Haters & Copycats: The Cliff Notes edition

December 22, 2010 · Posted in Copycats · Comment 
“Every day I get to highlight the [CMANO] failure is another day in paradise”
 
“As a matter of fact, I don’t play it. but I do contribute with Herman in underlying the horror hidden under the “Even Admirals like it!” If I manage to have even a potential customer to avoid the waste of $80, then I feel that I made my day”
– Herman & Vincenzo, demonstrating that jihad-level obsession against wargame developers is a thing.

 

This constitutes a short review of Vincenzo Beretta and Herman Hum’s antics, for the benefit of those without the time/patience to go through our (regrettably, but necessarily) extensive documentation of their public stunts.

Herman first appeared on the HarpoonHQ forums in 2003/4. From early on, he displayed an eagerness to cut corners on scenario construction by various means, primarily by copying the hard work of others, modifying it and presenting it as his own. (Archived e-mails of then-HHQ members urging him NOT to do this are available on courteous request).

Because of this, and his overall obnoxious behavior (some things never change) Herman was quickly banned from the HHQ forums. Afterwards he continued to produce scenarios using the DB2000 database. His first major act of IP theft was the illegal acquisition and use of the H3-SBR tool. Not being able to use the stolen tool effectively (in fact, his scens began to crash because of it), he instead attempted to publicly blame the creators of the DB2000 for his problems. In addition, he sprung up a string of anti-HHQ sites, the last of which survives to this day as his personal podium (looks like every fan community needs its own crazed version of Languatron).

In this smear campaign Herman was aided by Vincenzo Beretta, an attention-loving Usenet resident who publicly prides about starting flamewars (which got him banned from the HHQ in 2005) and harbors a years-long grudge against the HHQ. Over the years these two fine gents have proved to truly deserve each other.

Failing to lay the blame of his own incompetence at the feet of the HHQ & DB2000, Herman Hum then proceeded to wholesale rip the databases and scenarios of the HHQ and present the copies as original work of his own. Anyone who took even a cursory look at the volumes of evidence publicly presented by HHQ members realized this. Unfortunately many chose not to bother doing even that.

AGSI (Harpoon developer), anxious that their 2002 commitment to protect the IP of DB authors by any means necessary might have to be put to the test, and intrigued in the prospect of artificially fostering a rat-race within the community (More DBs! More scenarios! More sales of Harpoon! Who cares if one side stays in the race solely through cheating?) followed a public “see no evil” policy (years later, they admitted that the elephant was indeed in the room, but refused any obligation to prosecute the offender). The HHQ was explicitly asked, both in private and in public, to keep quiet for the sake of peace in the community (translation: sales of Harpoon). Naturally, they refused.

The powers-that-be (AGSI) then decided to frame the issue as a personal dispute between Herman & co and the HHQ. (To visualize the absurdity of this, imagine a serial killer’s trial being presented as “a dispute between the psycho and the victims’ families”). Herman & co embraced this golden-mean fallacy enthusiastically, as it comfortably skewed the view of observers towards the middle (“Hmm, perhaps Herman has some measure of right in this too…”) instead of forcing them to take a clear stand either for or against.

Frustrated by the passivity & indifference of both AGSI and the majority of the Harpoon community in this clear-cut case of Intellectual Property theft, and seeing the writing on the wall, the HHQ leadership publicly warned all sides of exactly what this implied state of impunity would bring to the community: loss and eventual disappearance of talent and interest. At the time the warning was widely mocked. In hindsight it proved prophetic – even though anyone paying attention could see the trainwreck well in advance.

Herman, emboldened by getting away with it once (twice if one also counts the SBR), went ahead and rode roughshod over the works of other major content creators like Paul Bridge, Ralf Koelbach and Darren Buckley (RIP). One by one, the content creators that forged the modern H2/3 legacy walked away. The community practically died. The warning came true.
(UPDATE Mar-18 2011: By now AGSI is so desperate to bring scen authors back into the community that they are actually willing to pay them. Great job on driving away the volunteers that made you, guys!)

