# How to stop users from manipulating Game Save Data

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I've been building a role playing game on PC using the Java language for 2 months.

I managed to implement a "save and load system" in 3 days.

The roadblock currently with development is "it is really easy to find the textfile from the game's folder and just start editing the numbers which can ruin the game exploration and balance."

The save file needs to be a textfile because Java has this file input and output object that knows how to handle textfile. I am not sure if it can handle any other file extensions.

What are my options to stop users from manipulating a game save data text file?

gameSaveData.txt

MapScreen: 0
Map Position: 0 0
Camera: 245 -215
Character's Level: 5
Character's Life: 50
Character's MaxLife: 50
Gold Amount: 29
NPC0: FINISHED
NPC1: FINISHED


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First thing, don't make it so readable Use meaningless labels, and no newlines so it's a pain to find the number you're after.

Second, do some sort of encryption on the numbers (could be as simple as differential encoding, so changing one number modifies everything after it).

For a single player game, there's no need to prevent save hacking... just deter it so the player doesn't feel like they're wasting time by playing the game when it would be so easy to type in a number. If anyone cares enough to make a save editor tool, let them have their fun.

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So long as your game is offline, players cheating hurt others in no way. If a user wants to enjoy your game by cheating, let 'em. Your job as a game developer is to give them a product they enjoy, not to force them to enjoy it the way you want them to.

If you want to make them work for it, you can encode your file. Simply moving to a binary format instead of text at least stops the casual cheaters for the first few days if you're lucky. If you're unlucky then it takes them months or years because your game is unpopular and nobody is really trying.

I assume your game is offline as storing save game information on players' local disks in an online game is pure madness.

Although I agree you should let people play a game a way they want to, I don't even remotely agree that people should basically be encouraged to cheat by leaving things open to generic editing. Even making saves binary adds quite a bit of protection because the amount of effort and knowledge required to change the saves then goes up significantly.

I'm actually not sure where this apparent encouragement online about cheating in games came from, for some reason people seem to think cheating is only a thing when it affects other people. If anything you should be encouraging people to not cheat unless they're doing something like messing around after they beat the game, which is something that should not require screwing with the save file anyway.

First thing, don't make it so readable Use meaningless labels, and no newlines so it's a pain to find the number you're after.

Second, do some sort of encryption on the numbers (could be as simple as differential encoding, so changing one number modifies everything after it).

For a single player game, there's no need to prevent save hacking... just deter it so the player doesn't feel like they're wasting time by playing the game when it would be so easy to type in a number. If anyone cares enough to make a save editor tool, let them have their fun.

Actually.. yeah, pretty much this. Although quite frankly you shouldn't need to obfuscate it really, in most cases just saving files in binary is enough of a deterrent to people. I'd only worry if its a five second change to make you invincible in your game or something, then its a little TOO open.

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So long as your game is offline, players cheating hurt others in no way. If a user wants to enjoy your game by cheating, let 'em. Your job as a game developer is to give them a product they enjoy, not to force them to enjoy it the way you want them to.

You got a point there.

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So long as your game is offline, players cheating hurt others in no way. If a user wants to enjoy your game by cheating, let 'em. Your job as a game developer is to give them a product they enjoy, not to force them to enjoy it the way you want them to.

[...]

Although I agree you should let people play a game a way they want to, I don't even remotely agree that people should basically be encouraged to cheat by leaving things open to generic editing. Even making saves binary adds quite a bit of protection because the amount of effort and knowledge required to change the saves then goes up significantly.

I'm actually not sure where this apparent encouragement online about cheating in games came from, for some reason people seem to think cheating is only a thing when it affects other people. If anything you should be encouraging people to not cheat unless they're doing something like messing around after they beat the game, which is something that should not require screwing with the save file anyway.

For me, its two main points.  The first is that if someone goes to the trouble of trying to modify a save file, it's probably because of a failure of the game.  It's either too hard for them, too boring, or maybe the save points are too far away and some progress was lost due to a game crash or whatever.  And for a singleplayer game, who are they hurting by this 'cheat'?

The second main point is development time misspent.  Now, yeah, swapping to binary for a save file isn't exactly a huge cost (and that is fine move imho), but I've seen time and again people delving into encryption algorithms and various obfuscation techniques and obsessing over something that the majority of players aren't even going to bother doing, and those that do --  well, see the first point.

And as an aside, if all your files are text, there is a nice side benefit of your game being easily moddable.  Sure someone might mod your game to make all the bad guys have 1 hit point, but someone else might add new enemies, swap art, or create a super hard mode.

