In early 2005, I was experimenting with networking and computer games to find a way for people on the Internet to play “private” (also known as local or LAN) games, even though they were physically in different places. I called this LanAnywhere. The original site is no longer up, but here is the front page and the FAQ page.
There are many good and bad reasons to do this, but usually people want to play this way to bypass the official matchmaking services, try out game hacks or to quickly play head-to-head. Official online gaming usually happens via GameSpy, which frequently has its own unpleasant set of problems that go unfixed for months.
My attempt to take a stab at this involved using VPN (Virtual Private Network) functionality built into Windows 2000 and XP to connect players via a central VPN server in such a way as to fool the games into thinking they are on the same local network, therefore enabling the local (LAN) game modes.
This sort of worked. After more testing it turned out that the speed was seriously limited because the connections went through a central server and many games failed to work because of the slightly non-standard way they send and receive information. There were a few people who did manage to play some games, but in the end it just didn’t work well enough. So that was it.
Around the same time I also ran into an incredible project called Hamachi. Hamachi is a much better approach to the problem as it connects the participants directly into a special private network over an encrypted channel. It is also for many more things than just games, but for games it has been working very well. Alex Pankratov, who seems to be largely responsible for it, has done an amazing job in putting it together, technically and even aesthetically (such pretty UI!).