The rest is recent history. Herman has been banned from the HHQ, from Matrix Games twice, even from his former sanctuary at HarpGamer. Hilariously, he publicly admits he doesn’t actually play the Harpoon game but simply tries to dig up the maximum number of bugs (real or contrived) in it as a form of embarrassment pressure against AGSI/Matrix – it has become so ridiculous that even Matrix calls him out on it. A handful supporters of Vincenzo Beretta and Herman Hum eventually realized what they teamed up with and left the two of them in the cold, occasionally exposing their antics. By now the two troublemakers found themselves alone.

In 2007 the HarpoonHQ was absorbed by WarfareSims and its crew moved to greener pastures, releasing the ‘Command: Modern Air / Naval Operations’ simulator in 2013, leaving this sorry mess behind.

“Refuge in audacity” indeed…

June 14, 2010 · Posted in Copycats, Uncategorized · Comment 

It has come to our attention recently that Herman Hum and his usual assortment of consorts have once more began beating to pulp the dead horse of ID changes in the DB2000 database and how these were supposedly part of a “grand conspiracy” within the ex-Harpoon HQ. Typically their allegations are accompanied by links to discussion forums such as these:

http://www.gamesquad.com/forums/index.php?threads/unannounced-database-changes.23874

http://www.forums.gamesquad.com/showthread.php?23949-Official-request-to-Don

So, a quick recap for the sake of latecomers…

Between 1999/2000 and 2006/7, the DB2000 and the other databases & scenarios hosted at the Harpoon HQ were the premier third-party content for the Harpoon 3 simulation, and formed a key pillar of the franchise’s resurrection from obscurity. No need to repeat the accolades bestowed upon their creators or praise their level of quality any further; referrers such as Sir John “Sandy” Woodward, “Sharkey” Ward or the Australian DoD should suffice.

One of the reasons for the tremendous success of these DBs and their associated scenarios was the constant stream of updates applied to them. As soon as a new piece of information about some technical detail or OOB change was made public, all relevant DBs and scenarios would be promptly updated and re-released through the HHQ site.

Inevitably, this often meant breaking changes. Deleting a radar here, adding a torpedo tube there, swapping MiG-29As for MiG-29Cs, things that can easily lead to DB & scenario mismatches if the DB/scenario author is not careful enough. Yet the HHQ content producers managed to maintain four databases and hundreds of scenarios without any problem, for years.

Because maintaining a scenario through successive DB updates is a tricky and often tedious business, external authors utilizing the HHQ databases in their scenarios were regularly invited to have their creations hosted & maintained by HHQ personnel. This ensured that their scenarios were never left behind and outdated as the HHQ’s accurate, detailed datasets moved forward. Even authors that preferred to host & maintain their scenarios on their own maintained a close cooperational relationship with the HHQ in order to ensure their works remained up-to-date.

When Herman Hum entered the H3 scene in 2003/4, he was using the DB2000 for his scenarios. He was banned from the HHQ forums for very much the same reasons he has been banned from the HarpGamer & MatrixGames forums (UPDATE: Twice) and he chose to maintain his scenarios on his own, trying to catch-up with the DB2000 updates at every turn. At some point he started falling behind, and this was manifested as reported crashes in some of his developmental scenarios.

For which of course(!) he immediately and loudly blamed the DB2000 and the Harpoon HQ.

facepalm

Neutral third-party observers who did not share Herman’s anti-HHQ zeal were quick to state the patently obvious:

If not for our scenario authors, Harpoon would have died a slow painful death. He has sacrificed a good portion of his waking hours taking the DB2000 from a simple collection of fixes to the ultimate database for Harpoon3. He is not a publisher. He is a private individual who took it upon himself to give more than pretty much anyone else in this community. That is just a character testimonial.
As far as my opinion on DB2000, it is the scenario author and the people who contributed to it. He gives proper credit to the people who contributed. He pretty clearly states that if you use DB2000 without putting the scenarios on HarpoonHQ, you will have problems. Why someone would not want to do that is not something I cannot understand, but its is pretty clear. This is not a software developer making changes. This is someone’s hobby and he can do with it what he likes.