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And for a singleplayer game, who are they hurting by this 'cheat'?

And here is a prime example of why I don't like people that spread nonsense like that, it isn't "cheating" its cheating. It is changing the game save file to manipulate your progress, it is bypassing the coded rules of the game, and to me its like some crappy debate or something. There's no morals or "oh its opinion" it is cheating.

In fact that's the part that gets me is 90% of the time the people that do exactly that will almost religiously defend the idea that they aren't cheating, because they don't want to feel like they're doing something wrong or whatever. I mean if you want to cheat, sure, cheat, admit it, but cheat.

But there is no moral debate here, editing a games files to change your progress is cheating, simple as that. I also find it silly that people objectify the idea that unless someone else is affected by your cheating that you shouldn't strive to avoid it. Reality check: you shouldn't encourage people to cheat in games, the entire point of games is to overcome the challenge presented by the developer.

This is not a "does a tree make a sound" debate, if you cheat at solitaire it is still cheating, if you cheat at minesweeper it is still cheating, someone does not have to observe you cheating in order for you to be cheating.

The second main point is development time misspent.  Now, yeah, swapping to binary for a save file isn't exactly a huge cost (and that is fine move imho), but I've seen time and again people delving into encryption algorithms and various obfuscation techniques and obsessing over something that the majority of players aren't even going to bother doing, and those that do --  well, see the first point.

I can't really take this as much of a point because honestly even in a scenario of someone going stupidly overboard like encrypting save files and something it would still be a very minimalistic time investment. If someone wants to whine about this taking so long to implement I'd probably ask them why they're spending a month installing crappy DRM into their game then too, along with a dozen other bad ideas they're probably using.

And as an aside, if all your files are text, there is a nice side benefit of your game being easily moddable.  Sure someone might mod your game to make all the bad guys have 1 hit point, but someone else might add new enemies, swap art, or create a super hard mode.

Yeah lets encourage horrible modding practices like Minecraft while we're at it. If modding your game is a thing it should be designed as a thing, not, "hey lets leave protections off so everyone can hack the hell out of my game by changing files." Lets not even begin to mention how silly distributing such a mod would be. "Oh here, just.. overwrite all your saves with this.. or all your config files." Edited by Satharis

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Although I agree you should let people play a game a way they want to, I don't even remotely agree that people should basically be encouraged to cheat by leaving things open to generic editing.

I can agree with this, on a different front: willpower, and existentialism.

Willpower: knowing that I can easily (in under a few days' worth of time) modify the game to have about any outcome of my choosing makes it very difficult for me not to try to reason my way into caving and modifying the game, rather than completing the challenge as presented. This leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth, as it feels as if the game isn't the real challenge, I am. A game that is a metaphorical cookie jar doesn't sound fun to me, if I have the what-ifs riding in the back of my mind all of the time.

Existentialism: the game is so easy to break that legitimately earning the rewards actually yield fewer benefits than illegitimately removing limits. In that regard, if the game is all about making the values in the file increase, and I have the means to increase them beyond the game's wildest dreams, I can complete the game instantly. The game no longer is "the journey" to the happy end, but a mere obstacle that can be averted on the way to the final goal of having these values meet criteria in the most efficient way; by having the game's data unintentionally be changeable, the game is now optional.

For these reasons, and faced with these decisions, I will actually lose almost all fun in playing the game, and be forced to move on. Any high scores that I get can be forged. I no longer respect the accomplishments of my fellow players, and I doubt their abilities. My victories will be hollow, knowing that I could have had greater ones in five minutes.

Please, don't kid yourself into thinking you'll get the best of both worlds by allowing cheaters and honest players alike to do things the way they want to. Some people desire not being permitted to break the rules, and will abandon your game if it is easy enough to subvert them.

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Yes cheating is cheating. No one said otherwise. So what, exactly ? How is that of any consequence ?
I am talking about single player only, multiplayer, is of course, a very different beast.

Because you are ruining the experience(based on circumstance anyway) I'm not at all opposed to say, modifying a game after you've beaten it to try and generate your own sort of fun out of it, sure go wild with that. But there literally is a lot of people out there that either modify a game and think that they are playing it "vanilla" as in their progress should be compared to your progress as a player, or that they are on some moral high ground over you. Both of these things are silly.

This "cheating is bad" point isn't an argument at all in single player. The goal of a game is to provide fun to those who play it. How the player is getting his fun is none of your concern no more that whatever else he does in private (same goes with modding for that matter). He doesn't prevent others from enjoying the game the way "it's meant to be played".

