Is It Just Me? - Online RTS Problems

Is it just me or does it seem like the last few years have seen a lot of connectivity/stability problems with online RTS play? I recall from the old days of Starcraft and Age of Kings that even in the time of modems, games were pretty playable. Yeah, we had occasional lag, but I recall playing many many 8 player games of Starcraft with little difficulty connecting and almost no crashes.

In recent years, my experience has been much much much worse. And its not my computer - this has been true on my last 3 machines, including the brand spanking new Gateway I have now. I can play online FPS and MMO without trouble but RTS mostly seem to suck. And its not just me: it seems like most of the people who played Rise of Legends, our recent run with Company of Heroes, past runs with Rise of Nations and other games, have all had a lot of problems. Problems connecting, problems launching games, problems with crashes during games.

Is this just my own perception or is this really happening? Do modern RTS games have huge online problems? If so, why? MMOs seem far far far better, as do FPS games. So why do the recent spate of RTS all seem to have really craptastic online connectivity and stability?

Most RTS titles are peer-to-peer based whereas MMOGs, due to the nature of it, are server/client based. The former can be problematic in some cases, especially if the netcode isn’t really optimzed. Matchmaking, of course, it a different beast.


In addition, the rise of routers means that most people are using NAT and firewalls, which combined with peer-to-peer networking cause many of the problems people are having. In simpler times, it was just you and the Internet.

I only have issues when I play against Tom Chick.

It’s not just you.

The most stable and lag-free RTS gaming experience I’ve ever had was Warcraft 2 – over an emulated IPX network on a local BBS Gaming Center. We could run 8-player games – with some of the players having only 14.4 modems – and the gameplay would be smooth as a baby’s ass.

That certainly ain’t the case with RTS games these days.

Really, the problem is people. I can fire up a game of Dawn of War with one of my buddies right now, and it’ll be smooth as War2 ever was. But try to get some random fuckheads in the game with us? Prepare for 30 minutes staring at the “Waiting for Other Players” screen, followed by constant lag pauses once we’re in the game.

Why is that? I don’t know, probably because there are assholes out there who think it’s cool to get online with their P75s and crank the detail up to max. In any event, there’s a reason I stick to shooters.

P.S. Try Warcraft 3: Frozen Throne. It’s actually a pretty good RTS, and it’s by far the most stable / lag free RTS game I have played since, uh, Warcraft 2?

I really haven’t had issues other than having to open ports and such. I don’t think the games are any worse today than they were ten years ago when it comes to onilne. In fact, a lot of the old games were more problematic.

Today I pretty much install and play without trouble. I mean, if you’re trying to play eight player matches of anything in an RTS, you’re almost guaranteed to have someone with connection issues. That’s more on the user end than the game though IMO.

So it seems like most folks think there is in fact a problem. IMO, blaming the users is a sorry-ass excuse. The devs need to come up with a solution. Some kind of port/connectivity standard, or something that the user can easily download to optimize connectivity (or have that be part of the game’s multiplayer package). To just blame the users is IMO, a huge cop-out.

Devs have to take the player base as they find it - I have to say if that multiplayer connectivity has become THE make-or-break issue on my long term enjoyment of an RTS.

If the issue really is user-side ports, firewalls, etc, then there are solutions that can be created. To just punt on that is IMO weak.

Also, if these port/firewall etc issues are so horrible, why do they not affect MMO/FPS performance? If its purely b/c RTS are peer-to-peer why are we stuck with peer-to-peer then? I mean if peer-to-peer is so horrible, why don’t we have a better model?

I guess I am feeling frustrated. Dragonshard was completely ruined online by connectivity problems. RIse of Legends also suffered greatly. Even Company of Heroes had serious, repetitive and annoying issues. I have heard that Supreme Commander online is also a mess, although I havent tried it yet, largely due to fear of online frustration.

Maybe the market just doesn’t speak loudly enough on this? To me, the online portion of an RTS is the biggest factor, so online stability/connectivity problems are a killer.

One more point- a big chunk of the problems I’ve seen involve not just connectivity but stability – players crashing or locking up or otherwise getting the BSOD during a game, which ruins the game for the rest of the players (AI replacements are just never adequate in any competitive RTS). This was actually the biggest problem with COH - I feel like in any 2v2 there was a 30% or 40% chance that the game wouldn’t finish b/c someone would crash. The odds were much worse in bigger games. I never actually finished a 4v4 in COH b/c they all lagged so bad people gave up, or someone crashed midway through. If you are making a game intended for 4, 6 and 8 player games, you really have to ensure a very high percentage of stability. For example, a 5% crash chance per game played becomes a 40% chance of a ruined online game in an 8 player game. To give your players a good experience you need to make the game at least 98 or 99% stable. Sadly a lot of games seem to get to 90% stable and say “good enough!”.

