Everybody likes when a game has a well-made multiplayer, since it means that it can be enjoyed with friends; the arrival of Online Multiplayer since the 90s on PC games (and starting to become widespread in consoles as early as the sixth generation) allowed for a shift in paradigm to be able to make friends all over the world, as well as put your skills to test with strangers anytime, and also have the convenient option to play with any of your real-life buddies but each one being at the comfort of their own home. And with the pandemic that had arrived in 2020, online multiplayer turned more significant than ever.
However, depending of the games that you have played, your own localization, and having played with certain players from countries far away from you, you might have stumbled with, at best, little to no hiccups with small oddities, but at worst, having the gameplay being severely affected or even becoming virtually unplayable…and at most, this can be related to two things: Netcode and Latency…but latency is often called “Ping”, as it describes the time it takes for one computer’s response to reach the other side and viceversa. To provide context on some of my next points, the term “input delay” is about how much it takes between a button/key being pressed and the game actually recognizing that input to make an action. While this can exist offline, for any emulators and games using delay-based netcode for netplay, this means that the higher the distance/ping, the higher the input delay will be…which can be a nuisance depending of the game.
The netcode is definitely an influential factor on an online game’s performance as it can either be well optimized to handle long distances (Rollback on Fighting Games is one great example of how transitioning from an old approach to a new one can really help players on their experience), finding creative ways to synchronize while keeping what you see smooth enough…or fail to do any of these and have a range of visible issues or severe slowdown. This is where the real focus of today’s post is going to be, as Latency/Ping can have a myriad of effects depending of how much you have, and what game’s approach to netcode is…and sometimes there is no way to lower your own ping, so you’re forced to find which games will not let you in the worst conditions possible when trying to play online.
That one Code Mystics video explaining rollback, which I might have used already a couple of times. It still happens to explain pretty well how it varies from the usual delay netcode and why it ends up reducing visible lag drastically.
As a fighting game fan from Venezuela, high latency is something that can be a struggle to deal with and can’t even do much about it, as either connection with most countries might be from 180ms and above or ping, and even though I can have better results playing with certain US players, my own internet speed (max download is 240kb/s) can also be an obstruction; sometimes playing with certain Venezuelan buddies online also could present shaky ping exactly because of issues between either one of our connections. Well-optimized rollback in games like Skullgirls and Killer Instinct, as well as in unofficial options like Fightcade have allowed me to play with people around the world without any issues. It can still be hard to find players at times because of most players refusing to play with high ping, but in any case it makes games with close and far buddies altogether much better.
Footage of me Virtua Fighter 3 with an USA player with JUST 2 FRAMES of input delay. The addition of rollback to Flycast (which is now integrated into Fightcade) was truly a game-changer to play Dreamcast and NAOMI games online; specially for me!
With delay-based netcode fighting games on the other hand…not only forced high input delay or poor netcode causes the game either be playable under bad conditions or even too laggy to be playable, like with Tekken 7 (BECAUSE THE ROLLBACK NETCODE THEY PROMISED WAS VIRTUALLY NOTHING…sorry about that, I had got that game on a sale because of that blurb in Season 4’s trailer last year, but clearly got ripped off). I would be lucky to ever find anyone that accepted playing with me but resulting in a laggy match. Only times I could play that game with good online was specifically with Venezuelan players at 1am…so yeah, I’m basically screwed for finding matches on that game.
One of the only times I could play Tekken 7 online properly and the only recording I have of that (the graphics are lowered because of my own specs); at least it was satisfying fun to play like this even though I got crushed.
With FPS games, the ordeal can be weirder depending of the game, as approaches to netcode can vary even more from the game’s developers to the game’s age, as well as your own ping to the server instead of another specific player, and for example, the original Halo Combat Evolved and Custom Edition on PC worked fine for me online most of the time…but when there was huge lag, it would show with my character’s movement being rolled back every second (say, you walk forward four steps…and then you would go back two). With Counter-Strike, high ping can make other players look skippy (which can be an issue when sniping, for an example). In both cases, with big ping spikes, you can end up temporarily frozen, which might even get you killed if it happens during a firefight.
A photo of few days ago where I was playing Counter-Strike 1.6 with some buddies; this is the best screenshot I got because I only ended up taking screenshots from when I was dead and spectating lol
Another game where I found an interesting side-effect was in Quake 3 and Xonotic; both Arena FPS where fast movement and mechanics like rocket-jumping and bunny hopping are emphasized. In the case of Quake 3 (and OpenArena), aside from the occasional enemy skipping, your movement is entirely unaffected, and while your firing animation and sounds would be instant, the higher the ping, the more delayed your attack would actually be. Xonotic also presents this delay, but the firing animation/sound actually get delayed, so it feels more like your trigger being delayed instead of your weapon bullets coming out late. On Real-Time Strategy games like Age of Empires and Warcraft III, you could also experience delay when moving your units and such, but there’s way more emphasizing on your own strategies and decision taking instead of fast reflexes, so it is less impactful.
On the other hand, as a positive counterpart of what happend with fighting games, any online turn-based games (from board games to stuff like Worms and golfing games) are very likely to work completely fine because no work needs to be done to keep players syincing at the same time, so even with ping, you should be able to do your own turn without any side effects on controls, and you will be able to see the other player actions as well.
Racing games can be a bit more complicated, as most have to account for collisions between other cars, and approaches to synchronizing players can be different. While I haven’t tried out any modern racing games online (…because I don’t have access to any), with games like Outrun 2006, Initial D Arcade Stage 8 and Burnout Legends (on PPSSPP) having their netcodes intended for local networking…but still being playable online over long distances. The only big side effect is that other player cars will definitely look weird, either updating their position at a choppy rate or spinning out wildly depending othe game, but at least it does allow me to have fun online. If there are racing games that slow down everybody online from one player’s lag or something like that, I haven’t stumbled upon such a case, so if anyone can tell me about laggy experiences with racing games, let me know in the comments.
Footage of Initial D Arcade Stage 8, an Arcade game playable through a special launcher. While this game’s multiplayer was intended to be used between linked local cabinets, it works perfectly fine through Radmin VPN! I don’t know where the other player was from, but it worked pretty well!
In any case, in some genres the input latency will only affect how you see the other player, but your own controls and experience will be fine, while in others, it might be fine for casual players or people that are willing to play in any conditions because they don’t have any other choice (this is me playing fighting games with 6-10 frames of input delay and FPS games at 200 ping lol), but for very skilled players, high latency can ruin their experience…and with specific games, no matter what you do, having high ping WILL be unplayable (I’m still looking at you Tekken 7, I’m not going to EVER forget that betrayal).
But hey, each one to their own experience and fun, because I’m glad that most games that I had the chance to play online were playable enough, with or without side effects, if not because they are fun games that I wouldn’t often have the chance to play with someone otherwise (and I also use an Ethernet cable, which is always said to be mandatory to have stable connections when playing online). It was fun to write about about some of the weird things that I have encountered either from bad netcode or just poor luck of any other players ever avaliable being quite far away, but those moments make me appreciate even more the ones where I can play without any issues! 😄
I’d say that there’s more cases about this that I would like to talk more about one day, since I’ve definitely had quite a lot of varied experiences regarding ping, shooters and fighting games. But for now, that was all for today!