They have a word for that, its called entitlement. I.e. for some reason there seems to be this popular thought these days that because you buy a game that basically means it should be whatever you want it to be. There should be no rules, no restrictions, difficulty and comparisons to the work others have done should become irrelevant, I honestly find all of that stuff to be utter garbage.

The funny part is that your last sentence nailed the biggest issue that most people like me have with the sentiment, is that people are in some sort of self delusion that their modifications to the game "are how it is meant to be played" you say a single player game is your experience, but the reality is that when discussing games, their effects, challenges and goals, it inherently becomes a multiplayer thing.

You're misusing the word "protection." There is no threat of injury or harm to you, the game, or the player.

Generally a developer doesn't want someone to just change the rules of the game or they wouldn't have put them there in the first place. That should be rather self explanatory. There are exceptions to this, when the developer states that they want you to or the game is constructed in such a way as to be a basic shell of a game.

Maybe I want to cheat so I can see the story because I don't give a damn about the tired gameplay. Maybe I want to cheat because the plot is uninteresting and I just want to go hog wild with the mechanics. Maybe I'm cheating because I had a bad day and felt out of control in my real life and needed to vent at some virtual avatars with mega fireballs of doom. Maybe I'm cheating because I'm bored to silliness and I want to see how badly I can muck up the game. Your judgment of gamers and their motivation is utterly irrelevant to their life or how they enjoy themselves, I'm sorry to tell you.

Which is an interesting note because if anything it sounds like you actually -do- care what people think because you seem to abhor the idea of people judging you for modifying your game. I would say all the things you listed are different problems or if not a problem just an interesting event. If a game sucks to you then I suppose I could understand you cheating, but in a way most people would still consider that a cop out. I.e. even if the game feels un-fun you have to overcome it and finish it, to know you go the full experience of the game and also so you can give an accurate assessment of it to others.

Cheating has many definitions. Almost all of them involve getting an advantage over _someone_ by means of breaking the rules. Merriam Webster lists three definitions, only one of which could be construed to be applicable to what we're talking about. Hence "cheating."

Textbook definitions rarely work in games, an FPS for example is vague terminology just like what constitutes an MMO is vague terminology. I actually never really take textbook definitions of words that seriously because the reality is that definitions are added as new things become applicable for the words in modern society.

But really I shouldn't need to even explain why modifying the rules or your status in a game through file modification is considered cheating. I mean most software being modified by a user without the explicit direction of the creator is usually seen as a bad idea, barring bug fixes or some nonsense like that.

No, no it isn't. The entire point is to _have fun_. Many people have fun by overcoming challenges. And they don't cheat, even if it's easy and they already know about /noclip or the big Easy Mode button or whatever other cheat you've made ridiculously accessible. Other people don't care about wasting time slogging through what some designer thought would be fun and want to go do their own thing. Hence the rise of sandbox games and user-create content games: your player base is infinitely more creative and better at having fun than you are, no matter how great of a designer you may be.

Another reason the trend of people acting that way tends to bother me is because it always has something to do with sandbox games, games like Minecraft or something. They use it as some silly symbol that "okay there is a game here that people quite frequently mod and it has no real goals, it has no real goals because it is an underdeveloped game." That's all, because it is a game like that. Suddenly this means all games must be a sandbox, apparently. This suddenly means that FPS must be more fun if I give myself a homing bazooka with infinite ammo that kills everything instantly. Once upon a time we called that cheating.

You as a game developer are trying to get people to exchange money for a fun experience. You can invest your time by adding more ways for more people to enjoy your game or you can waste your time by trying to remove ways for some people to enjoy your game. Which sounds like the better choice to you?

An oddly slanted view of things, your opinion seems to revolve around an almost open source movement thought process, that games are more fun when they let the player rip them apart and have no rules. I personally DON'T want every game to be like that and shudder to think what a sad state the game industry would be in if games were all like that. Sandbox games are a genre, not a revolution.

EDIT: Removing some of this to cut down the size a bit, yeesh.

Please, don't kid yourself into thinking you'll get the best of both worlds by allowing cheaters and honest players alike to do things the way they want to. Some people desire not being permitted to break the rules, and will abandon your game if it is easy enough to subvert them.

This is actually a very good point that I didn't really think to say. Edited by Satharis

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If you want to make it a little harder then just use a binary file raher than a text file.  Java can load or save any kind of file you want.  Just google Java saving binary data and you are bound to find something.

