How Does Multiplayer Work?

I recall, when I was a young man, a few friends and I would have what is known as an early version of a LAN party. This was where a bunch of people would bring their computers to a common location, try and make the computers cooperate for about six hours, and if lucky perhaps play games for about an hour before having to go home.

That is to say; making early computers recognise one another was akin to trying to crack a master grade quantum physics puzzle. We would delude ourselves that trying to get the computers to work was part of the fun, of course, but when thinking back recall only teenagers cursing and spitting as they poured over page upon page of setting.

I do honestly remember those LAN parties very fondly. We played Warcraft 2 that was Warcraft when it was still a real time strategy game, and not the more modern online equivalent to heroine, World of Warcraft.

Today computers cooperate with one another a great deal more readily, and online multiplayer games are extremely common. There is, however, a great deal of incredibly complicated technology that goes into making computers on opposite sides of the world function in harmony.

Modern Internet

If you don’t think its amazing that computers can communicate across the planet, and do so while still being in sync, most of the time, I’m afraid we cannot be friends. It absolutely blows my mind.

If you’ve ever had a long distance phone call, you may have had the annoying delay that occurs, where it soon becomes obvious that you and other person’s voices are taking a few seconds to cover the immense distance. I have a sister in New Zealand, and so have had to deal with it on a few occasions. This is what is commonly referred to as lag. It happens, and it is obvious why it happens.

A modern programme like Skype, however, that is transferring not only voice, but also video, tends to not be so effected by such delays. If the two parties talking have decent Internet speeds, that is. The point being that modern data transfer is so fast as to almost be considered instantaneous. This, however, is based on the concept that the data transfer is happening flawlessly, and Skype goes through great efforts, and spends enormous money, to ensure this. Lag is still a problem in many online games, and a bitter curse that can ruin an experience.

The Curse Of Lag

The Internet I use downloads at about 2.1 megabytes a second, sometimes faster, and works well for my daily needs. I can stream high definition movies without a problem, and pay visits to those live casinos that are causing such a stir. The problem is that, upon playing an online game, the people I’m playing against may have much slower connections, or faster, and may be anywhere in the world.

Imagine, if you will, standing at the centre of a web of ten conveyor-belts. Each is delivering a package, but each is doing so at a suddenly changing and random speed. Your job is to ensure that each package is delivered at exactly the same time as all the others. Sound like a nightmare? That’s modern online multiplayer.

Lag occurs in games when one or the other party cannot keep up with the data transfer needed. Or, when one conveyor-belt is falling behind, and all the others have to stop for a few seconds, to allow it to catch up.

Modern games are generally designed to keep the parties playing regardless, though, since the game crashing every time there is lag would be infuriating. Hence, lag is a part of modern gaming.

Mobile Phone Multiplayer

If you think the above mentioned conveyor-belt situation sounded complicated, this is nothing in comparison to multiplayer games played via wireless networks. Mobile phones rely on wireless data connections, and these tend to be so unreliable that it is a wonder they work at all. Wind can effect them, weather can effect them, and just about any obstacle a person walks under can effect them, including, but not limited to, flocks of birds. No, I’m not joking.

It is a nightmare trying to get mobile devices synchronised. Modern multiplayer poker games, however, are specifically designed so that data transfer is not needed from a player, until it is their turn. And, furthermore, the player can make their turn, and have it not show up for other players for seconds, and the game still operate. So long as each player has some sort of data transfer in about a period of thirty seconds, their turn, the game can function. It’s lag compensation at it’s finest, and necessary due to the unreliability of wireless data transfer.

Mobile based multiplayer games still tend to have lag problems, however, with players dropping in and out of the game suddenly. It can be irritating, but at least now you know why it happens.

Marc Armstrong - Signature

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