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Optimize yer Dial-Up Networking Settings

Yer biggest bane in multiplayer Outlaws ain't th' other players' skill; it's their Internet latency, or "lag." Lag is measured by "pings" which count how many milliseconds it takes a small amount of data to travel to somewhere across th' Internet an' back ta you. Yer ping ta th' host AND fellow players in an Outlaws game should be below 500; if it's higher you'll start encounterin' all kinds of annoyin' stuff like players jumpin' through space suddenly an' shots not hittin' their targets. If yer ping is really bad you'll "lag out" of a game completely. One laggy player can ruin an entire game 'cause Outlaws passes data between each an' every player in a match, so ya should make sure yer pings are low (no more than 500; 300 or lower is great) before joinin' a game.

There's another nasty thing called "packet loss" which is where info yer computer sends out jus' doesn't get to it's destination at all, or at least not all in one piece. Packet loss can be caused by really high ping times, where th' ping takes SO long ta get through that it just gives up; this is called a "timeout." But more often packet loss is caused by an overloaded ISP, noisy phone line or, most commonly, incorrect Windows 95 networking settings.


1: Make Sure Your Windows is Up to Date

If yer runnin' Win95 th' latest updates are:

Winsock 2 and Dial-Up Networking 1.3

Install Winsock first, then DUN. You may not see a dramatic lag improvement in Outlaws but by all accounts things get a little bit better... and you may be more compatible with Win98 players who try to join your games.

If you have Win98, be sure you have the 2.01 patch (Win95 users outta get it too!) which you kin find on th' file and demos page. You'll also find some guidelines there that outta help ya out when yer tryin' ta join Outlaws games, as there's a known bug joining Outlaws games under Win98.


2: Use Hardware Data Compression

While it's better fer say web browsing, software doesn't compress squat in Outlaws multiplayer sessions. I dunno if it's because th' CPU is overloaded and can't compress fast enough or because of th' particular type of data Outlaws exchanges, but you definitely want to DISABLE software compression by UNCHECKING "Enable Software Compression" under the "Server Types" tab of your dialup connection's Properties (see screenshot) and ENABLE hardware compression by CHECKING the "Compress Data" box under "Advanced Connection Settings" (see screenshot).

I found this out usin' this little program:

Dial-Up Connection Meter 1.02B (28k)

This is an old freeware version that you probably can't get elsewhere these days of a little utility that makes a graph of yer modem's data transfer so you kin see what's really goin' on. I had this runnin' while playin' Outlaws last night; when I was usin' software compression th' graph levelled off at about 3 K/s, meanin' that I was hittin' my transfer limit and thus losin' subsequent packets. When I switched to hardware compression th' graph was all jagged, spiking way above 3 K/s and also dipping below: this means that data was being compressed (seen in the higher transfer rate spikes) and I wasn't constantly dropping packets.


3: Use Hardware Flow Control

There'a another thingy though that you want to use hardware for: flow control. Flow control is somethin' ta do with how yer computer juggles incoming and outgoing data. In multiplayer games like Outlaws there's info comin' in an' out constantly, so this might be important, whaddya think?

Anyhow while there are two flavors of flow control, hardware ("RTS/CTS") and software ("XON/XOFF"). EVERY resource I have seen says you should use hardware flow control. Now, there are two places that need ta have hardware flow control set: yer modem configuration AND your modem PORT configuration.

In that same window of yer modem setup where ya checked "compress data" ta enable hardware data compression, you'll see a section labelled "Flow Control." Make SURE this is set on hardware ("RTS/CTS"). That takes care of yer modem's flow.

But ya also hafta set it fer th' port yer modem is usin'. On my computer th' modem's on port 2 but yers may be different. Find th' port yer modem is usin' then select it an' hit "Properties" in th' window under th' "System" control panel's "Hardware Manager" tab. In th' new window that opens with settings for th' port find th' "Flow Control" bit an' be sure it is set to hardware. Now you'll be flowin' with th' best of 'em.


4: Detecting and Avoiding Packet Loss with UOtrace

That should solve yer personal lag/packet loss troubles. But there are all kinds of crazy networks out there, an' they may have their own problems. When someone hosts a game through such a network an' you try ta join in, you'll still encounter lags. How kin ya tell what hosts you have a good connection to? Get this program:

UO Trace (43K)

This is a compact ping/traceroute utility originally designed for Ultima Online players, but it works great fer Outlaws TCP/IP Internet play too. Jus' unzip it to a folder of yer choice. When someone hosts a game of Outlaws and announces their IP address, run UOtrace and enter their IP number in th' text entry field. Then hit th' "Trace Route" button. This will trace the connection between your two computers. It should list between 4 and 20 routers and then say "Traceroute successful" in th' bottom status bar. If not, you have a VERY crappy connection.

After a successful traceroute, hit th' "Poll" button. This sends a continuous series of pings ta each "hop" on th' internet route, testing over and over fer packet loss; that is, dropped data. Watch th' numbers in th' "percent loss" column. If they go above zero, yer losin' packets an' a game on that host might be laggy for you because not all the data gets through between your two computers.

Th' first address ta trace an' poll is yer ISP. If yer losin' packets in yer connect ta them, you've got a bad connection or they're overloaded. Reconnect an' poll 'em again, an' if yer still droppin' packets then it jus' ain't a good time ta be on. Fer instance I only play late at night 'cause durin' th' day an' evenin' my packet loss is jus' too high fer a good game.