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So, as a developer I have this choice on how to spend my time:

1. Implement new features.

2. Lock down the existing features.

Which will provide the most fun for most of my customers?

There is also the question on how much time should I spend on locking down the existing features?

It's well known that no amount of work will stop all who want to take shortcuts, so how many of the new features should I sacrifice to satisfy the few guys that just can't stop themselfs from trying to find a shortcut?

Are these few guys really that relevant and worth my time?

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Is writing a binary file really going to waste development time? It's not 100% secure obviously, but it will eliminate most people from modifying their save games.

I'm with Satharis on this one though. Save files are not intended to be messed with. If you want to offer modability to your players you should design for it up front and provide the tools for it.

However, since the OP didn't ask for my feelings on the matter, that's all I'll say.

So, to protect a local save file:

-Learn to read/write to binary files

-Encryption can further obfuscate your save data, but at what cost? You'd also better hope there's no bugs in your encryption and decryption code.

Beyond this you'd really need to save to a remote location (server) to prevent people from messing with their save data. If I had a binary save file, I could probably track what my game state was when I saved, open the binary file in a hex editor (or even notepad) and try to identify values that match what I expect (i.e. I had 50 health, back up my save file, open the original up, find some value that is 50, change it, save it, test, and repeat until I've solved how to change my health in save points). Encryption would pretty much make this approach useless unless I knew the encryption algorithm, and would require more in-depth efforts to crack the save file.

The more protections you put in, the more diminishing your returns are (i.e. maybe 0.1% of users would crack a binary file, but only 0.01% would crack an encrypted binary file, so if you have 10000 users, 10 would be able to crack the binary file, and only 1 would be able to crack the encrypted version. So you eliminated 9990 users from messing your game by writing to binary, but you only prevented an additional 9 from messing your game by encrypting the data). And once it's cracked, the person who solved it can give step-by-step instructions (or a tool) to let the less tech-savy users modify their own save files.

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Ah the sense of entitlement is strong here, just love those rampant upvotes on everything Sean says regardless of length or point and downvotes on everything else.

But not that it is surprising on here, most of my upvotes come from people just upvoting the hell out of stuff I say that sounds 'friendly' and doesn't give a serious real world opinion on why people are wrong, people don't like being proven wrong.

In fact its a trend that is shown on nearly every thread here, luckily I'm not one of those people that cares enough to sell out reality for a virtual reputation. If anything I'd probably consider it a victory if I get more downvotes after pointing this fact out, I'll just get it all back anyway.

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I can agree with this, on a different front: willpower, and existentialism.

Willpower: knowing that I can easily (in under a few days' worth of time) modify the game to have about any outcome of my choosing makes it very difficult for me not to try to reason my way into caving and modifying the game, rather than completing the challenge as presented. This leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth, as it feels as if the game isn't the real challenge, I am. A game that is a metaphorical cookie jar doesn't sound fun to me, if I have the what-ifs riding in the back of my mind all of the time.

Existentialism: the game is so easy to break that legitimately earning the rewards actually yield fewer benefits than illegitimately removing limits. In that regard, if the game is all about making the values in the file increase, and I have the means to increase them beyond the game's wildest dreams, I can complete the game instantly. The game no longer is "the journey" to the happy end, but a mere obstacle that can be averted on the way to the final goal of having these values meet criteria in the most efficient way; by having the game's data unintentionally be changeable, the game is now optional.

For these reasons, and faced with these decisions, I will actually lose almost all fun in playing the game, and be forced to move on. Any high scores that I get can be forged. I no longer respect the accomplishments of my fellow players, and I doubt their abilities. My victories will be hollow, knowing that I could have had greater ones in five minutes.

Please, don't kid yourself into thinking you'll get the best of both worlds by allowing cheaters and honest players alike to do things the way they want to. Some people desire not being permitted to break the rules, and will abandon your game if it is easy enough to subvert them.

It sounds like you have serious issues then, if upon realizing that you can get away with doing something unintended, you suddenly find yourself constantly thinking about doing it.

You can probably get away with planning and robbing your neighbor in "under a few days' worth of time", and you'll probably come out with a lot more money/valuables.  But I hope, now that you know you can do it and get away with it, you're not suddenly thinking about the "what-ifs" in the back of your mind all of the time.

I don't think most people seem to have the same problems with compulsiveness that you are having...

They have a word for that, its called entitlement. I.e. for some reason there seems to be this popular thought these days that because you buy a game that basically means it should be whatever you want it to be.

