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Old 01 January 2020, 22:12   #1
JohnnyWalker
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Making a game uncrackable

After reading all the messages from coders begging crackers not to rip off their games (in the other thread), and others where the programmers were bragging about how difficult they would be to crack, what could anyone have done in the Amiga days to stop crackers? I'm guessing nothing, but could they could have made things very hard for crackers?

How about:

- Making the game completely fill the disk, so there would be no room for cracktros? (Might not be possible, of course, but with a large enough game you could try.)
- Putting a different security check on every level of the game? (I've heard of games putting several of checks in place, but what about putting LOTS?)

I always thought the practice of making the game unplayable (eg. GODS) wasn't the best idea. Players probably didn't realise it was the copy protection maybe the game impossible, and just though the game stunk.

If you were to try and challenge an old Amiga cracking team now, and so reduce the ability for people to copy your games, what would you do? (Using the technology of the time -- no internet.)

(Note: Ironically, the reason we're so nostalgic for so many retro-classics is probably because we were able to play them! If piracy hadn't been so rife on home computing, the retro gaming market probably would be a lot smaller!)
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Old 01 January 2020, 22:16   #2
Predseda
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnnyWalker View Post
- Making the game completely fill the disk, so there would be no room for cracktros? (Might not be possible, of course, but with a large enough game you could try.)
Turrican II is originally 1 disk, cracked (with cracktro, of course) 2 floppies
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Old 01 January 2020, 22:25   #3
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Originally Posted by Predseda View Post
Turrican II is originally 1 disk, cracked (with cracktro, of course) 2 floppies

There is a 1 disk crack with cracktro done by The Wanted Team. I don't think they did a trainer though.

EDIT: Also a 1 disk crack by Defjam with a trainer by Apex but it cuts out all the intro bits and goes straight into the game.
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Old 01 January 2020, 22:25   #4
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Every game is crackable, what is important is the quality of the crack.

Two disking a one disk game is a poor quality crack in my opinion. The best protections were always the ones that screwed with the game and eventually made it unplayable. I would therefore use a combination of the two.

For Rygar i left zero space on disk, every bit of it used by the game. If someone were to two disk it with a trainer/intro then i would be the first to rip the piss out of them.
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Old 01 January 2020, 22:57   #5
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I think games like Total Recall, Jurassic Park, Hook is good protected games. Parasol Stars is also well protected, but they will be cracked in the end. Testing, testing, testing...
A good protection is not crashing the game right away, but makes it impossible to finish, let it play for looong time, remove things in-game.
Subtile protection, small changes in game code or memory, checksums will bring you a long way on the road.
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Old 01 January 2020, 22:58   #6
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Aren't there games that are only getting a 100% cracks now? games like Hook etc.

Yeah Gods made people think the game was insanely hard, good protection but it wasn't really good for the games reputation, strange isnt it.

I cant understand why a custom file system that stores more than 880kb is not effective but such thing are beyond me.
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Old 01 January 2020, 23:08   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mcgeezer View Post
Every game is crackable, what is important is the quality of the crack.

Two disking a one disk game is a poor quality crack in my opinion. The best protections were always the ones that screwed with the game and eventually made it unplayable. I would therefore use a combination of the two.

For Rygar i left zero space on disk, every bit of it used by the game. If someone were to two disk it with a trainer/intro then i would be the first to rip the piss out of them.
With respect, the likes of Turrican 2 and BC Kid have been 1 disked today has little bearing on the past.

I recently 1 disks Nitro, but that wasn't possible until recently because packer technology has advanced in 20+ years.

For one, the format capacity of Turrican 2 and BC Kid were more than an AmigaDOS disk, hence why when cracked they were both on more than one disk.

What Wanted Team did with Turrican 2 and BC Kid would have been no small effort, taking a couple of days.

No cracker had "days" to crack anything back in the day, because you always assumed another group had access to the game as well, and thus you were working as fast as possible to get the job done and released.
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Old 01 January 2020, 23:22   #8
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The aim of the publishers was never to create an uncrackable game. But to delay crack releases enough so the game could sell. A game sells best the first weeks.

It doesn't matter if it's cracked 2 months later. Some games like Unreal were very tough to reverse engineer. Bad luck: the disk format was "warpable"/copiable in nibble mode. So there weren't cracks but the game could be copied as is and worked.

