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The Abandonware Question 281

An Anonymous Coward writes: " has an interesting article on abandonware games. They go so far as to seek out opinions of "game makers" with some interesting results. Some of them actually are flattered that their games have gone to that big abandonware site in the sky. Then there's Al Lowe (Leisure Suit Larry creator) who jokingly replies to the question of why gamers seek out free games, "Because they're cheap bastards, that's why! Always looking for something for free! Sucking the lifeblood out of us poor humble programmers! Now leave me alone so I can download more free pirated music!"" The first couple of pages are boring, with predictable opinions from big publishers. But it gets more interesting as you go on.
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The Abandonware Question

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  • by Anonynnous Coward ( 557984 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @10:46AM (#3060489)
    as merely cheap bastards is apparently self-abscription of game makers' own money-grubbing, greedy motives. They can't imagine that former customers might actually feel nostalgic for their old stuff--only that they must be too parsimonious to pay a few bucks for newer games.

    Fortunately, it is physically impossible to enforce copyrights on everything in the same jackbooted manner that IDSA, BSA, et all do on current software--they just don't have the resources. So, while they succeed in shuttering abandonware sites from time to time, thus winning battles, with p2p, Freenet, individual trading of CDRs, the war is lost.

    By fighting those hosting abandonware, they have, in fact, made many more people aware of it than would have been had they left it alone. This is the same thing that has happened with music and movie trading: just a few people were doing it, until corporations cracked down, causing publicity that made the awareness that it could be done trickle down.

  • Abandonware games (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Champaign ( 307086 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @10:46AM (#3060491) Homepage Journal
    I'm not totally sure about the legal question, but I *LOVE* these sites. I get nostalgic for games I played in my youth (some of which I even bought! ;-) download them and am in heaven for a few minutes.

    The funny this is, except for VERY rare great gameplay games, the novelty wears off pretty fast and I just delete it again for a few years. I really appreciate having them available though...
  • by maelstrom ( 638 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @10:59AM (#3060512) Homepage Journal
    I have purchased many of these old games, and would play them more often if they were still usable. Unfortunately, most of the media was 5.25" floppies, and not only do I not have a drive anymore, most of them are probably toast.

    Is it legally wrong for me to download the titles? I don't know, but I believe it is morally right for me to obtain a "backup" of titles I purchased. As far as titles that are truly abandoned, but I didn't purchase, this seems a gray area.

    The greed of the publishers is definately repugnant. Instead of opening their mind and allowing others to get some sort of satisfaction from an older title, they'd rather see no one have it and the game fade into obscurity. Perhaps if they realized that the goodwill they'd get for releasing these officially on a website would actually generate extra renevue from loyal customers.

    Is ID software likely to lose business because they released the source code to their older engines? No. However, AFAIK they haven't released the graphics, levels, and sounds for them. I suppose this allows them to reuse some of the stuff for Doom3 for instance. Maybe someday people will realize that unlike the real world, I can give you something of mine that is digital and not only will I still have it, you will too.

    And maybe after that, we'll have peace on earth, and goodwill towards men.

  • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @11:01AM (#3060518) Journal
    or something like that.

    most companies love it if they can get their customers on a treadmill, constantly paying in new money. And honestly the cost of tech support for the older games may actually be a money losing proposition.

    But They still hate the idea of not making money. and count potential loses are real losses.

    Right now I think that that rights to software to revert to something more relaxed a few years after they stop providing tech support. They people who know how to use the older stuff will always be a small percentage anyhow.

  • by TrixX ( 187353 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @11:11AM (#3060542) Homepage Journal

    as merely cheap bastards is apparently self-abscription of game makers' own money-grubbing, greedy motives.

    When Al Lowe characterized abandonware seekers as "cheap bastards", he was clearly joking. Read the article.

  • by Jay Mirioashi ( 554106 ) <> on Sunday February 24, 2002 @11:12AM (#3060545) Homepage
    I am suspicious of the motives of the Abandonware community.

