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THOSE, WHO CAN, 106
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There’s more than one meaning to cheating in games. Jim Rossignol reveals the good, the bad, and the entirely necessary for the sake of fun
heating can, of course, be a good thing. We’ve all entered cheat codes into games to unlock special modes, to obtain weapons, to give ourselves infinite ammo, or extra lives. The reason those cheat codes exist is that the developers knew their prospective players would want the option to play the game in those ways: to skip levels and open up options. This kind of cheating isn’t really cheating at all, it’s more like an admission by the game designers that the rules they’ve made might as well be bent, and even formalised with specific keys to unlock them as the player sees fit. They’re an extension to the original game. But cheating, in the strictest sense, means not playing by the rules of a game, and benefiting from your actions as a result. There are several cases where cheating isn’t simply a cheeky secret hidden inside the game, but an outright violation of the way we expect games to be played. The most famous of these cheats are probably ‘hacks’ and ‘bots’, in which games are either rewritten by players for their own ends, or are played out by computer programs to the benefit of the player who uses them. In the course of this article we’ll look at both of these phenomena, and see how the people who run games and their communities have attempted to deal the problem cheating presents. However, there are a couple of other aspects to cheating which aren’t usually mentioned, and I’d like to touch on those here too. The first is the situation which arises when a single player game allows the computer side to ‘cheat’, because it can’t rely on AI to challenge a human player. The other is when developers themselves manipulate their own games, to give themselves an unfair advantage in play. When multiplayer games are a social phenomenon, and a kind of pact between developer and player, who really gets to make the rules? We’ll be finding out.
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Those who can, cheat The necessary cheat
The lead designer of Civilization 4, Soren Johnson, blogged (at www. designer-notes.com) about the very specific problems that designers face when making single-player games a fair challenge for players. “Under symmetrical conditions,” he wrote, “artificial intelligence often needs to cheat just to be able to compete with the player. Accordingly, designers must learn what cheats feel fair to a player and what cheats do not. As the Puzzle Quest team knows, games need to avoid situations in which players even suspect that the game is cheating on them.” Puzzle Quest, as Johnson points out, is easily accused of cheating, because the computer could easily ‘know’ what the next line of puzzlejewels was going to be, just as it might know that the next shape would be in competitive Tetris. This made cheating by the computer a possibility – even a distinct probability – in the minds of many players, to the detriment of the player experience. Another example might be the recently released Red Faction Guerilla – a third-person action game with a wide-open Martian world – in which the
game spawns enemies just out of sight,, which then run in to attack the player. This means an empty building, cleared of enemies seconds ago, can contain opponents again just moments later. Until you notice this happening – which everyone eventually does – you think you’re just up against waves of reinforcements. But the illusion does not and cannot last, because these enemies appear even when it’s ‘unfair’ or illogical for them to do so. A brilliant game, one of the best of the year, but it still feels like it’s cheating. Johnson points out how frustrating this can be for players, but it’s not something that game designers can necessarily avoid. If games are going to be suitably balanced for players to face a challenge, while still being allowed to win, then such artificial system must be in place. Johnson’s example is that of racing games, where computercontrolled cars slow down or speed up their pace relative to the player to create a fun experience. If the computer cars drove realistically then one mistake would pretty much put the player out of the race, every time. This would not be entertaining, and most people would not enjoy racing games.
“If cars drove realistically then one mistake would put the player out of the race every time”
Right Does PuzzleQuest really cheat? Many games have to in order to get the upper hand
I played chess against international grandmaster Rick Witter. He had my queen in a corner, my king against a wall, and had smorgasboarded my pawns. It looked like I was going to lose. So I kicked him in the cock and ran off. Henry Winchester Staff Writer
It’s notable that the racing games which do not include such concessions to the player are seen as extremely hardcore, and appeal only to limited audiences. Cheating, here, is a good thing. Of course, what matters is how the player perceives that artificiality. If done subtly, then it’s not a problem – such as waves of enemies in FPS games arriving from places where it makes sense for them to appear, or races in which you’re constantly struggling to overtake, and don’t see the cars slowing down to let you cross the line. Necessary cheating in a single player game comes about where the competition is asymmetrical between player and PC, and the final judgement is always made on whether the player is able to win, and enjoy doing so.
