Ubisoft’s The Division is one of quite a few games out there that lacks a “photo mode”, a feature that allows you to take in-game screenshots with special effects such as removing the HUD, adding filters, or changing the angle. Matti Hietanen created a set of Cinematic Tools to fill the gap in 2016, but they had eventually been rendered non-functional by subsequent updates to the game. Matti Hietanen had recently reworked the program to work with the current version of the game, and the resultant photos are still quite impressive. (Our header image was sourced from Mr. Hietanen’s Twitter, taken with said photo tools he created and recently reworked.)
Unfortunately, at some point in the last several days, he received a ban from the game. The tools had been created with Cheat Engine (partly to debug the game), and there are some concerning gameplay issues such as the ability to move the camera freely. The camera movement was restricted in PvP zones.
We’ve reached out to Ubisoft & Mr. Hietanen regarding this issue. Ubisoft representatives stated only that he was caught by an automated system and that they’re currently investigating the situation. Another element of note is Ubisoft Creative Director Julian Gerighty replying to Matti Hietanen’s tweet about the ban, echoing the statement that they’ll investigate the issue:
Hey Matti, I'll check this out today. Love your work and would like to see more.
— Julian Gerighty (@jgerighty) February 9, 2018
Subsequent requests for clarification or more information have not been answered by Ubisoft for several days. As for Matti Hietanen, we asked him some questions on the matter and he was more than happy to respond:
TechRaptor: What motivated you to create your photo tool in the first place?
Matti Hietanen: I’ve always been interested in creative game content, especially short films that people were doing in GMod or Battlefield 2. I was also fascinated by the technical side of it, e.g. what tools people were using to film them in the first place. I started creating the tools with Battlefield 3 and 4 after Battlerecorder stopped being a thing and it became almost impossible to film anything. It was also a good method to learn programming since I had a strong motivation to get it working. After Battlefield 4 I found some forums and threads dedicated to game screenshots and learned that there was some demand for such tools in other games as well. I’ve also found reversing game engines to be quite fun and there’s something cool about being in control of things like visual effects, time of day etc, that you normally wouldn’t be able to change.
TR: Why did you decide to rework it after it was rendered unusable by the game’s anti-cheat?
MH: I was asked to try and fix the tools a few times after they broke, but I wasn’t really motivated to figure out how to make it work again. After a couple of years Nvidia’s Ansel still wasn’t implemented and I kept getting requests to fix the tools. It turned out to be a lot easier than I thought so I ended up completely recoding the tools and added some new features as well.
TR: Has Ubisoft resolved this ban yet or are they working on it still? How do you feel Ubisoft ought to have handled the situation?
MH: The ban is still being worked on as far as I know. I should stress that the ban was most likely automatic, and their anti-cheat worked as intended, so I don’t necessarily think anything wrong was done there. I was hoping there would be an easy way to appeal the ban, but since I have zero connections to people from Ubisoft and from what I’ve heard it’s impossible to get bans overturned, I just didn’t bother with it. I think if it’s clear that there was no actual cheating and someone got a ban for clearly just trying to take screenshots, it should be pretty easy to get that ban overturned and just tell them to never try that again.
TR: Why do you think your tool was picked up by the anti-cheat?
MH: The ban was most likely caused by Cheat Engine, which is a program I use for reversing the game and figuring out how it works. You can attach it to the game in order to look at the memory and game code, which you can stop to take look at different variables being passed around to functions and so on. I don’t think the tools themselves trigger a ban.
In the creator’s own opinion, it was his use of Cheat Engine to poke around The Division’s code that netted him a ban rather than the tools themselves.
There were two additional issues we’ve been looking into regarding this situation. The first is what process exists to appeal a ban (if one exists at all) – we’ve been unable to find any such process in our research, and questions on the matter to Ubisoft remain unanswered.
The second issue relating to this kerfuffle in The Division is the integration of NVIDIA Ansel technology. The Division was supposed to be one of the games featuring this technology (which would have removed the need for fans to create a photo mode in the first place), but it has yet to be implemented after being out for over a year. Neither Ubisoft nor NVIDIA representatives who we contacted have told us the progress of Ansel integration into the game.
We’ll continue to monitor this situation and report any new information as it comes to light.
What do you think of how The Division handles bans? Do you feel it was justified in this case? Do you think the game should have integrated photo tools by now? Let us know in the comments below!