    I believe, in keeping with the spirit of copyright, if a publisher no longer makes a copyrighted work available, then so long as this is the case, there should be no legal recourse against those taking the software for free.

    However, I must question the motives of Abandonware supporters. If indeed these companies were to make software from 10 years ago available today (via a website or mailorder) and a small price according to the cost of doing so, would Abandonware supporters be willing to pay?

    The real question is, are they truly supportive of it as a matter of principle, or do they simply enjoy getting something for free; being unwilling to pay for it if it was available through legal means?

  • MAME et al (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kisrael ( 134664 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @11:19AM (#3060555) Homepage
    Very good article. It focuses only on PC games though. MAME and its console-based ilk are another kettle of worms altogether.

    I see these emulators as a valuable service, preserving what I call our "pop culture heritage"...sure, "Time Pilot" may have been popular enough to make it in some emulator packs, but what about "Time Pilot '84"? A much cooler scifi game in my book, but one whose limited release (during the crash) means that it's not likely to see a repackage rerelease.

    I admit it is a bit complicated, because MAME does directly compete with the emulation game packs for modern consoles. But overall I'd rather err on the side of caution and not let these things fall into obscurity.
  • by zzyzx ( 15139 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @11:19AM (#3060556) Homepage
    Here's the other problem with newer games. They're all about the great graphics. In addition to the usual complaint about graphics intensive games (They sacrifice game play for the thrill of "oooooooh, that blood looks real.), I find at least that almost real graphics look worse that the most cartoonish ones.

    Take Fifa 2000 for the playstation. The players look almost real... almost being the key word. Whenever I see their blocky heads, I think about how bad the graphics are. By coming close to realism, you're forced to see how far away they still are.

    On the other hand, a more cartoonish game doesn't invite that comparism at all. Take Super Mario brothers for example. No one thinks that the graphics on that game suck, even though Mario doesn't look like a real person. They get sucked into the game world because they don't even think about how much better he would look with a few tweaks.

    Moral of this story? Don't worry about the graphics people, just make fun games.

    ...of course this is a moral from someone who doesn't really play games much, so take it with a grain or 10,000 of salt.
  • by sjehay ( 83181 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @11:26AM (#3060571) Homepage
    Nobody seems to mention or pay much attention to other types of software that are available as abandonware - more usually with the blessing of the original parent company. For example, have a look at: there are plenty more examples if you have a look around. Sure, having old games available is good for nostalgia, but things like this can actually be useful, especially if you're looking for stuff to run on older hardware or if you're after a feature that new software Just Doesn't Have (or the new software is not available on your platform etc.) - I know I've found this in various circumstances.
  • Re:Is it? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LWolenczak ( 10527 ) <> on Sunday February 24, 2002 @11:32AM (#3060578) Homepage Journal
    Its a violation of the copyright holders copyright, so the only action could be civil action taken by the copyright holder. Its not illegal till you try to make a profit off it.
  • by fleener ( 140714 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @11:53AM (#3060613)
    I prefer to abide by the intent of the original framers of the constitution. Copyright should last only fourteen years [].

    IMHO, any game made before 1988 should be up for grabs.

  • by kisrael ( 134664 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @12:04PM (#3060632) Homepage
    The funny this is, except for VERY rare great gameplay games, the novelty wears off pretty fast and I just delete it again for a few years. I really appreciate having them available though...

    This is an excellent point. One of the things people who argue "well what if you could mailorder these games for $20, or even $2?" miss is the convenience of picking and choosing from a large selection and quickly finding out if a game still has engrossing gameplay. You need to get into micropayments w/ electronic fufillment before this becomes worthwhile.

    For many, it's the breadth and not the depth of the microcosms that these games give us that's the real draw.
  • by gregm ( 61553 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @12:06PM (#3060635)
    It makes sense for most of the old games to be donated to the public domain or at least re-licensed as freeware. All the arguments that the publishers have against abondonware are weak:

    We'll lose sales on new games. Well that's just s stupid argument. If I aquire an old copy of Duke Nuke Em and play it out do you think I'll be less likely or more likely to shell out $50 for the new one? I think more, much more. How many times are demo versons of games made?