Yes, when you buy something - when you give someone MONEY for an item - you are entitled to do what you want with that item. That's part of the act of OWNERSHIP. And when you sell something, you give up your rights to do what you want with that item - you are no longer entitled to it.

This is part of the definition of entitlement and ownership and is a standard part of all commerce. It's something you need to accept if you ever intend on selling anything.

Just like this: I might not like race tracks, so I don't wany any of my cars to be driven on race tracks. But once I sell you my car, I no longer have the right to tell you "You can't use this on a race track." You are now entitled to do what you want with that car, including driving it on race tracks, because you bought it and you now own it.

Textbook definitions rarely work in games

This is not a game, this is a message board discussion. When speaking the same language, you need to abide by the commonly-held definitions, otherwise no one is going to understand what you mean.

an FPS for example is vague terminology just like what constitutes an MMO is vague terminology.

No, there's nothing vague about them. They're very easily defined.

A FPS is a game that uses the first-person viewer and allows the user to carry and shoot guns. "First-person shooter."

An MMO is a game that allows a large number of players to play in the same game environment simultaneously over the internet. "Massively-multiplayer on-line."

I actually never really take textbook definitions of words that seriously

And that is why you are having problems communicating with the rest of us.

"Cheating" is a very-well defined word. You keep using that word, but it does not mean what you think it means.

But really I shouldn't need to even explain why modifying the rules or your status in a game through file modification is considered cheating.

Well almost everyone here seems to think you're wrong so, yes, it sounds like you DO need to explain why modifying the rules or status is considered cheating. Because we all think it does not, and we shouldn't just take it on faith just because you said so.

You should also open your mind to the possibility that you may be wrong.

I mean most software being modified by a user without the explicit direction of the creator is usually seen as a bad idea, barring bug fixes or some nonsense like that.

Yes, but not because it's "cheating." Mostly because it potentially introduces instability in the programm either resulting in crashes or unintended consequences due to the code running in such a way that was not initially foreseen or intended by the designer.

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Who's more entitled? The person who wants to use something they bought the way they want to use it or the person that doesn't let someone use the product the way they want to use it?

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Just like this: I might not like race tracks, so I don't wany any of my cars to be driven on race tracks. But once I sell you my car, I no longer have the right to tell you "You can't use this on a race track." You are now entitled to do what you want with that car, including driving it on race tracks, because you bought it and you now own it.

I fail to see what any of that has to do with software or games in particular, its like the DRM debate that copying is stealing, it has no real world precedent because a game is not like an alarm clock you buy off your neighbor.

In fact I don't really see your point at all in this sort of topic, what we're talking about is akin to pulling out a board game and cheating and it. Can you? Sure. Is it wrong? No but its definitely cheating and you're probably losing out on the experience of the game the way the developer intended. Can cheating in that regard be easily defined? Well it kind of depends on your intentions. Sometimes changing the game rules might be an attempt at you spicing the game up, that isn't necessarily bad.

Should you encourage people to buy something and then instantly cheat on it and never play the board game correctly? Of course not! Why would you? How are people ever going to take games seriously if you don't give them any respect yourself?

This is not a game, this is a message board discussion. When speaking the same language, you need to abide by the commonly-held definitions, otherwise no one is going to understand what you mean.

I'm not really sure what your point of this clarification is since we are TALKING about games and thus terminology used as a backing point can be a misnomer.

No, there's nothing vague about them. They're very easily defined.

A FPS is a game that uses the first-person viewer and allows the user to carry and shoot guns. "First-person shooter."

An MMO is a game that allows a large number of players to play in the same game environment simultaneously over the internet. "Massively-multiplayer on-line."

Oh really? Tell me then if you had to classify Skyrim as a game what would you classify it as? An RPG? An FPS? You can certainly shoot things in it, not necessarily guns, but there are bows and other weapons. The game also can be played in third person, does that make it a TPS? Where did we decide that an FPS requires guns to work? Does that mean a game where you fire a bow or a paintball gun isn't an FPS?

What about an MMO? What defines an MMO? How many players is a large number of players? What separates it from simply a multiplayer match based game? Persistence? How much of it needs to be persistent? Really, try going on steam and looking at the MMO category, I think you will probably agree that most of them don't look like what you would traditionally think of as an MMO at all. The definition is not as clear as you make it sound, and if you really think so then you clearly haven't thought much about the subject.

And that is why you are having problems communicating with the rest of us.

"Cheating" is a very-well defined word. You keep using that word, but it does not mean what you think it means.