Games played against other human beings, however, must be fair. Even when teams are not exactly symmetrical, such as in Left 4 Dead’s survivors vs infected, every effort is paid to balancing the experience for players on both sides of the game. The best players must win by virtue of skill alone. Of course, that’s not always the case, because when cheats appear, it’s not by design, but by malign intention. In online gaming there are two major modes of cheating. The first of these
Below The game world in Red Faction has to ‘cheat’ to keep things challenging for the player
Various methods can be used to see enemies through walls. This is one of the prettier hacks for Counter-Strike
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Those who can, cheat
IT’S ALL A SCAM
Is virtual fraud cheating? Apparently not
ALAN are loosely termed ‘hacks’, because they’re often a manipulation of the game code, or some kind of software tweak that gives the player who uses them an unfair advantage. The most widely known in online shooters is the wallhack, which allows players to see where their enemies are throughout a level (interestingly, rather like the infected’s ability to see each other and players through walls in Left 4 Dead), as
game tasks such as killing spawns or running simple quests. It’s possible to set these up to ‘farm’ certain resources, which can be extremely infuriating for gamers trying to play the game proper. Many MMO players will have encountered them, often with characters killing the same targets over and over. Most famously, one Ultima Online player claimed to have purchased a house by trading the gold
“One UO player claimed to have purchased a house by trading the gold he earned from bots” if the walls were translucent. Such hacks are relatively easy to develop, and can be easily downloaded and installed by players. Sometimes they’re modifications to the game itself, other times they can be additional programs that alter how graphics are rendered. Other hacks can be more sophisticated still, giving players powers and abilities in the game that they should not otherwise have – something that comes about when the cheaters, or the people who implement cheats, get their hands on the client code of the game installed on their computer. And you can’t always tell who is cheating, either, because such exploits may simply allow the player to seem like he is playing really well, when in truth he has an unfair advantage of some kind. Bots are a similarly hi-tech unfair advantage. In shooters these are programs called ‘aimbots’ which detect opponents are then fire very accurately. They’re really rather sophisticated, and can be used to devastating effect by cheaters. Just one player using an aimbot can massive alter the outcome of a game, especially were pin-point hitscan accuracy is required, such as when using sniper rifles and railguns. Bots are also used in MMOs, where the player sets up a bot to perform
he earned from running a dozen bots on six PCs over a couple of years.
While there will always be coders who enjoy exploiting games and finding ways to gain an advantage through technological prowess rather than gaming skill, there’s also much being done by developers and publishers of games to provide us with counter measures against cheating. Identifying and banning cheaters from games often comes about through months of painstaking research, especially in MMOs where bots can be difficult to detect without human intervention. It also requires teams of programmers to be constantly monitoring the cheater community, to come up with defences against it in the same way that other coders come up with ways to block and eradicate viruses. In first person shooters the depth of the challenge often provokes players to use cheat programs, and it has therefore become widespread.
I was drunk. Well maybe a bit tipsy anyway. I was playing Scrabulous on Facebook and I knew I had a seven letter word in there. So I did it. I checked online using an anagram solver and... It felt so dirty. Oh the guilt... It’ll never happen again... Alan Dexter Editor
My secret to winning driving games is the same as my real driving – I don’t use the break and bounce off other cars who take the perfect racing line and send them into the barriers. Rachel Long Designer
hen a game is based around players trading money or items of any kind, there is the potential for fraud. You might not think that’s a particularly big issue, but in games like Eve Online this kind of fraud possible can be monumental. One of the biggest heists so far pulled off was very similar to ponzi schemes in the real world. Essentially it was an investment fund that paid great dividends to its investors. Testimonials poured in about the riches to be made, because the old investors were being paid off with the money brought in my new investors. Once the investments peaked, with thousands of gamers sinking their money into what looked like a dead cert (it even had its business plan mapped out in a PDF document for players to see) the scammers closed the fund and took their investors for billions of ISK. However, an interesting caveat in this particular game meant that this was not cheating. It did not break the rules of the game, because no hack, exploit, or other gamebreaking system was used. The scam was performed all within the mechanics of the game world, and were set up on trust between the individual players: the developers could not, would not, and should not act as guarantors. The lesson? Be careful where you put your virtual money.
