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back to article Modder hacks SimCity for unlimited offline play

A server glitch that rendered the latest version of SimCity virtually unplayable mere hours after its launch could have easily been avoided, players say – because contrary to its publisher's claims, the game doesn't actually require network access at all. SimCity fans have been fuming over the outage, leading Amazon to pull the …

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Silver badge
Joke

Server

But the nice people at EA said the game needed the server to run because it was so complex? Why would they lie to us?

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Re: Server

Three things to never believe

1: I love you

2: The cheque is in the mail

3: Anything EA says

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Re: Server

Don't forget:

I'll only put the tip in.

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Wireshark

is your friend for this sort of think. Has anyone tried to monitor exactly how much (if not what) SimCity is sending home?

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Re: Wireshark

I'm not too shabby at analysing wireshark output, so if anyone has the files and uploads them so I can read them I don't mind helping out.

Anything to piss EA off a bit.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Wireshark

If the SimCity programmers are competent, they would have rendered Wireshark useless by (a) performing network communications over SSL and (b) verifying the SSL certificate that is presented by the "server" to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks.

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Unhappy

Re: Wireshark : "If the SimCity programmers are competent, ..."

In my experience EA coders could crash a toaster. If the totally incompetent launch (of SimCity) is any indicator, what are the chances this detail wasn't overlooked or done "right"?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Wireshark : "If the SimCity programmers are competent, ..."

They seem to be more concerned with security than, you know, functionality, so maybe they didn't overlook this.

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Re: Wireshark : "If the SimCity programmers are competent, ..."

Even encrypted packets have headers.

It would obviously make it harder to fake a response, but all you've really got to do is set up a route on your PC to a local host for the IP address and have a little app that responds with *exactly* the same packet as that sent back by the EA host (this would require a specific capture for each user of course so that would need to be built in to the app so it also needs at least one successful connection to EA to capture the response).

Possibly :)

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OK, we knew they were lying. Anyone with a brain knew they were lying. But now they've actually been proven liars, at what point does their bullshit become illegal? Surely that's misrepresentation of a product?

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Pint

Hiding behind the license...

Nobody is buying SimCity... all they are buying is a license to USE the software. As such, the software publisher can put out whatever turd they like because you, the customer, are not buying the software, merely a license to use it, severely limiting the applicability of various consumer protection measures such as "merchantable quality", "fitness for purpose", "warranty" etc etc.

It beggars belief that the industry still get's away with this. It was perhaps understandable when the industry was in it's infancy, much like the fact that they regulations around car manufacture and advertising (not t mention countless other products) used to be far more relaxed but got tighter and tighter as the need for allowances that the fledgling industries involved needed in order to be able to deliver anything at all became less and less as the industries matured and the consumers became more experienced with the products.

The same sort of change is LONG overdue in the software business. It would not be tolerated - by consumers or the regulatory bodies - in any other consumer product market.

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That's exactly what I was thinking, surely there has the be a limit on the bullshit EA PR can spin before trading standards should step in. Not sure if misrepresentation of a product in this way is against the law but it should be.

Not sure they will care but this happening so soon after the catastrophe that was the game launch paints them in an even worse light which I didn't think was possible.

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Bronze badge

Re: Hiding behind the license...

Not that way in Spain.

And as it is a "massive contract" all those clauses don¡t apply.

Still, nothing will happen.

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Re: Hiding behind the license...

Well, in this case the "regulatory bodies" make this kind of BS possible in the first place.

Do not trust in "regulatory bodies". They are made by people who are influenced by smooth-talking lobbyists. The end result is cartelization, corporatism and waste and only sometimes some useful piece of legislation.

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Re: Hiding behind the license...

And when someone hides behind a license in order to peddle their turds, the market should respond appropriately - no-one buys it, everyone disses it online and EA lose a shitchunk of money. Revenge is sweet, legal and free.

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FAIL

Nah

They'll hide behind that "you need to be online for other players to be able to import good from your city".

So, you DO need to be online. To play alone. So that other players can pretend they can interact with your city... But you're trying to play single player. But they're interacting with your city.... < go back to the beginning >

EA has been full of shit for some years now. Honestly, I'd personally LOVE to see them hit rock-bottom. Unfortunately, all the wrong they're doing is just because some people give them their money. Who needs a new FIFA every year? or a new Need for speed? What does it have, new models? Or players changed teams? That would be an update, or an add-on, or whatever, but NEVER a new game.

