Face Off: Competitive Standards of Play

Face Off: Competitive Standards of Play

 February 03, 1999 – Dennis “Thresh” Fong and Kenn Hwang

Thresh
One of the more frequent questions we get, especially from players who compete around the globe is – “What settings and modifications are considered cheating?” I find I have a spank of a time trying to answer this question, simply because there are no clear-cut answers. Everyone, and I meaneveryone, has different opinions on what is considered “cheating,” from miscellaneous client-side console commands to display adjustments, all the way to hacked players models and 3rd party programs and proxies.

Kenn
That’s definitely true. There are “acceptable” modifications to the base game (such as sv_aim) and there are your obvious unfair advantages. Unfortunately, most everything else falls under that gray area of subjectivity. First, let’s clear out what we really consider “cheating.” Modified models and skins? Map re-compilations?

Thresh
Hacked player models and modified skins are definitely cheating in my book. Anyone who claims that it’s okay to have glowing enemies who leave green trails behind them and have sticks coming out of their bodies need to have their head examined. In one rather strange situation almost half a year ago, it became known that many of the European players used such cheats. It got to the point where using these hacked models became the de facto standard in certain parts of Europe. So, is that still considered cheating, when all their peers are using the same cheats? Now you see the problem.

While using these cheats to play against people in their own clique arguably could have been okay, using it to play against players from other countries who do not use them is a different beast altogether – and this is where the issues arose. These players honestly felt they didn’t do anything wrong, and everyone else thought they were “bloody cheaters.” Fortunately, when word spread about the rampant cheating, these players backed down from their stance and no longer used these cheats.

Thresh
Along the same lines, cheating also includes replacing player models or any other in-game entities with substitutes, or editing maps to place holes/windows in otherwise solid walls. A common hack in Doom II that has since been antiquated was replacing the default player models with a huge-ass models (such as the Cyberdemon in Doom II), whose body parts are so large that they show right through the other side of the walls!

Kenn
I’ve seen similar cheats before too. During PGL Quake Teams, the officials used hacked models (which had sticks coming out of their bodies) to observe games, as it’s easier to determine whether or not a player you’re watching is using a similar “pak2.” In Quake II, it was possible to delete all of the player models from the baseq2 directory as well, making anyone using those models appear as a fullbright white rhombus, which is much more visible than standard. Also, since the various pain sounds are proportionally mapped to the health of the player, it was very possible to go in and replace the sounds with more easily discernable ones. (i.e. changing the 30 health “ugnhh” sound to say “player has 30 health.”

The Grey Area

Thresh
That’s all fine and dandy, though the issues we’ve covered so far are generally more black and white. Now let’s cover some of the more controversial stuff, such as console commands. While most client-side modifications are pretty harmless, there’s a lot of potential here for some serious abuse as well.

Kenn
Well, my policy has always been that if it’s allowed as a client-command in the console, it’s OK. Those folks adventurous enough to work their way through the console finding tidbits such as v_kicktime, cl_bob, r_rollangle, gl_modulate, and FOV should be allowed to take advantage of them. These commands don’t change any gameplay aspects, and don’t allow you to see or know any information you’re not otherwise privy to.
Thresh
Well, consider what you say. While I’m not personally against using such client-side commands (Quake II really puts the smack down on the number of options that can be toggled from the console), I think that they certainly do let you see more of what you’re supposed to. Gl_modulate was first used because some 3D accelerators were too dark in Q2. Now, they’re used to almost completely remove shadows and make entities brighter and more visible. While it’s mostly sanctioned for use in the US, a lot of people have problems with modulate (after all, if it’s legal, why isn’t r_fullbright?), and rightly so.Regarding polyblend, if you get pimped by a rocket to the head, your view is supposed to jitter and the screen is supposed to flash red. Consider an old-school example. In Doom, a good shot caused a red-out that was so severe it completely blinded you. Take that out, and you’ve just removed a key element of the game! Also, FOV (field of view) increases what you can see peripherally – should that be considered fair?

Kenn
Hold on there! For one, that wasn’t something in Doom you could easily adjust (at least without the help of an external program, though I do remember a bug allowing you to reset palette shifts in-game). Also, in Quake, the importance of the palette shift was greatly diminished by the introduction of GLQuake – that setting became a console command just like any other.

Thresh
Well, from there, it all goes back again to whether or not you consider console tweaks cheating! Personally, I think all console commands are okay to use. As long as the console commands are accessible to everyone and is shipped with the game, it should be free to use. Course, if GL console commands are kosher, what happens to all those disadvantaged because they don’t have a 3D accelerator card? This problem spawned the entire “waterhack” and “untextured DM3” debate. Waterhack was a program for Quake 1 that modified a level (specifically DM3 for team games) by removing the water texture, allowing players to see through it (similar to using r_wateralpha in GLQuake). You really couldn’t consider that cheating unless you also considered the gl_polyblend or wateralpha commands cheats as well.

