On a PC, you can still play old games — which isn’t true for consoles. You may even find yourself actively buying these old games as they show up on great sales on Steam and elsewhere.
Many old multiplayer PC games have long since shut down their Internet multiplayer services and only offer local area network (LAN) support. Other games may work over the Internet, but may require tedious port-forwarding.
VPNs to the Rescue
Virtual private networks, or VPNs, allow you to set up a sort of virtual local network. Connect two computers to the VPN — even computers located on two different sides of the world — and they’ll appear to be on the same local network. Local network traffic will flow between the two computers as if they were directly connected to each other. A VPN will work even if you don’t have the ability to forward ports — for example, if you’re on a university-wide network.
Games will think you and your friends are playing on the same local area network if you’re connected to the same VPN as the person you want to play the game with. There’s no need to mess around with port forwarding on your router — you appear to be on the same LAN so traffic between your two computers will travel over the Internet via the VPN connection.
Of course, this will never be quite as good as a real LAN connection. You won’t have the low latency a LAN connection gives you, as you’ll still be dealing with the latency that sending traffic over the Internet adds. However, there should ideally be no more latency than if you were playing the game over the Internet in the first place.
How (and Why) To Use Hamachi
Now, you could really use any VPN software for this. You could even set up your own VPN server with the tools included in Windows. However, this is more work. For example, you’d have to set up port forwarding so your personal VPN server would be accessible over the Internet and manage the security settings on your own.
For ease of use, we’re going to recommend the VPN tool most gamers have preferred for years — LogMeIn’s Hamachi. It’s an easy-to-use tool that doesn’t require knowledge of VPNs or port forwarding. LogMeIn offers a paid version of Hamachi, but the free version will work just fine for casual use. If you want to play a game with more than five people, you’ll need to find a different VPN service or to purchase the paid version of Hamachi.
First, download Hamachi. Download the Unmanaged client and you won’t have to set up a LogMeIn account.
After installing Hamachi, just launch it and click the Power On button.
Enter a name for your computer and you’ll receive a Hamachi network address.
You’ll now either need to create a new Hamachi network or connect to an existing one.
If you’re creating the network, click the Create a new network button. Enter a network ID and password for your new network — you’ll need to give this to the people you want to play games with so they can join your network.
If someone you know has already created a network, you’ll just need to click the Join an existing network button, then enter the network ID and password.
You’ll see everyone connected to the network appear in the Hamachi window. This will also display their “local” Hamachi IP addresses, which you may need to specify and connect directly to in your games.
With everyone connected, you can now fire up a game and start a LAN game as if the other people were on your home network.
Other people should be able to join the same game by browsing for it in the game’s LAN server browser. If you don’t see the game listed in the server browser, enter the Hamachi IP — displayed in the Hamachi window — of the person hosting the game and connect directly to them.
Unfortunately, some old games may not work smoothly without some more tweaks. If you’re having trouble, you may want to Google the name of your game and “Hamachi” to find more information from other people that have likely already gotten the game’s multiplayer to work properly over Hamachi.
Image Credit: Will Merydith on Flickr
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