EA has never been about the players, but always about the money.

I'll keep playing my Cities XL OFFLINE , thank you very much.

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Re: Nah

In fairness, Need for Speed has finally improved recently. They realised what a load of crap the old ones were and handed the series over to Criterion. The latest Most Wanted? From what I've played of it, it's basically Burnout Paradise 2.

For the first time ever, I actually really want a Need for Speed game.

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Headmaster

Re: Hiding behind the license...

Although your statements are legitimate, coherent and well argued, I feel you must be down-voted because you wrote "get's" instead of "gets"..

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Re: Hiding behind the license...

We've been down this road many times:

"Nobody is buying SimCity... all they are buying is a license to USE the software. As such, the software publisher can put out whatever turd they like because you, the customer, are not buying the software, merely a license to use it, severely limiting the applicability of various consumer protection measures such as "merchantable quality", "fitness for purpose", "warranty" etc etc."

If that's what they think they're doing then they are putting themselves under contract law and at that point they're actually more vulnerable to issues of "merchantable quality", "fitness for purpose", "warranty" because those things are all part of the license contract and subject to limitations on fairness of contracts.

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Re: Nah

Seriously? Need for speed improved? I asume you havent tried the new Most Wanted. In which you just drive in an annoying way to beat someone else with a car you didnt earn but just found. It was the worst NFS ever, they really should stop making those games.

But back on topic. What did anyone expect? Did you really expect the great city building game they claimed it would be? It is EA, the game company that doesnt do much more than cash out franchises. They ruined pretty much any franchise they own.

The worst part is that EA gets away with it because they are so easily manipulable by PR and cant remember something that happened half a year ago. with the next <fill in a franchise name that isnt ruined, yet> the same will happen. "omg this is going to be the best game ever.", and then at launch "Wheehhhh EA you screwed us over wheehhhh I want my money back." And then EA will laugh at you from their offices replying; "NOPE"

Ah well, I have to admit, EA is making me rich by this, wanted to buy the Mass Effect franchise, NFS Shift, Battlefield but with these jokes I prefer to keep my money in my pockets. It saved me at least €400,- by now.

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FAIL

DRM Encourages Piracy

I really like the look of SimCity and really want to play it. But I don't want my solo gaming sessions to have to coincide with when my internet access is humming along nicely and be at the whim and behest of some server infrastructure that may or may not be maintained in years to come.

So unless EA release a patch that provides offline solo play, I shall not be buying this game. If a version with an offline capability becomes available by (cough) some other means then I might take advantage of that. Whether I then choose to pay EA for their product which is not "fit for purpose" in which they supply it is a decision I shall wrestle with if/when the situation arises.

But if they released an official "offline capable" version, I would be all over this.

Yet another example of a so called "anti-piracy" measure that does not actually prevent piracy but actively ENCOURAGES it !

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Re: DRM Encourages Piracy

Actually I was going to buy it till I read about all the issues

Hell the past few months I've spent a nice chunk of change on games that have that online 1 player DRM bull shit, but only time I will pay for it is when it is at vastly reduced prices say like on steam. But still my progress saved to my computer, and not had to reply on EA which my friends lost over 8 hours of game play so far cause their servers said it saved, and went back next day and BOOM no saves...

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Re: DRM Encourages Piracy

With the game in the state its in now don't bother. The plots are tiny - some say the size of a medium in SC4 but to me it's smaller than the smallest n SC4. No subways, no els, your city can't have an international airport???, no terraforming, you are stuck with one highway entering the city in one location (ridiculous), one type of bridge, if you demo a road your entire neighborhood goes up in smoke, the list goes on. I have no idea what they were trying to accomplish with this. I was expecting a ramped up version of SC4 with BIGGER plots, more detail, bike lanes, mixed use buildings, light rail etc. HUGE disappointment.

Also, this whole thing about every person and vehicle being simulated - WHO CARES?? It's annoying! You're trying to click on a tiny bus stop and you just keep getting these little idiots 'Came from home'. It's meaningless extra garbage. Don't suffer as I've suffered!! DON'T BUY IT!

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Re: DRM Encourages Piracy @Hulky

Had you considered that subways (for example) may appear later, for a micropayment. Then another piece of DLC for larger cities, another for bike lanes...

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Re: DRM Encourages Piracy

Few mistakes.

First, the highway. Some maps actually have the highway going through the map, giving 2 exit points. This counts as an avenue so it can be upgraded with streetcars

Second, airports. Intl airports would be too damn big for your map.

