Optimising low speed connections (dial-up)
Suffering the "Low Ping Blues". Are you using a 28/33/56k (analogue) modem access to the web. Yes? Then read on.. the following applies to playing a game and setting up a server with a 28/33/56k modem.
If you set up your server with 56k modem (analogue) access you'll find this causes a fair few connection 'blips'. Telephone lines (in the UK at least..!) have reached max. capacity, and although you can get a connection (from you to the www) speed of 56,000kb/sec (very rare beast this, it should be on the 'endangered species' list..!) your download speed (from web to your PC) rarely gets above 6,000kb/sec. This is the main reason the ping goes really cr*p during q3 (again in the UK...) information can't be received by the PC fast enough to keep up.
There is another reason for bad pings and it has to do with the 'baud rate' of the COMM port your modem is connected to (this assumes you are using a 'Serial' cable connection from your modem to a socket/port on the back of your PC). Simply put the 'baud rate' is the the amount of information the modem's COMM port can handle at any one time, it's often referred to as 'bandwidth'.
Although when you first install your modem the baud rate is usually set to 115,000kbit/sec (later versions of windows can set even higher baud rates) it never uses this setting to it's fullest, it has the potential to receive that amount of info, but using an analogue modem it'll never get to that especially when you consider that a 56k modem receives half the band width of the 115k baud rate.
One solution to this (that incidentally only works with external modems) is to find and install modem drivers that tell or force the modem to use the full bandwidth.
This will improve the download speed slightly (from web to you), an average 3,500kb/sec connection will improve to 4,600-5,200kb/sec, not quite double but it does make a difference at the cost of reliability, it's temperamental, it'll work well with some modems and not so well with others.
When you connect to a game server (other then your own..!) everybody playing that game has to 'compete' for a piece of the over-all bandwidth of the game server. Cable modems (and other digital devices) gobble up bandwidth so by the time you join with your lowly 56k analogue modem you might as well be 'pissing in the wind...'. A 56k modem can't compete with the bandwidth of cable/digital connections, this is one of the main reason why the 'cable guy' has such good pings (less then 100), they can quite literally run circles around and frag you before you realise there's someone there.
If you have the budget and inclination there are ways to improve your connection; ISDN or another telephone line or cable (there is a even faster 4th option, ADSL, but it's 'subject to survey' which means if BT haven't switched it on in your area you ain't gonna get it.!).
If you can get a cable connection and use a digital/cable modem then you've got a fighting chance. Telephone access is normally bundled with a digital TV subscription service. Long term very cost effective. ISDN is expensive but it has a bandwidth which starts at 115k/sec, the more money you spend the higher the bandwidth, the max is currently around 2Mbit/sec. You need a special ISDN card to handle this sort of bandwidth.
A second telephone line is more affordable, the really clever thing you can do here is 'MultiLink' modems to use BOTH lines at the same time (Win98 only but you can download shareware that will do it on other OS's). This means you can dial into your ISP using both modems (if they support Multilink) and effectively double your bandwidth.
Hardware hacking and connection boosts
People say you can't or shouldn't do stuff like this but, get hold of an ISDN card and dial into your ISP as normal, see if it makes any difference (ISDN cards are designed to handle more data then 56k modems), we're going to test this out soon, we'll report back here... (update: tried this, can't be done without the proper connector as the it uses that same type as a network card, namely the RJ45 socket connector not the RJ11 of a phone line).
PC setup and connection speeds
If you're creating a game server, ideally you want two PC's, one for the server and to which the modem is attached, it doesn't need to be powerful, a p200 or equivalent will be more then adequate, and one for the game, you log onto the server via LAN cards, this is the only way to get really good pings.
One thing to watch out for when you log onto someone else's game server is if they're running both the server and game on the same PC (you won't find this out unless you ask when playing 'who's server is this..?) you will get a really bad ping, the PC is having to do to much, run the game server AND the game being played on top of it, not forgetting data transmission over the connection...!