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Old 14 June 2005, 18:03   #1
JohnnyWalker
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Games that were tough to crack...

Reading the other thread that lists all those hidden messages left for would-be crackers by game programmers, I noticed a lot of them making bold statements about the crackability of their games and it made me wonder if there was ever a programmer or game that did a REALLY good job of protecting their software?

It's funny because I remember Ocean, Robocop 3 and the 'dongle' affair. Anyone else remember this? Leading up to the release there were loads of game magazine features about the state of piracy on the Amiga. Ocean were making bolds claims; they'd developed a way to make games uncrackable... each copy of their new games would come with a hardware dongle, designed to be plugged into the spare mouse port when playing the game. Since it would be impossible for cracking groups to replace this vital peice of hardware, the games would be uncrackable!

Of course, I heard a few hours after the release of Robocop 3 the game had been cracked, which at the time made me wonder if the whole thing hadn't been a stunt to boost pre-order sales!

(Slightly OT: Another little "piracy" anecdote for those who can remember: Do you remember the industry quotes leading up to the release of the CD32? You see; CD's were uncopyable, yet they were just as cheap as floppy disks to produce. So, the magazines asked, "with there being NO piracy possible on your new CD games, and the games themselves costing no more to produce (most of the time they were little more than the A1200 version put onto a CD), does that mean the consumer can enjoy lower prices?". "Why of course it does! Piracy takes such a huge chunk of our revenue that we can now offer lower prices to the consumer like we've always promised!"

A few months later... The new CD32 games were priced £10 higher than their floppy versions! A classic story to remember the next time some industry bod claims that piracy makes game prices higher!)

Anyways; uncrackable / very difficult to crack games... where there any?
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Old 15 June 2005, 00:42   #2
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All the ReadySoft games were difficulty because they crammed so much on each disk. Every disk held more data than a standard disk could hold, so you had two problems. Firstly you had to work out what bits from each disk to move onto the extra disk, then you had to alter the loaders to take into account extra disks. The loader change required finding spare memory to put your code in, then you often had to hack up a screen to request the extra disk. Often the crackers just made the screen flash to indicate putting in the extra disk since that can be done without much code.

As for tough games to crack, any written with interpreters are tough (all those horrid old Infocom text adventures), any compiled AmigaBasic games (as the code is not visible), and games with hidden checksums were tough to crack compared to "normal" games.

Some hard (but not impossible) games to crack in addition to the Readysoft ones:

Archer Maclean's Pool, Cruise for a Corpse, Double Dragon 2, Exile, Future Wars, Hook, Magic Pockets, Operation Stealth...
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Old 15 June 2005, 00:54   #3
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Cruise for a Corpse? Surely not? That was a simple DOS disk with manual protection. You could install it onto a harddrive by copying the files (I had the original and did so). Are you sure?

It's interesting to hear what you said though! It makes you wonder (not knowing the techiques myself) if there was anything a programmer could have done that couldn't have been bypassed?

It's weird to think that there's no such thing as an uncrackable game... although I've heard that no-one has managed to crack the Knights of the Old Republic 2 update, which is intreguing!
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Old 15 June 2005, 04:54   #4
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Cruise for a Corpse and the early Delphine adventure type games are very nasty to crack. The DOS disk is no problem, but if the manual protection isn't removed perfectly the game malfunctions badly later on. This is all due to the interpreted nature of the games.

One of the cracks (from memory, Cruise for a Corpse by Skid Row) says what a pig it was to crack. I believe Jeff also lost a lot of hair while patching the WHDLoad versions of those games...
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Old 15 June 2005, 09:14   #5
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Roll eyes (sarcastic)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Codetapper
All the ReadySoft games were difficulty because they crammed so much on each disk. Every disk held more data than a standard disk could hold, so you had two problems.
If *this* is really a problem, Battle Squadron shouldn't have been easy to crack either.
They managed to cram more than 1 MB on the disk.
Another one that comes to my mind is BC Kid. I don't know any 1-disk crack of this one.
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Old 15 June 2005, 16:16   #6
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Quote:
One of the cracks (from memory, Cruise for a Corpse by Skid Row) says what a pig it was to crack. I believe Jeff also lost a lot of hair while patching the WHDLoad versions of those games...
Yikes! Makes me glad I spent all those hours playing the original incase a copied version fucked up! It seemed like such a nice game!
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Old 15 June 2005, 17:31   #7
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Early EA games eg: Arctic Fox used a compiled decrypting loader that is very tough to crack. In fact, anything not written directly in assembly language is tricky as a rule.