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Re: DRM Encourages Piracy

Same, even with the xxl price tag I was gonna buy it but as soon as I heard about the DRM it stopped being a game I would pay so much for.

It must be made offline capable.

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Trollface

Re: DRM Encourages Piracy

People need to fight with their dollars against this "tethered" model of software. What if I want to play it on the 10 hour flight to the states, or at my grandmothers house, or during a move before I have "the internet" connected? Requiring the internet is fine, just give my a free box that will provide this "internet" for free everywhere I go if I must be connected to it at all times to make use of the software you sold me, otherwise, no thank you.

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Boffin

Re: DRM Encourages Piracy

I forgave EA over Spore's DRM and was rewarded with a bad game with worse DRM than Spore.

I agree with everything said by HulkySmashy, but there's more issues. The game has extremely atrocious pathfinding issues (a step back from SimCity 4 Rush Hour, which, you know, had this same issue from the original SimCity 4 fixed). That, and that the game is extremely unbalanced. Important buildings cost an unreasonable hunk of money, there is no grid, only guides (which are by no means accurate at all). Also, various logic issues exist- for example, I create one city, and I have the education system running efficiently and all students accounted for. The moment I plop down a college, the system goes haywire and I have students who refuse to go to school even when it's across the road and there's bus stops everywhere. I get complains about low skilled workers in the industrial zones and am advised to build more schools even though my school capacity accommodates more than double the amount of school-eligible sims (and again, the entire residential precinct is covered by school bus stops), And the moment I plop down a recycling center. The garbage trucks seem to go into a protest and refuses to pick up all the garbage.

I admit, there are some good in cloud gaming (for example, I play the game on a laptop in the day and on my gaming desktop at night), and surely the server is needed to route information between players on "public" regions, but it stops there. I honestly believe that they should offer an offline mode that will only allow "private" regions to be selected.

Also, they should offer a snapshot function, if only for private regions. After all, I spend a few days building up my city. Now I want to try out something that may ruin my economy. I should be given the option to save it so I can call it up later. But appatently, EA thinks otherwise!

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It always sounded like an excuse

I mean sure, hypothetically you could have more processing power "in the cloud", but then the problem becomes bandwidth. What's the use calculating a problem in a second on a server when the data transfer takes a minute?

Besides Sim City probably doesn't need to much CPU power. Sure it's complex with many things to consider, but in the end it's probably no more than many vector operations. Considering that todays computers can easily work with video in real time and even do things like motion estimation with it, a game like Sim City seems perfectly able to run on a normal PC.

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Bronze badge
FAIL

This game is £45 at launch. Even if they had been telling the truth, how long would the servers have stayed up with that income?

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Considering that's 15 quid more than most PC games at launch, the servers should have been bloody invincible.

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Contrast this fiasco with the how minecraft was developed and released.

No big zero day explosion when the servers couldn't cope because minecraft didn't have a sudden release. It was incrementally developed and tested alongside the player community. It even made money during the development cycle by selling testing accounts as people were buying them just to play the features so far.

Surely this is the model for the future for sandbox games like sim city. People are happy to play a stripped down simulator and come back again and again as new features are implemented and released. People will even tolerate bugs if it's known as being beta. This is basically like giving you free but seriously good testing, given the testers are your players, even better they are paying. This model doesn't work for non-replayable games such as linear or heavily story-driven. But it should work for all sandbox games which are designed to be replayed again and again.

The old model of developing a game in secret behind closed doors for years (missing out on a whole bunch of player community feedback and nurturing, and having no idea how popular it will be on release) and then suddenly releasing it to the mercy of the stress on untested servers seems shockingly unnecessary in comparison with the alternative.

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Pint

That's why I think...

...software pirates aren't bad or evil per definition.

Although I also admit that we're dealing with a sort of chicken and egg problem. Without pirating software companies would most likely (though not necessarily) spend less on copyright protection, which would then lead up to less annoyances.

The reason I have my doubts there is because some companies exist solely because of software pirating (think about the companies which invent copyright protection schemes) and although some try to balance between userfriendlyness and security, there are also plenty who focus on security over anything else.

But even so; in a lot of cases you're better off with a pirated version. Personally I think its best to obtain both versions, but that's another topic.

