If you spend any time on a gaming server, you will likely here the word "lag" used more than any other, and it will typically be prefaced by some burst of profanity. Lag is the byproduct of a slow connection to the server, typically evidenced by a slowing of the game for the player.

Ping Times One of the key factors in choosing a server to play on is the "ping" time to the server. The internet version of the ping is analogous to pings used in submarines. A small signal is sent from your computer to the server, and it is then returned from the server to your computer. The "ping time," or "ping," is the amount of time, measured in milliseconds, that it took for this signal to make a round trip. The lower the number, the better the ping and the better the potential for a smooth, fluid game.

Most server finders, like GameSpy, have built-in features that displays the ping time of servers. This number, however, may be different once you are actually connected to the server itself.

There are several things that can effect your ping times. First, the quality of your Internet Service Provider's (ISP) connection to the internet. If your ISP only has a fractional T1 connection or has too many users on a single connection, you will not be able to take full advantage of your connection. Second, the number of servers that lie between you and the server is also a factor. The more "server hops" your data has to make, the slower it will be. Geography is not necessarily a factor in this equation. I have played on several servers that were over 2,000 miles away and I had better ping times then players who lived 20 miles away and had a connection speed that was 4 times faster than mine. My route to the server was apparently more direct, and I did not suffer the same degradation in speed as they did. Third, the internet itself can slow down during peak times. Modem players will typically have a better ping times later in the evening and during the weekend.

The world of gamers is often divided into categories based upon a players ping. Low Ping Bastards (LPBs) typically have a digital connection to the internet or are playing on the same local network as the server. High Ping Bait (HPBs) typically connect to the internet through a modem with speeds of 33.6k or slower. Fortunately for HPBs, many tournaments are no divided into divisions based on connection speed. "Open" divisions do not limit the type of connection, but "POTS" (Plain Old Telephone) divisions are usually restricted to 33.6k modems and slower.

Here is a list of ping times and their likely effect on gameplay:

Bandwidth In addition to ping times, limited bandwidth of the server can be a component of lag. A server is required to simultaneously process information coming from all players and send out information to all players. A server's ability to instantly send and receive this information is limited not only by the server itself but also by the server's connection to the internet. If the server is part of a busy network, it may only have a fractional share of the network's internet connection. This limitation in bandwidth results in lag as the server tries to send and receive all of the required information through the narrow "internet window" open to it. As a result, a server that seems terrific with four players may become unplayable with twelve or sixteen players. Some administrators recognize the limitations of their server and place a limitation on the number of players that can join the server.


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Lag is the principal topic of conversation in Lag City, created by John "Zaphoid" Krutke. This site does offer some irreverent advise on how to reduce lag and how to adjust to its effects. Lag City is also filled with humorous anecdotes and articles about the plight of the ping-challenged.

There are some basic things you can do to minimize the impact of lag:


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Last update: June 04, 1998
This page is maintained by Darren L. Tabor, aka DaKoTa
Additional text by Eagle