Creator Of Amazing Division Screenshot Mod Swiftly Banned For Life

Image credit: Hodgedogs, via Flickr

At the beginning of the month a modder from Finland updated a program that lets players of the 2015 game The Division take jaw-dropping screenshots. On Tuesday of this week, just over a week later, he was informed by the game's publisher that he's been banned from the game forever.

Cinematic Tools is a program developed by a Finish physics student named Matti Hietanen to help players take control of in-game cameras for the purposes of capturing interesting footage and images. He's made the tool for 22 games, from Battlefield 1 to Dark Souls III, to Star Wars: Battlefront II.

When the program is running, players can map Hotkeys to things like a free cam mode, timestop, and HUD removal as well as play around with the camera's depth of field. This means they can unhook the camera from their player, make the sun set, change the weather and snap a great screenshot of the game from an angle that normal players would never see. It can result in beautiful work.

Hietanen first crafted the tools for The Division back in 2016, but anti-cheat measures that were later introduced into the game by its creators at Ubisoft stopped them from working. Last month Hietanen began optimising the program once again and was able to achieve a stable version. As soon as he released them, people began taking great shots in The Division. They flew the game's camera into the sky to take striking images of The Division's snowy, disaster-worn New York City. They zoomed in on broken windows, body bags, and distilled scenes down into their grim parts. The results have been beautiful:

Image credit: Hodgedogs, via Twitter.

Hietanen has been tweeting screenshots from people who used his tools. And then on February 6 he tweeted a message he says he got from Ubisoft:

"We have detected recurring actions on your account which are in direct breach of our code of conduct. Please be aware that we have taken the necessary steps to preserve the play experience for others and this has resulted in you receiving a permanent ban. You will therefore be unable to play Tom Clancy's The Division."

"Whoops," he tweeted on Tuesday. "Worth it tho."

Cinematic Tools isn't designed for cheating, but it was built using things like Cheat Engine, a program that some players use to look for opponents' information, positions, and aim angles in a multiplayer match. He said he used them in order to dig into the game's code and find ways to take control of its third-person camera, day and night cycle, and weather effects. All of this breaches the game's Code of Conduct. Hietanen warns potential users of Cinematic Tools on his website that bans are possible.

A warning there reads: "I do not take any responsibility for banned accounts and such. Use at your own risk!" While Ubisoft did not respond to a request for comment on the ban, it's not surprising that it happened.

Image credit: Petri Levälahti, via Twitter

Hietanan thinks that its his use of Cheat Engine that got him in trouble and not for his own Cinematic Tools program. "I've heard of other people who have gotten banned for using Cheat Engine for screenshotting so that gives me some confidence it isn't about the Cinematic Tools." Using Cheat Engine to reverse engineer how a game's camera works is currently an unavoidable part of how he builds his tools though. He added that while automated bans are expected, he hopes that appeals are at least looked at.

"I don't think that would be too hard and staying completely silent to banned content creators, no matter how hard they try making contact, really sucks," Hietanane said. This is the first time he's ever been banned for life.

The punishment has been worth though at least in part because of some of the amazing screenshots people have already managed to capture in the game using his work. When I asked, he pointed to the following as a few examples of some of his favourites so far:

Image credit: Petri Levälahti, via Twitter

Image credit: Hodgedogs, via Twitter.

The second is from Larah Johnson, a Swedish in-game photographer who's been amassing an impressive body of interesting work going back to the first Borderlands. "My main focus is to capture how the game looks, the art in the game itself," she said in an email. "I want to connect with people, surprise them in any way." Johnson uses Hietanen's program in various games to try and set the scene, adjusting the weather and lighting, as well as where the camera will be hanging, and then captures the moment. From there she touches it up using a post-processing tool called ReShade.

She usually focuses on single-player games because they present less of a problem. The Division's snowy and superbly detailed world made it an exception for her, however. In order to avoid getting banned, Johnson makes sure to stay away from the game's multiplayer-centric areas like Safe Houses and Dark Zones. That's where players could have a legit gripe about another player having the ability to use a free camera to look around corners or gain other advantages. "If I die in the game I exit the game immediately so I dont spawn in the safe house with the tool enabled," she said.

Image credit: Hodgedogs, via Flickr

Work like Johnson's is the whole point of Hietanen's undertaking. With the use of Cinematic Tools, other players have found ways to show a side of The Division many people haven't seen, especially when it comes to the weather. "There are quite a few combinations that you'll probably never get to see, seeing how time of day moves fairly quickly and weather changes take a longer time in the game," he said. "When you set the time of day manually to a sunrise or sunset and then apply just enough fog, you get some pretty awesome looking volumetric lighting effects."

Now that he's been sent into exile, however, plumbing the depths of those visual effects will be left to others. In the meanwhile he plans to go back to tinkering with the version of his tools modified for Battlefield, the series that first inspired him to try and re-program a game's camera.


Comments

    In order to do the things this program does, it must be modifying the games memory and/or code at runtime. While this is something that lots of mods do (see: skse for Skyrim Special Edition etc), it's also something that many cheat programs do, and so modifying the games memory at runtime is often detected by automated tools that help to prevent cheating.

    In this particular case, even though the intention of the program is benign (to take better screenshots), it can also function as a cheat mechanism (move the camera around separately from your character, allowing advantage in the Dark Zone (pvp area).).. so I can see both sides of the problem and I'm not sure what the solution is.

