Game file tampering

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Game file tampering

Postby dmjifn » Fri Sep 23, 2011 1:10 am

Apologies in advance; I was debating on whether to put this in the wishlist or to submit as a bug.

I'm hosting a game with 3 others and two of us got curious about the growth & shrinkage of *.sav and *.trn files over time. So we simply opened them in notepad++. And, much to our surprise and disappointment, we saw that lots of critical information is available in plain text. The Turn Log is really easy to find for all players, and it tells you things like the success of your last order, the details of your vendettas, etc. Further, you can change the text in the file and it will show up in the game. We suspect items like stats, tribute in the vault, etc. can probably be discerned and doctored by programmer types (which we are).

Our first thought was to just ignore it and be gentlemen. But, over time, the simple possibility of cheating has started grating for some of us. Some of us are pretty competitive. Plus I'd feel a lot better about my inevitable victory if it wasn't marred by this specter.

Granted, you already have to trust the host to not do things like reprocess turns until the result comes out how he likes. But, would it be possible to add some encryption or some kind of obfuscation to these files?
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Re: Game file tampering

Postby Marble Mouth » Fri Sep 23, 2011 5:17 pm

I have noticed similar issues. I would not mind if Vic made it a little harder to read the .trn files, but I think that the fundamental trust requirement can never be removed. I'm fine with that. I know in my heart what is cheating and what is not, and I don't cheat.

Suppose I went to a chess tournament intending to cheat. I work out some system so that I can communicate with another person sitting in front of ChessMaster and I have it playing for me. I am not following the rules of that tournament. I am therefore not competing in that tournament. I therefore cannot possibly win that tournament. Maybe I can trick everyone else into thinking I won. But I can never feel any satisfaction at my play, because I didn't play. My strongly competitive nature is exactly what keeps me from cheating. I actually want to win, which I can only do if I actually play. I could ruin everyone else's opportunity to play by cheating, I suppose. I know there are some players who want to do that. I can't guarantee that none of the players in my games are like that. I just have to keep faith that we are all really playing the game.
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Re: Game file tampering

Postby dmjifn » Fri Sep 23, 2011 9:01 pm

WRT the part about your cheating heart: lolwut? :) :) :)

Seriously, I don't disagree with what you've said. I do agree there's some basic trust required. This isn't an issue I care to get deep on. Simply: We found an exploit and it makes Mongo sad. Mongo happy if it could get fixed.
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Re: Game file tampering

Postby Sord » Sat Sep 24, 2011 12:43 am

Unfortunately for Mongo, the only real fix would be to have the games hosted on a server so that players could only download the data that belongs to them. However, that is not a simple thing to do (I'd guess it would require a full rewrite of the game engine), so I don't think it will ever happen. Partial steps, like file encryption, might be in the realm of possibility, but it would cost Vic real time and wouldn't actually fix the problem.
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Re: Game file tampering

Postby chrm » Sun Sep 25, 2011 2:23 pm

For Java there are obfuscators, to make the reverse engineering of JAR files harder, and to make the files smaller. Maybe there is an obfuscator for the language vic uses, which isn't C or Java, if I recall correctly.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obfuscator


PS: if cheating is possible, you lose the competitive players who don't want to cheat
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Re: Game file tampering

Postby Moth Bones » Sun Sep 25, 2011 2:50 pm

PS: if cheating is possible, you lose the competitive players who don't want to cheat

I'm not convinced. I've played and hosted games for nearly two years and this method of cheating has never even occurred to me. However, there is a more obvious potential way to cheat, which is the host repeatedly replaying his own turn. I've never felt at all tempted to do this, and I've never felt any doubt regarding the honesty of those I play with, most of whom are on this forum.

Which isn't to say that your concern is unfounded, but I think that most SI players are 'gentlemen' when it comes to the rules. There is no material incentive to cheat; it would be sheer griefing and I don't thinkthe griefing mentality is present here.
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Re: Game file tampering

Postby Sord » Sun Sep 25, 2011 5:40 pm

chrm wrote:if cheating is possible, you lose the competitive players who don't want to cheat


I think that only applies if you don't get to choose who you play against (like in a tournament). For socially created games, if cheating is present, the competitive players will get more selective in who they are willing to play against, rather than quit (assuming the game itself is worth the extra effort).

