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Vuvuzelas Blare On Pirated Copies of Music Game 320

Posted by Soulskill
from the zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz dept.
An anonymous reader sends this quote from Wired: "A novel anti-piracy measure baked into the Nintendo DS version of Michael Jackson: The Experience makes copied versions of the game unplayable and taunts gamers with the blaring sound of vuvuzelas. Many games have installed switches that detect pirated copies and act accordingly, like ending the user's game after 20 minutes. Ubisoft has come under fire multiple times for what players have seen as highly restrictive anti-piracy measures that annoy legitimate users as much or more so than pirates. But some more-mischievous developers have used tricks similar to the vuvuzela fanfare to mess with pirates. Batman: Arkham Asylum lets unauthorized users play through the game as if it were a normal copy, with a single exception: Batman's cape-glide ability doesn't work, rendering the game impossible to finish — although you might bash your head against it trying to make what are now impossible jumps. If you pirate Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, brace yourself for an explosion, as your entire base will detonate within 30 seconds of loading the game."
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Vuvuzelas Blare On Pirated Copies of Music Game

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  • Re:butbutbutbutbut (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MoonBuggy (611105) on Monday December 06, 2010 @10:20PM (#34468996) Journal

    Google is failing me, and it was a while ago that I heard this one, but I kinda hope it's true; the story goes that a cable company, tired of hackers getting free service, started pushing out weekly updates that disabled the hackers' workarounds. This went on for some time, the hackers having to use increasingly convoluted measures to get around the latest updates, but always succeeding relatively quickly. After a while the boxes stop working altogether, and the company points out that they fully expected each week's update to be circumvented, but that they were designed in such a way that the cumulative workarounds disabled the box altogether.

    It certainly has a bit of an urban legend sound to it now that I come to retell it, though...

  • EarthBound (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 06, 2010 @10:24PM (#34469030)

    The old school RPG EarthBound for the SNES had a similar, albeit HORRIFYING copy protection mechanic.

    If the anti-piracy measures flagged, it would jack up the encounter rate twentyfold--the game would literally be swarming with monsters.

    Worst part: if you make it all the way through to the final boss, after his first form the game will lock--the only way out is to reset it, only to find that every single one of your save files have been erased. Starmen.net has an entire page dedicated to this at http://starmen.net/mother2/gameinfo/antipiracy/ .

  • Re:butbutbutbutbut (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jackbird (721605) on Monday December 06, 2010 @10:27PM (#34469054)
    The Black Sunday hack [codinghorror.com]. Apparently not an urban legend.
  • Re:butbutbutbutbut (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nursie (632944) on Monday December 06, 2010 @11:11PM (#34469442)

    For the lulz?

    About 15 years ago a friend of mine had a game called "Settlers 2". Pretty standard RTS in a medieval/fantasy setting IIRC, quite cute.

    The CD it came on had visible pattern burned into it that would screw up reading the disc very easily. Using various blind copiers I managed to get a decent iso image off it. Of course the burn patterns weren't just to stop you reading it....

    If the game code did not detect the burn patterns in the CD it was running from it was very clever. Tricksy.

    In the game you had an economy based on a few things, one of which was iron. Another was pork. You needed farms to get pigs, and an abattoir to turn that into ham. The ham was then used as food for the settlers. Specifically the miners. They ate ham then went mining for iron ore, and the foundry turned out iron which you could then turn into weapons and other soldier equipment.

    After about half an hour of playing I tried to figure out why I had no army. After a lot of squinting it turned out that the iron was coming out of the mines and being carried to the foundry, which was producing.... pigs.

    I just had to laugh and mentally congratulate the developers for that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 06, 2010 @11:38PM (#34469646)

    Leaving aside the inevitable flamewar about piracy and sales and that endlessly retrodden path of discussion, to interject some technical details: to a cracker they're usually called a 'trap', 'flag' or, if you will, a 'logic bomb'.

    Some of them might be obvious, but of course if they're obvious they'll be found right away. The idea is that by making the traps subtle or to require you to actually play the game to some extent (and essentially playtest it) to uncover them, they'll be harder to track down because you'll have to complete the game 100% to be 100% sure you've de-fanged all the traps (or for a non-game piece of software, use every feature quite extensively - some pieces of software like AutoCAD infamously contain subtle traps as well which slowly corrupt your designs, which can be extremely unfortunate if the protection is not working as it ought to).

    A couple of decades ago, I even once saw a trap that released a bootsector virus if you tripped it (yes - really). Unfortunately, it appears the developers had inadvertently tripped it during development without realising, so the second disk of the pair had the virus already in the bootsector - in every copy of that game someone bought at retail, they could get a very unwelcome surprise if they ever booted off the 'Data Disc' by mistake...

    Very few houses develop their own copy protection these days, even fewer now than before. They tend to buy systems in wholesale like SecuROM, TAGES or StarForce - all of which work in basically the same way, which is to wrap the executable (like an executable packer, although they actually tend to expand it considerably) and turn parts of it into complicated puzzle-box style interpreted virtual machine code - hidden amongst which will be protection checks, and anti-debugger code (none of which actually works well on a modern, state-of-the-art debugger, especially since the development of hardware hypervisors - but that never stops them putting it in anyway) and the executable will have callbacks which rely on the results of those protection checks to determine whether the booby-traps trigger or not.

