If you’ve ever been part of an online gaming community you’ll no doubt have heard all sorts of terminology thrown around to describe playing experiences, both good and bad. For the uninitiated, here are a few of the most common terms explained in a little more detail.
This is a very broad, very general term used to describe the aspect of the games programming which relates to networking. It’s not a technical term, nor is it quantifiable, and although you may hear people talking about netcode its not something that players or server owners have any control over and isn’t worth concern.
The term latency is often used interchangeably with ping and essentially is a measure of the time it takes for a data packet to journey from your computer or console, to the server and back again. Latency is one of the contributing factors which determines how quickly actions that you carry out at your computer take effect in game.
Another term relating to server performance that you’ll commonly hear about is tick rate. Tick rate is measured in Hertz (Hz) as it is a measure of frequency, i.e. how many times something occurs per unit of time; in this case the frequency with which the server updates the status of the game, the position of players around the map, for example.
A 64 tick rate server, like the competitive matchmaking servers in CS:GO, can send packets at a rate of 64 per second whilst a 128 tick server can send twice as many in the same period of time. Higher tick rates provide a closer to real time gaming experience and, in my opinion, are a highly valuable server feature.
Framerate, measured in frames per second or FPS, describes the frequency with which your monitor or TV is capable of displaying individual frames. Framerate is heavily influenced by hardware specification with more powerful GPUs capable of rendering frames more quickly resulting in a smoother game experience.
The second factor which determining framerate is the refresh rate of your monitor. As the name implies, perhaps, the refresh rate is the frequency with which your monitor refreshes the images that have been produced by your GPU. Depending upon your monitor its not uncommon for the refresh rate to ultimately limit the number of frames per second that you experience.
As we’ve seen, the transfer of information necessary for online gaming does not happen in a smooth and continuous fashion, rather it is bundled up and sent in separate chunks or packets. Irrespective of how quickly these packets are sent and received, if that was the extent of the system it wouldn’t make for a smooth or enjoyable playing experience.
Interpolation is a mathematical technique that allows for the creation of new data within a range of known data points. Applied to our games it means that if a player is at position A when the first tick is sent to the server and position C by the time the second tick is sent to the server, then interpolation will allow the game to show the player smoothly moving from positions A to B to C even though from the servers point of view the player was only ever at points A and C.
Some games allow the player to customise the interpolation delay providing a choppier but more ‘real time’ experience which may confer a slight advantage in competitive play.
The above features can certainly contribute to a poor playing experience which is why you should opt to play on servers hosted by high quality providers. Assuming your own hardware is fit for the job it could be that the server itself which is holding you back.
As a server admin its equally important to realise that players need to have a reason to choose to play on your server instead of the hundreds of other options available to them, so always keep your eye on the quality of the product when choosing a game server host.