Are social banking scams in Eve Online cheating? CCP says not, because they are within the mechanics of the game world
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Those who can, cheat
Cheaters aren’t always able to get away with it, however, because systems for identifying and banning cheats automatically now fight a never-ending war against the hackers and botdesigners. One such battle is being fought by PunkBuster, an anti-cheating system developed Tony Ray and his company, Even Balance. We talked to Ray about why he’d been inspired to devote his life to fighting the cheats and he explained that his experiences as a Team Fortress Classic clan leader had
led him to explore the ugly side of cheating in that game. As, at the time, the developers had said it was up to the community to deal with such problems, he took matters into his own hands. “I have been to several high profile LAN tournaments,” explains Ray, “and have seen the best players in the world compete in person. Many of those get called cheaters online because the average player can’t comprehend how a
Armed with the state of the art Action Replay cartridge plugged in the back of my Commodore 64 enabled me to type in pokes to and hackzor my games for infinite lives and ammo. Even as a kid I was living on the edge, yeah man, yeah! Jeremy Ford New Media Editor
“I imagined a program that would run in the background and ‘watch’ what was going on” CHRIS PUNK BUSTING METHODOLOGY
Serves the public trust, protects the innocent, upholds the law
o how does PB work? We asked the main man, Tony Ray: “Basically PunkBuster watches the memory of the computer while the game is running. When it sees the pattern of a known cheat, a ‘violation’ is raised and the player is removed from the game. When PunkBuster can see that something is not right but isn’t sure if it is a cheat, then the player is still removed, but we call that a ‘Restriction’ rather than a ‘Cheat Violation’. For example, if a player’s computer happens to have a virus that has modiﬁed the game or the Operating System, but in a way that is not how a known cheat works but is still suspicious, we consider that a Restriction meaning that gameplay on the PunkBuster server is for players who are able to restrict their
playing machine to running as clean as possible (ie. nothing that alters the Operating System or the game in a suspicious manner). We encourage server admins to not ban for Restriction kicks, but only for positive Cheat Violations that are triggered.” And is he ever impressed by cheat ingenuity? “Maybe a tiny bit, and rarely at that … but from my perspective a cheat/ hack is a tool for tearing apart someone else’s work. Hundreds of thousands of man-hours go into building a modern online game. Most cheats are written after a few hours of trying to ﬁnd a weakness. So it is far more impressive (and fun) to be surprised by an awesome feature in a new game than by some selﬁsh person’s attempt to dismantle the way the game was meant to be played by the developers.”
I’ve never cheated in my life – except for that Maths test in primary school – but I know a ‘mate’ who found a hole in the first Splinter Cell multiplayer that, brilliantly, allowed Shadownet spies to lob frag grenades, instead of chaff, and start with an assault rifle. The HR department of the Argus mercenary co had a few disgruntled employees for awhile… cry babies. Chris Thornett Operations Editor
real person can be that good. So at some point, it occurred to me that if a referee was watching over the shoulders of players, it would be very hard to cheat and get away with it, plus the good players would get the credit they deserved for their skill instead of constant suspicion.” This idea of a virtual referee was the genesis for PunkBuster. “I imagined a program that would run in the background and ‘watch’ what was going on during gameplay, “ says Ray. “That’s how the seeds for PunkBuster were planted.” Ray got to work on the idea of a program that would report on individual gamers to a central server. PunkBuster, which was initially nothing more than another free tool for gamers, was to spot cheats as they were loaded into memory and stop the players from connecting to PB protected servers. PunkBuster wasn’t to remain a pure community effort, however, as the system soon proved its worth in
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Those who can, cheat to try to provide a deterrent against getting caught cheating.”