In a lot of DVD movies you can't watch the film until you went through a lot of advertisement or several "copying is illegal" warnings. Didn't I PAY to watch the MOVIE?! The download movie plays instantaneously. Some games require you unlock it through means of a security code. Unfortunately many companies considered it smart to print this code onto the CD package itself. You know; the one which gets stacked with other games, and before you know your code got rubbed off. Nice...

Or what to think about the classic issue of the booklet (which doesn't easily fit) getting lost while you still have the package and CD's? Just too bad that the code you needed was in that booklet; not a smart insert leaf or something.... (though modern games do just that btw).

This is no different.. Now you need to be online to be able to play? Well; the pirates can play no matter what, making it all the more appealing (even for regular customers) to use that version. Because ask yourself this; what happens when the company running the "unlock server" decides that its now time to pull the plug?

"they will probably do that in 10 years or so."

Are you sure about that? Changes are much higher that they'll do that when the amount of players reached a certain threshold. And if you happen to be one of those "die hards" who can actually still enjoy a game even if it is 3 - 4 years old (to name but a "random" period) you're simply out of luck; "Go buy the sequel cheapskate!".

Such a wonderful world...

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Anonymous Coward

It's also a bit shit ...

Ignoring the whole server thing, which is obviously just a bit dumb, a lot of the new innovation just seems like a lot of hype. Having played it a bit the agent's based glassbox engine just seems not fit for purpose.

You have transport units which are moving randomly, rather than based on demand, a traffic system which is prone to deadlock, fire engines which seem unable to find fire, electricity which takes 4 days to cross the city after a brownout, and broken region level play like trading. So it's not even like the "sim" part of the game is right. And _then_ you get stuck with tiny maps, so it's not really "city" either. I guess NotVeryWellSimulatedTown doesn't quite roll of the tongue.

When it works the game is quite enjoyable, but I just can see myself wanting to go back to it after a few weeks (unlike SimCity 4 which I played for years and still enjoy and odd potter on with some of the community mods).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's also a bit shit ...

... and and lest I forget the 15 minute level load times ...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's also a bit shit ...

Apparently, the simulation is even dumber than the versions that came before it. A Sim will leave his house in the morning, pick the nearest job that needs a worker, drive down the shortest PATH (without factoring traffic density or road types... so he'll pick the same dirt track everyone else is using rather than the empty superhighway that would have taken 1m extra) to go to work there. When he finishes in the evening, he'll pick the nearest empty house, and move into that one for the night! So realistic... if you lived in a communist commune! The real world just doesn't work like that, which means any attempts to plan your city as you would a real world one utterly fails. Fire engines will all swarm to put out the nearest fire, leaving everything else merrily burning. Wait... don't real life fire brigades have dispatchers, that handle this sort of thing? Garbage trucks will all follow each other, as they've all calculated exactly the same route. It's utter chaos, weepingly naive, and such a waste from developers that have had a decade, and a 50 times Moores-law increase in computing power to utilise since the last SimCity to do things properly.

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Facepalm

Re: It's also a bit shit ...

Yeah I noticed they make really horrific routing decisions. Hopefully they'll patch it. Avoid busy roads - not massively complex. Maybe it's an american thing? :)

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Re: It's also a bit shit ...

EA has obviously decided not to do their usual thing where each new game is really the old game with better graphics and an extra feature or two.

This game is now basing the simulation on the EA senior management’s thought processes (or maybe one of their programmers) with the game being informally labelled SimCity 5 - Zombie Apocalypse where you have been cryogenically frozen and awoken 500 years in the future and are the only person with half a brain and need to run the city.

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Silver badge

Re: It's also a bit shit ...

Actually, knowing the complete lack of imagination at EA central, zombie DLC is inevitable.

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FAIL

Re: It's also a bit shit ...

Oh - this game has Zombies already... and a trash eating monster. In fact this game has lots of 'features'.

Unfortunately it lacks any resemblance to reality therefore is not a simulation.

It doesn't allow you to model a city... only a town.

The much touted 'individual Sims' are simply temporary message packets that are generated from one node with a primary task to which it finds the shortest route (even my mother can route better... and she's dead!) and when they arrive they're consumed (that is a nutshell is the much touted 'Glassbox' model); same goes for power, water, fire-engines, s#!t, etc.

Unless in Sandbox mode you're unable to turn off random zombie/monster/meteor disasters...

Where's my old SimCity 4 or 2000?

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Re: "Fire engines will all swarm to put out the nearest fire..." and so on...