The Zeewolf 1 & 2 manual protection was hard to remove properly. The menu and mission brief sequence is run by a scripting system so I had to understand that to remove the part of the script that went to the manual protection.

MegaTwins kept re-loading the code so I had to keep re-patching the trackloader and trainers every time something was loaded. More annoying than difficult I suppose

Manic Miner had something like 12 loadable sections that all had to be individually cracked and patched. Very annoying!
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Old 15 June 2005, 22:30   #8
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I hear that "Ski Or Die" is hard to crack... Or assume so, no WHDLoad or JST to this very day. :-(
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Old 15 June 2005, 22:53   #9
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Wasn't the protections by Randy Linden difficult to crack? ie Dragon's Lair.
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Old 15 June 2005, 23:28   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Avanze
Wasn't the protections by Randy Linden difficult to crack? ie Dragon's Lair.
Yeah, that was the LONG TRACK protection and Disk Loader scheme from Readysoft that Codetapper mentioned above

Another difficult long track/disk loader scheme was on many of the Psygnosis titles, i.e., Shadow of the Beast for instance
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Old 16 June 2005, 00:12   #11
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If remebered correct Elite 2 had some kind of protection, which when removed, you wouldn't be able to get a higher degree..
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Old 16 June 2005, 00:12   #12
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Arrow Wrong!

Quote:
Originally Posted by andreas
If *this* is really a problem, Battle Squadron shouldn't have been easy to crack either.
They managed to cram more than 1 MB on the disk.
Erm, no they didn't. The one disk versions removed the intro to fit it onto one disk. I don't count removing 200k of intro as squeezing the game onto a disk!

Also some MFM games are easier to crack than others due to better programming in the first place. eg. Turrican 2 is one disk packed to the max with data, but because it is ordered into logical files, it is quite easy to move certain files off the first disk and onto a second disk for the cracked version.

It is a sad fact that the more sloppy programmers games were generally harder to crack because they had bits all over the place, spaghetti code, multiple copies of the loader etc. A more structured programmer would just have one loader at all times and one main program so cracking it should be a lot easier.

Last edited by Codetapper; 16 June 2005 at 01:07.
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Old 16 June 2005, 00:53   #13
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Hey Codetapper, how many titles did you find with self-modifying code and/or use of undocumented opcodes ?!?

I seem to recall many copy protection schemes on the C64 that did this inside the good ole 1541 disk drive for example
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Old 16 June 2005, 01:09   #14
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Not many actually - I think that's more by luck than anything though. I know some of the other WHDLoad patchers have found some games that use A/F line faults to trigger certain things (loaders, protection) but I can't remember any game offhand that I've patched which had that.
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Old 16 June 2005, 01:24   #15
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Yeah, I don't recall seeing very many myself, however, I do remember seeing more of the older coding faults that required you load the game onto KS1.2 for instance and/or CHIP only memory systems due to the incorrect coding of the Load Hunks
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Old 16 June 2005, 02:25   #16
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Kickstart 1.2 problems are more often caused by the programmer saying "I know that DoIO is at $f9abce in the ROM so rather than calling jsr DoIO(a6) I'll be clever and put jsr $f9abce instead"

Kaboom on anything other than that exact ROM...

Either that or they load the game into a low memory position that was no longer free memory in KS1.3+
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Old 16 June 2005, 04:55   #17
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There is no such thing as undocumeneted opcodes in 68k.
Unused opcodes there is, and undocumented flags for that matter.
You have 3 kind of exception caused by unused codes:
1, line-a: $Axxx codes causing this
2, line-f: $Fxxx
3, illegal: anything else

The problem with some protected games is more like nobody is willing to spend any time with those "games", so the amount of work involved cracking them is not really justified
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Old 16 June 2005, 15:25   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jmmijo
Hey Codetapper, how many titles did you find with self-modifying code and/or use of undocumented opcodes ?!?
Well I ain't Codetapper but...

IIRC Uridium 2 uses lots of LINEA and LINEF in the intro sequence, though I don't think it was for copy protection purposes. Nothing else springs to mind!