And some bad cracks were released too (because of the competition between teams). I remember getting bad cracks of some games, and ended up buying them

A good crack is 100% tested, maybe with infinite lives, to play through the end. Levelskip is cool but sometimes no good, because some protections made some levels uncompletable (Leander, Killing Game Show...). With levelskip you don't notice that.
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Old 01 January 2020, 23:23   #9
Galahad/FLT
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnnyWalker View Post
After reading all the messages from coders begging crackers not to rip off their games (in the other thread), and others where the programmers were bragging about how difficult they would be to crack, what could anyone have done in the Amiga days to stop crackers? I'm guessing nothing, but could they could have made things very hard for crackers?

How about:

- Making the game completely fill the disk, so there would be no room for cracktros? (Might not be possible, of course, but with a large enough game you could try.)
Well for one, thats pretty much impossible. Thats why Crystal regularly used a text typer cracktro, 1). because it was tiny but still got across what they wanted to say, 2). they had that many releases they didn't have time for the fancy stuff.

Skid Row would simply have something in the bootblock that would say "Skid Row 1991", pretty sure they ripped off the X-Copy bootblock for that one which used the built in topaz font and system calls to display the text.

Either way, if they couldn't fit an intro on, Quartex would edit a piece of text within the game to let you know who cracked it.

As you can see, a disk totally full wouldn't stop it getting released.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnnyWalker View Post
- Putting a different security check on every level of the game? (I've heard of games putting several of checks in place, but what about putting LOTS?)
Unreal had protection checks absolutely everywhere, like loads of them.
Robocop 3 had quite a few checks on every level, still didn't stop it getting cracked.

Sometimes the more checks, the weaker the protection is, because programmers get lazy, they reuse the same code over and over again making it easier to spot.

Double Dragon 2 had loads of checks, for nearly EVERY SINGLE FILE that was loaded, just had the side effect of making them obvious.


Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnnyWalker View Post
I always thought the practice of making the game unplayable (eg. GODS) wasn't the best idea. Players probably didn't realise it was the copy protection maybe the game impossible, and just though the game stunk.
This I agree with, if its too hard, the owner might just think its crap game design and never figure out that its protection related.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnnyWalker View Post
If you were to try and challenge an old Amiga cracking team now, and so reduce the ability for people to copy your games, what would you do? (Using the technology of the time -- no internet.)
Pretty much nothing.

Its even easier now. What with WinUAE and emulation being so accurate, and the debugger in WinUAE can't be detected like an Action Replay cartridge can in some instances, its so easy.

All of my recent cracks and 100% releases? Not one was done on a real Amiga, all done in WinUAE.

The single best way in my experience is checksums, varied in their coding, and varied in what happens when they trigger.

A well coded checksum can elude a good cracker for hours.
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Old 01 January 2020, 23:28   #10
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Now if you know that there's a checksum, and with WinUAE memory read breakpoints, defeating a checksum isn't very difficult. For instance, if the game has a password check system + a checksum, it's obvious that the password checking code is going to be part of the checksum.

But on a real amiga, you don't really have memory read breakpoints (a friend of mine hacked a real-time disassembly program in trace mode to check for reads, it ran on a A500, I used it for stealthy password reads, but it was slow and difficult to use), so it takes a looong time to find those.

(using checksums has a lot of drawbacks/limitations: game code must be fully relocatable, or relocs trip the checksums. If the code has relocated addresses, then there are probably no checksums: it's hard to implement, and is reserved to high-quality games)
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Old 02 January 2020, 02:02   #11
DanScott
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I never bothered protecting my games too much... we just slammed in the simplest of checks for the Rob Northen protection. Essentially we didn't protect games to stop (inevitable) cracking. We protected them to stop people just buying one copy and making quick copies for their friends.
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Old 02 January 2020, 10:13   #12
StingRay
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnnyWalker View Post
- Making the game completely fill the disk, so there would be no room for cracktros? (Might not be possible, of course, but with a large enough game you could try.)
Wouldn't help at all. Things can be crunched or removed from the game to make room for a crack intro or, if that's not possible, there doesn't even have to be a crack intro at all, often just a simple message in the bootblock was enough (check older TRSI releases for example).