Pretty much everything you’re complaining about can be laid at the feet of the users though. If one guy’s PC is crashing while playing the game, that might be the game’s fault, or it might be that his PC isn’t up to the task, or that it’s loaded with spyware or that it’s got a virus. There are countless explanations for it.

I really haven’t had a problem with dropping games, crashing computers or any of that, but then again I know how to configure and maintain my computer. You can’t go opening ports on people’s routers without their consent, so how do you propose to solve that? The Windows firewall will ask you if you want to unblock whatever it is the game needs. Isn’t that really all you can ask?

Finally, while you may think the majority are buying these games for multiplayer, it’s just not true. People play RTS games for the campaigns first, mostly. That’s why the Blizzard RTS games do so well. People want to wiggle units through these silly stories. Heck, Whitta’s moaning about the campaigns in C&C3 and a lot of that thread is discussion of campaign missions outside of us hooking up for online play.

RTS for me is like boardgaming for others so I always go for the online play or skirmish over campaigns, but that’s really the minority. Most folks think they’re just not good enough to play online or don’t have the time to get good enough. So this is all kind of tilting at windmills. We’re a small percentage of the RTS market.

In more general terms, PCs are harder to use than consoles. So you really can blame the users part of the time. Publishers won’t say it out loud, but any complaining about “multiple configurations to support” is partially a problem created by users and their issues on their own PCs. Also, a whole hell of a lot of people have crappy Internet connections, and continue to try to play online with them. Once again, is that the game’s fault? I just don’t think so.

Maybe Vista will solve some of this stuff? I think it’s going to take a much longer time for people to upgrade to it, but it does seem like it’s got a lot of things built in for games. On the other hand, people still have wacky routers, crappy Internet connections (including dial-up) and they’ll still get viruses and spyware and all sorts of other problems that will make their games not work right. Get just one of those in your six player Company of Heroes match and you’re going to be bitching, but it’s really just one guy’s fault.

Relic Online is obnoxious. Meanwhile, people play WC3 with nary a problem. Users’ fault? Maybe for trying to play CoH online? Back in the day CC Generals online was so obnoxious I switched back to Starcraft. The ZH expansion drove the final nail in the coffin.

Most of the people I’ve talked to that have problems with CoH online sometimes have shit just happen, the exception being when Reldan had a bad stick of RAM. Oh, and one time I played with an idiot that left his antivirus on. No one’s even come close to the bar set by Battlenet years ago, which is pathetic, because I would hope to see it surpassed by now.

CoH doesn’t even have 2v2 ranked that you can play with a friend. It has ghost game and ghost player problems. It has problems with what is essentially IRC with a jazzy interface, and the player base isn’t even that large.

As for people not buying RTSes for multi, I think that’s very true for initial sales. Later on, harder to say. At QT3 there seem to be very very few multi players. Doesn’t seem like there’s much competitive play of games in general.

Design a game poorly so it doesn’t run well in multi, and sure, you can blame it on the internet, users, hardware, etc. Those excuses aren’t going to sell any games. Relic isn’t even releasing new maps. Everyone’s tired of the existing (often unbalanced) maps. Again, that’s not going to sell any games. And then there are bug and balance issues. The list goes on.

Splash Damage is one of the only devs I know that have (seemingly) really honed in on making the net code as smooth as tight as possible. Granted, other companies may not have the luxury they do, but it would be nice to see someone else taking that approach.

And to follow up my earlier post…

All I’m going to say is that there’s a goddamn reason I logged on to today and saw 90,000 people playing Warcraft 3.

EDIT: And that reason would be a big amalgamation of the following:

  • I was able to get a 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3 automatch in under 20 seconds.
  • I played three games and not a single person dropped.
  • Lag? Pausing? No.
  • The gameplay’s still strong.

Too bad that to be competitive with online multiplayer RTS games you have to dedicate your whole life to it.

Nah, not really. Usually, bad players can be classified into two groups: “Can’t click fast enough” and “Refuse to conform.”

The former group hasn’t built (or isn’t capable of) the micromanagement ability necessary to play RTS games competitively. These sorts of players can usually be made competitive with coaching and a bit of practice. Learning to shift-click to queue commands so that your peasant automatically resumes harvesting after building a farm, for example. That’s the sort of thing that separates a scrub from a competitive player.

The latter group insists on doing things “their way” instead of simply using the best strategies. These are the sort of folks who will refuse to build listening posts in Dawn of War, even when someone else points out that “building listening posts is necessary to winning the game against someone who isn’t AFK.” Hell, you can always find someone who insists on taking a Lich as his first hero in a game of WC3.

I hate those people. I really do. They claim that they have this creative right to do the same stuff over and over again because it is their asstastic method of playing the game. And even when you rub their nose into beatdown after beatdown and try to explain what they did wrong and why, they still use the same horrific “strategy” and then ruin every game by being so weak that everyone just stomps them in the first five seconds, leaving their team man down, or horrifically crippled by the need to protect the worthless poo pile that is their base.