Here's an example of an instance where checking my ISP with UOTrace saved me a lot of headache in what would have been laggy games. In fact I have a nice graphical illustration right here so check that out an' then follow along.

First I connected to my ISP. Then, like I always do, I ran UOTrace, entered my ISP's URL (www.jetcity.com) in the address field and hit th' "Ping" button. After that first ping gets through you kin use th' "Poll" button to send a stream of pings automatically. In this case I wanted a good test, and Polled for 200 pings.

Well, you kin see th' results. 26 of my pings, or 13 percent, didn't find their way back to me from my ISP. In addition my average ping time was 117ms, quite a bit higher than it should have been (ms equals milliseconds equals 1/1000th of a second). You shouldn't see any packet loss at all when pinging your ISP on a fresh connect. My connect was BAD!

The remedy? Simply hang up and dial back in. Once connected again I ran the same 200-ping test, and you can see that my results were quite a bit better: no packet loss, average ping at 89ms. Smooth! Now I'm ready to play! If I hadn't checked this I would'a gone on ta try ta play with that first connect and would inevitably have lagged in every game I joined. THAT's why it's handy to run an ISP connection-quality check every time you dial in!

WARNING: DO NOT leave th' "Poll" function running indefinitely! Constantly pinging the server will cause it to lag! Be sure to turn off th' poll by hittin' th' "Poll" button again after each hop has been hit with about 20-30 pings --- that should be sufficient ta get a good sample of yer connection quality. If packet loss is negligible, an' pings are below 500, then you should have a good game with that host. If UOtrace freezes up while checkin' an' IP, use CTRL-ALT-DEL ta shut it down.


5: Detecting and Avoiding Ping Pirates

Apparently there are some poor, sad, misguided people out there who think that floodin' yer Outlaws server with pings will give them an advantage in th' game. I've never had this problem, but apparently it has happened in one-on-one ladder matches. But never fear! Help is here, in th' form of a lil' script send in by Davrolero that reads yer Win95 ping request stack (ICMP) an' records it to a log file that shows how many pings you've been hit with.

Right-click an' select "Save Link As..."
scanicmpl.bat (290 bytes) Davro's script with logging
scanicmp.bat (161 bytes) My edit with no logging

How do you use these? Well, you jus' double-click 'em ta run th' script. Ya may hafta edit th' last line of Davro's ta reflect th' location of yer "notepad.exe" file. Anyhow they each pop up a DOS window, an' then a display of yer ICMP info. In Davro's this is recorded to a ".log" file an' displayed in Notepad; in my version I jus' left it ta display in th' DOS window.

In any case there are a lotta numbers. Th' important ones fer detectin' lag hackers are "Echoes Received" an' "Echo Replies Sent." Th' numbers should be pretty equal, an' indicate how many pings yer computer's been hit with since ya booted up.

So, if yer goin' inta an important game where ya think ya might hit a ping pirate, or if yer hostin' a game an' ya suspect some funny business, execute th' script an' note those two numbers. Then go back ta th' game, play fer a bit, an' run th' script again (or wait until th' game ends). Now, it's normal ta get a few pings; fer instance, I tend ta send about 30 pings to a host ta check an' see how good my connection ta them will be. BUT, if you notice an' increase of many hundreds or even thousands of pings, like as not someone's been ping-floodin' ya. My suggestion? Unless they've got a DARN good excuse, don't play with them again. They're cheaters, an' not very clever ones at that.

Thanks ta Fryster fer helpin' me test th' script. Davro adapted it from a script he got somewhere, but he doesn't remember who th' original author was.


6: Lower Your Connect Rate

I know it sounds funny but forcing yer modem to connect at a lower rate kin really help yer dialup reliability. Often modem's connect at a rate they can't really sustain for very long -- once th' connect quality happens to degrade you'll start to get packet loss. This particularly applies to 56k modems, which can download at up to near 56 kpbs but only upload at a max of 33.6 kbps. So really fer a game like Outlaws that has to both send and receive lots of data all th' time you may be better off connecting at closer to 33.6.

Ya kin do this by entering modem initialization strings in the "Extra settings" field in the "Advanced Connection Settings" window (see step 2: Use Hardware Data Compression). You outta be able to get these codes from yer modem manufacturer's documentation. Fer my USR 56k there were codes to disable 56k altogether as well as codes to set a maximum connect speed lower than 56k. I found that setting my connect to about 42k gave me a very stable connection; yours will vary with your modem, ISP and local phone lines.


7: Other Utilities

MTU Speed Pro 4.10 (375K)

This MAY do somethin' fer Outlaws, I dunno yet. It's a free version of all those utilities that claim to speed up yer interent connection by changing a few Registry settings. Easy to reset if it doesn't work fer ya.


8: How to Get Good Pings by CRIME

There are all sorts of other changes you kin make to yer dialup settings; dunno if they help fer Outlaws so use at yer own risk, but anyhow th' page below has a very long list of Dial-Up optimizations.

How to Get Good Pings, by Crime
on Optimizing.net


9: Lag Management

Well now yer ping may be as low as it's gonna go, but I'll be ya dimes ta dollars that you'll still hit laggy games. Don't panic: there are ways ta manage even th' oneryest lags. Check out th' Lag-fighting Tips page in the strategy section fer th' whole story.

 
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