Anyone who has played games online has likely had a situation like this happen to them. It’s a symptom of poor network synchronization between game clients. It’s an unfortunate reality that can never be fully banished from online gaming, but there are some things you can do to reduce the effects.
Network Synchronization For Games – A Brief Introduction
Multiplayer gaming has never been easy on developers. A good game net-code has to be able to sync the gameplay of many different players, all of whom could live almost anywhere. There’s no way to know the Internet connection each player will have. Yet, in spite of these challenges, a multiplayer game must provide a smooth experience. Otherwise it isn’t much fun.
The challenges facing games can be summarized as two things – latency and packet loss. Latency, better known as lag, is the amount of time it takes for a game client to communicate with the server and/or other game clients. If you have a headshot lined up and you pull the trigger, you may not actually hit. That’s because the other player moved by the time your action was acknowledged by the server and your foe’s game client.
Packet loss is a self explanatory term. It’s the number of packets sent between game clients that fail to reach their destination. If serious packet loss occurs, the game may become confused about the actions a player is taking, or may not acknowledge those actions at all.
Game developers counter these problems by using algorithms that predict player behavior, thus smoothing player movement. Some games also rely on client-side hit detection to further reduce issues, although this can leave a game vulnerable to hacks. But what can you do to improve your online gaming experience?
I’d love to tell you that there was some software utility that could dramatically change your network synchronization in games, making all instances of stuttering, freezing and other issues a thing of the past. Unfortunately, I can’t, because I’ve never run into software that could accomplish this.
However, security software can interfere with game performance, and it’s worth checking into if you’re experiencing unusually bad online play. Sometimes a problem with an online game can be related to a firewall or anti-virus program that doesn’t know the game is legitimate software. Issues such as this are usually resolved by adding the game to the security software’s list of permitted programs.
Issues with multiplayer gaming are often related to network connectivity problems. Two main types of issues can occur – those that exist between your modem and the Internet, and that exist between your PC and your modem.
Sometimes a game can have trouble communicating with a server because of a problem with your Internet connection. Some users mistakenly come to believe that this happens due to a lack of bandwidth. In fact, latency and packet loss are the real issue. You can check to see if there is a problem with your Internet connection by connecting your computer directly to your broadband modem with an Ethernet cable and then using a line quality test. If you find that ping times and/or packet loss is high, you may want to call your ISP and ask them why.
If your Internet connection seems fine, your problem may instead be related to how you connect your PC to your broadband modem. A wireless Internet connection that is suffering from interference may drop packets frequently, for example. Even a wired connection is not immune to problems, as router misconfiguration or even damaged Ethernet cords can cause latency and packet loss issues.
In rare cases, games can lose synchronization because of actual hardware problems inside your computer. An Ethernet controller chip that’s on its way out, for example, could cause serious disruptions. You might also encounter problems if your networking hardware has the wrong drivers installed.
Obviously, the driver issue can be resolved by installing the correct drivers. Actual hardware failure, however, is a different problem. If your Ethernet or WiFi controller is built into your motherboard you’ll have to replace your entire motherboard to fix the problem.
Improved latency and reduced packet loss can sometimes be achieved by installing better hardware. For example, a computer connecting to a network via wireless g might see online gaming performance significantly improved if it is instead connected via wireless n. Most Ethernet controllers provide similar performance, but there are speciality Ethernet cards available for gaming, such as the Killer NIC products. Although most reviews agree that these products aren’t worth the price, they can slightly reduce latency.
As you’ve now learned, online gaming is effected by many different variables. A game can become desynchronized for a variety of reasons. Figuring out the exact cause of the problem usually requires a trial-and-error approach starting with possible software conflicts and ending with an investigation into possible hardware failure.
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