Quote:
- Putting a different security check on every level of the game? (I've heard of games putting several of checks in place, but what about putting LOTS?)
Wouldn't be a problem for any half-decent cracker. Might help to delay the release of a 100% version (emphasis on "might") but in the end it's not really helping at all.

Quote:
If you were to try and challenge an old Amiga cracking team now, and so reduce the ability for people to copy your games, what would you do? (Using the technology of the time -- no internet.)
Nothing! Because any protection can and will be broken, no matter how hard you try. Complex protections are fun to remove but in the end it's just a wasted effort to make them as "uncrackable protections" do not and never will exist.
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Old 02 January 2020, 10:52   #13
drHirudo
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For some of my "products" back in the 1990-ies, I used a simple protection of moving the directory data to track 80 or 81. 99% of the experienced 'duplicate experts' copied from track 0-79 and skipped tracks 80 and 81. Later, they wondered why I can make them copies but they can't by themselves.
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Old 02 January 2020, 13:09   #14
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I think "Pirates!" had a good copy protection. At the beginning of the game you have to answer a question about when the Silver Train or the Treasure Fleet will arrive at a specific place. If you answer wrong, you have to fight a duel you can hardly win and will start with a bad ship and small angry crew. Almost like a demo mode that lets you experience some of the game.

The required info is in the manual of the game. Photocopiers and scanners weren't as easily available in those days, let alone colour scanners/printers for those manuals that were printed green on red to become all-grey when copied in b/w. Furthermore, even if you could copy the manual, it meant getting off your butt and get some fresh air and the copy of the copy of the copy... would deteriorate towards unreadability just as tape cassette copies of LPs did back in the day.

Of course, this copy protection could be hacked away rather easily but was still effective for people that didn't have good fast access to the warez scene and just a friend whose friend actually bought the game. And even if it was hacked away, you didn't have all the info about the Treasure Fleet and the Silver Train from the manual that helps you a lot in your pirating career. Of course, most pirated copies of the game ended up having a small txt file with the required info on the disk and still have the "copy protection" in place.

But from an economic point of view of the producer I think the Pirates!-copy protection was as good as it could be. Simple (little developing man power required) and as effective as was technically possible (because with an Amiga real copy protection is just not possible).

Today I think a nice box to come with your game will be your best "copy protection" as you are selling mostly to middleaged collectors.
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Old 02 January 2020, 15:57   #15
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I wouldn't bother with copy protection, or if I did only a manual word.check or similar. I always thought disk copy protection punished the owners of orginals, I lost a few games to corrupt disks back in the 90's. Microprose were good at replacing disks but not all were - it's similar with DRM today. The pirates just work around it or remove it, those paying have to jump through hoops.
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Old 02 January 2020, 16:02   #16
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Today I think a nice box to come with your game will be your best "copy protection" as you are selling mostly to middleaged collectors.

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Old 02 January 2020, 17:38   #17
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A very interesting thread, so I suppose the bottom line is, if a human mind can construct it, a human mind can deconstruct it. Given the time and willpower.

Perhaps the best way of looking at is, what game survived the longest without getting cracked? I know some games were thought to be working 100% only to be discovered later they still had protection. In the race of being first it makes sense stuff got overlooked.
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Old 02 January 2020, 18:26   #18
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Perhaps the best way of looking at is, what game survived the longest without getting cracked? I know some games were thought to be working 100% only to be discovered later they still had protection.
The real question to be asked is: did the fact that everybody had a copy that had some overlooked protection still in place but everybody thought was completely cracked actually improve sales of the protected game?
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Old 02 January 2020, 19:40   #19
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I think so. Happened to me, I loved the game, so I bought it.
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Old 02 January 2020, 20:30   #20
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If I revert back to my childhood pirate brain at the time... I got 10, 15, 20 and sometimes 30 games at once for next to nothing. The fact that one of them didn't work really didn't bother me all that much, I still had tons of other games to play with. And when they were all used up... the next batch of 10, 15, 20 or even 30 games would be bought in an instant.

I can't really recall there ever being a case where a copy protection held me back from playing a game for a long period of time. Maybe I had to wait a month but then "my guy" would have a working copy.
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