An old trick re-used?

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Cunning copyright catches crooks according to the BBC?  This has been done before as we reveal how!

This excerpt was taken from the BBC Website dated the 13.9.09.

“Video games developer Eidos have come up with a novel way of catching users playing pirated copies of their game.

Players using illegal copies of Batman: Arkham Asylum have found that essential control functions in the game have been disabled, rendering it unplayable.

Players attempting to use the glide function within the game will find it disabled in pirated versions, resulting in the Batman character coming to an untimely end.

The protection system came to light when a user complained on the Eidos support forum saying:

“When I…jump from one platform to another, Batman tries to open his wings again and again instead of gliding.”

An Eidos community manager replied, saying the user had encountered “a hook” in the copy protection system, designed 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,” he added.”

Now let’s look past the triumphalist boasting, as I think we’ve been here before.

Back in 1993, a well-known figure on the Atari scene has a copy of ‘Oids’ by FTL Software and decides to crack it for (hem!) educational purposes (actually to render it Falcon 030 compatible.) I won’t name this person as he is now established in the ‘industry’. However, what was supposed to be a quick ten minute job to strip out the disk protection took most of the afternoon. This was once I had discovered by playing it that the initial attempt had only succeeded in removing a false layer of protection and some critical game features were disabled. It turned out that FTL had put in a much deeper and hard to root out second layer which directly affected the gameplay (if the first protection was removed? I’m hazy on the details.) This is quite a cunning ploy for a game written in 1985 or thereabouts.

Then as now, the protection system coders were relying on the tendency of crackers not to playtest their end result too intensively. It would need someone with prior experience of the gameplay from an untainted disk to point out that something was badly wrong. In the case of Oids, the rescued prisoners would not mill about once they were freed, but stood still on the spot, passively waiting to be fried by your landing thrusters. Also the alien bases were not generating enemies properly. I think there are still some ‘cracked’ versions out there that are incompletely de-protected and only work in this partial fashion?

Putting in dummy protection and nobbling the gameplay will work to some extent, as cracking a game using that system will involve more effort and slow down the crackers. They will need to check more intensively that what they have done works. However it isn’t going to take anyone with half a brain too long to work out what is up and it’s more or less business as usual, once the initial surprise element has been overcome.

So, Eidos, how does it feel to revisit a technique used a quarter of a century ago?

Any thoughts on this?

CiH
for Low Res Mag – 16/9/09

3 Responses to “An old trick re-used?”

  1. Xerus Says:

    Interesting story and article !
    FTL has recurred with Dungeon Master, they have fooled many crackers🙂

    There is a perverse effect with this kind of protection.
    The game may have a bad reputation, players may think that game is poorly programmed.

  2. CiH Says:

    “The game may have a bad reputation, players may think that game is poorly programmed.”

    Especially if it is a duff crack that only does part of the job but is widely spread, as the protection coders intended! Yes, that could backfire in the longer run, by which time things have moved on…

  3. MiggyMog Says:

    Lemmings 2 on the ST had a similar feature when pirated. In the copied version lemmings would keep walking on reaching the end of the map(and die!) unlike the original where they turned around!

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