Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I am a lifelong gamer. I've been playing video games dating back to the Atari 2600- games like Combat, Bowling, Baseball, Kaboom!.

So why haven't I done a pure videogame piece since I started the blog back in February?

Specifically, let's do the topic of copy protection. As you know, modern games are encoded in pretty sophisticated manners. If you've got an inauthentic copy, the game simply won't run.

That's how it's supposed to work, anyway. In reality, pirated copies of any game worth playing are still floating around out there. Someone dedicated enough and with enough skill and time on their hands will- WILL- eventually pull it off; the aim is largely to slow them down long enough for it not to be worth the trouble. But before the advent of 'game won't run' protection, game developers had to come up with a variety of other methods of thwarting pirates.

These are people that came up with plumbers growing by eating mushrooms and shooting fireballs from flowers in order to save princesses from giant turtles. They have been rather creative over the years, and they do still revel in pirate frustration to this day.

*Old Carmen Sandiego games would come bundled with a copy of that year's World Almanac or, alternatively, a Fodor's guide. In order to advance in the game, every so often the game would ask you to copy some text out of the almanac provided. The intention was to get kids interested in using almanacs. In practice, hope you kept the almanac and didn't update it to a newer year with newer text, because if you did, you're screwed.

This was a very common tactic: allowing a pirate to play PART of the game, then stopping them cold at some point along the way.

*Startropics for the NES, at one point, asked you to dip a map in some water to reveal a code. The map came with the manual... which caused some problems if you didn't get a manual with the game. (This was remedied when Startropics was released for the Wii Virtual Console; the whole thing is placed in the game itself.)

*In Chrono Trigger, for the SNES and later DS, you are asked at many times during the game to travel in time. This requires entering a time vortex. If you are playing a legitimate copy, the game will let you back out of the vortex. (The DS pirates cracked this within hours, so quickly that it prompted a fan club to give out 3,000 copies of the game soundtrack- widely thought of as one of the best game soundtracks of all time- out to actual customers, two of which were autographed by the composer.)

*Starflight I and II, space-exploration RPG's, asked you to input a value based on some code words given to you any time you wanted to leave base. Screw the code up once, it'll ask you to try again. Screw the code up twice, and you'll get to leave base, but six game days later, the Space Police will arrive and accuse you of software theft. (Game developers will often call players out directly about this sort of thing, in the game itself. They kind of have to, lest rumors spread about 'random' crashes and bugs that lower the reputation of legitimate copies and depress sales.) Screw the code up a third time, and the police blow you up.

*King's Quest IV does this.

*Some recent games, starting with Operation Flashpoint, use a system called FADE, in which when piracy is detected, the quality of gameplay slowly degrades over time. Here's FADE doing its job on ARMA 2.

*At one point in Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman needs to glide with his cape. If you have pirated the game, you will find this to be quite impossible. When one gamer showed up in the game's official forums to ask about it, first he was outed as a pirate by another forumer- the game was only released in demo mode, and the pirate asked about a room full of poison gas which the demo did not contain- and then the administrator popped up to state:

"The problem you have encountered is a hook in the copy protection, to catch out people who try and download cracked versions of the game for free.

It's not a bug in the game's code, it's a bug in your moral code."

*Earthbound for the SNES was the most brutal of all. When the game detected pirating- and sometimes it would detect it on legitimate cartridges that had simply been worn down from excessive play- it would take three levels of copy protection. First it would spawn a whole lot more enemies than usual. Second, it would make those enemies much tougher than usual. And just in case some player decided to regard this as a challenge and press on, third, not only would the game would freeze during the final boss fight, but when the player reset, they would find all their save files had been deleted.

The link for Earthbond provides a code in case you have an emulator or Game Genie and wish to try it out yourself. Why you would do such a thing is your business.

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