Kenn
Well for your information, an untextured (or differently textured) map serves the same purpose “mipcap,” a function available on non-accelerated Q/Q2 that can greatly reduce texture detail and also help speed up game performance. Unfortunately, the untextured map also makes it easier to see enemy players, which once again opens the door for debate.So what are we left with then? Aliases? Key bindings? They’re essentially console tweaks as well. I’ve seen people who claim rocket-jump aliases are cheats, or fast-weapon toggling (binding specific keys not only to change weapons, but to fire them on the fly). There’s also a controversial little alias that switches your weapon to the shotgun after you fire, making it difficult for the enemy to get a weapon from you if you are killed. While I say “more power to them,” a lot of people are going to ask “where does it stop? What can we as gamers do about this?”

Thresh
All right. Enough of your flapping lips, Kenn. The fact is that it’s damned hard trying to standardize on any one set of rules. Throw in over a dozen nations, all with their own ideas of what works and what doesn’t, and you’ve got yourself a disaster waiting to happen. I’ve always felt that the burden of initiating standards must fall (perhaps unfortunately) on the game developers themselves. A great majority of the time, what’s set as default for a shipping games becomes the de-facto standard for competition.

Kenn
I see what you’re obviously struggling to getting at. A good example of that is air acceleration in Quake II, the option of being able to rapidly change your direction in mid-jump. This feature was standard in Quake 1, but was taken out for Quake II. A big surprise of Q2 version 3.14 was the introduction of Q1-esque air-acceleration. This immediately split the Quake II population. Q1 converts of course loved it, as it made the game more closely resemble Quake.As you can imagine, a good number of players didn’t care for it, for various reasons. (Part of it was because you couldn’t achieve certain maneuvers with air acceleration on as opposed to off) 3.15 was quickly released, “correcting” the air acceleration issue. But by then, controversy was afoot. id quickly released 3.17 which had air acceleration off by default, but a console command was available that allowed the server to set the amount of air acceleration if so desired. You really don’t need me to say what became the standard for Quake II play and competition.

Another Q2-specific example is the footstep sounds. You’ve got your “it adds more realism and strategy” crowd, and your “screw realism, it slows down the game and makes it less fun” crowd. As split as the opinions are, how many competition servers are running with footstep sounds off (at least in the US)? That’s right. Zippo. Don’t even tell me that “the game is fully modular and you can create a mod to do whatever you want.” The point is that such a mod would be far from standard, and even if I convinced every single Q2 player in the USA to abide by “Kenn’s Rules of Play,” the chances of my persuasion reaching around to every other competitive Quake-playing nation in the world is pretty small. So much for international tournaments!

Thresh
Now you’re arguing my side. Sit yer schizophrenic ass down for a minute and take a breather. To sum it up, the only non-standard setting ever to be agreed upon as “standard” is Quake 1’s sv_aim 2, which keeps the computer from trying to aim vertically for your shots. That was kind of a major screw-up that thankfully was quickly resolved. However, this brings us back to the point. In my humble opinion, standards MUST BE SET BY THE DEVELOPER. No third party has the sway to determine otherwise, especially when considering an international standard. So knowing that, what can we do?

Thresh
It would be awesome if id could release Quake 3 Arena with a specific international “tournament configuration,” a tasty little document covering the areas of key bindings, console settings, display tweaks, and so on. Mod authors would of course have full freedom to do what they wish, but all “officially sanctioned deathmatch tournaments” would be asked to abide by the guidelines. Before anyone starts shouting “Big brother,” remember that anyone can run any unofficial tournament to whatever rules they see fit (no mouse allowed, no extra key bindings, keyboard must be controlled by the feet, etc).

The intention of the guidelines would be to solely encourage everyone to agree to a common set of rules. No more crazy American “do whatever you want in the console” or Australian “kicktime/rollangle adjustments are cheating” discrepencies mucking up the works. id might not even have to do it; they could simply officially sanction an international team to determine the rules.

Kenn
Ugh…a bickering group of international gamers is the WORST idea I’ve ever heard from you, and there’ve been a few doozies. Not to take away from the spirit of international cooperation, but did you see the debacle of the “World Deathmatch Tournament?” That was a complete mess since everyone tried to push their own agendas, and nobody would agree to anything since they felt they shouldn’t have to acquiesce to someone else’s standards.Let’s just keep it simple. id makes the game, let them decide how official games should be played. Regardless of what you think about footsteps or air acceleration, you’re playing with the id defaults aren’t you? They should just include a couple of paragraphs in the readme file saying “suggestions for tournament play,” which would easily do the trick without causing any kind of uproar in the community.

Thresh
Well, I’m not sure if id is up to the responsibility to demand everyone play a certain way, whether they’re suggestions or not. I also think you’re not giving enough credit to folks everywhere who would be interested in working cooperatively to hash out a system of play. The point is that we do need some kind of standard, especially when we’re talkin’ about “acceptable modification of gameplay variables” as you would probably say. I realize that this goes way beyond the initial subject of cheating, but it can be an elegant solution to a number of problems affecting general, competitive, and international gameplay.

The bottom line is, there is no elegant solution to the problem. But the issue right now is that there is no one trying to figure out a viable global solution. So what do you say guys? Let’s set our personal agendas aside and put our heads together to work this thing out. As the saying goes, “There is no ‘I’ in TEAM.”

Kenn
But half of “TEAM” is “ME.”

Thresh
Shudup.

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