GameGuard: Protecting You From Your PC

So GameGuard updated recently, allegedly finally being able to detect Cheat Engine on a 64-bit OS. The update appears to have introduced a number of problems however, including:

  • Preventing Vent from running
  • Causing Aero to crash and then causing Windows to shut down shortly after if a user attempts to open Task Manager via CTRL + SHIFT + ESC
  • Causing Windows to believe it isn’t a genuine copy
  • Causing general system instability (BSODs, crashing system processes).

If you can stand to read it, there’s a thread on PSO-World here.

Now I can’t personally confirm all the problems that GameGuard is causing right now, but what is certain is the recent update has caused problems and it’s made Nprotect really unpopular among the Japanese. Given the sheer number of complaints this has caused, I expect a statement will be made at some point.

I already voiced my woes with GameGuard before, it seems little has changed. It still punishes the legitimate, honest player far more than it does the actual cheaters by being as intrusive as it is. Never mind that recent events appear to have proven that once again Sega put too much trust in GameGuard protecting their game, rather than making the effort to secure the game themselves. As Sakai seems to be currently intent on spinning this into a problem that’s being caused by foreigners rather than their own ineptitudes I wonder how long before he mentions us again.

Closed Beta Client Observations

So with the announcement of the closed beta and emails being sent out, the client was also made available.

Of course, people who’ve gotten it have had the chance to try out the client in various ways and certain observations have been made:


GameGuard is Present

I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise, given that it’s an asian free to play game and they all seem to come with some variation of a GameGuard-like software installed. Voiced my dislike of this software enough.

Incidentally, it seems that GameGuard and the Steam UI now get along. So you can now play the game through Steam if you wish, without the game crashing or accusing you of cheating!


Full Screen Mode

In the alpha client a fake full-screen mode was used, which a number of users found convenient. This is because they could alt-tab to do other things while playing, without causing the client to crash. Real full-screen mode was implemented in the character creation demo, unfortunately the same crashing problem resurfaced with it.

In the beta client, real full-screen mode is still present but they actually seem to have managed to prevent the game from crashing if you alt-tab or ctrl-alt-delete. Finally! It only took them eleven years to sort this issue out, but I’m glad they did.

Virtual full-screen mode is still in the client, incidentally. You can only activate it through a config edit, however.


 Video Recording Formats

A new option in the settings area allows you to set which codec to use for video capture. Codecs include Microsoft Video 1, Cinepak, Xfire Codec, Intel IUYV and a fair number of others. It actually seems it might just pick up on the codecs you already have on your system. What isn’t known yet is how you actually capture the video in-game.


Ship Count

There appears to be 10 different ships this time, as opposed to the 2 available during the alpha. A reminder that a “Ship” is the same as a realm or server in most other MMOs.

At current, a main ship for the importer community hasn’t been settled on. That’s still being discussed, but as soon as a consensus seems to be coming about I’ll post it here and update the importer community page appropriately. Remember you can only roll one character and said character is tied to one ship, so I think it’s important for english speaking players to know where most of the others hang out.


Towards the Future

Beta-access emails are still being sent out in waves and should continue to be sent out up until the day of the tests. If you haven’t gotten an email yet, you still have a chance. It should also be noted that emails to all those who automatically qualified due to their participation in previous tests have now all been sent.

2nd Alpha Test Recap

This post is really just a recap of the tests, as well as a collection of any news tidbits since then.

Table of Contents



Friday

The first day of the tests. So much anticipation, so many lost hours of sleep. Many of us were expecting the servers to buckle under the pressure but amazingly all went well. In fact throughout the entirety of the test session things were remarkably stable, wasn’t even all that laggy. The population peaked at around 19,000 simultaneous users.

Saturday

This day was by far the most populated, with a peak of 23,000 simultaneous connections. The lag was rampant and blocks were even crashing under the load/ However to the client’s credit, enough of the combat was client sided that it didn’t impact the gameplay as much as it could have.

Wednesday

The GM announcement system crashed the servers, resulting in a two-hour extension to the test time. From here on out, the GM message ticker was silent. The population peaked at 21,000.

