Game developers have tried to beat software piracy for years. In the beginning, games were based on the honor system. When some people proved to be less than honorable, developers painfully tried long registration keys. They tried dongles, Lens Lock and key generating from a thick game manual.
All of these failed to foil the best of the hackers. Some game developers took an “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude about piracy. These games let them be played without proper registration information. But in the end, they deliver a treasure chest full of frustration to the pirates.
Codemasters developed this game using a system called FADE (or DEGRADE). The game starts up normally. When an unauthorized copy of the game is detected by the FADE software, random changes would be introduced into the game, making it nearly impossible to play.
Guns would misfire or have bad aim. Enemies would become increasingly unstoppable. And relatively small injuries would cause a lot of damage to the player. After a few of these head-scratching moments, the game would display the message: “Original discs don’t FADE.”
Electronic Arts (EA) cripples the player’s abilities when it thinks that a pirated copy is being used. This game is all about running. There are particular moments when getting a running start is necessary to jump over an obstacle or between two buildings. If the game thinks this is a pirated copy, then that running start becomes a very slow start.
‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’
Rocksteady Studios released this Batman game in 2009 to much fanfare. As most fans know, Batman is one tough guy, but he relies on his gadgets and outfit not superpowers. When this game detects a pirated copy, it disables Batman’s glide mode and won’t let him open his cape. Because this is critical to getting through parts of the game and to advancing, the pirate is stopped. They can stomp around this way all day, but face it, without a working cape, they aren’t Batman.
‘Serious Sam 3’
Released in 2012 by the Croatian game development team Croteam, ‘Serious Sam’ beats pirates by keeping them really busy. As soon as they pick up a gun in this game, a fast and unbeatable red scorpion appears to look for them. Wherever they go, it’s right there with them. It will attack them sometimes, but even if they avoid it long enough to make it to some of the upper levels, another annoying thing awaits them.
Eventually, the camera locks into a position that points up and to the left, leaving them with the choice of walking in circles. Pirates may get a few kicks out of this game, but they’ll never be able to end it well.
What’s the worst thing that can happen when playing a video game? The player gets very close to the end and the game freezes! This game came out in 1995 with this ingenious pirate-stopper.
As the pirate plays the game, it gets harder and the encounters much more frequent. If a persistent pirate makes it to the end of the game, a few seconds before the finale, the music goes crazy the screen freezes, and the save file is deleted. It’s the ultimate taunt and frustration.
Sure, go ahead and play this game
As Internet service providers improve access to online games, there may be fewer disc-based games and fewer opportunities for piracy. Until then, some game developers continue to find ways to prevent the copying and playing of their games. Others will continue to taunt and frustrate the pirates. It’s a cat and mouse game that may never end. But they’ll continue to find innovative ways to chase each other.
Brian is a computer science nerd who loves to write about new programs that are compatible with Linux machines.