    They want to release a cheap game collection... well yeah those are the games that I buy.. Knowing they're not all that likely to even run on my new Athlon without some pain. But if that particular game that I've been missing for all these years was included I might buy their gamepack and work at getting it to run. So they get a half point for ths argument, but it is going to cost them some bucks to update the game engines to make them work on new hardware.

    They want to start a comic book based on a game character. So start one... they might not have that copyright as locked up as before, but they certainly have at least as good a right as I do to use that character.

    The bottom line is: they have the right to be stupid. They have the right to lock up that old code and keep us from playing their games. They don't have the right to break any warranties. We have the right not to buy their new games if we don't like how they treat us with their old games. We don't have the right to steal their old code. We don't have the right to act like we're heros for stealing their code. If you're going to steal then at the very least admit you're stealing.

    Now I've got to get back to Morpheus to liberate some more music.
  • A Black Market (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jazman_777 ( 44742 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @12:45PM (#3060734) Homepage
    Obviously these games aren't worth a lot to these companies (except as potential pawns in an IP battle). But the owners won't even sell them for peanuts. You can't get them "legally". So an alternative market pops up to meet the demand (and the price of these games there is 0). Why can't these folks set up a "classic games" page on their sites, and sell these games for peanuts? Just cause it sold for $2, does that mean they lose their IP?
  • by GigsVT ( 208848 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @12:55PM (#3060763) Journal
    Or they could just put it all on a bootable CD running open source DOS.
  • by CaptCanuk ( 245649 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @01:19PM (#3060849) Journal
    Most software developers (games and apps) should freely distribute abandoned software. I mean it isn't a full out request to open source their games and applications, but rather just a plea that once you can't sell in a retail channel and say a year has passed, that you let people use it for free (without support). It always makes you look good and in the case of a sequel or a line of products, it gets the potential customer used to using a product. I mean is it even possible to purchase Adobe Photoshop 3.0 ? If they freely distributed it (and if bandwidth was an issue, I'm sure some other sites wouldn't mind being a distrib) there would be more people familiar with photoshop line of applications (and those people with old photoshop 3 books could have something to do). I mean it was amazing when Sierra gave away "Betrayal at Krondor" off their site to publicize the release of "Return to Antara" and they took it off their site but it still got distributed (it's not so easy to find but it's there). If you are some third world country and you just got some donated machines (386, 486), I'm sure it would be really nice if you could run Microsoft Windows 3.1 and MS Works on it without paying.
    Software companies need to show heart, and this is definitely one way they can!

  • by tb3 ( 313150 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @01:20PM (#3060851) Homepage
    The bulk of their argument is that legality equals morality, which any freethinking individual probably realizes isn't true... or else laws would never be repealed or changed.

    Beautiful, you nailed it right there. Prohibition is the most obvious example of this, and I like using speeding. Has anyone ever felt guilty for getting a speeding ticket?

    The software publishers are trying to take the moral high ground with copyright, which is a completely artifical construct.
  • by MarkusQ ( 450076 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @01:29PM (#3060880) Journal
    with an internal abstraction layer that just happens to match the new-OS API, and with a minimum of timing or hardware dependencies, porting might not be too bad. However, few old games were designed that way, and it's not just because the authors were sloppy (though that's often a factor). At the time many of these games were written, these issues were not well understood, and they're only well understood now precisely because so many missteps were made. Maybe "everyone knows that" now, just like everyone knows that CFCs are bad, but there was a time not so very long ago when pretty much nobody knew these things.

    The biggest factor, IMHO, wasn't that the issues weren't well understood, or that we were sloppy. Everyone knew how things "ought to be done" even back in the dark ages. Heck, we even had indoor plumbing. The main reason early games were so often hardware dependent is that abstraction layers cost clock cycles. Remember that the processors for early video games were about three orders of magnitude slower than what we have now.

