Respawn Entertainment, the developer of Titanfall, has activated the anti-cheat countermeasures for their online-only multiplayer game, and has done so in a way that matches the punishment to the crime.
Repawn software engineer John Shirer promised in a tweet on March 17 that anti-cheating measures were in place, but yet to be activated. The danger of hacks ruining the multiplayer experience for PC gamers is a constant concern, and has led to significant investment by online gaming hubs to create systems such as Steam’s Valve Anti-Cheat system (VAC), which punishes cheats on protected servers with immediate, zero-tolerance expulsion from all VAC-protected servers.
There is a further market in third-party banning software, which either seeks to detect activity congruent with hacks (being able to shoot through walls,autofiring when an enemy walks through a player’s crosshairs, flying), or excludes players based on lists of blacklisted IDs.
Respawn has chosen the third-party Fairfight system, server-side anti-hack middleware administered by the Californian company Gameblocks LLC and also used in the administration of Electronic Arts’ other major recent FPS release, Battlefield 4.
However, instead of banning players from Titanfall entirely for cheating, Respawn has chosen to build an oubliette, saying in an announcement:
Great news: you get to keep playing Titanfall! Less-great news: you only get to play with other cheaters. You can play with other banned players in something that will resemble the Wimbledon of aimbot contests. Hopefully the aimbot cheat you paid for really is the best, or these all-cheater matches could be frustrating for you. Good luck.
(Aimbot is a generic term for a common type of cheat, in which the hacked character fires automatically as soon as or very shortly after (to evade detection) an enemy character moves into his or her sights, even if they are invisible to the human player’s eyes. Along with “wallhacks” – permitting players to see through walls, or changing the color of walls to make enemies stand out against them – these are the most common hacks in first-person shooters.)
L’enfer, c’est les autres, as three-times world Counter-Strike champion Albert Camus once said. There’s something hugely entertaining about the idea of these cheater-only matches becoming a kind of fast-breeder Turing test for jerks, as competitors race to remove themselves and their human frailties from their gameplay altogether. This sort of quarantine approach takes a leaf from Rockstar Games’ playbook, who set up a similar system in the online multiplayer component of Max Payne 3 and whose ”bad sport” system in Grand Theft Auto Online also limits the ability of players to team up with and affect “good sports” if they drop out of missions and spoil the fun for others too often. But Titanfall, since it is based around online multiplayer matches, is a somewhat different proposition.
The system also leverages peer pressure to discourage cheats – players teaming up with a cheater will become temporarily unable to play outside the cheater’s enclosure, but will be able to return to normal play as soon as they boot their cheat-marked team-mate – allowing both for peer pressure to prevent cheating, and also safaris in cheatsville.
Of course, this system will only affect the minority of players enjoying Titanfall on their PCs. In the comments to the announcement, a lively debate is ongoing as to whether playing Titanfall on the Xbox One with a keyboard and mouse is strictly cheating, or simply the latest in a long line of assistive hardware mods. One can expect such arguments to continue for as long as heads are shotted.
Credit should go to Respawn, and also to the Judge Jeffreys tribute act in the comments to the announcement suggesting that the AI bots in the Cheaterverse should be given perfect aim and high-quality sniper rifles. Just to make things even.