    Should've just offered him a job, extending the life and reach of the game.

    I know the tools are dodgy, but all I can think regarding the lack of communication is some Ubi lead grunting, "Our games aren't for appreciating the hard work of our artists! They're for streaming, so that stream-followers extend the sales tail!"

      Its essentially a bot generated ban. An alarm goes off, someone looks at why and sees Cheat Engine, and their job script says That's A Paddlin' and hits him with the banhammer. Just a grunt doing their job, with no ability to see if its actually cheating or just whats essentially a false positive.

      On review, they can look closer, and hopefully sort something out, because the results of his efforts are amazing. The gamer in me hopes that someone puts the personal effort into reviewing this, recognises the intent and results, and as you say, offers him a job. Or at least unbans him, and does something inhouse to do the same thing.

      The cynic in me thinks they'll simply look at the same data, and wont get past the Cheat Engine aspect, and continue the ban.

      Photo mode is A Thing these days, and a feature more games should have, particularly ones where so much effort is put into building the world.

        Yeah, exactly. The fact that there's no review/communication is disheartening. At least by offering the guy a job or somehow flagging that specific account as doing amazing work, the bot won't ping for his cheatengine again, as it'd be sanctioned.

        (Unless he, say... suddenly amasses a shit-tonne of DZ kills etc, yay permission to abuse the system, etc. But at least you'd have someone with an eye on it.)

        Just a grunt doing their job, with no ability to see if it's actually cheating or just whats essentially a false positive.

        It's not that they have no ability to see if it's actually cheating. It's that a person in that position often isn't given the power to review and change a ruling without consulting with a management team. And if he/she goes out on a limb and changes it because he views it as obviously a false positive...and an issue occurs, it's his job on the line...

        And for some companies, this type of work is outsourced to a contractor...so now you're expecting a guy working on a short-term contract to go out on a limb...

          This guy gets it ^ and at the end of yhe day what's more important, supporting familu with an income and banning a breach of the agreement or helping a random dude take screenshots and no job?

          I know what I'd pick.

            Y'know, I really assumed that went without saying. No-one's asking a rank-and-file shit-kicker to make an executive decision that'll get them shit-canned.

            It's just disappointing that the requests for communication post-ban went ignored, missing an opportunity to pass this instance up the line and do something about giving this guy the tools/access/separate server/whatever that would help create something really special.

            If there is no channel for communication, something is wrong.

              True enough. It's unfortunate that just like this case, once the ban hammer has been dropped, communication effectively ends.

              I've only ever encountered the odd banning from a few whitelisted servers in the past but all of them basically wouldn't even consider opening communication once the verdict was made.

      Literally what I was thinking reading this. Photo modes are so big now! They are one of the best marketing tools for a game, because people love sharing their awesome pics all through social media.

      While his mods do have a rather unsavoury base code... I think freely rolling it out like he does may be wrong.

      What if he used it as a marketing tool and develops it as poooart if a service. People hire professional photographers for real life, why not professional phorographers for inside games.

      Seriously the screenshots done by game devs abd publishers are always lame.

        While that's great, it also limits the quality of the output to the potential of the guy who made the tools. Hietanen gave the tools out for others to use, and that's how we get Larah Johnson's stuff. Net win, really.

      I feel like people might be missing that the Division is a multiplayer-only online game. You can't just run something that detaches the camera into freeroam, that gives away so much information about enemy positions to the player they didn't have before. It's not just because he used Cheat Engine, it's because it can be used to give players a tangible advantage over others.

      If Ubisoft had a problem with just being able to take freeroam photos, the photo mode would never have been included in AC Origins. This is very much a multiplayer integrity thing.

    People would be much more upset if they didn't have things like this running in the background allowing for rampant cheating.

    Why are people being banned from games and twats on YouTube/Twitch headline stories these days?
    It boggles my mind, I mean who cares?!

      This is a way more relevant and interesting story than any of the youtuber/twitch tripe.

    Though he is using cheat engine. Sure it's not used to cheat but if you make an exception other people will ask for one as well and queue the that's not fair he can use it and I can't.

    What continues to amaze me is that similar functionality and more existed way back in Halo 3.
    Everything you did in that game was automatically recorded so you could go back and take sweet screenshots and clips and highlight reels from any angle or perspective you wanted.
    All baked into the base game which is now over a decade old.
    Why is this not more common? I'd put significant money on these tools in Halo 3 being a big contributing factor to it's popularity.

      Agreed. Halo3 three was ahead of its time in that aspect. Ah Halo 3, the true end of the Halo story as far as the games go. Halo 4 and 5 are just events playing out in Chief's cryo-slowed subconscious, Cortana's hologram watching helplessly from her pedestal next to his pod as she slowly gives in to rampancy. For a time, the increasingly severe glitches and stutters in her program give the perception that she's calling out in broken cries of pain as she exceeds her own limitations and breaks down, inspiring the final events of Halo 4 in John's mind. The final struggling flickers of her presence in his neural implant manifest themselves in his subconscious as the events of Halo 5, being unable to fully comprehend his existence without her and leaving an uncertain future in both his dreams and his reality as the Forward Unto Dawn floats lifeless through the void.

        Noooo, that would mean we didn't get the amazing leap forward in story that we saw in 4. 4 was the pinnacle of the story, the most believable and relateable point for the series.

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