Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Dear Torricane...

My nice friend Alicia writes in today, asking:

I heard on the news that some game programmers are suing some hackers for getting the code to make the volleyball players in a game naked and then posting the code online. Here's my question: if these guys can get code to make the players naked, did the programmers have to create that code themselves before publishing the game? Or can hackers actually create codes like that themselves? Just curious, because if it's the former, the programmers have no right to sue, but if it's the latter, then that completely turns the tables.

Torricane responds...

Prepare for a long answer to a short question, babe. :)

This isn't as difficult to do as you may think, depending on the hardware. In many (and I mean MANY) PC games, there's a process called modding (modifying) that happens to games all the time. A lot of companies see it as a way of letting the players make the game fresh and keep playing it years after it's grown stale on store shelves (also known as "giving it legs"). The PC is an open platform, and modding (specifically what you're speaking of is called Skinning, as adding a particular exterior texture to a polygonal wireframe model is known) is, 99.999% of the time, either ignored or embraced, but nearly never frowned upon. Counterstrike started as a popular user-created mod for the original Half-Life, and now Valve (the original Half-Life developer) actually paid for the rights to publish and develop future titles based on Counterstrike. This was a groundbreaking instance of the developers and users working together to create something better. As long as no one's making money off someone else's intellectual property, there's really no cause to sue. Developers should be flattered that people like their games enough to mod them.

Console games (PS2, Xbox, GameCube, etc.) are a little different. They are designed to be closed, finished, unchangeable products. There is a mod community for console games, but usually the finished products have to be played on a PC where there's no lock-out or copy protection technology (or a "modded" or "chipped" console...a process to get around lock-out tech, but illegal). PC game makers don't profit off hardware sales; Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft DEPEND on their hardware sales. Their games don't go anywhere unless somebody buys a machine to play them on. The hardware/software relationship there is very symbiotic, and those people hate having their games messed with. Also, these modded games often have to be played on an emulator, a program that makes the game *think* it's being run on a certain hardware configuration, even though it's not. The problem with emulators is that you have to use a ridiculously overpowered PC compared to the hardware you're emulating to get any results, since the computer has to spend time *pretending* to be this other hardware while simultaneously rendering the game's graphics and sound, and calculating all the physics involved in the game's execution. Sony went all out to stop the distribution of Bleem, a PS1 emulator for PCs that came out a few years ago. Bleem didn't use any Sony technology (hardware OR software), but the emulator got around some of Sony's anti-piracy protection, and that tidbit alone let them take Bleem to court over and over, and they never really won, but the guys who made Bleem ended up spending all their money on lawyers and court costs, so Sony eventually bled them dry and the product never saw widespread release.

It's a big gray area right now. Courts don't know how to rule on this stuff, so usually the people with the most money eventually win in some form or another.

Now, if these "hackers" really did get in and "steal" code from the game itself, FROM the company while the game was still in a pre-release state, there's something wrong there, and they can get them for theft. If they legally purchased the game and were fiddling with it in their spare time, it gets blurry again, because most EULAs (End-User License Agreements...those things you have to agree to when installing a PC game, and implied things with console games) state that you may not decompile a game to make changes to it. However, if you've ever installed a game on a PC, nowadays most of the assets (art, sound, physics, etc.) aren't stored in a compiled form. I've modded weapons in Ghost Recon and Rogue Spear to make them silenced, add more zoom on the sniper scope, increase clip capacity, and lots of other stuff. I've even told other people how to do it. Am I breaking any laws? Well, I didn't decompile anything (taking it from machine code...011010110011...shit like that, back to C++ or whatever legible language it was originally written in), and I didn't sell anything. I DID make the information publicly available. The difference is I paid for the retail version of a game and am modifying it on my own machine for my own use. If others choose to use that info, so be it. I'm just letting them know HOW. For FREE.

Yeah, it's messy, and they'll probably not get a verdict in any lawsuit, but the offending parties will either stick it out for the publicity or take it down and find other means of distribution (email, forum posts, etc.), still accomplishing their goals without being hassled. The lewd nature of making people naked really has nothing to do with it. It's not like we can't all happily find violence and porn on the Internet whenever we want anyway. Hope that answers your question!

1 comment:

Alicia said...

Ooooh, I like the new look!

And now I can publicly thank you for answering my question. It was very informative.