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Chapter 12: Gaming over a Wireless Home Network 237

Dealing with Router Configurations

So far in this chapter, we talk a bit about the services and hardware that you need to get into online gaming using your wireless network. What we haven’t covered yet — getting online and playing a game — will be either the easiest or the hardest part of the equation. The difficulty of this task depends upon two things:

The platform that you’re using: If you’re trying to get online with a PC (whether it’s Windows-based or a Mac) . . . well, basically there’s nothing special to worry about. You just need to get it connected to the Internet as we describe in Chapter 9. For certain games, you might have to do a few fancy things with your router, which we’ll discuss later in this chapter. If you’re using a gaming console, you might have to adjust a few things in your router to get your online connection working, but when using a game console with many routers, you can just plug in your wireless equipment and go, too.

What you’re trying to do: For many games, after you establish an Internet connection, you’re ready to start playing. Some games, however, will require you to make some adjustments to your router’s configuration. If you’re planning on hosting the games on your PC (meaning that your online friends will be remotely connecting to your PC), you’re definitely going to have to do a bit of configuration.

Don’t sweat it, though. It’s usually not all that hard to get gaming set up, and it’s getting easier every day. We say that it’s getting easier because the companies that make wireless LAN equipment and home routers realize that gaming is a growth industry for them. And they know that they can sell more equipment if they can help people get devices like game consoles online.

You need to accomplish two things to get your online gaming — well, we can’t think of a better term — online:

1.Get an Internet Protocol (IP) address.

Your access point needs to recognize your gaming PC’s or console’s network adapter and your console’s wireless Ethernet bridge, if you’ve got one in your network configuration. If you’ve got WEP configured (see Chapter 10), your game machine will need to provide the proper password. And your router (whether it’s in the access point or it’s separate) will need to provide an IP address to your gaming machine.

2.Get through your router’s firewall.

The previous step is really pretty easy. The step that’s going to take some time is configuring the firewall feature of your router to allow gaming programs to function properly.

238 Part IV: Using a Wireless Network

Getting an IP address

For the most part, if you’ve set up your router to provide IP addresses within your network using DHCP (as we discuss in Chapters 5 and 7), your gaming PC or gaming console will automatically connect to the router when the device is turned on and will send a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) request to the router asking for an IP address. If you’ve configured your gaming PC like we discuss in Chapters 7 and 8, your computer should get its IP address and be online automatically. Or, as we like to say about this kind of neat stuff, automagically. You might need to go into a program to select an access point and enter your WEP password, but otherwise, it should just work without any intervention.

If you’ve got a game console with a wireless Ethernet bridge, the process should be almost as smooth. The first time that you use the bridge, you might need to use a Web-browser interface on one of your PCs to set up WEP passwords; otherwise, your router should automatically assign an IP address to your console. Sometimes, however, a router might not be completely compatible with a gaming console. Keep in mind that online console gaming was introduced in November of 2002, and many home router models have been around much longer than that.

Before you get all wrapped around the axle trying to get your game console connected to your router, check out the Web site of your particular console maker and your router manufacturer. We have no doubt that you’ll find a lot of information about how to make this connection using those resources. In many cases, if you’re having troubles getting your router to assign an IP address to your console, you’ll need to download a firmware upgrade for your router. Firmware is the software that lives inside your router and that tells your router how to behave. Most router vendors have released updated firmware to help their older router models work with gaming consoles.

Some older router models simply aren’t going to work with gaming consoles. If online gaming is an important part of your plans, check the Web sites that we mention earlier above before you choose a router.

In most cases, if your console doesn’t get assigned an IP address automatically, you’ll need to go into your router’s setup program — most use a Web browser on a networked PC to adjust the configuration — and manually assign a fixed IP address to the console. Unlike DHCP-assigned IP addresses (which can change every time a computer logs onto the network), this fixed IP address will always be assigned to your console.

Chapter 12: Gaming over a Wireless Home Network 239

Every router has a slightly different system for doing this, but typically you’ll simply select an IP address that isn’t in the range of DHCP addresses that your router automatically assigns to devices connected to your network.

You will need to assign an IP address that isn’t in the range of your router’s IP address pool but that is within the same subnet. In other words, if your router assigns IP addresses in the 192.168.0.xxx range, you’ll need to use an IP address beginning with 192.168.0 for your game console. For example, if your router uses the range of to for computers connected to the network, you’ll want to choose an IP address like for your console. Every router’s configuration program is different, but you’ll typically see a box that reads something like DHCP Server Start IP Address (with an IP address next to it) and another box that reads something like DHCP Server Finish IP Address with another box containing an IP address. (Some routers might just list the start address, followed by a count — meaning that the finish address is the last number in the start address plus the count number.)

The key thing to remember here is that you’ve only got to come up with the last number in the IP address — the number after the third period in the IP address. The first three (which are usually 192.168.0) won’t change. All you need to do to assign this IP address is to pick a number between 0 and 254 that is not in the range that your router uses for DHCP.

Dealing with port forwarding

After you have your gaming PC or game console assigned an IP address and you’re connected to the Internet, you might very well be ready to start playing games. Our advice: Give it a try and see what happens. Depending upon the games that you play, any additional steps might not be needed.

