...and why I got VAC banned.
Hi. My name is DHR_000x and I'm a cheater... supposedly. 1825 days ago, or exactly 5 years, I got my account branded for committing an infringement against the Valve Anti-Cheat policies. During the last half decade many people have come to me asking why I cheat, or flat out refused to play and trade with me because of this. Here I want to show how surreal the ban was and come clean of any future accusations and because it's another cool story about a brain-dead developer.
First of all, I would like to say that I am a firm believer in fair-play and that I would never try to gain illegal advantage over an opponent in any game, nor do I support the usage of cheats or external aids that may interfere with the intended gameplay mechanics in any online game mode.
Dungeon Defenders came out on Steam at the end of December 2011 and I got quickly hooked to it. This third person co-op hack and slash shooter tower defence game was super fun to play either with friends or with randoms, and I quickly passed by the 100h mark of time played. One of the cool things that this game added on top of the item progression system was a shop, but not a shop in the traditional format. Every player was able to put stuff on sale through the trader that sits in your tavern, and then you could name your shop and make it available through the shop browser. Other players could then join your game while you were in your tavern, visit you live and check out your stock. Not only that, but you were also able to place your items down on the floor of the tavern in a display window fashion.
We started to play on open / casual servers because we didn't want to play competitive, and I honestly still don't know what that should mean for a co-op tower defence game. We played for a good month until we discovered, when we randomly joined a server, that someone made an additional map. This map just had one floor, no wall, no sky box, and a huge variety of weapons and armour on display, just for grabs. Every time you loaded this map the items had different stats, that meant you con reload it over and over until you found that one chest piece with the stats that you wanted, or that one pet with amazing DPS. Everything you didn't need you could just take back to the trader and sell it for the in-game currency. Here I'd like to add that the game had an algorithm that set the price of an item based on its numerical stats, meaning that the higher the stats, exponentially higher the selling value becomes. Now we had some cool equipment for our current level and tons of cash, sweet. Later on we would also discover some farming maps where all the mobs would walk through one hallway and you could concentrate all your firepower onto one line of monsters, loot, repeat. But how did the map makers create all that stuff?
So, after hacking deep into the game, also known as doing a quick google search, I found out how you could modify the items you had equipped and in your inventory. When you are playing Dungeons Defenders on a Server, your stats and items are not directly written into the servers database. Instead, the local client (my PC) stores all that data on the local memory and only saves the game on the server occasionally. The reason for this is probably to prevent to much stress on the servers, but it makes it extremely easy to modify any character or item statistic in the game. This means that, when the server asks me how much damage my staff does, the game will access its memory, read out the stats from my staff and send it over to the server. With a simple memory editor I am able to tell my pc, on which I am obviously an admin, what that saved file should contain, like for example that my staff is five meters long, shoots two fire balls at once and that at a rate of ten shots per second. I hit save, wait for the server to sync with my locally stored inventory file et voilà, I have now a modded weapon. Back when I played, you could arbitrarily modify any values you wanted, everything except your characters appearance, and the client would just take them, the server accepted whatever the client told it without question.
Here I am having fun with the editor, changing the size of my light sabre, adding some rate of fire to my rifle and changing my pets colour. I also created a massively overpowered staff that shot like ten missiles at a time which each did like 30 million damage but yeah, it was cool to watch all those numbers when hitting the straw man in your tavern, but it wasn't fun to play with it when you can one-hit everything... I played with the slightly modded stuff that most of the time just fixed some stats I didn't like about an item, or my pet for example. I liked my chicken but I didn't want to change it out for a higher level pet so I gradually increased its damage so I could still use it at higher levels. Who cares any ways? I'm not playing against other players, it's a co-op game and I'm not even playing on the ranked servers. Well, I wouldn't be writing this if it wouldn't have been a problem, would I?
I never felt like I was ruining the game for anybody because of being overpowered (as I said, I never used one-hit weapons or anything similar), but the slight advantage I gave my character allowed me to play the super hardcore modes and try to push the games difficulty to the limit. I was enjoying my time playing the casual online mode where anything goes and includes support for mods, until April came around and BOOM; Ban Hammer. What? Why? I mean I obviously know why but, why? This game isn't competitive, and even if it was, I was playing the casual mod friendly no rules game mode in a co-op game like, WTF? I have been banned from every form of multiplayer, yes, I can only play this game in single-player mode from now on, I can't even create a dedicated game with my friends. Nothing. Shortly after the ban I realized what made it happen.
With our latest patch we have activated the Valve Anti Cheat software on all TrendyNET servers. A VAC ban can come from using any 3rd party hacking/cheating/trainer program on both Ranked and Open servers. The only tools allowed to use to Mod the game on Open is the DDDK which is free to download DLC. VAC bans are not controlled by Trendy but by Valve/Steam.
Yeah, some master genius of the universe decided it would be a good idea to implement the anti-cheater system from Valve even on the casual servers. I completely understand why they would want to use the very effective VAC system in their ranked environment, just to keep their leaderboards legit, but why on the open servers? And why did they activate VAC without any prior warning? Why do that even though everybody knew that people used mods on open servers? Why prohibit mods when the in-game description says that open servers are mod friendly and have no rules? They even went as far as banning people that possessed modded items (like mana, the in-game currency) even if they never used a third party modding tool. Thousands upon thousands of people got banned. But wait, it gets even better.
Yes! About a month after they completely banned me out of the multiplayer for doing something that was supposedly allowed, they implemented fucking Steam Workshop! Even today I am still laughing at how absurd it is. They banned people for using modded items and custom maps and a few weeks later they allowed it again through the Workshop! This is so stupid! I could now go into the singleplayer, mod a gun with the same memory editor I used before, upload it to Steam and download it again for multiplayer. Genius move. Felt like a solid kick in the balls.
Now, I realize people hate it when they see other players getting an advantage in the game through ways or tools that are not present in the game, but wasn't that the exact reason behind creating a ranked and a casual environment with different rules? In casual you can do whatever you want, no rules, use your mods, enjoy the game. In ranked your character is saved on their servers instead of locally and you can only play by the rules of the game, with legit items and on the original maps. Why would you want to set the same restrictive rules on your open servers? You already have ranked for that. It makes sense in a game like Counter Strike where an aim-bot is going to ruin everyone's fun, but in a co-op tower defence game? It amazes me how illogical this decision was...
There you go, that's my story. Was it a dumb decision to use the memory editor? Well since I'm banned I suppose that the answer is yes, but I still enjoyed my time playing the game. Am I still butt hurt about it? A tiny bit, specially when I look at my profile on Steam. Do I feel sorry in any way? Well no since I never ruined the experience to anybody, and the devs are douche nozzles any ways judging from the investigations they've been involved in for treating their team like slaves.