And:

If you have a problem with the database developer, take it up with him personally. As far as I know, the folks working on that database have put in literally thousands of hours to make it a comprehensive and accurate database. A database, by the way, I have never had any problems with. As a completely neutral observer and someone that was ignorant to the fact there was even any internal dissension in the Harpoon community, this whole thread is a not too clever attempt to discredit the database and it’s developers.

(These posts BTW are in the very threads that Herman & co consider as their main argument! Nice job digging your own grave folks….)

Now, the intentions of Herman and his chorus were clear enough. But what about the technical merits of their allegations? It is true that successive versions of the HHQ databases feature various changes in the dataset, including component IDs. However these never posed a problem either for the HHQ crew or for the third-party creators using the DB2000. So what went wrong with Herman’s scenarios?

To answer this, we must go back to 2003/4.

As previously mentioned, keeping hundreds of high-quality scenarios up-to-date as their underlying database constantly evolved was no picnic. To help with the maintenance, a scenario author developed a highly-customized version of the H3 ScenEdit application called the Scenario Batch Rebuilder (SBR). The SBR used custom script files to easily and accurately rebuild scenarios after each DB update, making the process significantly more efficient. With the help of the SBR, the ID-swaps and all other types of DB changes simply did not affect scenarios negatively. The proof of this was manifest in the complete absence of problems in HHQ-hosted scenarios.

This point bears repeating: ID changes were happening in the DB2000 all the time, with no resultant problems at all. Not a single DB2000-based scenario hosted by the HHQ was adversely affected. This fact has never been disputed even by Herman and his supporters.

Herman realized that, when it came to keeping up with the relentless pace of evolution of the DB2000, the SBR made things easier for the HHQ and their friends, and harder for him. Getting his hands on this tool would not be easy, since the SBR had been developed under an exclusive agreement with AGSI; HHQ members were the only ones who could legally use it.

Herman eventually managed to sweettalk/con one of the HHQ crew into giving him an early “beta” version of the SBR. He immediately set out to use it on his scenarios under development. However, it soon became obvious to him that, rather than a push-button magic tool, the SBR was a complex semi-automatic instrument that required intricate knowledge of its internal operation to work properly; this wasn’t a script-kiddie toy. Herman’s scens began to crash spectacularly.

Out of ideas, Herman contacted the HHQ blaming changes in the DB2000 for the problems in his scenarios (not mentioning that he had used the beta-SBR on them). The HHQ crew offered to examine them to find the cause of the problem and determine if there was indeed a problem in the database (after all, no-one is infallible). The few samples sent by Herman all shared one characteristic: They had been tampered with the beta SBR.

(Unknown to Herman, usage of the SBR leaves a permanent “electronic fingerprint” on the scenario file; a specific combination of data that is practically impossible to create under any other circumstance. This was verified independently at the time by AGSI staff. There is simply no doubt Herman did this.)

The HHQ crew confronted Herman privately with this evidence and asked him to stop using the SBR – both because it was illegal and also because it was the cause for his scenario troubles. They also asked for more samples. Herman, not expecting to be caught red-handed using the stolen SBR, refused to provide any more samples and terminated private communications. Shortly afterwards, threads started by Herman and his friends began to pop up all over the wargaming forums, blaming the DB2000 changes for the massive problems in his scenarios.

So let’s do a quick sum-up of the facts:

  • Herman stole a product that he was not permitted to acquire or use.
  • When he failed to use it properly, he blamed of mischief the people that warned him not to use it.
  • When his SBR theft was uncovered, he repeated (ad nauseam…) his “Evil HHQ sabotaged the DB2000!” accusations in public.

All together now…

double facepalm

Of course, in retrospect, Herman & crew’s insistence on these “interesting” allegations makes perfect sense. Consider that shortly after these charges surfaced in public the so-called PlayersDB, a blatant copy of the DB2000, was released by Herman and his friends. By Herman’s point of view, what better way to justify such an obvious IP theft than to claim you are the unfairly persecuted underdog: “We created the PDB because the HHQ people were sabotaging us through changes in the DB2000!” (…the very same changes that nobody else was affected from). We are not making this up, folks.

