Lag Kills. (Web-Fu for beginners Part II)
If you frequent any kind of cyberspace then you will have encountered a thing called lag. It is by far the biggest killer of online gamers of any kind, for instance and at the least has some odd effects. It refers to the observed time lag between server and home PC whether it is the internet being emotional or something else. I'll concentrate on the something else here. Lag can often be caused by the home user inadvertently with a number of applications that can be bandwidth heavy. Downloading something or using any Peer to Peer (P2P) software is the first obvious example. Not only do both of these use that all-important bandwidth (don't forget, it's not only the download speed but the upload speed which is vital, particularly for the server host), but in the case of P2P software they also use processor cycles. These are the prime causes of lag in games and anywhere else. Not only does it affect the P2Per or downloader, all the people in their immediate area are hit as well, which can sometimes have disastrous knock-on effects depending on server load and/or configuration. Not that they are the only causes by any means. Anything that is CPU-intensive can cause lag. This includes many art programmes, transferring files through a network, burning CD's or DVD's, having too many browser windows open, playing more than one online (or offline) game at once, in short anything that makes a computer work hard. Certain Instant Messengers are also guilty of being bandwidth-hogs, the example that springs primarily to mind being MSN which can really make a difference in some cases. Most gamers use something like Teamspeak to communicate while playing because within such programmes you can often easily control how much bandwidth you allow it to use. Then there's cheating. Using modifications to the game that are unrecognised by the server host. Not only is this incredibly bad form and gets the cheater banned from that server (often entire communities of servers) but can cause lag for everyone in-game except (but often including) the miscreant using the cheat in the first place. So, if you're going to play an online game and want to minimise the chances of lag, shut down the downloads, switch off the P2P, stop the file transfers and discs being burnt, close all other windows except you're specialist communications if you use one and make sure that you're computer isn't downloading or installing updates in the background. Oh yeah, and never cheat. If you play more than one version of a given game (on different servers for example), then make certain that the one you are playing is the correct patch/modification for that particular server. Most Admins will not be impressed by a player who "forgot" to switch between modifications and caused a server crash or worse. Hopefully these tips will keep any lag you experience whilst gaming to a minimum, but they are by no means hard and fast rules, you can do everything right and still experience lag. Often you can test how bad the lag is using the in-game communication (normally text). Simply type a message in and the observed time between hitting "enter" and the time it takes to appear on screen gives you the lag factor, which explains all those messages that say "test" that you may have seen. They are testing how bad the lag is. An experienced veteran in a particular game can cope with a certain amount of lag, but I would never recommend continuing if it's too bad. In clans I have been in we have had different tactics for dealing with lag, depending upon it's severity and I may look at these in future articles. For now, an explanation of lag and it's causes should answer a few questions for those who don't know what it is exactly. How to cope with it is a different story altogether with many tips that are game specific. Hope this helps, though and as always, have fun.