Friday/Saturday

One random maintenance without explanation, 1 hour extension. There are seemingly no population stats for this test.

Overall Population

Of those who entered, 80% actually participated in the tests. Of those that participated, 73% made it past level 10 which is the requirement to qualify for the closed beta. That really isn’t all that surprising, given that reaching level 10 took at most 30 minutes or so.

[Statistics and other information taken from PSblog]

Back to top



What Sakai Said

A whole lot of not much, so far. He was very apologetic about the server lag and said that they would be doing something to address this before the closed beta period, stating that it may be difficult to fix. He considered the tests a failure. Failure enough to warrant further alpha testing? Well that has yet to be seen. He was however pleased to announce that they think they know the main cause of the lag (something to do with the way players start quests if I recall correctly) and they isolated the issue that was causing blocks to crash (which again iirc was something to do with players moving to and from their rooms).

Honestly the lag issues are kind of a big deal, because while the population was reasonably large (at least for an MMO series this obscure) I expect the population on release day will be considerably larger. You only get one chance to make a first impression, or so they say, so hopefully that issue is sorted to give the game a more solid launch. Because seriously, they could a use a decent launch after the train-wreck that was Phantasy Star Universe’s.

Back to top



The Client

This section will talk about the client as it was during the 2nd alpha.

  • The client still uses Nprotect Gameguard. So it’s looking like that pest of a program may well be staying, unfortunately.
  • You can use the mouse to interact with the user interface. The interface itself however is not customisable beyond a scale setting in the launcher.
  • You can adjust graphics settings in-game. No longer will you need to restart the client to get to the options screen in the launcher. convenient, yes, but naturally some changes will only be apparent when you do restart (the client informs you of this).
  • Full-screen mode is still technically windowed, which means that you can happily alt-tab to other programs while playing PSO2 on full-screen. Why not actual full-screen? Well players of PSO and PSU may know why, but in case you don’t if you switch windows while in full screen the game will terminate. It’s not because it assumes you’re a filthy cheater like a lot of people believe, it’s more to do with the fact that the game’s world ceases to exist when you alt-tab.

Back to top



Foreign Support

As of yet, still no word. However, the results of data mining do seem to suggest that they’re continuing to work to at least give PSO2 the option of localised versions, beyond what was seen in the previous client. This is by no means a certain sign that it will happen, just that they’re at the very least working to keep that card on the table.

Back to top


Phantasy Star on Console

No this does not mean that PSO2 is coming out on a console you CHUMPSTICK. I’m referring to one of the questions that was asked in the player feedback questionnaire, namely:

Q14. Using your character data from the PC version, which other platform would you like to use it to play the Phantasy Star Online 2 “Series”.

This may well be a similar deal that occured with PSU and the Phantasy Stat Portable games, in which you could transfer character data from PSU to them, at least in a limited sense. We may not hear much more on this until some time after the release of PSO2 (I’m thinking a year after, at least). This is not related to the tentatively titled “Phantasy Star Victory”.

[Translation of Question 14 taken from Bumped]

Back to top



Towards the Future

Some information on future events as well as news that is expected soon!

  • A full report on the 2nd alpha tests, including detailed player feedback and maybe some cool charts. Really eager to find out what players considered the biggest issues of the game (presuming they’ll be presented to us this way of course).
  • The closed beta test will be happening “before it’s hot”. Which presumably means before the summer, which could also place it any time during spring.
  • Character data from the open beta will be carried over to release. This may seem unusual, given that most of the time in MMOs all data from any test periods is wiped, for various reasons. Sega have done this before, however, on the lead-up to Phantasy Star Universe in Japan and I believe they did this with PSO:Blue Burst JP as well. Essentially they seem to treat it more like a demo mode than the traditional idea of a beta.
  • Details about the billing procedures will not be announced until after the closed beta and before the open beta, so said Sakai in an interview. Not that this has stopped a torrent of fiery opinions damning any sort of free-to-play model.
  • Some cool concept art of the RAnewearl, hopefully! But sadly this hasn’t actually been announced, nor do I expect it to be. It will be a random surprise as the RAnewm art was.

Back to top

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…