Project 1999 sure is fun to read about. Then I get nightmares of going LD in the middle of a dungeon and losing a level.
Lag, or latency, is what happens when it takes longer than expected to connect from your machine to another online component. Most people see this when they stream some video and the quality drops. Gamers see this as either completely losing the connection, things showing up on screen instantly, or the player “rubber banding” from one location to another.
Death in games is often simply a punishment, rather than a learning opportunity. In the early gaming days, you pretty much needed to memorize the map layouts and creature spawns to avoid it (Battletoads anyone?) Randomness became the next hotness (a holdover from pen and paper games). Events that simply killed you and it was a crapshoot if you got through or not. The good news was that most of these games were finite – rarely taking more than a couple hours from start to end.
The concept of long term play and permanency was a long time coming into mainstream. Ultima Online wasn’t the first one, but it was a turning point. The game was relatively quick in terms of responsive actions to survive. Posses of player killers (PK) would run around and take out other players in a few seconds… so learning to get out of there quickly was vital. Dying meant you lost all the stuff on you… and often the keys to your house. Lag was everywhere on dial up modems… and it was a rough slog.
This doesn’t dismiss the advent of online FPS (or even RTS) games, where lag was certainly a big factor. Most of these were quick games, and little to no interaction with the next game played. Sure, a bad connection was likely as not to cause a LD or rage quit, and often pushed people to create local server hostings to avoid large ping times. For people in NA, this was workable. For places like Australia… that was (is?) a damn nightmare.
EverQuest’s concept of loss on death was more than a loss of time, you could end up losing abilities as well. And if I were to add up all the deaths I had in that game, over 90% of the ones I had outside of raids were things that were related to either lag or poor gameplay code (trains?). Running through Lower Guk, then getting a lag spike… you’d be training half the zone. Interestingly, it’s the reason I picked a Necromancer in that game – the ability to fake death was a instrumental in survival.
For better or worse, that model died when WoW came about. Death there was about losing time (to travel) and some gold. Gold was much more meaningful for vanilla/TBC, so it wasn’t just a small slap on the wrist. Still, much more digestible. Yet the combat mechanics became more complex, and more demanding on a good ping. The Heigan Dance (in v1.11) has way more to do with ping than memorization. As more and more games came out, they focused on long telegraphs that caused major damage. As much as I loved Wildstar, it was utterly unforgiving in that regard.
Playing some more Dauntless, I do get the odd lag spike. The game isn’t twitchy by any means, but it is half about avoiding damage by dodging. Missing that timing queue by a 0.5s-1s can make or break a fight.
League of Legends has this issue as well, where decent (not top tier) players are limited by their reaction time. Enough of an issue that Riot helped design a new networking layer that reduced the number of network hops and maintained decent ping times. It took years of effort.
Network priority management, quality of service (QoS), and gosh forbid net neutrality come into play here. Most large roads have either carpool lanes, bus lanes, collector lanes, or some combination that splits up traffic into groups. One set of lanes usually goes much faster than the other, even though they are going the same distance. Works the same in networks.
Really leaves three options.
Make bigger roads. Gig internet is becoming more prevalent, but there are still more locations around the globe with crappy connections than not. This is a physical and monetary limitation. And frankly, in my near 20 years experience in IT, every time the road gets bigger, it fills up in a week anyhow.
Make more efficient roads. By better managing the traffic, you can get more done in less space. Of course, you need to manage the structure of everything, and pray that there are no anomalies. YouTube broke this 10 years ago, and Netflix broke it again 5 years ago. It’s a battle of attrition.
Make smarter cars. If companies can make smarter cars that know how to best use the roads with less space, everyone wins. Compression, optimization, buffering, and a dozen other techniques can be used to dramatically reduce the overall footprint of network traffic. This is the hardest one because it takes terribly smart people to manage, and requires everyone using the road to do it.
As we all get more interconnected, and the need to transfer larger amounts of data in less time increases, lag is going to be the deal breaker for breakthroughs. Lots of progres all around us, but still no silver bullet. Until then, I’ll continue to grumble when I get rubber banded into an incoming fireball.