So, little David fighting against Goliath and all odds? Or a scarcely believable combination of gall, stupidity and indecency? Let anyone with a sane mind be the judge.

 

UPDATE 1/26/2012: Herman has discovered YouTube (good for him), and has been posting “proof” videos demonstrating how one can crash a scenario by moving from one DB2000 copy to another. This reminds us of some folks driving a Volvo right through a brick wall and then photographing themselves beside the wreckage as “proof” that Volvos are unsafe cars. Amusing? For a while. Credible? Not really.

We are sorry to burst Herman’s bubble but Harpoon users play actual scenarios, not contrived YouTube videos. And for anyone keeping score, the number of scenarios hosted by the HHQ/WS and misbehaving as a result of DB changes is…. wait for it… ZERO.

Well, at least Herman now knows how to use YouTube. That’s got to count for something.

What price “peace”? (Hint: Ask Neville Chamberlain)

December 30, 2009 · Posted in Copycats · Comment 

Frequently Asked Question #72:

I understand that you guys are upset about the wholesale theft of your databases and other material, but don’t you think that your public complains about the incident are going too far? Don’t you understand that the flamewars inevitably erupting from your public accusations are driving new players away? You are effectively killing the community!

Response:

Let’s say you work your butt off to make something unique over the span of many years. You are justly proud of it. Then somebody rips it off and puts it on display as his own work. Naturally, you turn to the supposed "authority" (and self-appointed protector of IP rights) on the subject, and ask for corrective measures. They tell you (off the record) that you are right, but they are not going to take any action to remedy the theft. They also ask you to keep quiet about the whole deal, so as not to disturb "the peace of the neighborhood".

What do you do?

Do you suck it up, be a good puppy, and let the culprits walk? Or do you raise hell until justice is done?

What is the price of “peace in the neighborhood”? Is it worth losing something valuable to you? If you answer yes, wait until it happens to you.

Did the public argument drive some people away from the game? Perhaps. Did the knowledge that IP theft is A-OK in this community drive away the DB & scenario creators in droves, thus draining the community’s lifeblood? You bet. As we predicted and warned that it would.

As a result of getting away with the rape of the DB2000, the “creator” of the PDB has since then moved on to plagiarize material from other sources (e.g. the HUD), modify and re-post the scenarios of others without their consent (Ralf Koelbach) and generally vindicate anyone who considers him the single most destructive element in the Harpoon community.

Once more, appeasement for the sake of peace has failed.

Told you so

December 23, 2009 · Posted in Copycats · Comment 

Back in 2006 when the argument about the wholesale plagiarism of the DB2000 and other HarpoonHQ material was in full swing, fed up with the repeated attempts of multiple parties to trivialize/skirt/mock the issue, I made the following announcement/prediction at the MG forum:

I do hope this will be my last post on this subject, as I have more productive uses of my time.

PlayersDB users, consider yourselves formally notified.

You are using a DB which was blatantly ripped off from the DB2000, a product of untold hours of voluntary work, without any credit to its creator. This is neither supposition nor personal opinion; It is a verifiable and confirmed fact.

Your continued use of the PDB amounts to endorsement of this act. You are condoning intellectual theft against an individual without whose monumental, unselfish work there would be no H3, no ANW and possibly no TNH. Your reward to one of the instrumental figures of Harpoon’s survival so far is to state, by your actions, that his work isn’t worth a damn.

I know of at least one fellow Pooner who had great plans (and real ability) for doing real magic with Harpoon and has been severely disillusioned by what has happened with the DB2K and the PDB. "Why bother", he argues, "when someone down the line some obsessed kid can rape my work and everyone will look the other way". I wish I could tell him it isn’t so.

You can try to rationalize your course of action by trivialising the issue ("It’s just a game, get a life"). You can certainly say "I don’t care, I just wanna play the game" and it’s your right. What you CANNOT say, from now on, is that you didn’t know.

