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Co-Playing PC Games With Friends Across The Country With Parsec

by Benjy Boxer

When we were kids, some of our best memories were calling a bunch of friends and taking turns trying to beat a boss. The first person to get past the checkpoint or beat the boss was able to claim bragging rights until the next level. Inevitably, they failed to repeat their victory and a new person was crowned champion. Whether it was Mario, Final Fantasy, Golden Eye, Zelda, or Doom, getting past that one boss or stage of the game was something we loved (and hated) watching a friend accomplish.

At Parsec, one of our goals is to recreate this experience virtually. We’re not all the way there yet, but we’ve set out to build the virtual gameroom for friends to watch, co-play, and pass controllers back and forth via a shared computer. Our low latency video streamer allows a friend to connect to your gaming PC remotely, watch you play, and then you can virtually pass the controller to them. Passing them the controller puts your friend in the driver’s seat while you passively watch them beat that next stage of the game (or get owned).

To accomplish this, we implemented a networking infrastructure that lets anyone create a gaming server on their home PC. As long as you have a 64-bit Windows 8.1 (or better) machine with a hardware encoder, you can host gaming sessions with a friend. Eventually, we’ll allow multiple friends to connect in passive mode or player mode, but for now, you can invite just one friend at a time.

On the networking side, we’ve built our own UDP protocol, implemented UPnP, and hole punching to open a remote connection between you and your friend. In most cases, these automatic methods will work, but if not, you can manually forward your ports at the router. Only one person (the host) needs to own a gaming PC, while the other friend can use a lower-powered Windows PC, Mac, or even Raspberry Pi 3 to Parsec into the gaming machine.

Using Parsec, one of our co-founders, Chris, and an engineer on the team (and his sister), Jamie, have played or watched each other play World of Warcaft for hours. Jamie is a lot better, so Chris is learning a few tricks from his older sister ;), but the point is that they’ve recreated the numerous evenings they used to play together on the couch growing up. The difference is that this time, Jamie is in Austin and Chris is in New York City. Parsec makes it feel like they’re in the same room, playing together.

We hope that Parsec allows you to rekindle these memories with a friend, sibling, or relative like it has for Chris and Jamie.

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