A sweeping community investigation has claimed the recent Apex Legends "SaveTitanfall" hack was part of an elaborate scheme to revive a cancelled Titanfall spin-off.
On 4th July, Apex Legends on PC was hacked to display the URL "savetitanfall.com", with the subheader, "[Titanfall 1] is being attacked so is Apex."
Players also received an "important message" at the end of each match that requested they "visit and repost savetitanfall.com".
This came after developer Respawn's Titanfall games experienced DDoS attacks in May. The attacks became so severe, Titanfall 2 streamers said they were being "blacklisted" by a hacker so their games were automatically hit when they joined, making their main accounts unusable.
The original Titanfall has experienced multiplayer issues on PC for several years, and it was only in April that Respawn publicly announced it would properly address the problems.
The attacks have often been attributed to a mysterious and mythical figure called "Jeanue", who some believed was behind the latest wave. But exactly who carried out the attacks was unclear.
In April, I spoke with "RedShield", founder of the TF Remnant Fleet community - at the time one of the last and largest Titanfall 1 communities left - to find out what was going on with Titanfall.
RedShield called on Respawn to provide community-run servers to help get Titanfall back in business.
"We have many extremely passionate members in this community who are very talented programmers and coders," RedShield told me.
"They have in-depth knowledge and experience with the Source engine and the way Titanfall's files work. We have people who would, in a heartbeat, spend money - I ask that Respawn solves the issue permanently by giving us access and control over the Titanfall 1 servers, with permission to moderate, to ban users, and, if I can be so bold, to even mod the game. (Perhaps, just one server...?) Respawn has expressed interest in the idea in the past, and of all the solutions to the exploits problem and the player-retention problems we've come up with, community-run servers is the strongest."
Now, the Titanfall community is in uproar after RedShield and a handful of associates were accused of being behind the hacks in a bid to revive the cancelled Titanfall Online.
The SaveTitanfall website has now published a 40-page pdf that includes hundreds of images of online messages and screenshots that paint a troubling picture of misdirection. RedShield, alongside Remnant Fleet administrator p0358 - who was held up as a "saviour" after publishing a Medium article dubbed "How to fix Titanfall" in late July - and Remnant Fleet members DogeCore and MrSteyk are namechecked as plotting to hack Respawn's shooters.
One of the images shows a Discord text conversation in which RedShield talks to p0358 and a hacker with the Among Us symbol in their username (this hacker is known as "MrSteyk") about a prior attack that targeted a Titanfall 2 streamer.
The true goal of these hackers, it is claimed, was to revive free-to-play spin-off Titanfall Online, which was developed by Nexon for the Asian market before being cancelled in 2018. The hackers allegedly require access to the Titanfall source code to complete their project, and orchestrated an elaborate scheme to convince Respawn to hand it over to them in order to "save Titanfall".
The comment RedShield issued to Eurogamer in April is now being read in this context: "I ask that Respawn solves the issue permanently by giving us access and control over the Titanfall 1 servers, with permission to moderate, to ban users, and, if I can be so bold, to even mod the game."
RedShield, who has subsequently locked down the Remnant Fleet Discord, has vehemently denied the accusations, but admitted "several users very close to us" were involved in "illicit" activities, most of which occurred "outside of the server, and was never brought up enough within the server that, with my as-for-mentioned negligent management style, tripped any alarms".
While saying the evidence posted by the community is "real", RedShield said online messages "have been taken out of context or made out to be worse than they actually are".
"I have never gone out of my way to crash lobbies in any Titanfall 1 lobby, Titanfall 2 lobby, or Apex Legends lobby," RedShield continued.
"The only time I've ever been involved with a crash was months ago when a community member asked me to help them test a new exploit they'd found to see if it'd work. A controlled test where only agreeing individuals were involved, for science and documentation. I had no reason to believe it was for malicious intent, nor do I have any reason now."
RedShield did admit to the existence of "Titanfall Online Revive", however, which is described as "a passion project set up by the community, for the community".
"It's goals include full community-run servers, full modding capability, and a more hands-on future for Titanfall," RedShield said in a post on the Remnant Fleet Discord. "It was never done for any malicious intent to the community, to Respawn, to EA, or to others."
Players are being given this "Important Message" after finishing a match. pic.twitter.com/SGKvduO95p— Apex Legends News (@alphaINTEL) July 4, 2021
Speaking to Eurogamer overnight, RedShield said the accusations made against MrSteyk are "correct".
"MrSteyk crashed a few people early on, before it became a wide-spread phenomenon in April, to try to raise awareness that the issue was prevalent in Titanfall 2," RedShield told me.
"Or perhaps, with a different motive, like 'live' testing of exploits to see if they work."
As for p0358, they took to Twitter last night to deny the allegations made against them. "I did everything I could to save Titanfalls," p0358 said. "And now a bunch of liars is persuading the community that I am the very person I fought against, claiming that I am responsible for any Titanfall or Apex attacks. I am not."
p0358 then said the allegations are part of a "planned attack by a certain group of people".
"I do not know their intentions and the reason they have decided to destroy us and everything we worked long months on to build. I am quite certain they know I am not jeanue, being on the server all that time with us."
"The whole situation is like some kind of worst nightmare. The people we trusted the most stabbing us in the back, spreading misinformation. Why? What do they want to achieve? The real attacker must be having the laugh of his life right now."
The SaveTitanfall project now appears to be split in two: what's left of Remnant Fleet, still reeling from the accusations against its founder and prominent members, and NoSkill, the Discord server set up by the current operators of the SaveTitanfall website. NoSkill and Remnant Fleet used to be partners in the SaveTitanfall project, but apparently parted ways "when it became apparent there was a difference in motivations and goals", according to a Discord post.
"We need to rebuild," reads a post on the NoSkill Discord, "although we are seeing a very ugly side of our community, this is highlighting also the passion and love that the community has for the game. We're hopeful."