    People used all sorts of tricks to squeeze performance out of the systems they had, and some of them were pretty darned ugly. Rather than calling a subroutine (the cost being stack operations--this was long before cache worries), move it inline. Rather than paying loop overhead, unroll the inner loop. Now you're tight on space, so do something clever (read: "kludgy") with code that isn't as time critical to save space. Lather, rinse, repeat. We knew some of the tricks were ugly at the time, but they got the job done where something clean wouldn't.

    Remember: for any given clean, structured program, there will be a hack that does the same thing and is faster, smaller (or both) and much harder to understand.

    -- MarkusQ

  • Lost Copyrights (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Papa Legba ( 192550 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @01:48PM (#3060959)
    One of the issues that this article avoided is the issue of lost copyrights. This occures when a copyright is held by... No one. The copyright exists but the legal fiction called a corporation no longer exists to enforce it.

    One of the best examples I have read of this is Wasteland. An Awesome RPG from the 80's. I wasted weeks on it using my apple IIC. I alwasy wondered what happened to it, why their was no sequel to it as it was much loved.

    Then Fallout came out. A game that, not only played and felt a lot like Wasteland, but contained direct references to it. This was clearly stated to not be a sequal to Wasteleand, which confussed me as they were so close.

    Getting Curious I followed up on this and read up on Fallout. enlightment came in an interview with the developer and producer of the game. Seems that they wanted to make a wasteland sequal and had gone looking to buy the rights to do so. They followed the trail from the original developer, who had gone out of bussiness to an IP holding company that had bought all of the developers IP when it went under. This company in turn had crashed and all their IP had been picked up by another company who had then immediatly gone bankrupt also. The IP was never moved from their, so this resource sat and died on the spot.

    Great you would think, grab that IP for a song and get going. The problem is that, while the the IP is an asset of the bankrupt company and therefore saleable, their is no one to buy it from! With no corporate officers left and no truste of the bankruptcy who do you buy it from? No one is the answer so Fallout could not be released as an official followup.

    This is the idea that I think the IDSA would really not like to have get around. Groups like this and the BSA bully people by making them think that they represent ALL copyright holders, which is not the case at all. A lot of software is in limbo, just like wasteland is.

    Lucky underdog recognized this. They got their notice from IDSA and said, tell us which ones they are. The IDSA never replied, why? because the amount of games they actually reprsent in the abandonware genre are next to none.

    The other factor in this enforcement is that groups like the BSA and IDSA charge for membership, which is were they make their money. For every title protected they charge X dollar amount. A company that has stopped selling a game is not going to continue to incur costs by maintaining a watchdog over it that drains money every year. So they remove that coverage, removing IDSA's right to enforce the copywrite, becuase IDSA does not hold any of the actual copywrites and can only act as an agent when given permission.

    This is the lie of both the BSA and IDSA, they are paper tigers when it comes to abandonware, they have no enforcement rights in 99% of the cases. If they did most of the abondonware scene would have been stomped out years ago.

  • by AndyMouse GoHard ( 210170 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @01:57PM (#3061001)
    There's been at least one AC troll laughing at the "moral" question raised here. But let's not forget civil disobedience.

    I too feel there are many moral problems with copyright. If enough people share these beliefs, and we act on them (like downloading abandonware) then it's not as cut and dry as the publishers think. It's not "piracy" any more. It's enough people disagreeing with the law... implying that maybe, just maybe, the law is wrong.

    Remember, laws are pieces of paper. Many of them have nothing to do with right or wrong anymore. They have much to do about money and greed and control.

  • by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <sjc@carpanet.PERIODnet minus punct> on Sunday February 24, 2002 @02:12PM (#3061081) Homepage
    Whats fascinating in this article is the different ideas of publishers and developers.
    The publishers talked very plainly and without elaboration on how making a copy is a violation of their copyright and they will persue it.

    The actual writters of the games elaborated in ways that showed a definite lack of understanding of copyright law.

    As Will Wright said:

    Now even though the game may be off the market, by allowing everyone to freely download or even sell collections of old games, I might lose whatever copyright claims I have on the original character.

    While this may be true with a trade mark, it is certainly not true under copyright (which is what covers these issues being discussed). He was not the first one in the artcile to express a view like that.

