Networking 101 continued.
I suspected the columns were getting longer, but originally chalked it up to the font being bigger in this book (or my writing just getting more wordy)… but no, this column was a full 5 pages in the original book. I guess poor Kikuchi-san doesn’t get apologies anymore w
#47: “You Can Never Be Too Prepared (An Excessive Ideology)”
Published in 2015/11/19 issue
Last time, I talked about how choosing an ISP is difficult because of routing and transfers. Today, I’ll be delving further into this topic.
When you ask someone about packet loss and they say “It doesn’t happen to me, even though I’m on the same ISP as you”, there are basically 2 types of responses. One is “We live in different places, so our connections take different routes. Some people will encounter congestion while others won’t.” The other is “You won’t notice packet loss if all you’re doing is browsing the internet.” It’s hard to notice packet loss from just web browsing or video streaming. This is because there’s a fundamental difference between data being transferred slowly because the cables are at capacity and information being dropped.
Packet loss is the ultimate enemy of online games. If the data you sent from your PC or game console to the server gets lost or abandoned on the way, from the server’s perspective, it’s as if you’d never sent anything in the first place. Online games won’t keep trying to send your keystrokes to the server because it would have an unnatural effect on character control. We compress the input information as much as we can and send it out immediately. So if that information “disappears”, then even though you moved or attacked, the action doesn’t go through. (This is why we hear “I dodged it on my screen!”)
However, for web browsing, video streaming, and live streaming, your browser sends requests to the server at regular intervals, so even if a packet is lost, the page or video will still load or play as though nothing had happened, as long as the next request reaches the server. It may feel “slow” or “laggy”, but you won’t feel as though your action never went through.
You can see on your PC how often delays or packet losses happen. Click “Start”, select “Search programs and files”, type in “cmd” and hit Enter. This opens a command window. Here, type in “ping 18.104.22.168 -n 50” and hit Enter. Some numbers should start to appear…
This command sends 50 packets (of information) to a designated IP address. 22.214.171.124 is the IP address for FFXIV’s Chocobo server. Basically, it’s like knocking on the Chocobo server’s door 50 times through your internet connection. In the end results, you should see “Lost = 0 (0% loss)”. This means that no packets were lost, which is great. You’ll also see numbers in the form of “XX milliseconds” for the minimum, maximum, and average transmission time. The smaller these numbers, the faster your machine is exchanging data with the server.
A packet loss above 10% is miserable for online gamers. This means that 10% of the information you’re sending gets lost—if you jump 10 times, 1 of those jump commands isn’t reaching the server. This is lethal in games like FPS games.
Next, let’s see where this packet loss is happening. Open that same command window and enter “tracert 126.96.36.199”. It will say “Tracing route” and start performing some actions. This command investigates the route taken by information sent from your PC to the specified IP address. It’s like figuring out which route you take from your house to work or school. You can determine where the delays are based on where the bigger numbers are, and a timeout indicates packet loss.
Just like commuting to work or school, the more paths you take, the easier it is to run into delays. It’s akin to how making a lot of train transfers results in extra time spent walking and waiting. Sharp readers may have already realized this, but just as in real life commutes, “time periods” are also involved here. There are times when you’re more likely to run into rush hour traffic or train delays. In Japan, the peak hours for internet usage are between 8 p.m. – 11:30 p.m., topping out at around 10:30 p.m. Measuring your connection during the day produces different results than measuring at night.
Some of you may be thinking, “Huh? But there aren’t as many causes for delays as there are in real traffic. Does it really make that much of a difference?” Actually, during these peak times, there is a big delay factor called throttling.
As I wrote in the previous column, the web is like a hose transporting water. It has a fixed capacity and amount of water that can be carried. However, during peak times, more water (data) is being sent than the hose can handle, and if left be, the hose will burst. So, measures are put in place to limit the amount of data that each person can send or cull some of the packets, so that everyone can get through. This is “throttling”.
Japan’s internet-using population and the amount of data being sent by each user has been growing exponentially. No matter how much money the providers spend on more equipment, they can’t keep up. Plus, whenever there’s a smartphone OS update, tens of millions of people are downloading the several-gigabyte update, and the effects can be felt for days to weeks.
Now then, I’ve written two columns in a row about ISP selection. With so many factors at play, there are only two ways for the serious online gamer to protect themselves:
- Sign up for an ISP and test it out
- Sign up with multiple ISPs
It’s important to research a provider in advance before signing a contract with them, but in the end, you won’t know if there are delays or packet loss without actually trying it, because your home location is a factor. The destination IP address also matters—it’s normal to experience lag in some games but not others. The risk of delays and packet loss is very high when connecting to foreign game servers, because the packets have to travel through undersea cables. Anyway, I think it’s very important to understand your internet environment, so please try these tests!
Since this is so important to me, I’m actually signed up with 4 service providers. Whenever I think the lag is getting bad, I switch to a different connection *laughs*. Each company has different equipment setups, so I use whichever connection is best suited for the game at the time. It can be done instantaneously through a router!
You can never be too prepared. Although I guess 4 connections is overdoing it… (but cancelling contracts is a pain *laughs*)
 Most games make adjustments based on movement predictions, so even if one input is lost, it’s not as noticeable, and it reduces stress.
 An IP address is an internet address. Global IP addresses do not overlap—they are unique per ISP customer. Online criminals are usually deduced through these. Don’t commit crimes *laughs*