I've found that many 3D games use self modifying code in the graphics routines to rewrite the inner loop(s) to render in a particular colour. The Hard Drivin' series is particularily bad for this but I've seen it in The Killing Cloud and Shuttle as well. Zeewolf and Manic Miner have some SMC as well but its not graphics related ISTR.
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Old 31 August 2005, 12:01   #19
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Piracy

theres loads of pirates on this board lol
i used to be one, i ran the dark domain bbs using ami-express the gr8est bbs software ever on all formats

it was popular i used to give people insant access to the warez it wasnt hidden away like all the other bbs there were no download/upload limits
i had 1000's of filles
the phone never stopped lol its fun owning a bbs
when the net arrived the calls on my bbs plumeted down and down i never got a single call in 6 months i sadly had to call it a day and pack it up
it was so depressing it took me years to build it up i had to type out thoasands of file descriptions
and commodore had been bankrupt for years at this point



i never had any choice but to pirate i could never afford to pay 30 quid a pop
the only comp i never pirated ever was on my spectrum thats becuase they were cheap 30 quid for a game is a rip off
i did buy a few amiga and atari st games
when i had my spectrum i went round my m8s house he had an st he was playin dungoen master it was awesome so i had to get one alll my m8's had st's no one had amigas probbaly down to commodore only advertising amigas
in amiga mags the only reason i new about the amiga back in my spectrum days was because i used to see screenshots on the back of games of amiigas, i got mine after my st died

the amiga had the best sound chip the most coulours on screen hardware scolling the best graphics the best OS WE RULED THE WOLRD SUPEME FOR 5 YEARS untill commodore screwed it ALL up,only a total idiot would go bust with the best computor ever made,is so depressing ive got tears in my eyes.
i clung on to my amiga for years after it died i was forced to buy a gay pee wee its hard to type my eyes are all blurry
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Old 01 September 2005, 15:40   #20
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As Codetapper has already pointed out, some games were not hard because the programmer had made it difficult to crack, but as stated before, with a custom MFM system (i.e. not a standard AmigaDOS system) some games came on larger capacity disks. BC Kid for instance was impossible to put onto 1 disk, I know, because I cracked it for Dual Crew Shining. Factor 5's disk format was very accommodating. It saved the publishers money, because if they hadn't have used their own format, BC Kid would never have fitted on one disk. Also their custom packer was better than FImp or Propack. The only reason in the case of BC Kid that Disk 2 has duplicate files of Disk 1 is to save on disk swapping. The disk swapper routine was quite simple. If it couldn't find a file, it would simply request the other disk.

Randy Linden (He of Readysoft and Bleem! fame) realised that a custom MFM game over 5-6 disks is going to cause a cracker problems. I wouldn't say that Dragons Lair is a very hard protection to beat, but it is a very time consuming one to beat.

Same goes with Video Kid by Gremlin Graphics. The basic MFM system of the game is basic and as far as I can remember is the same MFM system as Shaun Southerns Magnetic Fields copy protection, but its purely because every loaded file in the game has a separate loader within it makes it time consuming.

Copy protections are best when they are one offs (i.e. its written specifically for a game and won't appear again). SWIV would have been a tricky one, by the very nature of the way the game loads. It could have been cracked to AmigaDOS files, and the programmer deliberately left all the filename information there to try and coax the cracker to do it that way, because it would have made the game totally unplayable as the fileloader searched all over a DOS disk to get the files. Thankfully, Phil Douglas was a particularly good cracker and didn't get caught out.

Hook to look at wasn't difficult. It used the same old RNC Copylock (Yawn!) as every other game, but with the added stuff hidden in the Copylock, the game remained not cracked properly since 1992. The only problem with the protection though, was that it was so subtle, that many people simply didn't notice it. So in the end, was it actually an effective copy protection?

Double Dragon 2 however had a hell of a lot of neat ideas. Richard Aplin had obviously spent long and hard on it, and as an introduction to cracking, its an excellent game to crack. It has every conceivable idea and trick in the book.

But ultimately, a game is only as hard to crack as someones skills allow. I have cracked/helped out on a number of titles for some WHDLoad authors, where they have almost been beating their brains out trying to crack. Without wanting to brag, I haven't found any of them overly difficult to crack, but then again, I've spent years doing it long before those guys.

So the hardest game to crack? Thats really more to do with the skills of the cracker/programmer than the copy protection itself.

Just my two pence worth
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