Some owners of The Sims 2 have been complaining that there’s something strange happening to their games. Suddenly whole neighborhoods of people stopped aging or every coffee maker in the game develops the power to cure all your needs in a single cup or all your Sims become more than happy to adopt a polygamist lifestyle and your teenagers develop the ability to become pregnant when the game, as it normally ships, won’t even allow them to have sex. What the hell is going on? Hacked game objects are spreading like viruses, that’s what.
There’s a whole community of modders out there who wasted no time taking hex editors to the standard objects that shipped with the game to see what they could do with them carrying on a tradition from the first game. There’s literally thousands of hacked objects available for The Sims that allowed for all manner of actions not possible in the standard game including some that allowed your Sims to engage in some fairly graphic sex play in the kitchen or bedroom. Nothing that adult oriented has been made for the smash sequel yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Still with the first game you only had these objects if you went out of your way to find, download, and install them. Gamers who had never been anywhere near a mod site were suddenly finding their Sims 2 game being infiltrated by hacked objects and couldn’t figure out why.
Turns out it’s an unanticipated result of one of the game’s cooler features: The Lot Exchange. Design a really cool house and want to share it with other players? Package it up and upload it the exchange for anyone else to download into their own games. The problem is homes packaged this way will include any objects you put in it such as, say, a hacked coffee pot. When a player downloads a home with a hacked object it ends up superseding the normal object in the game so suddenly all your coffee pots are magical and that means that any lots with coffee pots in them that that person uploads to the exchange will help spread the hacked object further. Additionally, the more hacked objects that get added to your game the more you’re likely to spread them if you upload lots that have any of those objects in them. You could end up with hacked objects of all kinds simply by downloading lots from the official Sims website without even realizing it. Oops.
At one point as many as three-quarters of the lots on the exchange contained hacks, estimates Suzanne Walshire, a 57-year-old Sims 2 player from Pflugerville, Texas, and an early victim of the phenomenon.” It’s extremely widespread,” Walshire says. “Someone at Electronic Arts was really shortsighted not to have thought of hacked objects spreading this way. If they knew that their own objects would download with a house, they would know that other objects would download with a house also.”
But the company says it was indeed surprised. EA declined interview requests for this story, but last month, thirty days after the initial complaints rolled in, the company finally issued a warning about the spreading hacks on its Sims 2 forum. At the same time it announced that it had reprogrammed the exchange to identify any lots containing modified objects or behaviors, and to allow users to see all the elements in a property before installing it. “Our community continually surprises us by their creativity and dedication to pushing the game’s limits further then we ever dreamed possible!,” the company wrote, by way of explanation.
Not to fear, though, there is a solution at hand:
“I think the response wasn’t exactly timely,” says a Sims 2 hacker who asked to be identified by his online moniker, Jfade. By then the community, fearful of being blamed for the issue, had already developed its own solution. Modders took a page from the anti-virus industry and created a central list of identified hacks, their names and checksums, then wrote programs that can scan a user’s Sims 2 directory and isolate suspect files. “It allows them to see more details about the hack … and then they can either move it out of the downloads directory or delete it,” says Jfade, who authored one of the programs, called the Sims 2 Hack Scanner and Lister. “I knew I wouldn’t want to have these hacks, and in the process found out that I had quite a few.”
Had some of the more adult hacks developed for the original game were to have become widespread before anyone noticed this could have been a bad PR hit for the folks at Electronic Arts, but they seem to have gotten it under control. They’ve changed the Lot Exchange a bit so that it’s now possible to inspect the contents of a lot prior to downloading it and any non-Maxis created content will be flagged with a warning. Plus you can use the info therein to locate the hacked object in your installation and delete it. This in combination with the Hack Scanners that have been developed should allow those folks who don’t want hacked objects lousing up their game from being overrun by them. Of course, this doesn’t stop someone from ignoring the warnings and installing the lots with hacked objects without realizing it, but if EA’s smart then the next patch/upgrade will incorporate some method of inspecting and alerting someone when a lot they’ve downloaded is suspect.
Still, it’s pretty funny when you think about it.