Actually I'm not having problems communicating at all, I'm understand what everyone is saying perfectly, but this is like a Linux debate, just because you say it doesn't mean it is true nor that I agree with it.

Well almost everyone here seems to think you're wrong so, yes, it sounds like you DO need to explain why modifying the rules or status is considered cheating. Because we all think it does not, and we shouldn't just take it on faith just because you said so.

Fortunately I don't let a few upvotes and downvotes on a forum mean anything about reality, in fact my previous post to this one outlines why I don't often take seriously the reputation people on this forum give me or others, its a hug along club lets be realistic. In fact when someone doesn't like someone I've noticed them going and downvoting every post they've ever made on other threads to the point where a moderator has to say something about it. That isn't discussion. If I just wanted to be positive and never give an opinion that clashes with someone it is quite easy to acrue thousands of reputation as long as you aren't spouting complete nonsense.

But the reality is that what I'm saying isn't complete nonsense, in fact it has a lot of fair points and arguably most of it is subjective, and that is why its going to get downvoted no matter what I say. I could prove you wrong mathematically or some outlandish idea like that and I'll likely still get downvoted. Why? Because people have strong feelings on this subject, they argue about it all the time.

You should also open your mind to the possibility that you may be wrong.

I always keep my mind open to that possibility, but reevaluating what I've said and what the reality of things is, I don't think I'm incorrect. In fact I would say I'm totally correct and the people I'm arguing with are arguing with subjective nature, so far between you and Sean I've seen bouncing between accepting the definition of cheating to flat out saying, Oh, its not cheating, to Oh it might be cheating but I own it, so it doesn't matter.

Lets be realistic, that's not a discussion, that's subjective feelings about morality getting in the way of discussion. I'm not at any point in the future going to stop thinking modifying a games files to change your abilities in a vanilla game as anything but cheating. No amount of downvotes is going to change that fact.

Yes, but not because it's "cheating." Mostly because it potentially introduces instability in the programm either resulting in crashes or unintended consequences due to the code running in such a way that was not initially foreseen or intended by the designer.

For generic software yes, but games are not generic software. There's no "game" or winning or losing to an excel spreadsheet or something, a game doesn't fit the definition most software occupies. You can't even really compare it to something like a movie because what are you going to gain from ripping parts out of a movie? It doesn't change the experience, it just removes it. Games have an only the fly received experience and changing the game can modify that.

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Just to flip the script, there are cases where a single player game can try to be a bit more anti-cheat.  Games with leaderboards and score tracking, (though I would argue the game is no longer singleplayer at that point), and games where it's whole point is to be challenging, brutal and hard, like Super Meat Boy.

Which is sort of the whole unspoken basis to the discussion here is that the only time you consider a score to mean anything is when it is compared against other people. The same can be said for the gameplay really, unless you actively bring up the topic of the game to another person, if you cheat at a game nobody is ever going to know. It basically is going to be your little "secret" if you really care to call it that, like its that important.

That unfortunately is the root point of the issue and why I keep using the word "entitled" although people seem to really take offense to it. Because the reality is that the only time this cheating topic comes up in discussion is because people modify a game and then treat that as if it is the intended game experience. I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say that a game is "okay" because there are mods to FIX the problems it inherently has in its design. That is an awful world to base our thought process of games off of.

I actually do agree with Ectara a little bit, that putting in a minor safeguard can help people from cheating themselves out of what could've been a fun experience for them if they had not cheated.  (That said there is only so much to be done to help someone help themselves.)

An opinion that a lot of people here don't seem to share, they seem to think that it is their decision what cheating is in a game and that they should have free access to change whatever they like at their slightest whim.

Satharn seems to take the stance that the developer is infallible, which is probably the greater sense of entitlement.

I'm assuming you're talking about me.

No I never said anything about a developer being infallible, in fact most of the time I don't think that a lot of design decisions developers make in games help them at all. In fact I quite regularly explain the flaws of games and how their design was much worse than it could have been.

The reality is that.. that fact doesn't change anything. A game is a game, when you play a game and look at it and explain what it is you HAVE to take it as the developer intended. You have to play -their- game and finish their challenge. Otherwise you are not playing -their- game you are a playing a modified game.

For instance if you can't beat an FPS on the hardest difficulty setting you can't exactly edit the games files to remove all the enemies and then say you are still experiencing THEIR game, in fact the game might be completely different because you did that. Or because you gave yourself infinite money at the start of the game. You are completely moving outside the experience they presented you.