That is all.

As expected, the statement was mocked by virtually everyone. Shortly afterwards the thread was deleted.

Just a few years later, almost all the content creators (more precisely, everyone who is not on AGSI’s payroll or Herman Hum’s lackey) have moved away; not fun to put in real work and make material vulnerable to theft, and knowing no-one will care. The 2000-2006 torrent of high-quality scenarios & databases for H3 has turned to a trickle of decades-old HC-remakes and forum snipe-wars. For all intents and purposes, the H3 community has become a virtual ghost-town.

Karma is a harsh mistress.

On Wing Commander, the Hand of God and Internet hecklers

October 19, 2009 · Posted in Copycats, Harpoon 3 · Comment 

Wc3boxart[1] Remember Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger? If you were into PC gaming in the mid-90s, chances are that you do, with font memories.

Chris Roberts’ third major iteration of the WC saga was a remarkable game for several reasons (hell, just teaming up Mark Hamill, Malcolm McDowell, John Rhys-Davis *and* Ginger Lynn Allen together is worthy of eternal respect – but I digress), chief among them being the complex campaign storyline; one that actually branched at several decision points during the game. Most of the story branches re-united at times in order to accommodate some crucial “unavoidable” plot point or another, but it was a unique experience for its time nevertheless.

One of these obligatory plot points, near the end of the campaign, was where you had to escort this gargantuan super-laser battleship called (aptly so) the Behemoth, all the way to the Kilrathi homeworld, and ride shotgun while this Death Star-wannabe uberweapon blasted Kilrah to smithereens (total war with the XXL-sized kitties, remember?). You were warned, of course, that the Kilrathi will make a last-ditch attempt to stop the Behemoth with their remaining spacecraft but hey, you’ve racked up enough  kills getting to this point, so nothing you can’t handle – right?

WC3_Behemoth_TransmissionSo you go out and guess what, half the Kilrathi bomber fleet is out for blood, gunning for the battlewagon. Okay, so it gets toasted real fast the first couple attempts. Let’s go at it again. And again. No joy. Let’s tone down the difficulty to “Please just let me win”, if only just for this mission. Nope, you’re tearing through the Paktahn squadrons like a buzzsaw and still the Behemoth gets blown up. Okay, let’s bring up the heavy guns (a.k.a. cheat codes) and load up with infinite afterburner fuel, infinite gun recharge & infinite missiles. Not enough? Bring on the cheat code that insta-vaporizes every enemy vessel on the arena. WTH?!? They’re still getting through???

Yessir. Even if you brought instant death to any non-allied vessel in the vicinity, somehow you still had to watch the Behemoth get spectacularly blown to bits:

Turns out there was a purpose behind this frustrating experience; it was one of the unavoidable plot points, see, and you absolutely had to fail this mission so that you could then watch Prince Thrakath gloat about how he literally gutted your ex-lover, and Tolwyn/McDowell walk around furious because he lost his ubertoy. And then of course down the line you got some sweet payback by literally nuking Kilrah with an earthquake bomb, but that’s another tale.

The point here being, the author deliberately used a “Hand of God” device to conjure up a situation (in this case, the destruction of the Behemoth) that the player was completely powerless to stop/prevent. It was very much a Kobayashi Maru scenario: You’re not supposed to win, but to manage the loss. And it worked, and nobody complained about it.

So why bring this up, you surely ask.

jester[1] It so happens that the Harpoon community’s resident copycat, pest and all-around clown has decided once more to attack a scenario author and his scenario techniques:

You wouldn’t believe how one guy tried to ‘simulate’ this in his scenario.  A lot of guys have written different interpretations about the Exocet attack on the Sheffield, but this scenario authors was one of the most ‘innovative’.

The Etendards would appear and I (and most everyone else) would shoot them down.  A little while later, the Sheffield would just *Blow UP*. The player would be energetically searching the radar screen for the cause, but could never find one.  Upon later examination after the game with the Scenario Editor, the player would find out that the scenario author had created a special invisible unit to blow up  the Sheffield in case the Exocet attack failed.  That way, it would not matter how well you executed a defence or what you did in that scenario.  The result would always be the same.