    I find it fascinating that publishers know all they need to about copyright law, and the game makers are, by and large, ignorant of the real law and its issues. I have to wonder if this is true in other forms of publishing (like books) where the authors hold copyright more often and license their works to the publishers.

  • Supply and Demand (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Apreche ( 239272 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @04:24PM (#3061690) Homepage Journal
    I posted this way too late so nobody will ever see it or reply to it. However, I just want to point out this is another issue of supply and demand, just like mp3s. There is a demand for digital music. The RIAA does not supply digital music, so people take it for free.
    There is a demand for old video games. Game publishers do not make old video games readily available, so people take them for free.
    Businesses just don't get it. When people want something, give it to them, or you'll lose money. The only logic they could be using is that they make more money off of copyright infringement lawsuits than they would by selling the old video games. Somehow, I don't think that's the case.
  • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @04:36PM (#3061738) Homepage Journal
    You're forgetting the flip side to Civil Disobedience. You can't try to weasel out of whatever punishment the system gives you. You accept the punishment to show how bankrupt whatever you're protesting is.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2002 @04:45PM (#3061781)
    Many of the games were developed by subcontractors, ie game development shops. They shipped the binary to the company whose name is on the box and put the source in a vault. The company that got the binary could allow it to be distributed freely now, but they can't update it. Company that sold the binary agreed not to retail it and still can't.
  • Economics 101 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by the gnat ( 153162 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @04:52PM (#3061814)
    You're missing part of the point. If people are content to play older games, the revenue stream for software makers will dry up. I love 3D shooters too, but how many more games do we need based on the Q3 or UT engines? The only games I've ever truly been addicted to are Angband and Escape Velocity, both of which ran fine on my 68040 Macintosh. As much as I respect the work that ID and others are doing, I just can't see myself paying for it when I can play classic games for free.

    The software developers won't re-release these classic games because it would be detrimental to their main products. By abandoning titles after a few years, they essentially force you to upgrade. I'm not saying this is the primary motivating factor, but it's certainly an important part. Some people will always buy the latest and greatest, for a variety of reasons; the rest of us only do so when pushed.

    This is the way the software industry works. How many Word users need more functionality than Word 5.1 provided? Furthermore, if you can keep people on an insane upgrade cycle, you force them to buy new hardware as well. If each new version of Windows was capable of running faster on older hardware thanks to tighter, more optimized programming rather than feature bloat, the PC makers would revolt. There were stories this summer about charities not being able to get ahold of Windows 3.1 or 95 for the old crappy (but functional) PCs they distribute except at exorbitant prices. It's the exact same problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2002 @05:00PM (#3061845)
    He explains: "If the options are (a) having a game be lost forever and (b) having it available on one of these sites, I'd want it to be available.
    Emphasis mine.

    Here is what I consider to be the crux of the matter. Copyright grants a limited monopoly before the work in question passes on to the public domain. If it is lost forever, it will never pass into the public domain. The copyright owner has essentially killed the work in question.

    An attempt to actually kill a work in this way is such an obvious breach of the intent of Copyright so as to justify the entire abandonware concept entirely and without hesitation.

    Perhaps Copyright law should be modified so as to require "abandoned" works to be explicitly placed in the public domain, and if this is not done, and the work is "lost forever", then at the expiration of the copyright, the owners of that copyright should be fined the estimated worth of the work in question, plus some punitive minimum amount.

    A Copyright holder has a duty to be able to provide the work so protected to the public at the expiration of the term of Copyright. If and when they cannot do so, some sort of punitive and protective measure needs to be taken. (Perhaps all their other copyright worked are immediately placed into the public domain, as they have demonstrated an inability to even retain a copy of the work they claim copyright on.) A deposit of the work, in archival format, with the Library of Congress would suffice, or donating the work to the abandonware sites upon the corporate decision to abandon the software would work as well.

