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Wednesday, 3 January, 2001, 13:16 GMT
Hackers kill off heroes
Diablo Diablo
Diablo the demon goes on the offensive
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

A virtual massacre has robbed an online fantasy world of its greatest heroes.

Hackers exploited a loophole in the sign-on systems for the popular online game Diablo II to hijack and kill many of its most powerful characters.

Keen players have seen sophisticated warriors and creatures, built up over hundreds of hours of game playing, wiped from their screens.

The hack occurred just after computer game maker Blizzard Entertainment updated the software supporting the online version of its popular PC game.

Magic items

The game allows players to create characters such as barbarians, sorcerers and "necromancers". These are pitted against monsters and other weird adversaries, including the powerful demon Diablo.

In return for ridding the world of evil, characters are rewarded with magic items, gold and improved combat skills.

But an unforeseen consequence of the update was to make it much easier for hackers to pose as players and hijack characters.

By repeatedly trying to log in, the hackers managed to crash the sign-on system and gain access to other players' accounts. Even some Blizzard Entertainment employees lost control of their characters.

Mass murder

News of the loophole spread quickly and many people exploited the flaw to take over and kill strong characters, or strip them of their most powerful magic items.

Precise details of the extent of the massacre are hard to ascertain. It is unclear how the error exactly arose, who exploited it and how many characters have been killed. Some reports suggest hundreds have been erased. On one player league, eight out of the top 10 characters were killed off.

Players exchanging news about the massacre described it as "horrible" and "terrible". One dubbed it "the first online mass murder". All lamented the hours of combat in the virtual world that had been lost.

Blizzard Entertainment said that it had closed the loophole and pledged to resurrect powerful characters killed off between 19 December and 1 January. Resurrection day is 8 January.

The company said the dead heroes would be restored to the level they reached before the software was updated. It is also looking into ways to retrieve lost magic items.

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