Sonic Gather Battle is a fan game released on the popular Sonic fangame website SAGE by a person known as Leema Dan. This is a beat em up side scroller where you can fight against other Sonic characters in a variety of locations. It has a variety of different sonic characters such as Sonic, Knuckles, Tails, Rouge, Amy etc. It was a quaint game with a good bit of potential, but there was something… off about it.
When being installed the game asks for administrator access. This is extremely unusual for any game to ask for, let alone a fan game. Administrator access is the same as making someone an administrator on your system. In the case of Sonic Gather Battle, your giving that position to a video game. Upon launching the game, a blue screen appears with the word ‘caution’ in bold and warning on said screen about ‘stealing the in-game sprites’. Sonic Gather Battle has an anti-cheat feature installed on it. It’s called DRM, an acronym for Digital Rights Management. DRM was said to be put into the game to stop the game’s sprites from being stolen. This is a security precaution often done by developers to protect their games from being hacked. It can scan your system for cheat engines and close the game if it detects a cheat engine on your machine. Pretty harmless, right? No.
This game is fucking terrifying.
Sonic Gather Battle’s DRM has a lot more features in it that go beyond anti-piracy and straight into hacking. This game could be considered to be a trojan virus, ransomware or even malware. Sonic Gather Battle can see what you type in any search engine while the game is running. If you were to type in a word such as mod, cheat or hack, the game will close the window. This suggests the existence of a keylogger in the game that activates the security protocol if it notices you possibly trying to hack the game. Now, that’s understandable. What’s not ok is that when it launches the first DRM and a mountain of downright sketchy stuff starts to happen. A window will open leading to a site called whatsmyip, which tells you your IP address despite you never manually looking up the site. Some sort of identifying info on your machine is sent to an online storage cloud and your pc is blacklisted by the Dev’s system. All of your computer’s details will be in constant contact with the cloud so privacy is out the window. It can monitor what your system has and can see what you type in browser engines. Essentially what I’m trying to say is that your data has been stolen by some fuckwit developer with some script kiddie tendencies.
There are a variety of ways to activate the DRM.
-Typing hack, cheat or mod into a search engine with the game open.
-Having any kind of cheat code engine on your system
-Transferring your save file to another computer.
-Trying to deactivate the DRM via registry exit.
-Trying to uninstall the game after activating any form of DRM.
An issue with this is that someone who may not even be trying to hack the game could be subjected to this horror. If maybe you had typed in about a mod in some other game or something with the word cheat, the game could harm your system. Transferring a save file could happen due to a pc system being old or someone wanting to have their save on maybe a more portable system, like a laptop.
If you open the game after activating the first DRM, the games original soundtrack will be replaced with sad music. If you’re a Sonic fan you may recognize the music that plays at this stage. It’s the twinkle park theme from Sonic Adventure where you go through the mirror room as Amy. Asides from the sad looping music, the stage also turns blue and black. There will also be small red ghosts that are invincible and will attack the player relentlessly. The game will be stuck like this for every stage from now on.
And the worst part? This is only stage 1 DRM.
The second DRM can be activated by trying to uninstall the game after activating any form of DRM or using a cheat engine. Many dub this as being the red-eye DRM as red eyes begin to appear on the screen. The music will become distorted and a red filter is applied to all the stages. Larger and even more frightening versions of the old red ghosts start to appear and will instantly kill you. Needless to say, it’s bloody terrifying and unnecessarily malicious.
There is also the possibility that the game could be rigged with a keylogger, so the game could track usernames, passwords and the sites you visit. While it hasn’t been proven the game actually does this, there is serious potential for the game to do just that and more. The developer can control what is running on your system which means they could put whatever they want on your pc. They essentially have the power of an administrator, so they’re on par, if not higher up then you. For a young kid or someone who’s a bit naive, this could cause a serious scare and it’s understandable why. It can track your IP, check for keywords in your window and download things onto your system without your consent. It also asks for administrator permission when you install the game, so once you do, it doesn’t need your permission again. The only way to really save your system is to back up your important files, restore your system to a point where you didn’t have the game and run a virus scan.
Needless to say, the fans were pretty pissed. I found some pretty solid reactions on Reddit as to how people felt on this matter.
Due to the invasive nature of this game, it could even be considered a form of ransomware. Hell, it practically is. When people reached out to the developer he/she suddenly vanished and deleted their deviant art. There’s also a youtube account called ‘Sonicfan’ which many people speculate as being Leema Dan. The said developer has since been banned from SAGE and is now infamous throughout the Sonic community as being a twat lord.
There’s a lot to be said about Sonic Gather Battle and unfortunately, very little of that is good. While the malware and downright infantile actions of the creator are pretty bad, there’s a worse fallout from this game.The worst thing, in my opinion, is the damage it does to fan games. Fan games are in the grey area legally, so many hardworking devs can work on a game for several years only to be hit with a cease and desist. Being allowed to use a company IP is a privilege and developers need to remember that.
It can be tricky for a company to allow their characters to be used by complete strangers as there’s a lot of risks associated with it. SEGA understands that fan games help the Sonic fandom stay alive but if people start misusing fan games in this way, SEGA could really crack down on these games. Even though this was just one isolated incident and certainly doesn’t speak for the whole community, it still looks bad.
When a developer does something as stupid and petty as this, it isn’t just the victims that lose: We all lose. We lose incredible fan games, we lose the chance to make something out of passion and we lose the chance to celebrate something we love. As a young game developer myself, it pains me to see something like this. Fan games are supposed to be driven by passion and not fall subject to the will of an oversensitive dev. If fan games are to ever survive, we need to hold ourselves and others accountable to ensure something like this never sees the light of day in our communities ever again.