Is it bad to do that just as a source of entertainment? No.. of course not. But when you do it because you think it -fixes- a game or something, then it becomes a source of nonsense.

What if your easy setting isn't easy enough?  And saying, "Well that person needs to practice, or grind umpteen hours" isn't really a valid answer.  You've basically excluded people from being able to enjoy and finish your game, because..what exactly?  That's how you designed it?  Yay for losing sales and forever getting diminishing sales on any sequels.

Again I'm not saying that changing a game to fix design flaws should ever be considered a "correct" thing to do. If anything you should play through the game, get a feel for why it failed, and then mod it to make it more fun. Or if you just want to mod it.. well, forego the ability to judge the game then. You can't really judge something that you don't get the entire picture of. Same reason people like TotalBiscuit don't call their early looks into games "reviews" because you can't really review a game without having the entire picture of what it is, a game can leave a sour taste in your mouth in the last 30 seconds.

Also, its a bit silly to denigrate minecraft for being moddable, considering it's wild success.

I own and played Minecraft for a long time, I had a lot of fun with it. Reality? It isn't a very good game, it is not designed as a very good game. Nothing about "minecraft" as a game subject makes it good. Creepers do not inherently make the game better, Steve is not a thoughtful character design. People do not like Minecraft they like the basic gameplay element that Minecraft represents, this can be very easily shown by all the clones of Minecraft that are even worse(yes I said that, worse) design wise and yet sell quite well.

I think Minecraft as a gameplay idea is genius, I think it as an executed game is barely passable, and the modding that Minecraft supports is not supported at all, it is literally hacking the games files, overwriting them. In fact the developers do nothing to encourage it despite it being a major lifeblood of the game. Trust me Minecraft is one topic I am VERY familiar with, I'm on an IRC channel related to it almost all the time despite not really playing it any more.

Please do not ever say you aspire to be Minecraft. Call of Duty: Ghosts is also a wild success, second best selling game of 2013 I believe? Would you really say every FPS should aspire to be that game? Hahah, of course you wouldn't. Mainstream media has bashed that game into the ground, and personal reviews 10x more so. Edited by Satharis

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Apologies on the misname, just morning coffee not kicking in yet.

Which is sort of the whole unspoken basis to the discussion here is that the only time you consider a score to mean anything is when it is compared against other people.

For a score to be comparable in some way, the two things you are comparing have to be equal, it's just common sense.  In a game with no score and the objective is to play through the game, it's all just for fun, and everyone's definition of fun is different.    As an analogy, take a sport, like football.  If a couple of people in Kentucky decide they want to play it with three balls on the field, and they have fun doing that, more power to them.  If they want to try to force everyone in the MLS to play that way, that's a problem.

Is it bad to do that just as a source of entertainment? No.. of course not. But when you do it because you think it -fixes- a game or something, then it becomes a source of nonsense.

All games are entertainment, if making a change to a game 'fixes' it for that person, and makes it more entertaining for them, I don't really see how this is a problem in any way?  I don't really care why someone makes a change, it's their own little world, they've bought the product, and they are not modifying the rules for someone else's game.  (And if they share how to modify the game, and someone modifies it, more power to them)

As for minecraft, so your saying that if minecraft had not been made moddable in anyway, and actually spent and took great pains to not allow editing it's files, it would've resulted in a better end product?

Edited by ferrous

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For a score to be comparable in some way, the two things you are comparing have to be equal, it's just common sense.  In a game with no score and the objective is to play through the game, it's all just for fun, and everyone's definition of fun is different.    As an analogy, take a sport, like football.  If a couple of people in Kentucky decide they want to play it with three balls on the field, and they have fun doing that, more power to them.  If they want to try to force everyone in the MLS to play that way, that's a problem.

But that's not the comparison we're making. You're making it sound like some sort of police state nazi-ism or something, like I or others are going around telling everyone "No fun allowed" if you don't play football with the vanilla rules. Which isn't true.

Again making a comparison between a sport like football and a video game can be rather hard, video games are coded to have a certain set of rules, the game itself acts as the referee for the player. Why that matters I'll sort of explain more in my next point.

All games are entertainment, if making a change to a game 'fixes' it for that person, and makes it more entertaining for them, I don't really see how this is a problem in any way?  I don't really care why someone makes a change, it's their own little world, they've bought the product, and they are not modifying the rules for someone else's game.  (And if they share how to modify the game, and someone modifies it, more power to them)

There's really two points to a game: reviewing the game as a product and forming an opinion about it, and deriving fun from it as a toy to play with.