At that point, most players just said “Screw it” with this guy and his ridiculous scenarios since the result was pre-ordained.  It didn’t matter what you did, you were going to end up with the same result.

Let’s look at this a bit closer, shall we?

Apart from writing top-notch stand-alone scenarios for Harpoon 2/3, the scenario author occasionally ventured into storyline-driven campaigns, the most prominent of them being the Falklands War 1982 battleset and the World War III 1985 set. There is hardly any need to praise them any further; anyone who has gone through them knows already the exhaustive attention to detail, realism & playability that are the hallmarks of pretty much every scenario by the scenario author.

HMS-Sheffield-MoD-2-S[1]Being story-driven, the scenarios in these campaigns hinged on a few events happening irreversibly and unavoidably: In WW3, some of the NATO carriers were sunk at some point or another. In the Falklands, the Sheffield had to be sunk at some point no matter how brilliant the player handled the war, or else the entire plot would fly off the historical rails.

Scenario authors typically handle such “obligatory losses” by inserting them just after the last mission/scenario the player played through, and just prior to the next one: “Despite your excellent prior performance, the Sheffield nevertheless was ambushed and sunk by a sneak missile attack. So here’s what you must do now”. But the scenario author, like Roberts, wanted these events to happen mid-game, to literally shock the player into handling the aftermath of a very serious loss. For Roberts, that was easy enough: script the mission so that the Behemoth goes boom even if not a single Kilrathi torp gets through. But Harpoon didn’t have a “Kill this unit” scripted action that could be programmed into the scenario editor. What to do? What to do?

Absent a “Hand of God”, the scenario author created the next-best thing: special AI-only undetectable & invincible units whose sole purpose was to attack any desired target with virtual certainty of destruction. These ranged from invisible submarines to mini-Scud launchers to pseudo-“balloon” units (frequently mocked by a certain someone who, naturally, still has to come up with a scenario 1/100th as good as the scenario author’s worst) armed with weaponry representative of the emulated threat.

sinking_oriskany_1[1]The “Hand of God” trick turned out to work pretty well; the special units targeted only the specified assets and the “holy cr@p!” effect towards the player was achieved. Of course this capability had to be used sparingly and carefully: If a scenario turned unwinnable because of a “Hand of God” action the players would soon lose interest. For this reason, the loss of the “morituri” units, while making the scenario harder, did not make it impossible: In the Falklands scenario, you can still win after the Sheffield blows up. Likewise, in the WW3 classic “Clash of the Titans”, you can still win the epic battle even after unavoidably losing two of your four supercarriers (the preservation of the carriers is not part of the victory conditions).

Both these campaigns proved immensely popular with the Harpoon community, judging from feedback on the forums, and regularly topped the download charts. How Mr. Hum can claim that “At that point, most players just said ‘Just screw it with this guy’” when he himself and one of his patrons are the only two (2) identifiable persons who have railed against this plot device, is beyond us. Perhaps it’s another one of his delusions of grandeur that leads him to assume that his opinion is automatically that of the wider Harpoon community. Or maybe he simply has no clue of what he’s talking about.

heckler[1] In conclusion: Chris Roberts, you’re damn lucky that Wing Commander was released in the 1990s. Had you waited just a decade more to realize your epic vision, you would be dogged time after time in Internet forums and newsgroups by heckling members of the peanut gallery who, perhaps because they realize that they’ll never reach up to your level, try instead to bring you down to their own – and once there, beat you by experience.

Such are the times we live in.

UPDATE: In Call of Duty – Modern Warfare, there is a sequence in which you do your best to get your player character out of a warzone, only to (unavoidably) die by the after-effects of a nearby nuclear detonation. No doubt, the devs of that game will earn their own share of forum idiots criticizing the “futility” of the whole sequence and the “pre-ordained” result.

Wasn’t it Schiller who said that, in the face of human stupidity, even gods fight in vain?

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