Credit where credit is due: Infinity Ward is working hard to ban cheaters in MW3.

It seems that the desire to cheat is an inevitable part of human nature. There’s just something about getting an unfair advantage that appeals to us so much that we cheat in school, on our taxes, and on each other. Naturally this rule applies to video games and the more popular a game is the greater the number of people cheating at it.

The Call of Duty series is very, very popular and it’s no surprise that cheating is rampant. In my reviews of both Modern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 3 I decried their usage of a peer-to-peer networking system for several reasons not the least of which was that it didn’t provide any way for players to deal with cheaters in a game. This is primarily a problem on the PC where you can run programs in the background that will allow you to, among other things, see players hidden behind objects (wall hacks) and auto-aim and fire your gun (aimbots).

To get an idea of why this is so frustrating, here is an aimbot in action using the MW3 Chaos hack. You'll note that it pretty much ruins the game for anyone who's not cheating.

With dedicated servers there’s someone who administers the server who will have the ability to identify and ban cheaters from playing on that server. The P2P system used in MW2 and 3, however, randomly picks one of the players to be the host and there are no provisions for banning cheaters or even voting to kick them from the game. The only real anti-cheating system in place on the PC version of the game is the VAC (Valve Anti-Cheat) system provided through the Steam client that Activision uses with that version of CoD. There are two problems with this system: First, it can take weeks for someone who has been flagged as cheating to be banned from multiplayer, though it does ban them from playing it altogether (as opposed to just a single server). Second, it creates an arms race between the folks who maintain VAC and the folks who write the aimbots and wall hacks for the games. Every time VAC is updated to detect the latest round of cheating programs the folks who make said programs simply update their code to hide it from detection for another few weeks.

[pullquote] This is a warning to anyone who’s thinking of buying [MW2] for the PC: Don’t fucking bother.  — Infinity Ward has fucked over “Call of Duty” fans who play on the PC.[/pullquote]The creation of these hacks also appears to be trivially easy as the first one for MW2 was released within hours of the game itself. I suspect that’s partially because the past several CoD games have run on basically the same game engine as the preceding one with some new bits bolted on. In fact, the wall hack part of these programs uses the game’s own internal systems to do its work. Certain kill streaks in the game (e.g. remote sentry)  already allow you to see players approaching from behind obstacles when you use them. All the wall hack does is turn that system on all the time regardless of whether you’re using an appropriate kill streak or just your trusty rifle. The problem of cheaters using hacks was so rampant in MW2 that after one night of game after game being ruined by cheaters I wrote an angry blog post saying that you should not buy the game for the PC. OK, it was a very angry blog post, but my frustration level at the time was through the roof. It’s one thing to lose to genuinely better players and it’s another to lose to someone who’s skill consisted entirely of holding down a mouse button while a program insured every shot was a headshot.

When MW3 came out the hacks followed and it looked like the whole situation was set to repeat itself, but it did seem like it had improved somewhat. I said in my review that the number of obvious cheaters seemed a lot lower than they were during the first few weeks with MW2, but the problem did still persist and there still wasn’t any easy way to report them or vote to kick them from a game. As before, the hackers just laughed at the VAC system as ineffective and the engine was still fundamentally the same as before, so what was responsible for the lower number of cheaters?

The main screen of the reporting tool. Click to embiggen.

As it turns out, IW assigned someone to handle complaints of cheaters in MW3. Initially it was one person on Twitter named BanCandy who handled complaints for all platforms the game is on, but it should go without saying that she was quickly overwhelmed by the deluge. Now it’s a group of people under the collective name @IWEnforcers and they are some busy beavers. I’ve been following their tweets for quite awhile now and they are swinging the ban hammer as fast as you can manage. This has helped a great deal, but the reporting still wasn’t easy. They required that you be able to provide some evidence for the cheating such as a YouTube video and a link to the player’s Steam profile page. The Theater Mode in MW3 allows you play back a game and even render a YouTube clip so long as it’s smaller than 29 seconds which is barely enough to show one death with a killcam.

There had to be a better way and a clever fellow who goes by the alias Xifon came up with one. He created the MW3SA Reporting Tool which allows you browse through the demo files created by the game’s theater mode and lists off all of the players in each saved game. You find the game that had the hacker in it (it looks up each player’s Steam profile to make it easy) and then click on their name and hit Report. It opens a window and allows you to type in a description and then sends that along with the entire demo file off to IW where they can load it up and watch the playback from that player’s perspective to see exactly what happened in the game.

This tool has the hackers shitting bricks because there’s nothing that can be done to counter it. You can’t hide your Steam ID from the game and the files record exactly what happened during the course of a match. If you’re using a wall hack and repeatedly kill people you couldn’t see it’ll show up in the playback. Aimbotting becomes so glaringly obvious (see the previous YouTube video) that it’s pretty much a guaranteed ban.

The tool proved so popular that, once again, the surge of reports became overwhelming and suddenly it stopped working. Xifon posted an announcement that the queue wasn’t updating and it looked like it was to be a short-lived experiment, but the folks at IW got in contact with him and asked if they could work together to improve it. One of the problems it had was accountability for the person making the report. There wasn’t anything preventing you from submitting someone who just pissed you off by being a better player. So after a couple of weeks the new version was released that corrects that problem.

Now to use it you have to sign in with your Steam ID so any reports you make can be associated with your account. This provides a couple of benefits including the ability to see which reports you’ve submitted and whether they’ve been reviewed and what, if any, action was taken. It also has a scoring system that awards you points for every cheater banned and dings you points if your report wasn’t legit. This is to encourage you to be sure you’re submitting an actual cheater prior to dashing off a report.