The first most certainly requires a vanilla game, in a way its like if you buy a painting and then take a marker or a paintbrush to it. Is there someone there to tell you that its wrong? No, there, isn't. Would the artist appreciate it? Honestly they probably wouldn't, they, like game developers, made the product with the sole intention of you experiencing it as it was intended, they generally want you to play the game and say "Hey that was fun" or "hrm that has a lot of issues! It'd be nice if they fixed.." of course in the real world that information rarely gets to a developer, but as a sort of system of respect you want to -encourage- people as a software developer, particularly a game developer, to try your product as you made it.

As I've stated, the problem often comes with the second part, people tend to think of games as sort of like a board game, or a sport as you mentioned, that they can arbitrarily change the rules to make the game more fun, or maybe give themselves more content. Perhaps they make the game super hard to get through to give it more hours of playability. Is this a bad thing? No! Definitely not!

The problem comes with when people mix the two concepts. My problem stated most objectively is that things that are single player inevitably become discussed with other people, reviews are formed of games, people make threads on forums and posts relating to a game. They recommend it to their friends, call it good or bad, stuff like that, based on their experience with the game. Often the experience they CHANGED themselves. I actually know someone that flat out buys a game and the first thing they do in the game is pop open the console and start spawning things and giving it to themselves and basically ruining the story and gameplay as the developer intended.

Is that wrong? No, it isn't strictly wrong. Should it be encouraged? Honestly, I don't think it should, I think if anything that person should be encouraged to at least give the game a proper go, because they might not even realize they're missing out on a lot of fun by spoiling things for themselves. You keep making statements that have a very "master your own destiny" vibe to them, the reality is that people don't always automatically know what is most fun, or best for themselves. A smoker may say they understand cigarettes are killing them, but that might not make them stop. In the same way it can actually be beneficial to people to encourage them to TRY playing through a game without making it so easy to hack it to pieces and deprive themselves of the experience, not to mention they often take that bad opinion of the game to other people as well!

As for minecraft, so your saying that if minecraft had not been made moddable in anyway, and actually spent and took great pains to not allow editing it's files, it would've resulted in a better end product?

If you weren't aware Minecraft's source code is actually obfuscated, they -do- intentionally try to hinder modding. In fact it has been that way for a long time and is something a lot of people have issue with, Mojang takes a very specific legal stance of "We're looking the other way." It is a bad practice to have, and quite frankly your wording of the situation is very one sided.

If they just took more steps to prevent modding right now, yes, they would be harming the game. What should they be doing? Adding mod support, allowing people to mod the game in a way that THEY support. I shouldn't really have to explain why this is the case. This is a big part of why I have a problem with mods is because people allow it to change their opinion on a product to the point where they actually encourage lazyness on the part of the developer.

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Considering how the original post mentions that different formats and systems may not be an option, I'd go with a simple solution.

Following the pattern of the file, just add two final entries:

Checksum: 0x12345678
Hash: 0x1234567890abcdef0123456789129879878790879180741094714897whatever

For checksum I'd use a CRC32 over the file up to the point of these entries, and perhaps the hash can be an MD5 with a salt value added. Nothing too fancy as any attacker will trivially bypass it.

Evaluate the file, if either the checksum or hash doesn't match, you could reject the file outright or flag it as save-file cheating, displaying a warning to the user, but probably not deleting the game.

This will detect casual cheating, and depending on the consequences may deter it in the future.

As for it being a problem, I tend to like it when games keep values available. Just because the values are things YOU enjoy as the designer does not mean it is the values THE PLAYER wants to have. I routinely use patches and mods to games to modify the behavior, and have done so for decades. Even back in the 1980s when protections were much simpler I would modify configuration values and tuned variables inside programs to provide a different experience.

For example, sometimes on the old Command & Conquer games (mid '90s) as a group we would decide what changes to make. We would play Red Alert's custom maps, sometimes with an insanely high number of random powerups, or we would turn up the stats on a simple soldier to insanely high attack and health, then limit the technology to level 1 and enjoy the carnage that followed. Having single soldiers that could destroy a building with a single shot, or take out five other soldiers with splash damage, while only being able to produce barracks, pillboxes, and soldiers makes for some very entertaining network games.

Sometimes we would also modify save files and use those as the starting point for competitions. Coupled with modified rules, they can make for great competitive gameplay. (e.g. everyone starts with everything unlocked but only \$500,000 gold and no way to get more.)