My vote is that gaming companies should go shoot those people, then work on the connectivity issues. I’ve got this feeling that many of them contribute to that problem.

/rant (yes I did lose a game today because of a moron)

Listening posts are a vital part of DoW gameplay and always have been – and patches have even made the double upgrade useful. There’s no excuse for not building them. I mean, the listening post thing, that’s game-breaking bad, that’s like deciding you’re not going to cap points. “I play ironman: no resources!”

But I haven’t played War3 in years, and I was never that heavily into the multiplayer. Is leading with a Lich really in that league of unworkability?

If I remember, and its been a few months with my short time with WC3, the Lich just out and out sucks as an early tank.

But… Starcraft. Thats where the true shit is. However, i’ve been seeing a LOT of lag problems with it. Probably its old age creeping up on it, and the fact that Blizzard doesn’t seem to really care about the Starcraft players anymore, probably some of the problems.

That, and, well. You know. Starcraft II.

Haha, what can I say? These people exist. I quit playing DoW random team matches because of them.

McBain: “Dude, if you build listening posts, your point is protected from stealth caps and you get more resources. And you actually get back most of the construction cost as soon as it’s done building.”

Guy: “Hey man FUCK you alright? I know what I’m doing! I have plenty of blue.”

Me: “That’s because this is a shared resource game and I have double upgraded all of my posts…”

Guy: “You don’t know SHIT, ok?”

You can see a lot of this if you visit the Relic News forums. People who claim that the Imperial Guard has “no chance” against Tau because “TAU COMMANDER IS TOO STRONG.” Then when you suggest that they use a 2x Psyker command squad and go for early Chimeras, they get all pissed off and claim that it’d never work. Even when presented with replays to the contrary.

^ Note that they’ve patched the game since the last time I played, so this may no longer be the case. Relic loves to totally fucking rape game balance with every single patch.

I’d say he’s easily the worst first hero choice in the game, for any race. He’s slow, doesn’t have very much HP, and isn’t very powerful until he’s leveled 3-4 times and has some items on him. He’s an especially bad choice compared to the Death Knight, who is fast, durable, and dominates from the get-go with Deathcoil.

Nah, Lich was a very useful but specific counter to certain builds, like the “mass footman” attack. With Gloves of Haste and a couple damage orbs (post-expansion), toss an Unholy Frenzy on him, and the Lich could dish out a really decent amount of ordinary damage.

The Lich was almost useless pre-expansion, but with the post-expansion item shop, with things like the Rod of Necromancy, he was viable, especially in team games if you could keep him alive.

Yeah, but by the time you have “a couple of damage orbs,” you have two heroes. For the harrass/CC phase of the game, he sucks. If we’re talking about truly competitive play, I don’t think anybody would go lich first.

Since we are talking about about perceptions, it probably boils down to the different types of games. RTS games are a very different beast from an FPS, certainly in terms of time commitment (20 minutes to an hour or more vs. about 10 minutes) and the importance of a single player in an online round (pivotal vs. he’ll be back in a sec).

When a player is dropped from a FPS for any reason (crashes, network issues, boredom), you may not notice. He may be free to join back in. In a typical game of Battlefield, the teams are changing constantly.

When that same player drops from an RTS, the game is spoiled. His team is useless.

Now some games handle problems better than others (Warcraft III certainly has a crapload of development time behind it and its fast play style probably helps) but I think a lot of it is just perception. RTS games seem unstable because when something bad happens, everyone is screwed.

All the reasons I’ve seen in this thread about why online RTS multiplayer sucks don’t explain War3 or SC, which somehow don’t seem to have any of these issues despite being peer-to-peer games.

I know Blizzard is a powerhouse, but is the bar to make RTS multiplayer work really THAT high?

I honestly really, really hate single player campaigns for RTS games. The one thing I’ll agree with Dave Long on in this thread is that RTS games are like boardgaming for me - I play them for the competitive aspect. I’ll also agree that to be commercially viable the games need to have solid single-player, simply because that’s what’s going to sell copies to the non-competitive masses. I blame our society and it’s “everybody’s a winner” attitude which discourages competition so that no one ever has to lose.

On a sidenote, there was a point pre-Frozen Throne where Lich-first was viable on some maps. This was back when Cannibalize for ghouls was really good and really fast, so you didn’t need the Death Knight in order to effectively creep without losing units or taking attrition. The trick would be to get your Lich to level 4 asap through fast creeping, at which point Lvl 2 Frost Nova with Lvl 2 Dark Ritual would allow you to chew through early enemy armies.

Nowadays… Lich-first is suicide, since you can’t creep with him and he’s too slow and too low-HP to be able to harass.