These two solutions, the @IWEnforcer Twitter account and the MW3SA Reporting Tool, won’t eliminate the problem of cheaters in Call of Duty games any time soon, but they do help and Infinity Ward deserves a lot of credit for at least attempting to deal with the problem. The process is still slow as I have 3 reports in so far, the oldest dating back to June 9th, that still haven’t been reviewed, but at least they’re there and should get looked at eventually. With any luck, the tool will be a success and put a dent in the amount of cheating in CoD games. Either way, Infinity Ward deserves credit for trying to tackle the problem.


SEB Reviews: “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” for the PC.

 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Published by: Activision
Developed by: Infinity Ward
Price: $59.99
Rating: 3.5/5

I’m going to do this review a little differently than in the past for two simple reasons: Firstly, if you’re already a fan of the CoD series then chances are you’ve already bought this game regardless of what I, or anyone else, has to say about it. After all, the game has already smashed records by making $775 million in its first five days. Secondly, if you’re really not a fan of the CoD series then this game probably won’t change your mind regardless of what I say about it.

Given those two facts, I’m going to delve less into the story and more into what I think are the significant factors that those of you who are sitting on the fence might want to know about. More specifically, I’m going to talk about the PC version and how it stacks up to previous games and the competition. You may recall that in my review of Modern Warfare 2 I ended up not recommending buying it for the PC because Infinity Ward had pretty much screwed the pooch with a straight port from the console version that dropped several key PC features, the most significant of which was dedicated server support. There was a lot about MW2 on the PC that was great, but it was offset by a lot of shitty decisions that, at times, made the multiplayer game almost unplayable.

Single Player

A round of Domination multiplayer.

But first, let’s talk just a little bit about the single player portion of the game. It literally picks right up where Modern Warfare 2 ended and it’s a non-stop roller-coaster ride from the get go. If you don’t recall the events of MW2, which you probably don’t as it was a confused mess at times, there’s just enough recap in the opening sequence to jog the brain cells into not really remembering anything at all. Not that it matters as, once again, you’ll be jumping back and forth between multiple characters in different military groups shooting your way through seemingly endless waves of bad guys on the hunt for the Big Bad Boss that started World War 3 and caused this whole mess. I’m happy to report that the story in this outing is quite a bit more coherent than it was in MW2. I never found myself wondering who the hell I was supposed to be at any given moment like I did with MW2. There is, as there was in MW2, a “controversial scene” which you are given the option of being warned about ahead of time so you can skip it if you wish. I won’t spoil it, but in my opinion it was far less of a problem than the one in MW2 and I wasn’t really bothered with the one in MW2 either.

The biggest complaint to be had about the single player campaign is the same one that I lodged against its predecessors in the series: It’s too damn short and it seems to be getting progressively shorter with each release. The first game took about 8 hours for me to get through the single player at normal difficulty, the second took about 6. This one was a very short 4 hours, 27 minutes, and 21 seconds. I know this because the game actually says so on the start screen. Probably not the best idea to advertise just how short your single player game is. Also, and this is probably a nitpick, it was surprisingly easy. If you want the single player game to be a challenge then you’ll want to kick it up past the Normal difficulty setting. That said, it was also a lot of fun and brought the story line to a close in a satisfying way. The only reason to play through it again is if you give a damn about finding all 46 of the “intelligence briefings” that are hidden throughout the level. If you don’t then a single play through will probably be all you’ll bother with.

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Games I’m Looking Forward To: “Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3”

After the disaster that was the PC version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, it probably comes as a bit of a surprise that I’m looking forward to . As I recall I recommended that if you absolutely had to have MW2 that you buy it either for the Xbox 360 or PS3 as the multiplayer on the PC version was crippled by no dedicated servers, no ability to vote for kicking cheaters from a game, and terrible matchmaking and host selection that made the majority of sessions unplayable. I was heartened by the approach taken with the PC version of Call of Duty: Black Ops and heartily recommended it as a purchase, but that game was developed by Treyarch and not Infinity Ward so I was a bit worried that IW would repeat the mistakes it had made with MW2. None of those concerns were eased by the drama that unfolded when the founders of IW were fired by Activision and went off to start a new studio taking quite a bit of top IW talent with them.

So I was guardedly optimistic about what changes, if any, MW3 would bring to its multiplayer on the PC. Then word came down that, yes, MW3 would indeed support dedicated servers. Not only that, but they would be free dedicated servers as opposed to Black Ops where you had to rent them from a third-party. That went a long way to getting me excited for this next iteration in the series.

Plus, multiplayer gameplay trailers like this one helped a lot too:

Also word of a new co-op mode called Survival should bring a lot of extra hours to the game. Similar to the Zombie mode in the Treyarch produced CoDs, Survival will see you and a friend battling against wave after wave of increasingly tough AI controlled enemies raking in cash for every kill allowing you to buy better weapons and perks as you progress. Not all of the details on multiplayer have been revealed yet, but we should know more by the end of this weekend as the big CoD Expo is taking place.

This is all great news for fans of the series who play it on the PC. It appears that Activision/Infinity Ward paid attention to all the complaints and are looking to correct the missteps of the past. With Battlefield 3 snapping at their heels, that’s probably for the best.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 trailer hits the net.

And it’s looking pretty good:

It’ll definitely be interesting to see Infinity Ward will be able to live up to expectations now that so many top people responsible for the series have left the studio, but if this trailer is anything to go by it looks like they might pull it off.