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Monday, 2 December, 2002, 12:13 GMT
EverQuest battles cheat software
EverQuest screenshot, Ubi Soft
Exotic races abound in EverQuest
A war is raging for the heart of the popular online fantasy game EverQuest.

But this battle is not being fought between players and marauding hordes of monsters.

Instead the fight is between Sony, who run the game, and an anonymous group of programmers who have created software that makes the game almost too easy to play.

So far the helper program has only been available to a small number of EverQuest regulars. But the escalating conflict could mean that it will be made available to almost any player that wants it.

Data scramble

The program that has sparked the row is called ShowEQ. It gives EverQuest players a detailed map of their location with all the monsters, computer controlled characters and other players marked on it.

Sony has sought to stop ShowEQ working because, as the name of EverQuest implies, searching for helpers and tracking down monsters is the central part of the game.

With ShowEQ players can walk directly to the helpful characters, ambush monsters and find out how powerful foes are.

ShowEQ works by listening in to all the packets of data sent to a player and drawing the map with the information they contain but which is usually denied to players.

ShowEQ screenshot, BBC
ShowEQ reveals everyone nearby
Current versions of the tapping software require a separate computer running the Linux operating system that must also share the same network as the PC being used to play the game.

This has meant that, until now, ShowEQ has had a limited effect on the game.

The fact that ShowEQ sits on a separate computer has made it impossible to detect. Sony has tried to stop it in other ways by improving the encryption used to make the packets of data unreadable.

However, it took only a week for the ShowEQ programmers to get round this improved encryption.

The programmers found that the new encryption was easier to break than the old one and meant that ShowEQ worked faster than before.

Fighting back

Now Sony has changed the encryption system again to stymie attempts to crack it and so far seems to have succeeded.

But as contributors to the Slashdot website, which has chronicled the battles between Sony and ShowEQ, pointed out, many users of the program are Sony's best customers.

Many of them run several different characters in the game and pay large sums every month to keep on playing.

Sony's improved encryption only seems to have stiffened the resolve of the ShowEQ creators.

Now they are considering making a version of their software that works with Windows, a move that will make it available to all EverQuest players.

See also:

21 Oct 02 | Technology
24 Jul 02 | Technology
16 Sep 02 | Technology
29 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
03 Jan 01 | Science/Nature
12 May 00 | Science/Nature
02 Nov 02 | Technology
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