Bigfoot Networks Lag Boot Camp Report
Some time ago, our own Carolyn Koh attended Bigfoot Networks' Boot Camp. Today, she files her report.
Bigfoot's mission was to educate us about lag. A term all MMO gamers are familiar with. That's the term we use to describe the frustrating anomalies in the online games we play that are usually blamed on internet latency. The rubber-bending of mobs, the game freezing, the stuttering of our screens. The time that elapses between when we type in some text and when it shows on our screen. The slight pause in our game when someone speaks over ventrilo or one of the other voice chat programs we use and the dreaded link-death, when we actually lose connection with the server long enough to be kicked out of the game. All those symptoms are what we simply call lag.
Lag, we were told, has three components to it:
- Server side – where game servers optimize for player load.
- Client side – where PCs may be bloated with applications that are running in the back ground taking up memory and CPU processing power or just not enough RAM or processing power.
- Network – which is the pipe through which we are connected to the internet, that is bandwith (how fast your throughput is) and latency issues, that is the number of hops, skips and jumps away the game server is from your machine.
One of the problems is that there is no metric that’s readily available to measure lag. Sure, you can measure in-game frames per second and ping, but neither actually measures lag. As lag is about the responsiveness of the game and is comprised of the “pipe” as well as the “fittings.” That is to say, the connection as well as the all the hardware components that are part of delivering the real time experience to the gamer.
The Bigfoot sponsored blog, www.endlagnow.org has a page of tips and a downloadable White Paper written by Harlan Beverly of BigFoot on lag. There are several things a gamer can do to improve his game’s performance and hence his gaming experience.
- Improve your ISP. Remember playing MMOs on dialup? Or maybe you were lucky enough to miss that pain. A broadband connection such as DSL and Cable or better will perform better than dialup. A tweak also would be to stop all other programs from doing any background downloads while you are playing. Who among our readers had had Adobe, Windows or Virus Protection Updater lag us out? Or worse… re-start your computer on you! FiOS – Fiber Optic Service is usually more bandwidth and lower latency than signals over copper.
- Improve your PC’s computing power and RAM. Keep in mind the point of diminishing returns and what your OS can handle. Other tweaks here include making sure all un-needed applications are turned off while you are playing. All those applications on your system tray eat up RAM.
- Better internet pathways and servers. Half and half here. Players can control the server they play on to minimize the length of the route and the hops, skips and jumps data has to take before getting to you. If you live in Europe and want to minimize lag, you’d do better to play on an European server, not one located in Singapore or California, despite where your friends are. On the other hand, the servers themselves are controlled by the game companies. Old EverQuest players might even remember the pain of playing on a server (Bristlebane and others) that was an older or more congested machine.
- Better game design. This is one for the developers as games can be optimized for minimum lag and BigFoot is working on new metrics to measure lag and their current LagMeter may be found here. Using FRAPS to measure frame rate per second, counting a lag event if fps falls below 60fps, if Ping is greater than 50ms and if back to back ping is greater than 100ms. LagMeter measures “lags per minute.”
Creating the exact same scenario in order to properly control, compare and benchmark internet gaming performance is near impossible. For one, there are no benchmarks available at this time, besides the in-game frame rate and ping meter. For another, the traffic or other events going on in the pipe cannot be controlled.
Bigfoot at this time is developing another benchmarking tool, NetGameTest which will be available on their website soon. A user-run benchmark, it records for ten minutes then parses all the information and provides a score. In basic mode, it is a hardware stress test and shows average FPS and Ping over the length of the test. There will also be an advanced mode where different variables will be able to be tweaked.
We were also shown way more technical stuff than this attendee is comfortable explaining here with lovely acronyms such as TCPIPOE / TDP / UDP / TOE, seven layer OSI and a graphical slide showing the Windows Stack... my eyes began to glaze over. But what was important to me as an online gamer was that the Killer NIC (that’s Network Interface Card by the way) worked to reduce lag. The closest Bigfoot could get to for a visual demonstration was to set up two identical machines, one with the KillerNIC installed and one without. Then two new characters were spawned in World of Warcraft – one on top of the other. Now without moving either character, we performed jump tests. No matter which character it was jumping, the machine with the KillerNic installed rendered the character jumping just a few milliseconds faster.
The first generation KillerNIC was reviewed here on MMORPG.com with a nifty explanation of how it works, in layman’s terms. All participants will soon get access to beta NetGameTest and I’ll report on how well it works. In a testimony to the technology, a representative from Dell was also on hand to tell us about their partnership with Bigfoot. All Alienware PCs now ship with a KillerNIC installed, and it is an option available on their Dell brand as well. We of course asked if whether the technology would be available for the laptop since laptop gaming is gaining with mainstream gamers and everyone suddenly shut up and pointed looks were exchanged before we were offered a “keep your ears open for news…”