It’s April! We have a great update for you regarding our new player character from our producer Marie-Cécile Jacq! Then, our technical director Ismael Serrano has teamed up with our Player Safety Team to talk about cheating in-game and how to prevent it! Enjoy!
Hello folks! We wanted to revisit some news you may have heard about the second beta for the new player character.
Players from the first beta who confirmed they would be happy to do a second round of testing were contacted by mail in March. We informed them that they could try the new player character again by the end of the same month. They then received another email informing them that unfortunately, we had some delays and wouldn’t be able to run the test session at that time.
We obviously made a lot of progress after the first beta, and we really wanted to show it as soon as possible.
At the same time, another team was working on the horse state machine, which is a big technical challenge.
When we got closer to the beta, we realized that there would be too many things we would like to fix animation wise, and not enough time between the new character and the two state machines to sync. As we were mentioning in the February blog post, while the horses are now animated through the now released state machine, the new Player character will also benefit from that technology, but these two systems need to communicate with each other to have a consistency between how the horse and the rider move together..
As we didn’t want to have a beta with so many elements that needed explanation and that would have a “we know, will fix it later” comment on them, we decided we needed more time and it was better to refocus on the main release instead of rushing a beta.
We’re not sure yet, we will keep you posted. What we really want right now is for the team to focus on the release rather than preparing a beta, as that set up brings specific challenges. We’re not ruling out another, smaller test prior to release but it likely won’t be the large beta we had the first time.
As announced in the previous blog post, we’re really hoping to deliver it during the summer, ideally in June. It will depend, of course, on several technical aspects, including performance optimization and bug fixing. We do want to release it as soon as we can, as we can’t wait to let you all access these options and enjoy the updated graphics. We’re reaching a point where we feel confident about the stability of the release and we feel like the player character has a solid foundation we can build on for years to come. There will be regular updates after the initial release to continue to improve the experience.
In May, we’re planning to do a small update with the beauty salons to improve access to appearance change and better visibility of the hairstyle and makeup you have in your inventory. Meaning that you will no longer have to go to your stable to change your character's main features.
When the new player character is released, all our players around the world will see their avatar updated. You will keep all your clothes, makeup, hairstyles, and accessories, and you will still be able to ride any of your horses.
It is very normal to be heavily attached to your current character, and seeing a new version of it could be an emotional moment. Changes are always frightening, especially when you spent so many hours, maybe even so many years, in “someone's” company.
When the player character is updated, everyone will be able to modify their character once for free.
We have implemented a new pricing system, allowing players to only pay for what they are changing (changing just the eye color is cheaper than changing the eye color and the face shape, for example).
Once again, thanks so much for your patience and all the constructive feedback!
My name is Ismael Serrano and I’m the Technical Director for Star Stable Online. I’m here to talk about…
Cheating! The act of behaving in a dishonest way in order to get what you want!
I remember, a long time ago, when I was the one looking for ways of exploiting and cheating in online games. The twists and turns of life! Those learnings are now helping me to prevent it in Star Stable Online!
Let's start by explaining the different kinds of cheating that are typically used in games:
This is usually the easiest to do once discovered. When content is added to a video game, it's thoroughly tested, but sometimes there are corner cases that are not caught, allowing players to take advantage of the game's mechanics. For example, interacting with a bus stop sign while sitting down could allow the player to access a restricted area or run a championship out of the specified times. The way to tackle this is by fixing the problematic content to patch the exploit.
Some players use third party tools that allow them to modify the game memory in their local machine. In an online game, this is only problematic if the modified memory affects a mechanic that is not validated on the servers, and therefore the best way to “prevent” it is validating mechanics on the server. For example, you can modify the memory to show that you have millions of Star Coins, but the server still knows your real balance. If you try to purchase anything with Star Coins you don't actually have, the server will recognize this and kick you out of the game.
As the name suggests, this is pulled off by modifying local files in your game, allowing players to execute logic that should not be available. For example, changing a horse's visuals with the push of a button. This can be solved by checking if the data in the game is what is expected and without any modifications.
There is always going to be a way of cheating, in one way or another. The human mind is surprisingly good at finding details that can help to reach an objective, whether in regards to cheating or any other goal. Acknowledging this is important to be able to make decisions in the future.
Now I want to discuss a little bit about the history of tackling cheating in SSO. Anyone who’s had the chance to interact with me knows that I try to be as open as possible, but I hope you understand if I can’t go into details about certain topics for security reasons.
Star Stable Online is going to be 12 years old soon! What a ride! And we want to make sure we’re here for another ten amazing years.
The limited number of developers and the uncertain future that we are living in right now has taken a lot of time away from dealing with problems like cheating. It’s not an excuse, but a reality that now can’t be changed, and we can learn from it and do better!
The time came when the cheating problem was acknowledged and there was a need for a plan. But again, the number of developers, ways of working and already planned work made it very hard to consider solutions for it. The decision was made to use a third party tool as a temporary solution to give us time to prepare, plan, and execute! We spent a lot of time investigating the best options that would fit our requirements and data restrictions, taking valuable time from other potential initiatives. But sometimes things do not work as expected, and in the end this didn’t work out, so the decision was made to stop using that tool.
We are currently in the development of several initiatives to handle cheating. Initially focusing on championship and highscore races, but also looking into game modification. We have already rolled out a couple of initiatives as a test, and even if some cheaters have found a way to bypass them, we have gathered enough intel to be able to finally solve it in the near future.
Cheating has to be blocked, but also reported. We are still aiming to handle banning manually, to avoid false positives. However, there are a few ways to validate or confirm certain types of cheats, slowing the process. But this is changing! We have more and more information gathered about this kind of player, but still not enough for certain cases, and it is sometimes hard to gather with our current tools. There is a plan to improve this in the future, so our customer support and game moderators can not only get better information when receiving a player report, but also internal alerts on accounts that might be cheating and need to be checked on.
The path is long and there is a lot to do, but we have much better ways of working and are evolving our tools and technology to be able to, slowly, tackle these problems that have been around for so long.
And to leave you with something more visual, here is a video of the current development of the internal speed hack detection tool. Note: this is still under development and there is no planned release date as of yet, but I think it’s helpful to show something more tangible than just words!
We take action whenever possible against those promoting or engaging in cheating. We are constantly working to find ways of preventing cheating from occuring in the game. We can’t reveal too much about what work we are doing, but rest assured that we are trying our hardest to find long-term solutions that will stop the cheating.
We are actively working on the issue of cheating right now, and are looking at a variety of overlapping solutions that work as both short-term “bandages” as well as more robust long-term solutions that make it harder for cheaters to exploit the game systems as they do today. We will be releasing these solutions throughout the year, but we don’t intend to announce the details publicly because we do not want to make it easier for cheaters to prepare or find ways around them.
Don’t cheat! We will take action against cheating whenever we can, and it may lead to a permanent account ban!
Report cheaters to us! We take action against cheating whenever we can. (Note that we are not banning players just because they have been reported - we always check our tools for proof before we ban a player. We don’t want to risk banning a player because of a fake report). But if we find proof of cheating, we take action against that player. You can always report cheating to us by reaching out via the contact form on our website!
Help spread the word within the community! You players are a great help in finding cheaters and making sure they stay out of the game.
Such an interesting read! Hope you enjoyed it! Stay tuned for next month’s edition of the game blog!