Part 1: The options available
1. Use Windows' tools
Everything you need to set up a VPN is built into Windows 7. It's straightforward to do, as well. The only catch is that you'll need compatible hardware, and if anything goes wrong – as it almost inevitably will – you're on your own when it comes to trying to fix it.
Still, it's free, and it puts you in complete control, plus it's unlikely to do any lasting damage if it does mess up. So why not give it a go?
2. Ham it up with Hamachi
Hamachi is one of the best known VPN applications around, and with good reason. Designed by the remote desktop specialist LogMeIn (a remote desktop is essentially a very private network), all you need to get things working is the client software from https://secure.logmein.com/products/hamachi.
It's not free (although there is a trial), and because it's designed for corporate use, it has a lot of features you'll never use.
3. It's Tunngle time
A VPN works by creating a tunnelling layer over the internet, hence Tunngle. This application is similar to Hamachi in terms of ease of use, but is designed with gaming in mind.
The Tunngle servers do most of the work, and while the lobby system for creating VPNs isn't as private as you might like, it doubles as a community tool like Gamespy or Xfire for finding like-minded players.
Part 2: Setting up a VPN with Windows 7
1. Getting started
Windows 7 has everything you need to create a VPN built in, although if was quite as simple as that, no one would bother making simple clients like Tunngle.
Among your friends, choose who is going to be the VPN host – all that means is that their PC is the one others will need to connect to in order to join the VPN. Open up Control Panel on that PC, and go to Network and Sharing Centre.
2. Create a new connection
In the right-hand panel, click 'Change adaptor settings'. This will bring up a window with your network adaptors in.
Press [Alt] to bring up the menu bar, and select 'New incoming connection'. You'll need to issue all the players with user accounts and passwords to your PC, and this is where you create them. Click 'Add someone' and enter their details, then use the checkboxes to give them access permissions.
3. Networking by numbers
The next dialog box will ask you how people are going to connecting to your computer. Check the box for 'Through the Internet', then click 'Next'.
A new box will open asking you what protocols will be used for your VPN – you can leave IPv6 unchecked, just make sure that TCP/IPv4 is definitely selected. You can change the properties of any of these settings by clicking the button on the right.
4. Assign IP addresses
In Properties for TCP/IPv4, for example, you can change how IP addresses are assigned to the computers who connect to your network.
It's safest to leave this on 'Assign IP addresses automatically using DCHP', but you can assign specific ranges if you want to. Remember this is not the same as your PC's address on your own LAN, though, or you router's IP address for the internet.
5. Configure adaptor
You're almost done. Click 'Allow access' and Windows will configure the new virtual adaptor for you. It'll appear alongside your Ethernet and wireless adaptors in Network Connections, and you can right-click to change its properties.
Accept the changes, restart your PC and you should find the new adaptor in Network Connections. Right-click on it and check the box for 'Virtual private network'.
6. Moving forward
To finish, you need to set up port forwarding on your router. Go to your router settings (every router is different) and find the option for this.
Create a rule that sends all of the traffic for port 1723 to your host PC. Your friends just need to type 'Create a VPN' into the Start menu, and follow the wizard using the IP address of your router as a destination. Congratulations, you're all networked together!
Part 3: Install and set up Tunngle
The gamers' VPN service is easy to use and works with all versions of Windows
1. In a Tunngle
Tunngle is a great tool, and best of all, it's free. It takes the heavy lifting out of setting up a VPN for gaming, because you aren't really setting up a VPN at all.
The tricky bit, with DHCP servers etc, is taken care of at Tunngle HQ. All you need to do is download a client and join in. If you're running a software firewall, you'll need to make sure Tunngle is allowed through.
2. Get connected
When you install Tunngle, you should find that as well as the client software, a new network connection has appeared in Windows Explorer.
This is what you'll be using to communicate with friends. You'll need to create a username and password on the main website, then just fire up the client. On the left is a list of game genres, on the right a list of people, and in the middle a main chat window.
3. Find a lobby
Now select the genre of your game and you should be directed to a lobby that you can join. If your chosen game isn't included in the default list of titles, you should join the Misc channel instead.
Every time you navigate this tree, you should be able to see Tunngle logging in you in and out of various different VPNs – keep an eye on the IP address in the bottom left of the window.
4. Start playing
Once you've connected to a lobby/network, minimise Tunngle and start your game server. If your friends are logged into the same lobby, they should be able to see it and play as if on the same LAN.
If you're having problems, you may need to set up port forwarding for Tunngle. In the options menu you can change which port you want to use, or if your router is compatible, use UPnP to configure this.