The steps that we’re about to discuss shouldn’t be required for a game console. And although we haven’t checked out every single game out there, we haven’t run into any incidences where you need to get involved with the port forwarding that we’re about to discuss with a game console. After you get your console assigned an IP address and connected to the Internet, you should be ready to start playing. If you have an older router that doesn’t work well with console games, you might consider putting your console on the router’s DMZ as we discuss in the upcoming section “Setting Up a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).”

240 Part IV: Using a Wireless Network

If, however, your games don’t work, you might need to get involved in configuring the firewall and Network Address Translation (NAT). As we discuss in Chapters 5 and 9, home network routers use a system called NAT to connect multiple devices to a single Internet connection. What NAT does, basically, is translate between public Internet IP addresses and internal IP addresses on your home’s network. When a computer or other device is connected to your home network (wirelessly or even a wired network), the router assigns it an internal IP address. Similarly, when your router connects to the Internet, it’s assigned its own public IP address: that is, its own identifying location on the Internet. Traffic flowing to and from your house uses this public IP address to find its way. After the traffic (which can be gaming data, an e-mail, a Web page . . . whatever) gets to the router, the NAT function of the router figures out to which PC (or other device) in the house to send that data.

One important feature of NAT is that it provides a firewall functionality for your network. NAT knows which computer to send data to on your network because that computer has typically sent a request over the Internet for that bit of data. For example, when a computer requests a Web page, your NAT router knows which computer made the request so that when the Web page is downloaded, it gets sent to the right PC. If no device on the network has made a request — meaning that an unrequested bit of data shows up at your public IP address — NAT doesn’t know where to send it. This provides a security firewall function for your network because it keeps this unrequested data (which could be some sort of security risk) off your network.

NAT is a cool thing because it lets multiple computers share a single public IP address and Internet connection and because it helps keep the bad guys off your network. NAT can, however, cause problems with some applications that might require this unrequested data to work properly. For example, if you have a Web server on your network, you would rightly expect that people would try to download and view Web pages without your PC sending them any kind of initial request. After all, your Web server isn’t clairvoyant. (At least ours isn’t!)

Gaming can also be an application that relies upon unrequested connections to work properly. For example, you might want to host a game with your friends on your PC, which means that their PCs will try to get through your router and connect directly with your PC. Even if you’re not hosting the game, some games will send chunks of unrequested data to your computer as part of the game play. Other applications that might do this include things such as audio and video conferencing programs (such as Windows Messenger) and remote control programs (such as pcAnywhere).

Chapter 12: Gaming over a Wireless Home Network 241

In order to get these games (or other programs) to work properly over your wireless home network and through your router, you need to get into your router’s configuration program and punch some holes in your firewall by setting up NAT port forwarding.

Of the many routers out there, they don’t all call this port forwarding. Read your manual. (Really, we mean it. Read the darn thing. We know it’s boring, but it can be your friend.) Look for terms like special applications support or virtual servers.

Port forwarding effectively opens a hole in your firewall that will not only allow legitimate game or other application data through but might also let the bad guys in as well. Only set up port forwarding when you have to and keep an eye on the logs. (Your router should keep a log of who it lets in — check the manual to see how to find and read this log.) We also recommend that you consider using personal firewall software on your networked PCs (we like ZoneAlarm, www.zonelabs.com) and that you keep your antivirus software up to date.

Some routers let you set up something called application triggered port forwarding, which basically allows your router to look for certain signals coming from an application on your computer (the triggers), and then enable port forwarding. This is a more secure option, if it’s available to you, because when the program that requires port forwarding (your game, in this case) is not running, your ports are closed. They only open when the game (or other application) requires them to be opened.

When you set up port forwarding on your router, you are selecting specific ports (ports are actually a subsegment of an IP address — a computer with a specific IP address will use different numbered ports to connect different applications to the network) and sending any and all incoming requests using those ports to a specific computer or device on your network. When you get involved in setting up port forwarding, you’ll notice two kinds of ports: TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) and UDP (User Datagram Protocol). These names relate to the two primary ways by which data is carried on the Internet, and you might have to set up port forwarding for both TCP and UDP ports, depending upon the application.

Every router or access point will have its own unique system for configuring port forwarding. Generally speaking, you’ll find the port forwarding section of the configuration program, and simply type the port numbers you want to open up into a text box on the screen. For example, Figure 12-3 shows port forwarding being configured on a Siemens SpeedStream router/access point.

242 Part IV: Using a Wireless Network

As we mention earlier, ports are assigned specific numbers. And to get some gaming applications to work properly, you’ll need to open (assign) port forwarding for a pretty big range of port numbers. The best way to find out which ports need to be opened is to read the manual or search the Web page of the game software vendor. You can also find a relatively comprehensive list online at practicallynetworked.com/sharing/app_port_list.htm.

Figure 12-3:

Setting up port forwarding.

If your router is UPnP-enabled (Universal Plug and Play, a system developed by Microsoft and others, that — among other things — automatically configures port forwarding for you) and the PC game that you’re using uses Microsoft’s DirectX gaming, the router and the game should be able to talk to each other and automatically set up the appropriate port forwarding. Just make sure that you enable UPnP in your router’s configuration system — this will usually be a check box in the router’s configuration program.