaming has not been complimentary. I had a friend, for instance, who decided to play “Halo” online. He lasted five seconds, even after repeated tries. He wasn’t a terrible player at home. The problem was that there are people who, apparently, spend every waking moment on line so they can kill rookies as soon as they walk out the “door,” before they even have a chance to get to cover. It helps these “vultures” get their score up.

In fact, “vultures” is the nickname for people who play that way in IL-2 Sturmovik, a flight sim depicting World War II aerial combat, according to forums I used to frequent.

If I could go online as a member of a three-person team who are all in the same room, able to talk to each other in real time and even plan thing, and all looking out for each other, that would be something worth considering.

Put simply, the attraction of a group enterprise with people I already know and like and get along with, without having to buy each of them an Xbox 360 would be nice.

Then there are all those people who own iPads now. If you can play “Dragonage” on an iPad, assuming a decent wired, at-home connection, then this “cloud” concept has potential.

Then there’s the simple matters of cost and utility. The price of an Xbox 360, even a refurbished one, is still $180 dollars. A decent new system is still in the $250 range.

Let me see, $250 for a new console that only plays games, or $50 to put a game on a machine I already own that the kids can do their homework on or surf the Internet?

That decision won’t take long once I get the choice.

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