Last night I had a fairly decent round of games – no beast scores, in fact I don’t think I hit top spot on any of the maps I played. Although it’s nice to win I prefer to feel like I’ve had a quality game. A couple of times I was host which is always nice and gives you a distinct advantage.
This happens because Modern Warfare 2 like all other combat or fps games operates a first past the post system when it comes to working out who hit who. The basic for working this out is what is called Ping. If you’re familiar with the internet and networking then you can probably skip the next bit. Otherwise, read on.
Ping at its most basic is how quickly one computer responds to another. It’s counted in milliseconds (ms), or thousandths of a second, the lower the number – the better your ping, the better your ping the more likely you are to get your kill in first. There are some things that affect your ping which I’ll come to later, but for now we’ll stick to basic ping.
Now imagine two gun fighters meeting on Main Street at high noon.
You’ve got Mr Greenbar and Mr Limebar – they’re both equally matched, same reaction times, same weapons. When the Town Hall clock strikes Noon they’re going to draw and fire. Noon strikes and a shot rings out – Mr Limebar falls to the ground fatally injured his last words: “Why? How?”. So here’s where the analogy is explained and I show how clever I am (or a smartass if you prefer).
The Town Hall Clock is the server, Mr Greenbar has the best ping, Mr Limebar has decent ping, but less than Greenbar. Because Greenbar has a quicker connection to the server his shots are acknowledged before Limebar. in the analogy when the Town Hall Clock strikes Mr Greenbar hears it slightly sooner than Limebar and fires – even if Limebar fires the instant he hears noon strike, Greenbar’s shots are already on their way to him. That’s ping in a nutshell.
You WILL have experienced this. Probably on more than one occasion in MW2. You turn the corner, see someone coming the other way and unload your clip at them, but you’re dead!? But then the killcam pops up and shows that you didn’t even fire a shot! It even happens to the best of them – I think in one of SeaNanner’s vids he backs up behind a building on Skidrow when another guy unexpectedly comes round the corner, only to get killed – the killcam showing him still in the open!
When I was PC gaming most FPS used a mix of public (hosted games on peoples machines and connections) and dedicated servers (games played on the publishing company’s servers with massive available bandwidth). Going from that to console gaming felt like I was entering the dark ages as you are at the mercy of not only your connection, but the person chosen to host the game’s connection, network set up and their option to rage quit at any moment. This can make getting a decent connection difficult to find – and it’s something over which you have zero control.
So what affects your ping and what can you do about it?
First and foremost your ping is affected by the server you are connected to. Even if you have the best connection in the world your ability to get a decent connection will be affected if the host you are connected to is throttled, choked or is otherwise unable to respond to incoming communication requests. Throttling can be something that happens at the server end, or may be put in place by an ISP if there is excessive traffic to a particular IP address. Choking is when there is too much information for the server to either receive or send – this happens more often to players in the UK due to our ridiculously low upload speeds compared to the download and is directly caused by ISPs oversubscribing network nodes. There’s nothing you can do about that, other than buy a load of your favourite consoles, set up a LAN and invite me round.
Your proximity to the host is an issue – and who you get matched up to depends on what time of day you play. If you go online when the majority of your country is in bed you’ll probably end up playing on a server the other side of the world. Those little 1s and 0s take time to scoot around the intertubes and so you can expect to be at best Mr Yellowbar on those games. If you’re Mr Yellowbar you’re probably better off finding a low traffic area of the map and crack out your claymores and sniper rifle. Unfortunately on console games you do not have the option to specify what countries you are willing to play against, or what maximum ping rate you are willing to accept. When I click on “Find Game” if it’s still searching for a game at 70ms ping then I quit the lobby and try again. If you accept >70ms ping then you might as well just stand in the middle of the map with your pistol. Why deliberately put yourself at a ping disadvantage?
With computers, communication works on an ‘all or nothing’ basis with information broken down into handy chunks called packets. Those packets can go missing or become garbled in transit – if that happens the information has to be resent until it is correctly acknowledged at the other end. Packet loss is the internet equivalent of having a conversation with a hard of hearing and confused elderly relative. You’re saying something as clear as day to you, but they just keep repeating that don’t understand, or they missed the last bit.
When I was doing internet support this was the single major pain in the arse issue that people had. It’s difficult to pin down, but in most cases can only be resolved by major investment in the network infrastructure of your ISP (if it’s not originating from your equipment). But, if it’s not your ISP – even though, chances are, it is – packet loss can be caused by your router/firewall set up, or if someone else is hammering your connection at the same time you are trying to play online. If you suspect packet loss, or have an obscenely high ping for no apparent reason then you need to work out if it is you, or your ISP. This is easily done, disconnect all other equipment from your modem and connect your console directly to it. If your ping still stinks then it’s time to call technical support (good luck with that), if it’s miraculously better then you need to check that your router/firewall has UPnP enabled or your console is allocated to the DMZ (I won’t go into those here as this is getting long enough as it is – check your router/firewall documentation for more information on those), or stop downloading series 78 of Lost when you want to play online.
Packet loss and high ping rates can also be caused by a poor Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) on your connection – that’s something that you have no control over and can only be diagnosed by a competent ISP technical support dude. Diagnosis is not the same as a resolution however, poor SNR issues on an upstream can take weeks, if not months to be resolved – and it doesn’t matter how much you yell down the phone at technical support it’ll only get fixed when it gets fixed. If you are disgruntled by shitty SNR then put pen to paper and put in a proper written complaint.
The last thing that can affect your connection is people cheating. It happens – I can’t say that it has happened to me during my online play, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’s not something you can do anything about and I’d be careful about accusing someone of lag switching or cheating as it’s difficult to prove.
Having a good ping and being host can seriously benefit your game, if you want to know how well your connection measures up to the rest of the intertubes then I suggest you check it at Pintest.net – it’s a really good test, it’s a pretty site and most importantly – IT’S FREE!
If I’ve missed something out, or got something hideously wrong then make sure you comment to let me know. There’s enough misinformation out there without me adding to it.
Peas and loaves.
Find me on PSN – evaDlivE