Archive for August, 2006

Old-School PC Copy Protection Schemes

Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

Finest Hour[This is Eric Lambert’s second submission to VC&G, with contributions and editing by RedWolf.]

Nothing seems to make headlines more these days than war and copyright infractions. Whether it has to do with movies, music, or games, “piracy” is now a household word, and media providers are searching for ways to reduce it and make money off of it at the same time. Hollywood’s Broadcast Flag. Sony’s rootkit debacle. Starforce. So much time, effort, and public goodwill has been wasted on the quest to prevent people from copying things.

Don't Copy That FloppyAll right. Did I scare off the casual passers-by yet? Because this isn’t a crusade to rail against the evils of modern copy-protection. No, I just needed a legitimate sounding opening to introduce what I really want to talk about: old-school copy protection. We’re talking “Don’t Copy That Floppy” here, folks — back in the days when men were men and boys had to learn how to handle boot floppies and extended memory.

Don't Copy That FloppyThe early copy protection schemes were much more analog than digital, and tended to fall into two categories: code wheels and manual lookups. That’s right, they used documents and devices that were physically separate from the program. While the games themselves were easy to duplicate, copy protection (C.P.) implementations weren’t. Moving parts, dark-colored pages, esoteric information scattered throughout a manual all meant that photocopying (when possible) could be prohibitively expensive. And without a world-wide publicly available Internet, digital scans and brute-force cracking programs were almost unheard of. For the most part, the C.P. methods were an effective low-tech solution to a high-tech problem.

So let’s take a look at a couple of them and revel in their oh-so-simple glory.

[ Continue reading Old-School PC Copy Protection Schemes » ]

Retro Scan of the Week: Weller’s Psychedelic Apple II Painting

Monday, August 7th, 2006
Apple II Painting

This incredible Apple II-themed painting was scanned from the cover of a small 1982 brochure titled, “Your Guide To Apple Service And Support.” I personally think it’s an excellent piece of art, apparently by an artist named “Weller.” Weller, if you find this, please drop me a line and let me know if you did any more computer-related paintings.

Great stuff. It reminds me of Peter Max.

If you use this image on your site, please support “Retro Scan of the Week” by giving us obvious credit for the original scan and entry. Thanks.

This Definitely Beats the “Mac Shelf”

Saturday, August 5th, 2006
Super Mac Shelf

While walking the lonely streets of San Francisco, Mike Melanson spotted this Mac-heavy exhibit in the Million Fishes arts collective display window. Naturally, he took some pictures of it and sent them to me. Of course, this puts my former “Mac Shelf” (R.I.P., *sniff*) to shame.

I have the feeling that a Simunovich is behind this piece of techno-art. Devan, that is.

Prodigy Lives! Play MadMaze On the Web

Friday, August 4th, 2006

Prodigy Login ScreenWhen I was but a wee lad, I begged my father to sign me up for Prodigy. I loved BBSes and wanted to try Prodigy so badly. On Christmas 1992, I finally got my wish: an orange cardboard box emblazoned with a blue star appeared under the Christmas tree. One hour (and one father’s credit card charge) later, I was online. Overall, I was mostly underwhelmed with the service and my subscription didn’t last long, but there was one thing I really liked about it: the games.

Madmaze Title ScreenMany of you probably know of Prodigy, a pre-“popular Internet” era commercial dial-up online service that utilized copious amounts of NAPLPS graphics in its client interface. And one of the best applications of this rarely used, bandwidth- friendly graphics protocol was Eric Goldberg and Greg Costikyan‘s very popular Prodigy adventure game, MadMaze.

[ Continue reading Prodigy Lives! Play MadMaze On the Web » ]

This Week’s Game Ads A-Go-Go: “Bad Game Names to Blame”

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006
Badly Named Games to Blame!

This week on Game Ads A-Go-Go, I examine three colorful ads for video games with bad names. Oh, and this time it’s actually funny.

Check out the latest Game Ads A-Go-Go column here.

Looking for Former Employees of Online Services (Compuserve, Prodigy, etc.)

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

Compuserve and Prodigy EmployeesI’m doing research on the history of commercial online services such as Prodigy, Compuserve, AOL, GEnie, Delphi, Q-Link, The Source, Dow Jones News/Retrieval Service, any videotex or teletext service, and many others for an upcoming project of mine. I would like to talk to, and perhaps interview, former employees of any of these online services if possible. If anyone out there knows how to contact former employees of these services (especially Compuserve and Prodigy), please send me an email. Of course, if you’re reading this and you’re a former employee yourself and wouldn’t mind sharing some history with me, please email me as well.

Thanks so much for your help.

Eric’s Collecting Adventures: Multilevel Shareware eBay Haul

Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

Eric's Shareware Haul[ Eric Lambert is the owner of an impressively large collection of PC software. I’m happy to welcome him to VC&G with his first contribution. — RW ]

Imagine my delight this week when a job lot of vintage games I won on eBay came with seven — count ’em, s-e-v-e-n — Softkey Titanium Seal shareware games still in their original packaging. Such forgettable classics as VGA Slots and Stellar Defense II and… hold on a sec, what’s this? Wolfenstein 3-D? The great-granddaddy of the FPS? Sure enough, my eyes did not deceive me, Wolfenstein 3D Shareware, complete with the laughably generic subtitle “Escape from Multilevel Castle Maze.” Reading the description on the back of the package, I try to remember that when this was hanging on a hook at Babbage’s, people probably had no idea what to expect from it. The genre was, for the most part, still in its infancy, and the technology was cutting-edge. The warning at the end is classic: “This game is not for the faint of heart.” I wonder if the guy who wrote that copy ever went on to play Carmageddon, Postal, or GTA 3.

Eric's Shareware HaulNow look at all the hit games also available from Titanium Seal. There’s…um…I guess Duke Nukem II kind of led into Duke Nukem 3D and the whole Quake revolution in shooters, but really, Wolfenstein was the big hit of the bunch, propelling id Software into its Doom phase. How many of the folks at SoftKey do you suppose gave Wolfenstein a second glance at the time? How many people involved in its publication had any idea of the impact it would have on gaming? How many careers do you think that one title launched? More than enough to make up for all the lost bets on the other titles? I remember playing some of them, and they were great games, but they never took off like Wolfenstein did. This Multilevel Castle Maze did what nobody really could have predicted — it revolutionized not only the way we play games, but the industry as a whole. It opened up new technologies, new styles of play, and a whole new level of marketing, an influence we can see in the online distribution models (like Steam) that are currently increasing in popularity.

And all for $5.99 (US). What a bargain!