Alpha Test Features

So there’s already information coming out about the alpha client, arriving as the first wave of alpha testers are able to log in and download it.

The title screen!

This post is going to discuss the details that I can discuss. For the sake of the layout of this post, I won’t be discussing them in order.

“It is forbidden to disclose information to any outside websites, forums, video sites, twitter, etc. (Verified)

Usual Alpha/Beta Test non-disclosure agreement stuff. Nothing at all unexpected. Companies don’t like people talking about or demonstrating in-game stuff that’s either not completed or may change before release, for obvious reasons. I somehow doubt that every tester will adhere to this, so details are inevitably going to be leaked.

PSU Lobby Actions are temporary, they have plans to implement new lobby actions in the future. (Verified)

It’s nice that they addressed this, as it was something people poked fun at them for when we saw characters doing lobby actions. It says something that we kind of expect Sega to be so lazy as to recycle lobby animations from a previous game, really.

Official Site listed Recommended Game pads.
Microsoft Xbox 360 Controller for Windows
ELECOM USBtoPS/PS2 Gamepad Converter
BUFFALO USB Gamepad 16 Button
Logicool PC GameController GPX-500
Rumble Gamepad F310
Rumble Gamepad F510
Wireless Gamepad F710
EXA PSU AOTI Official Gamepad

This was expected, but it’s nice to have confirmation of. Anyone who’s tried playing PSU with the keyboard will know that it was a pain in the ass. Of course, this is PSO2, not PSU, so who knows it might be more pleasant this time around seeing as the game is developed primarily for PC this time. However, for an action game like this I’d prefer to use a controller, particularly for melee. For rangers, it might actually be better to use keyboard and mouse seeing as there’s a third-person shooter thing going on with them.

nProtect seems to be used, it was updated when installing the game. (Verified)

Yes. GameGuard. This is gonna get wordy. Anyone who has played an Asian MMO is probably familiar with this beast. For those who aren’t, it’s an anti-hacking tool that will run in the background while you’re playing. It behaves like a rootkit in order to do its job, however.
It will inject itself into every single process running on your PC, as well as further processes that you’d start. It hides itself and the game process, so you cannot see it in your Task Manager. If it detects anything it doesnt agree with it will terminate that process as well as the game. It blocks calls to certain DirectX functions and Windows APIs and It also allegedly logs your keyboard inputs.
“Not a problem”, you may think. Hacking is a tough issue that requires a tough solution. Well this is undoubtedly one part of fighting hackers but GameGuard is known to cause other issues as well. For one thing GameGuard has identified non-cheating software as game hacks and would prevent the user from running the client, however nProtect are improving this over time. There are also potential stability issues due to the way it attempts to protect the game (I know one person who cannot run Firefox if GameGuard is running or else his system will crash). One annoying issue I’ve had is if GameGuard crashes, you can’t end-task it as it hides itself from memory. This actually prevents you from starting your game (as it’ll detect an instance of GameGuard is already running and thus refuse to start), meaning you’ll have to reboot before you can play again. On a similar note, if your game stops responding for whatever reason, as GameGuard hides the process you cannot end-task it from task manager, which can proove to be awkward.

Enough about me crying about GameGuard. What are the implications of it being included with PSO2? Well for one thing, PSO:BB and PSU seemingly relied on it entirely to prevent hacking. So much so that a ridiculous amount of information in the client was trusted completely, which reduced such vitally important things such as the amount of money you have to a simple memory edit (some of this was fixed over time, but an awful lot wasn’t). GameGuard just makes hacking ever so slightly more difficult, but it doesn’t prevent it. The bulk of a game’s security is in the hands of the developers and what they choose to trust the client with and what not to, as well as to have certain server-side checks in place to detect anything unusual.
So the fact that it’s included once again is foreboding, as it implies that Sega are not taking responsibility for securing their own game and are passing the responsibility onto a 3rd party who are, historically speaking, much better at screwing up people’s systems than they are at preventing cheating.
Of course, it’s possible that this time Sega will take rigorous steps to make sure their servers are secure, that nothing vital is trusted to the client and they do all the right things to make cheating as difficult as possible. But if they did all that, then they wouldn’t need GameGuard!
At this point I’m just hoping that it doesn’t affect the game’s performance too badly. Or, maybe, given what happened with Aion, I should be hoping that it makes running the client absolute hell so they do what NCSoft did and decide that it does more harm than good. One can dream…