I also think it is a non-issue. My feeling is that someone who can derive gratification from winning by cheating is not going to be interested in a game that requires you to play for months before giving the payoff.

Oh, and I'm also amused that on the wikipedia link for obfuscators, the first example states both who wrote it and who reversed engineered it. Which is basically my point that even if Vic did it, it would only change the problem, not fix it.
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Re: Game file tampering

Postby Sterno » Tue Sep 27, 2011 1:57 am

In my opinion, there's really nothing you can do about a host who wants to cheat. So the actual tampering of the game file doesn't bug me too much... you just sort of have to put your faith in the host not to do that.

The ability to view hidden information simply by opening the .trn file in a text editor bugs me, though. Anyone who wants to can determine who bought something in the bazaar, who was really behind a ritual, and can probably work out how many orders you've got. Over time, they can get a pretty clear picture of what your stats are, too. The fact that the game goes out of its way to hide this information yet makes it pretty easy to view in the .trn file is disappointing.

That said, my feeling about it would be to just embrace it, if Vic isn't going to fix it. Rather than spend the whole game wondering if the other players are getting an advantage by peeking at the .trn files while you don't, or else having your victory/strategy/good guessing questioned by people who say "Sure, you won, but I bet you were peeking", I'd say the best attitude is just to publicly declare in your game that it's okay to look. Put everyone on equal ground. It takes away from the game a bit, but it also doesn't amount to too much more than some free Prophecy rituals. And with everyone on equal footing with regards to knowing about the exploit and having the ability to use it, it makes the game "fair" again.

Though my preference would still be for Vic to obfuscate the files.

And Sord, in my opinion, there's a big difference between writing a program that reverses the obfuscation, and simply opening it up in notepad. Hardcore cheaters are gonna cheat. But even people who wouldn't otherwise cheat might be tempted to crack notepad open once in a while when they've got a stressful decision to make that would be a lot easier if they just had a little more information.
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Re: Game file tampering

Postby Fuu » Tue Sep 27, 2011 5:11 am

Sterno wrote:I'd say the best attitude is just to publicly declare in your game that it's okay to look. Put everyone on equal ground. It takes away from the game a bit, but it also doesn't amount to too much more than some free Prophecy rituals. And with everyone on equal footing with regards to knowing about the exploit and having the ability to use it, it makes the game "fair" again.


I don't think that is the best attitude, in fact I'd say that it takes away from the game a lot. There are so many unknown elements in the game that anticipating what your opponents may or may not have up their sleeves is integral to the excitement and to the agonising decisions and guesses you have to make when you play your turns and develop your game plan.

If you knew what other players were doing in their turns before they were processed you'd be able to modify your own turns accordingly - an absurd situation would arise where the players would be afraid to be the first one to submit their turns! It wouldn't even 'put everyone on equal ground'. Whoever submitted last would have the advantage, and people would hold off submitting or keep resubmitting turns having peeked at what the others were going to do. But ultimately the host would also have a huge advantage since no-one can spy on them and they decide when to process the save.

Of course, this state of affairs already exists since it is within the power of players to abuse the game in this way. Still, assuming nothing is going to change regarding file encryption, I would much rather assume that everyone is going to play the game in good faith, than just accept that everyone is going to shamelessly view the actions of the non-host players before they happen.
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Re: Game file tampering

Postby dmjifn » Wed Sep 28, 2011 4:36 am

Fuu, if your game is one of those where everyone pools their *.trn files together in Dropbox, then I see what you're saying. I don't think Sterno knows you're doing that. In our game, we still email *.trn files to the host, so the other players can't see them. What Sterno's talking about is the *.sav file that everyone gets no matter what and that has all the Turn Log messages for all players, including the AI. It tells you what every other player did but not what they're necessarily going to do. So we don't have that exact problem you're illustrating.

Open game files still detracts significantly, I think. It completely nullifies some strategies like kingmaker, or the joy of inciting two players to fight by using ritual masking. Still, I happen to agree with Sterno. I'm learning towards destigmatizing it in our future games. We have good players but, given how our games go, someone will look and that's the reality. We'll just play accordingly and not get bent out of shape about it. Of course, it's still out of bounds for the host to do things the other players cannot.

I would still like it fixed, though.
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