clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Call of Duty’s latest anti-cheat measure: hallucinations of imaginary players

Cheats are bamboozled by fake opponents while COD’s cheat police spies on them

Two soldiers appear on a wireframe map in front of the player’s gun in a Call of Duty anti-cheat demonstration Image: Team Ricochet/Activision Blizzard
Oli Welsh is senior editor, U.K., providing news, analysis, and criticism of film, TV, and games. He has been covering the business & culture of video games for two decades.

Call of Duty’s cheat police, who go by the moniker Team Ricochet, have revealed a particularly inventive new anti-cheat measure: “hallucinations” of imaginary players that only cheaters can see.

As explained in Team Ricochet’s latest blog, these hallucinations are decoy characters that can only be detected by cheaters, but are undetectable by legitimate players. To the cheaters, though, they look and behave like real players on the opposing team; they’re not AI characters, but clones of another active user in the match, mimicking that player’s movement. They also appear genuine to the cheat hardware and software being used, supplying the cheating player with all the illicit information they would expect.

It’s a creative and technically impressive way of disorienting and distracting cheaters within a game, but you might find yourself asking: Why bother? Why not just kick the cheating player from the game, ban them, and be done with it?

Team Ricochet explain that the hallucinations are deployed as “mitigations” — “in-game roadblocks” that mess with cheaters and prevent them impacting the games of others, while Team Ricochet observes the hapless cheats and gathers data which can help the anti-cheat squad stay ahead of the latest technology. Essentially, they’re turned from a nuisance into a useful lab rat (before subsequently being banned from the game).

Even more deliciously, the hallucinations can be used to detect and verify cheaters. If Team Ricochet suspects a player of cheating, they can place a hallucination near them that’s only visible to their cheat tools. If the player then interacts with the cloned hallucination in any way, they’ve just “self-identified” as a cheater, in a poetic self-own.

Combating cheats is difficult and frustrating, but it often prompts some wonderfully creative, not to say justifiably vindictive, solutions. Team Ricochet’s hallucinations join an anti-cheat hall of fame that includes the secret Dota 2 “honeypot” that lured 40,000 cheaters to their doom; Fall Guys’ hellish “cheater island”, which condemned cheaters to only matchmake with other cheaters; and fake cheat software for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive that concocted slapstick humiliations for would-be cheaters by making them blow themselves up or throw themselves off the map.

You can, however, have too much fun punishing the cheats. Team Ricochet explained that it had stopped using another mitigation it called “quicksand”, which would slow the movement of cheating players, making them sitting ducks, as well as randomly altering their input settings. It was “a fun mitigation to deploy against bad actors,” the team said, but it could also be distracting and just plain weird for legitimate players to see the cheats suddenly moving at half-speed and behaving erratically.

Since their aim is for legitimate players’ experience to be completely undisturbed, Team Ricochet let quicksand go — with what seems to me, despite the very professional tone of their blog, some regret. Now that’s true heroism in the name of the war on cheats.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon