So the other night I was playing Trackmania Nations Forever (the same game I just finished reviewing) online with friend. Or at least, I was trying to. You see, despite all these advances in computer technology, for some reason networks and routers seem to be determined to remain as obtusely difficult as they have always been. While I could join my friend in a game, for some reason I was unable to host or set up any sort of game on my own. I've recalled having the same problem before with other titles and I have to say, I'm still mystified.
Networks seem to be one area of gaming (or basic computer usage for that matter) that stubbornly refuse to adapt or grow, at least to a certain extent. As a matter of fact, the situation is so obtuse I halfway expect network engineers of designing it that way as a method of job security. Maybe I'm just uneducated (and granted, I've never had an easy time with networks) but it seems to me that there must be an easier way of connecting one computer to another. Last night, as I fought my router for the ability to host a single game of Trackmania, I met failure after failure, even with online guides and resources. Why on earth should I need to find some obscure set of numbers representing ports? What would be so wrong with me simply telling my router to "Allow this program"? The functionality is there. My "gaming" router (which is a piece of garbage, I will never buy a LinkSys again) has "for my convenience" a selection of "ten common games" that I can automatically select.
Of course, this list works about as well as you would expect, showing a complete lack of knowledge of games. This router, which was purchased in late 2008, has presets for games such as Half-Life, Age of Empires, Quake II, Unreal Tournament, and several others, the most recent of which is Return to Castle Wolfenstien. Now, with the exception of Wolfenstien, each of these titles is well over a decade old. Oh boy, Quake II! Let's get out the Voodoo card and boot up Windows 98 so we can run it in a Dos window! In each of these cases, not only are the titles horridly outdated (with the one luck struck assumption of Counterstrike, still going all these years later) but most of them have been replaced by sequels...some several of them. This list reads like an employee who typed in the phrase "video game" on Google and then wrote down the first ten hits.
So why doesn't the router have some more viable settings? Well, partially because the company couldn't be bothered to hunt down the specific details of each and every game, although they could have at least made more of an effort to be modern. This won't really help either though, as new games are being released all the time.
What networking and routers need is a major overhaul of some sort to the way they work. Or even just smarter programming. All of the info I need to make my game work online is right on the computer, why can't the router be smart enough to just make the connections itself? We know that this is done on some level. And X-box 360, for example, is pretty much plug and play. Connect it to the network and away you go with all your games. Why on earth are PCs so far behind in this one regard? We need overhaul, the sooner, the better.