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Telcontar's opinion

The history of hacking

Hacking started during the early 80s and used to be very popular around 1985 when the Commodore 64 was the standard home computer and games used to be hacked and copied in masses. Game collections containing hundreds of floppy disks with thousand or more games in total were nothing unusual. Because the games used to include a physical copy protection, hacking was required to copy the disk. Getting cracked software was even the normal way of distribution at these days. Usually, hackers would include a trainer and maybe even bugfixes. So hacking involved two steps actually: breaking the copy protection and altering the game itself, i. e. normally making a cheat version.

After a while, software producers gave up the idea of physical copy protections that made it impossible to make backups of disks. With the development of the CD-ROM medium, such protections became obsolete (at least for games). Until two years ago, CD-ROM writers were very costly and mainly used by professionals; buying the game would be much cheaper. Copying the game on floppy disks was not feasable any longer since no one wants to handle 20+ disks.

Then, the Internet became popular, along with faster connections and new cheap writable media such as the ZIP disk. Hacking has become popular again, and usually you only have to wait a few days after a game release to get the warez version. Of course no one hacks up games that include long animated sequences, such as interactive movies that fill several CD-ROMs. Again, buying the game would be cheaper in that case than copying it.

The other part of hacking, adding cheats, has still been used but it was the Internet that let come hacking to a new bloom. Nowadays, there is no good game that is not hacked in the first few days or weeks after its release.

The consequences of hacking

Gaming used to be quite different before the Internet and local area networks were available to non-professionals. Most games were single player games while others included a two-player splitscreen mode, i. e. two people were playing with one computer. On PCs, this meant that one person used a joystick and the other one a keyboard or both players shared the keyboard. This included several drawbacks, of course, starting with a worse gameplay for one player and ending with the possibility to watch the enemy's moves in strategy games.

The quintessence was that altering a game with cheats did not afflict other people than the one that were using the same computer or network. Now, people who don't know each other play over the internet, and if only one player uses a cheat version, he spoils the game for all other players. Diablo's cheat codes were widely abused on battle.net before Blizzard had fixed that problem; now, Warcraft II seems to be the newest victim.

Warcraft II

Warcraft II was hacked up pretty early be Alexander Cech who has written Wardraft and by Daniel Lemberg, the creator of War2Xed. However, these programs involved no drawbacks for players. Wardraft allows players to extract and alter all kinds of resources, particularly graphics and sound. Now if someone uses a special tileset this does not hurt the other players. War2Xed allowed users to create special PUDs with altered unit properties; to play with these modifications in a multi player game, all players must use this special version of a map. If all players are informed about the unit changes, the game is fair; if not, one player will perhaps suddenly realize that some unit properties had been changed drastically (e. g. 450 hit points for cannon towers), and the game will turn into an unfair one. War2Xed has been mainly used for making single player custom missions interesting and thus was a welcome addition to Warcraft.

Shaft's hack program works differently. It searches for the game in the RAM and alters it there. To achieve that, you will have to switch back to Win95 to start his program. Now this is only, if at all, possible if you use the crappy resolution of 640 x 480 pixels and 256 colors. Otherwise, Win95 won't be able to switch back to Warcraft. This is why accidentally hitting the Win95 key usually meant dropping out of the game with no return. That's why I'm offering an anti-Windows key program in my tools page.

Besides the different way of invoking the modifications, Shaft's hack allows thing that were not possible before. For instance, you can have any building produce any unit or upgrade. This means that farms can pump out Ogre Mages - an easy way to win the game against anybody. Shaft claims he wanted to add a new element to Warcraft to introduce new strategies. However, the hacks that his program allows are so profound that I cannot imagine that they will do anything but ruin the game.

I recommend not to use this program. Unlike other unit editing programs that have been issued so far, this one does not change the unit or PUD files, but set the modifications in the RAM while the game is running. This means that people won't know whether the patch will be used or not when playing over Kali, and if it is used, they can't do anything against it (at least not before Shaft's own detector is released).

If the program is used by all players, they could have used any unit modification program that alters the PUD settings. Shaft's approach to change the game is a very dangerous and abusive one. It is not even needed just for creating new missions. Unless you want to make Warcraft die, avoid such patches! Don't let Shlonglor's dramatic title become real. The idea to introduce new strategies is not a bad one as such. However, by only tweaking the existing unit properties, the game will hardly be improved.

The most important point is that players can't protect themselves against that program and its abuses. If this program spreads among the players and is used by newbies to beat players with unfair tricks, this will be the death of War2. Players won't be pleased to use just one modification or two to add new flavor to the game, they will turn their creatures into invincible battle machines so they win. I'm sure my examples of the infinitely insane possibilities of this program will be beaten by so-called inventive players. On the other hand, there may be very subtle ways of cheating that can hardly be detected. This would be even worse; who would notice that sometimes an extra unit is popping out of a farm somewhere?

Even worse, this will sooner or later be the death of any game, for no game is safe against being hacked up. While newer games will probably be protected by patches (this lies in the interest of the software producers), people cannot expect Blizzard to write a patch for a game that is 18+ months old. This patch may start a development that affects all Internet fatally. Software producers won't be able to catch up with writing patches if this sort of thing becomes popular.

(Releasing a patch would show that Blizzard cares about the users of their programs, though, and perhaps this will make more people buy Starcraft, who knows?) I hope that players are reasonable enough not to use that patch.

Let me know what you think about it!

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