Remember LAN gaming? Gaming on Local Area Networks was the way to play back in the 90s. You had to haul all your equipment to your friends or a central location if you were not lucky enough to have enough computer systems standing around for the weekly game of Quake, Half-life or Starcraft.
Most games of today are still offering options to play on a LAN instead of the Internet. Great for LAN parties for instance. Some old games on the other hand can only be played over LAN and not the Internet.
That's were LAN gaming emulators can be very helpful. But those programs are also very popular with players who download their games from the Internet as LAN gaming is often possible whereas Internet gaming is not (most games require a unique serial number which gets checked on the Internet but not on LAN).
Please do note that it is not legal to download and play games this way.
All three solutions that are reviewed in this guide use virtual private networks to extend the local area network. Users from all over the world can join the same LAN this way.
The free version of Hamachi allows up to 16 clients to be connected to the same network, sufficient for extensive gaming sessions with a bunch of friends.
It is the only program of the three that requires initial communication between the participants before it is possible to connect to the virtual LAN.
LogMeIn Hamachi² is a hosted VPN service that securely connects devices and networks, extending LAN-like network connectivity to mobile users, distributed teams and business applications. You can easily create secure virtual networks on demand, across public and private networks. Hamachi² is managed and maintained from anywhere via the web, securely.
Every Hamachi users needs an account. Networks are created in the Hamachi client and the other participants need to know the name of the network (and password) to be able to connect to it. This is a one-time process as all previously used networks are recorded in the software for easier access in successive sessions.
Hamachi can be difficulty to setup, depending on the order of network adapters in the operating system. Basic PC troubleshooting skills may be needed to run it properly.
Hamachi is available for Microsoft Windows operating systems only. A Linux beta version is available on the developer's website, it is currently only available as a command line tool. It is immediately obvious that
All clients in the selected network channel who have launched the game are able to create and join LAN games. Hamachi uses 256-bit AES encryption to secure the communication between clients.
Verdict: Hamachi offers lots of configuration options that the other programs do not offer. It offers better privacy thanks to the fact that only clients who know the network name and password will be able to join it. The downsides are that it may require some troubleshooting before it can be used and that there is no option to play with strangers.
Tunngle uses a similar system to offer a virtual LAN to clients. Users need to create a Tunngle account before they can connect to the software and the virtual networks.
Tunngle is a different breed of program. Every user connects to the same server that offers access to channels and community features via the network explorer menu.
Channels are divided into gaming categories and chat lobbies. Gamers who want to play a round of Warcraft 3 would for instance need to click on Strategy, then Warcraft 3 Frozen Throne to join the virtual LAN and chatroom for that game.
Every client who joined the channel is available for gaming, the maximum number of clients is 255 for every channel.
The basic game setup works like this. The client launches Tunngle, switches to the channel of the game, and starts the game afterwards.
All people in the same game room will be available for LAN play. The main advantage of Tunngle, and Garena for that matter, over Hamachi is the fact that they provide access to a gaming community on top of the virtual LAN gaming capabilities. This makes it possible to play games even if friends are not available at that time.
Tunngle uses 256-bit AES encryption just like Hamachi does to secure the computer connections.
Tunngle is currently labeled beta. The developers have announced plans to offer a free basic version and a premium version with advanced features after the beta phase.
Garena is similar to Tunngle in many regards. It was available before Tunngle and offers additional community features and a bigger community at this point.
The underlying technique is the same. Players create an account and use the Garena software to connect to the virtual network.
Game rooms are available that need to be joined to play with the other people over LAN.
The community features are extensive, Garena features avatars, message logs, tournaments, blocking users, friends, replays, ladders and more.
The available game list is considerable smaller than that of Tunngle, the gaming channels on the other hand are filled with players, which is not always the case on Tunngle.
Garena is only available for Microsoft Windows operating system.
Hamachi is excellent for users who only want to play with their friends. Tunngle offers the largest assortment of games while Garena the largest player count.
Have you been using any of the applications reviewed in this article? Share your experience with us in the comments.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.