how whenever somebody has a crappy connection in the gaming community,
the first thing they do is to blame their ISP? It's so easy to
blame those faceless jerks in tech support that don't know the
difference between a rocket launcher and a BFG. Before
we go in depth about how to find out if your ISP blows chunks
like the chick from The Exorcist, let's explore how the game works
network wise. For
this illustration, we're gonna pretend that www.planetquake.com is where your game
So I fire
up quake2 and connect to the server, and I get about 150ms to
Planetquake. Obviously my ISP sucks, cause I'm on a T1 and should
get 50ms or so everywhere I go in Quake 2, right? <Buzzzz>
Sorry, you don't get the custom Gamespy toilet bowl seat. So what's
up with this?
you've been on the 'net for 10 minutes you've heard of this. What
is it? Without boring you to tears with details, it's simply the
transport used for all Internet traffic. Think of it as the roadbed
if you will. Not unlike a real road when you drive from NC to
CA, there's a lot of connecting roads in-between. The condition
of these roads can be great (brand new), to pathetic (a collection
of potholes connected together). When you play quake on the Internet,
the game translates the data of everything going on into little
chunks of data called packets. These packets have to travel from
your machine to the remote server. Think of it like this: you're
broken down into pieces (head, neck, torso, arms, hands, legs,
and feet) and transported via small cars from NC to CA. 1 piece
(a packet) per car. They
begin their trek with ease, the highway's great until about TN.
Then the road gets bumpy and the cars have to slow down for a
couple hundred miles. Around Nevada, the car containing your right
foot falls off the road and explodes. The rest get to CA with
all of your pieces.
Lag is a
condition not unlike what happened in TN. Things slow down a bit
and take a little longer to get to their destination.
(PL) is not unlike what happened in NV, one of your "packets"
didn't make it to its destination (although TCP/IP handles reassembly
better than our scenario would).
to Quake. I fire up and connect to PQ's Q2 server and notice my
pitiful ping time. What happened? Lot of things could have happened,
just like our highway system. In- between NC and CA there could
be 50 different companies in charge of maintaining the various
links which could be slow or nonfunctional.
who's to blame?
Well to figure
that out, you need some tools. Windows 95 includes the traceroute
utility which is usable but only recommended for people into S&M
or reading technical documents (that's kinda the same thing, isn't
it?). It's worthless. I use the utility from Datametrics Systems Corporation called
Visual Route (for a demo see http://visualroute.datametrics.com/).
Visual route gives you a nice graph instead of a grouping of three
meaningless numbers. If you follow the above URL and type www.planetquake.com, you'll see an example
of a visual route output. The trick to interpreting the information
of traceroute is to understand some "norms", plus information
ain't always what it seems.
1: You traceroute to the remote server, and the output from
Visual Route shows a nice steady increase in ping times along
the way. Visual Route doesn't show any suspected PL, but when
you play on the server it's like watching a Charlie Chapman movie.
Probably the server doesn't have enough ram/CPU to handle the
quake players, or another various server-side issue. It could
also be the way your Quake 2 game is configured for your particular
Internet connection, which we'll go into next week. In this case,
you can't really complain to anybody but yourself or the guy that
runs the server, and chances are, he won't care.
2: You traceroute to the remote server, and see a huge spike
to the right. Visual Route tells you that packets are being dropped
after link 7 (that with the spike).
there? More than likely there's router trouble somewhere out on
the net. If the spike occurs before leaving your ISP's gateway,
then you should call up and complain to your ISP, because there
more than likely is a problem on their end. If the spike is somewhere
else on the net, there may be problems that UUNet is addressing,
which you can check
out here. However, most of the times when you get a huge spike
on a particular node, it's a network problem that you just have
to wait out until the company fixes it. There's not really any
particular company / person you can call; the best thing to do
is to play on a different server, one that doesn't require that
route through their network.
speaking, unless that spike is in the first 2 or 3 hops, it's
not your ISP's fault but a provider somewhere along the way (the
exception being large cable-modem providers - to determine where
they quit see the below part about the naming scheme). Visual
Route is good for helping you determine exactly where that fault
lies. If you try server "A" and hop 7 spikes, server "B" spikes
at hop 4, and server "C" is nice and steady, it's probably not
your ISP. However, if you notice packet loss from the first router
and not much to either "A", "B", or "C" then your ISP sucks to
is to watch the number of hops it takes to get to the destination
server. Even if you get a decent ping, life will suck rocks for
you if the server is 15 hops away. Just because a server is
close to you physically doesn't necessarily mean you're going
to get a better ping. Let me say that again, in all caps and
boldprint: "JUST BECAUSE IT'S CLOSE TO YOU DOESN'T MEAN YOU'RE
GONNA GET A GOOD PING". That's where programs like Visual
Route, or even Dos' traceroute come in. The reason for this is
because the ISP across town may use a different carrier than your
ISP, and even though they are in the same town, you may end up
going halfway across the country to arrive 20 blocks away.
note on determining where connection fault lies: many times if
the link "just outside" of your ISP appears to be the one at fault,
that sometimes is also related to your ISP. How? Many providers
out there "oversell" their bandwidth. I 'm sure you've heard this
term, but what exactly does it mean? Imagine a 3 foot piece of
garden hose. You hold up one end, leaving the other just above
the ground. Now drop a marble down the hose and what happens?
It falls through, silly. Now drop one, then right after it another.
Same thing right? Now try to stuff 20 down the pipe at once. What
happens? I mean, besides you looking stupid. The hose is clogged
with marbles. Something very similar happens when our IP packets
with quake try to go out a line filled to capacity. The problem
is compounded by the fact that instead of being clogged, some
of the packets are "lost" (hence "packet loss"). Over-saturation
is a common problem with the bigger ISPs, and with certain cable
I hope that
helps you understand what's going on underneath a little better.
Questions? Comments? Submit
them all here!