Tuesday 25 January 2011

No treaty is ever an impediment to a cheat

Towards the End of Days in APB, cheating was rife. Or possibly not. It can be hard to tell the difference between a freakishly good opponent and someone using third-party cheating software, especially in a game like APB with significant differences in character capability due to upgrades and a lack of location-based damage (if every shot hits you precisely two inches below the left nipple, that’s probably a reasonable indicator of someone cheating. Either that or they’re a dead-shot nipple fetishist who needs to slightly adjust their rifle sights.)

With most players being suspicious at the best of times (irregular shooter terminology: I possess great skill; you got a lucky shot; he/she/it is obviously cheating), it doesn’t take much to cause widespread paranoia. In the appropriately-named Operation Greif, German soldiers in American uniforms were sent behind enemy lines; the combat units themselves had limited success but the psychological effect was great, rumours and suspicion spreading throughout Allied troops. Many posters on the APB forums were adamant that everybody (except them) was cheating, posting links to sites proudly offering “undetectable” cheat software, and RealTime Worlds weren’t saying very much. The latest APB Reloaded blog sheds some light on why…

I imagine it’s a familiar enough story to anyone who’s been involved in large software projects; the PunkBuster anti-cheat software was integrated then turned off, deemed as non-essential, until near the end of the closed beta. When turned on it caused major problems, so faced with a choice of launching with major lag issues and players getting randomly kicked, or launching without PunkBuster, they went with the lesser of two evils. Obviously that’s not something you’re going to officially broadcast, but when the people using cheat software don’t get caught word spreads around the murky corners of the ‘net. You have to feel especially sorry for the author of the blog, Aphadon, who did get PunkBuster working with acceptable performance after launch, only for RealTime Worlds well-documented financial issues to mean they couldn’t get afford to get the details of the cheaters it detected. As circles go, it was pretty vicious.

News that the relaunched APB Reloaded will have PunkBuster, and a few other surprises, fully enabled is most welcome, even if my Super Cynical Powers instil a nagging doubt that it’s precisely the message you’d want to loudly broadcast if you didn’t have anti-cheat measures at all (“we’re so secure you shouldn’t even bother trying!”) That said, I think the APB folk would think that the cheat software authors would think they’d think that, and so wouldn’t say it unless it was true. Unless they think I’d think they’d think that…

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