    Incidentally, those new-fangled online checks are almost always simply a more elaborate callback, where the code that returns the response lies on a remote server and would possibly have to be emulated or bypassed for a 100% crack. (This can be a lot easier than you think: Ubisoft have no excuses for their hubris, it's just not that effective.)

    Of course, frequently, these intentional logic bombs can trigger by accident on a legitimate copy, or when hardware (or software) that wasn't planned for or tested is present, or if you are running software that the copy protection vendor doesn't like - this has been true since the dawn of such systems in the 1980s (Rob Northen, etc). Some of these bugs are often confused for traps too, and a rare few of them don't appear if you crack the game.

    Naturally a properly-working crack (a "100%") will have had all of the traps systematically removed - with many schemes it's possible to do so in a frighteningly automated fashion, with enough work on the system, and since a software house tends to re-use the systems and only changes specific details of the callbacks, you can see one reason why they appear so quickly.

    That, in turn, leads to properly working 100% cracks also being very widely used by legitimate purchasers of the software - because the copy-protected version of the game doesn't work right: and the more complex, sensitive trigger-happy the protection, the more likely it is to fail incorrectly. (Ask anyone who ever bought a game with StarForce, or, say, Spore, what I'm talking about here.)

    Ideally, developers would stop putting logic bombs into their code deliberately. It's poor ethics, bad programming practice and can occasionally be incredibly dangerous (especially in non-gaming fields). There are probably enough bugs in your code to worry about without intentionally adding some - that's simply being re

  • Old school trick (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Weaselmancer (533834) on Tuesday December 07, 2010 @12:20AM (#34469884)

    I found one of these when I was a teenager. Freaking subtle. Brilliant.

    Steve Jackson's OGRE, for the Commodore 64.

    I bought it. And did what any good geek would do. Made a backup and played that. And I could never beat it. But I did eventually screw up that disc - the old 5 1/4 discs did mess up fairly often. Especially in the 1541 drive.

    So I played the original. And beat it. Made another backup. Couldn't beat it. A light went off.

    I did a statistical analysis. All I did was fire at treads for several games. They're supposed to be hit 33% of the time regardless of weapon or circumstance. On the backup copy, it was close to 17%. On the original copy about 33%.

    They built a single column shift into the game if it detects its a copy.

    EVIL.

    Especially seeing as how - wait for it - I was a paying customer. Thanks guys.

    On the plus side, I did get really good at that game. You had to be playing at a column shift disadvantage.

  • Re:Great marketing? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Superdarion (1286310) on Tuesday December 07, 2010 @01:13AM (#34470146)
    I don't know, maybe it's just me, but right now, after reading your post (and many before, as well as the summary and, of course, the tittle) I just can't seem to remember the name of the game.

    The only thing in my head is "vuvuzela".
  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Tuesday December 07, 2010 @01:21AM (#34470178)

    M$ should add removeing the old DRM systems that don't work in X64 to the MS malware remove windows update.

  • Re:Old school trick (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 07, 2010 @02:58AM (#34470612)

    Steve Jackson here, posting as Anonymous Coward. Fnord.

    I had not heard that story, but it could be true. Origin was under no obligation to discuss copy protection stunts with me, so "I didn't know" /= "It didn't happen." Still, if this is the first I've heard of it in 20-odd years, it held up pretty well.

    A column shift on the whole CRT would have been trivially easy to detect, as attacks that should hit 1/6 of the time will now hit exactly never. A good player will wind up making some of those 1/6 chance (1 to 2) shots every game, unproductive though they are, just to use up odd bits of firepower. So perhaps, if this is really going on, it is a shift only on tread attacks, or only on attacks with odds of 1 to 1 or better?

  • Re:Old school trick (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Weaselmancer (533834) on Tuesday December 07, 2010 @03:30AM (#34470740)

    Steve! So good to hear from you! Been a fan for a long time now. Was just throwing some Illuminati around my table last weekend. The expansion with the artifacts positively rocks. Oh, and we've already got rules for the Zombie Dice drinking game. We have not found players suicidal enough to try it though. Yet.

    Anyways, as to the business at hand, I have no idea as to the rest of the chart. I tested treads only, and this was some 20 odd years ago. It's a fuzzy memory at this point. I do recall playing 3-4 games only firing at treads. Initially the idea was "I'm going to stop this damned thing no matter what." Then I added an illegal number of units. And still couldn't stop a Mark 3. That's when the light bulb kind of went off.

    Played 3 or 4 games (not a great sampling I know) firing only at treads. Counted them up on a piece of grid paper. Number of times fired, number of hits. And came up to about half what you'd expect. That's when I knew the thing was cheating.

    I'll tell you what though. I do have a project in the works. A disassembly of the original C64 Ogre. It's something I've always wanted to do. The copy protection was obvious - a bad sector read early in the boot. It was obvious. The "gronking" noise a 1541 disk drive makes when it hits something it dislikes is well known. My theory is that if it didn't find the magic bad sector - wham! Bad combat tables. A disassembly would prove this out.

    Perhaps someday I'll do this. It would be wonderfully old school.

    BTW the book included with Ogre where the programmers explain how they programmed the AI is one of the finest programming documents in the universe. It should be a must read for game designers. It really is brilliant. I still have mine, in my original box set. Only thing missing is the radiation badge.

There is no distinction between any AI program and some existent game.

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