Remembering The Early Days Of Copy Protection

I remember when my copy of Legacy of the Ancients arrived with its codewheel. I fired up my 1200 baud acoustically-coupled modem, hit the BBS and ranted my indignation that I can do as I please with my purchase.

OK, I didn't. Time was, copy protection didn't inspire such anger in power consumers, probably because the schemes were too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Oh, they were a nag. But holding up a piece of coloured film to your screen to read off a secret code, Transformers tech-specs style, was kind of a novelty. My brother and I also repurposed a few codewheels for our own stabs at cryptography

Royal Pingdom took a look back at early forms of PC game copy protection. I'd have to guess that the reason none of these ever raised the kind of anger that DRM does today is because there's no real big brother aspect to it. There were things like parameter codes and read-only copy protection, but nothing was ever put on your machine (although, without a hard drive, I guess it's a moot point). Furthermore, some of these methods - such as the code books or history guides - were at least themed to the game, making them seem like real life extensions.

But it's probably because we were dealing with PC gaming before the explosion of the Internet, and the copying and file sharing over it made publishers get tough, some to the point of heavy-handedness, with protecting their sales.

Wacky Copy Protection Methods from the Good Old Days [Royal Pingdom]


    My cousin had Magic Pockets back in the day, and it had codes on a sheet you had to enter every few levels. Problem came when he moved house and misplaced the sheet in the move - no more playing that game past the second level (pre internets, of course). So it wasn't always shits and giggles with the old ways...

    Reminds me of the Amiga days - TMNT had a dark-marrone page of codes with reflective black print (couldn't be photocopied), F/A-18 Interceptor and it's code wheel, LSL words in the manual...

    Will be interesting to see how archaeic today's anti-piracy measures will seem in 5-10 years time... :)

    Serf City, the game before The Settlers had one where each page in the manual had 3 symbols, and when you went to play it you were given a page number and had to ender in those 3 symbols. Didn't have any complaints with it really, except for the one time it wanted the code which, by page numbers, was the back of the manual. No code on that page! Heh.

    Not sure if I remember this correctly, wasn't there another protection where we need to go to the manual and get the n-th word on page x.

      I think that was in the original Prince of Persia?

      You had to drink the potions at the end of the first level to open the door to the second level.

      Each potion had a letter that corresponded to an appropriate page, line and word of the manual. Choose wrong and it drained your life until you DIED!

      Yeah, I remember that kind of protection in Prince of Persia where we have to get the correct letter, else we die.

    Hehe, good old code wheels.
    I had one with Elvira 2: The Jaws of Cerberus.
    Was pretty cool. And the other one was the I Ching
    or Yijing book of changes for a game called Windwalker.

    What about Jet Set Willy on the Sinclair Spectrum.It came with a cassette sized card with grid referenced colour codes. All good and well except that I'm colour blind and spent many a pissed off hour reloading the game from a tape to have another go. 1982...seems so far away.

    See, I was around for this stuff, and for that reason I've never been as bothered by modern copy protection. Pretty much every game I had required me to have the manual or some kind of code chart next to the computer so we could play them at all. Even my Dad's chess games.

    I once lost my X-Wing manual, which resulted in panic stations until I got a friend to bring the manual from his copy to school so we could photocopy it.

    Copy protection these days rarely requires me to do anything, so I'm less bothered. Big brother whatever.

    Civ II definitely had an amusing one for that as well.. wasn't a real game killer that stopped play but it did penalise you for "pirating" xD

    Basically on random turns in game it would show you a Tech Advancement logo and ask you what it was with reference to the manual... failure meant "your lack of wisdom has disgusted your men and they have all left your country" or in game turns.. you loose ALL YOUR UNITS (yes even the ones defending your city xD)

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