Several mods for last month’s Diablo II: Resurrected alpha test were recently pulled offline following a wave of cease-and-desist letters. One creator says Blizzard even went as far as to send a private investigator to his home to serve the warning in person.
Blizzard’s “Technical Alpha” for Diablo II: Resurrected — a content-limited, invite-only, single-player experience that lasted just a few days — was practically begging to be poked, prodded, and datamined. And modders obliged, producing tools shortly after the alpha went live in April that allowed users to unlock classes that weren’t playable in the early build, play the game offline without a Technical Alpha invite, play the game after the end of the testing period, and even access multiplayer via unofficial servers.
“My tool, D2ROffline, was originally designed to just bypass integrity checks that are part of the anti-cheating to prevent patching the client,” Belgian programmer Ferib Hellscream told Kotaku. “I ended up sharing it with a few friends and some other modders so they didn’t have to go through all the hassle I had to go through. Unfortunately, someone leaked my tool, and before I knew it, people started exchanging my tool for money. So I just ended up open-sourcing the project.”
In a since-deleted April 12 blog post (still readable on Archive.org) titled “Inviting Myself to The Diablo II: Resurrected Closed Alpha,” Ferib explained the process of bypassing the game’s anti-cheat system, which was made easier by the fact the alpha’s files were readily accessible on Blizzard’s servers without an invite. After a couple of hours porting a previous World of Warcraft anti-cheat bypass he’d written — which opened the door to modifying the alpha’s code — D2ROffline was born. Ferib eventually got multiplayer working and hosted a small, private server that allowed other adventurers to join his game. Traffic reports seen by Kotaku show the project’s GitHub page receiving over 100,000 visitors in just a few days.
Ferib’s work hacking into Diablo II: Resurrected paved the way for several mods, the most notable being D2RModding. Released by a developer named Shalzuth on April 19, D2RModding blew the alpha build wide open, unlocking previously unplayable classes and making widespread modification of the Diablo II: Resurrected files possible for anyone looking to customise the game.
Both projects were, perhaps inevitably, hit by cease-and-desist letters over the past two weeks. Shalzuth, who lives in the United States, received his by way of a private investigator Blizzard hired to make the delivery, an obvious intimidation tactic that Shalzuth nevertheless shrugged off during my conversation with him.
“I understand that any big corporation would do that, to help keep them protected,” Shalzuth told Kotaku. “I had some friends over for brunch, so they got a kick out of a [private investigator] knocking on my door. He said people occasionally hire him to find people and serve papers or legal documents, asked for a picture of me holding the documents, and then was on his way. It was quick and cordial overall.”
“At this point, I’m not worried as long as I comply and continue to comply with what Blizzard wants,” he added.
The consequences for Ferib and Shalzuth are both immediate and long-term, starting with the removal of the projects from their respective websites. Separately, Ferib took down a handful of YouTube videos pertaining to his tools, as well as previous work concerning World of Warcraft, while Shalzuth closed the Diablo II: Resurrected channel on his Discord server.
“We acknowledge that a big part of Diablo II’s longevity is the modding community and we appreciate their enthusiasm for the game,” a Blizzard rep told Kotaku via email. “Classic Diablo II and its mods will continue to exist and we’re going to do our best to continue to support the mods for Diablo II: Resurrected as well. That said, some mods are atypical and pose security threats to our games. Security has always been a top priority for us and programs that could pose major security issues will not be tolerated.”
As for whether Ferib intends to continue modding the remaster when it’s officially released later this year, he said a condition of the cease and desist was a complete termination of all development related to Activision Blizzard games. Shalzuth, on the other hand, understood he must only avoid violating Blizzard’s EULA and copyrights in the future to avoid the Eye of Baal falling on him again.
“Definitely, to the extent that Blizzard allows,” Shalzuth said when asked if he plans to mod Diablo II: Resurrected post-launch. “They are planning on real mod support in the future, and if there are gaps in their modding toolset, I do plan to fill those gaps with custom tooling for the community.”