Yeah, but, you know, that kind of stuff is really complicated to model. There's no way you could do all that on a single PC, what you'd need is some kind of connected model where a server could do all the heavy lifting. That'd solve all the problems, I mean the cloud's the future, right? Especially now everyone's got a permanent, immutable, never suffers from outages internet connection*

Oh, wait.

*Have I turned up the sarcasm too much again?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Fire engines will all swarm to put out the nearest fire..." and so on...

Being a developer myself, it's disappointing to see how their opportunity for coming up with engaging and realistic simulatory algorithms has been squandered, in what I can only assume was a crunch-based GET IT WORKING SO WE CAN SHIP edict. So rather than implementing an algorithm that would show some emergent intelligence like:

a) assess the 'danger' level of the fire based on building density (low/medium/high) and size of fire and determine the number of engines required to deal with it

b) pick the nearest unoccupied engine(s) and send them to put out the fire

c) if no nearby engines on the map, pick nearest fire station(s) and scramble them, perhaps round-robin from different stations so each station can continue to provide coverage in their sectors and none is left empty of engines

d) if no unoccupied engines available anywhere, consider breaking apart teams of two or more engines that are currently putting out a fire elsewhere, based on minimal danger/number of engine ratio and distance

They just phoned it in with this brilliantly realistic:

a) SEND EVERY ENGINE TO THE FIRE

b) when it's out send every engine to the next fire

Repeated, of course, throughout every other aspect of the game. Such a waste.

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Re: "Fire engines will all swarm to put out the nearest fire..." and so on...

sadly, this is indeed a great example of the sort of problems that could be great for offloading to the cloud during gameplay. Lots of hard graph theory that could benefit from a grunt-ton of computation, but the data transmission requirements aren't a lot, and the latency requirements aren't hard either (hey, maybe your dispatcher takes some time to update optimal fire routes). But what would EA care?

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Bronze badge
Meh

Re: "Fire engines will all swarm to put out the nearest fire..." and so on...

"... this is indeed a great example of the sort of problems that could be great for offloading to the cloud during gameplay."

No, it's really not, not unless the cloud you're speaking of is running on a microwave. That is how bad the A.I. is, better math can be done on a microwave...no joke.

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Pint

Just a reminder.

Amaazon restored the Sim City download about two days back now.

Where it stands as No.2 in combined video and PC game hardware and software sales. It's not often you see a PC game top this list.

The Sim City download is No 2 in PC game sales.

The Sim City DLC European city double-pack No, 12 in PC simulation game sales.

EA has 19 games in the top 50 at the time of this posting. [9:45 PM EDT Wed 14 ]

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Re: Just a reminder.

As a big city-builder fan, I purchased the game (tried to refund it, but it shipped before I changed my mind and I'm just going to live with it). I haven't had a chance to play it yet, but it seems a few of the early issues are getting sorted. Having said that, it's a massive fuckup from EA - I reckon a lot of other devs will be looking at this experience and thinking twice about an online-only model, and chances are it's one of the last EA games I'll buy (pretty sure the last one I bought was Sims 2, or something for $5 off steam).

I'd love nothing more than to see EA go down, but it's a shame they swallowed so many teams and well-loved franchises beforehand - becoming "EA-ified" is now one of my greatest fears for any franchise I enjoy. It's like watching a game contract alzheimers, and suddenly think everyone is a 5 year old who can be tricked and lied to.

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WTF?

Re: Just a reminder

Which proofs that sh!t is actually quite yummy. Billions of flies can't be wrong.

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Mushroom

Thoughts..

When I first read about this on another site (the debug mode bypass) my first reaction was... "Oh, shit here comes EA's lawyers trying to track down this guy for 'hacking' their game, etc". I laugh at the absurdity of my own idea yet I could just see a knee jerk reaction at EA causing a PR nightmare to meltdown even further.

Even if you did buy the snake oil about processing things on the cloud how could that ever be construed as a good idea? It *might* make some sense on lower powered portable devices but it still suffers from an unpredictable factor - the users connection. Even without considering outages you still have latency issues. Forcing saves on the cloud is idiotic too. Anytime I see cloud based features I turn them off. I can manage my own storage thank you and if I really care to backup my data offsite I'll pick my own solution.

For the people calling for more liability on the part of software publishers I'm a little worried that might be a double edged sword.. Wouldn't that have implications for the open source world too? Not that a plaintiff would have grounds on the cost of the software, but in maybe in the case that it didn't work as advertised on the website and caused some financial hardship on the user?

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