TWINKS AND MACROS
Cheaters by right
Certain racing games, like Grand Prix Legends here, don’t do much in the way of cheating. They’re very hard
countering cheats in these games. “I had no support from game developers at the time, so PunkBuster was originally developed as a standalone application that ran in the background during gameplay … In 2002, id Software gave us a shot at supporting Return to Castle Wolfenstein and it was fully integrated with the game and things just took off from there.” As online games become more popular, so the cheating problems became worse. And the more popular a specific game, the more cheats are developed for it, as Ray explained: “We have found a direct correspondence between the number of players and how bad the cheating problem is for a given title. Games with few players rarely
There’s one situation in which programs like PunkBuster won’t come in handy, however, and that’s when you’re playing a game against the developers who made the game in the first place. Famously, Valve Software revealed their in-built cheats for Half-Life 2 in a game against a bunch of Capture The Flag modders. As the game unfolded the community modders were suddenly rendered helpless as they watched the Valve team transform into their super-powered alter-egos, with automatic missile launchers and other crazy weapons. Although meant as a joke, the event did seem to upset some gamers, who didn’t seem to quite understand that – in this instance – the cheating was just a little fun on the part of the developers. Of course it can go seriously wrong for developers, too, as in the
I cheated on my PC with an Xbox! I spent evenings creeping downstairs to twiddle with it’s joypad from the comfort of the sofa… It was a shortlived affair. My PC and I are now back together and re-living our honeymoon period with a visit to Baldurs Gate II. Matt Orton Art Editor
“As in real life there will always be people trying to break the law for their own gain” have much of a cheating problem. The popular titles are heavily targeted by cheaters and hack writers.” For Ray this is nothing more than the bad side of human nature showing itself in our game worlds. “I’ve always said that online gaming will be cheat-free the same day society is crime-free,” says Ray. “There will always be people trying to cheat and some will succeed. Just like in real life there will always be people trying to break the law for their own gain. We have to keep after the cheating problem just like the police do in society
case of the Eve Online developer who provided help for his in-game faction. By acting with a bias, he tainted the neutrality of the developers, and damaged relationships between team and game community forever. Events like these, where real world and virtual world mingle, make it impossible to come up with a game design solution. This was, arguably, the first time game cheating changed life in the real world, as Eve Online’s developers, CCP, set up an independent ombudsman council to police the game against such events in the future. Cheating and cheaters, it seems, will always find a way, no matter how extreme or new the game might be. Whether it’s hard-coded by devs or brought in after, we’ll have to be ready to go to ever more extreme measures to identify, understand and defeat it. ¤
Cheating was always the way to avoid turning incandescent with rage after a particularly galling defeat in my beloved Football Manager. It was always the same save-before-match, reload-after-defeat. On rare occasions though I’d replace my opposite number with a paid stooge . Dave James Reviews Editor
/Shout “Kick me, I’m macroing”, Wait 200. Repeat
heating in MMOs can, as discussed in the main article, be caused by use of bots. But there are other things players can do to cheat up their game. The most common is called ‘macroing’, which is a system for writing a series of commands, or macros, which are automatically executed by the game at the touch of a button. While generally illegal in game agreements, macros do usually feature to some extent within games, and they might even be facilitated by the game itself by some degree. Macros will usually allow players to reel off a complex set of attacks, or to ﬁnd items in the game world via some system, and are particularly frowned upon by players who are into PvP in MMOs. Another cheat is called ‘twinking’. This is generally within the rules of the game world, because it involves high level characters giving low level characters lots of cool stuff. They might give them powerful equipment, or simple lots of money. This means that players with high-level friends, or even high level characters of their own, can be at an advantage over other players, especially in a ‘free’ economy game. Lots of MMOs try to curb this by ‘binding’ certain items to players when they use them, and by limiting the use of certain weapons to the character’s level.
Many players will augment their experience through strategy guides or custom interfaces, but macros and bots are just plain cheating
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