    The issues of lapsed warranties were also touched on in the article. Personally, if a company cannot or will not honor a warranty, then they have effectively given that product's IP into the public domain. (Patents *and* Copyrights!) I have old games that I would still like to play, but they are copy-protected *and* on failing media, and the creating companies are "out of business". Naturally, I think this sucks. But I'm breaking the law if I acquire another copy of the software from an abandonware site.

  • Re:Don't worry.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cpt kangarooski ( 3773 ) on Sunday February 24, 2002 @07:26PM (#3062525) Homepage
    No, it shouldn't. Were that the case, the ability to make a new derivative work would be ruined. That will not stand.

    There's value in being able to take a story like the Odyssey and Illiad, and being able to reuse elements from them in crafting another work -- such as the Aenid. Disney does this all the time. Those guys didn't independently develop Snow White, or Cinderella. Nevertheless, there's value in the new derivative work.

    I'm sorely hoping that the Eldritch case will go well so that I can work to create a brand new Mickey Mouse cartoon. He's a good character, you can do some good stuff with him. Disney _isn't_, but what I'd like to see is everyone, including them, doing so.

    Like it or not, our cultural icons are locked up in copyright schemes now. We used to have trickster characters like Odysseus, Loki, and Coyote. Now we have Bugs Bunny, and it is impossible for our culture to thrive as it did in the past by retelling and changing the stories about him, like we did with the others since time immemoriable.

    The justification -- the sole justification -- for copyright is the benefit reaped by the public, not in mere commerce. The abandonware people are doing the right thing. Were it left to business, our history would be wiped out in order to favor their own positions in the present. It's as bad as strip mining.
  • by r3jjs ( 189626 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {sjj3r}> on Monday February 25, 2002 @12:33AM (#3063559)
    The way I see it, there are a few reasons why "abandonware" sites should exist.

    1) If the copywrite owners stated, in writing, they would replace defective media.

    2) If the game was "licenced" and not purchased (as per most EULAs) then the owner of the software is REQUIRED to replace defective media, because I don't own the game, I only lease it. The lease owner has to keep up the maintence.

    I have too many games around here that I did spend the money to purchase that have suffered bit rot, or physical damage to the media. Most of them fit in one of the above catagories.

  • Re:Hmm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TeddyR ( 4176 ) on Monday February 25, 2002 @01:42AM (#3063697) Homepage Journal
    It probably IS a troll.. but I'll also bite:

    Even if the games were originally meant for windows, they were meant for pre win98 windows and probably work great in wine or other x86 emulators for linux with little effort.

    There are many games/ applications that failed the marketing/distribution wars when there was no Internet for the masses. There are many applications and even OSes today that would not have flourished without the internet. Bringing back those "old binaries" in a form that can be downloaded may bring many an enjoyment that they would have missed forever.
  • by Anonynnous Coward ( 557984 ) on Monday February 25, 2002 @08:52AM (#3064408)
    Heh. Back in my day, we had to translate vinyl to SID files. By hand. And we did it on a Commodore 64, with a cassette drive (or a 1541 disk drive, which transferred data about as fast as a cassette drive, but with random access). And we had to do our file transfers at 300 baud (and we were damned glad to have it) with Punter protocol or XMODEM, in 128 byte blocks over phone lines that we would swear were switched through barbed wire at the CO. And we didn't have no fancy In-ter-net. No siree, Bob. We had to direct dial long distance and pull the RJ-10 jack from the handset for our Vicmodem. And if that wasn't enough, we had to find codes for long distance. We were too poor to afford a Blue box. (This was before the days of Tone Loc.)

    Kids have it so easy today.

  • by Scorchio ( 177053 ) on Monday February 25, 2002 @09:15AM (#3064449)
    This is a situation that didn't get the analysis it needs. Sure, EA and co may have some interest in their old titles - intention to re-release or protection of a brand - but what about games released by a publisher that no longer exists? Who does the copyright belong to?

    I worked on a game about seven years ago that was developed for three platforms, but only released on two. The company the game was written for has since closed down. An abandonware type group has approached me regarding getting hold of a copy of the version that was unreleased. I'm currently trying to find out who "owns" the game and whether they'd have any complaints about it being distributed like this.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"