Raiders of the Digital Coast

15 03 2016

This is going to be a weird article to type but it’s something I’ve been mulling over for a while. It’s about software piracy, but it’s more of a historical take on it rather than any outright moralizing (though I would be remiss to not talk about that too but that’ll be at the end).

So, I’m sure a lot of people these days are familiar with the various forms of Digital Rights Management, from the relatively benign (Steam), to the very bad (Starforce, SecuROM, UbiSoft’s various implementations, etc.). But to be honest a lot of this stuff is at least a lot less tedious than the ways games used to protect against piracy.

CD Keys are something most people these days still have familiarity with of course; having to enter a series of alphanumeric characters roughly on the same level of complexity as the passwords for some NES games, but even those weren’t like the early days.

In the old days the most basic way to protect people from copying and distributing your game was through “manual protection”. Basically the player would need to enter a particular word from the game manual (like the 7th word in the 2nd paragraph on the 14th page or something like that), or perhaps answer some question regarding a particular fact from said manual (the original DOS Mechwarrior was like this, asking you to enter the height or weight of certain battlemechs, for example). This of course was easily defeated by a photocopier. Not that photocopying was widespread or cheap in the late 1980s/early 1990s, but it was still doable. Some companies sorta put a twist on this trend by having quizzes at the start of the game, but for age verification purcahses. The Leisure Suit Larry games had a quiz full of questions that, in theory, only adults could answer. Of course this could also be bypassed by asking your dad although I’m sure that was a weird conversation in the making:


Dad how do you wear just your pride? Also what’s a stripper?

As the manuals were defeated the developers naturally changed tactics. Black and White manuals gave way to full color manuals with color-based verification (usually matching a picture or design that could vary in color) and code wheels. Code wheels required users to match up contextual clues from the screen in order to verify them. There were things like the Dial-A-Pirate code wheel from monkey island, to the cryptoquizzical ones like this thing from Pool of Radiance:

Even if I knew the context I'm not sure I can understand.

Even if I knew the context I’m not sure I’d get it

Again both of these could be defeated by photocopying, but they weren’t as easy (again, color copying back then was even rarer than b&w). Granted depending on the level of colors needed for verification one could easily get past it (using only two colors, for example, since even on a black and white copier you still had shades).

Anyway, let’s get to my experience. My dad worked for IBM for many years. This was in the days where IBM still made PCs so occasionally he’d  be able to take one home for a while or purchase one outright. It’s how I got to experience stuff like Tony LaRussa Baseball II, Wolfenstein 3D, Descent, the early days of the Internet, and many more games and applications. His coworkers also would frequently pass games around to one another, complete with photocopied manuals (in black and white, mind). This is how I was able to bypass things like this for Wayne Gretzky’s Hockey:


Again it being only two colors is a bit of a mistake, a black and white copier can still make out the differences.

As well as a similar scheme for Joe Montana’s Football. Now I’m telling this story for a couple reasons, one of which being that software piracy has always existed, and also that even people in the industry would occasionally copy that floppy, despite what PSAs would tell us otherwise. It’s an interesting thing to be sure, that for as long as there’s been software there’s been software pirates. I don’t really remember what games cost back then (We did of course buy games on occasion but I was not paying for them) so it’s hard for me to say piracy was motivated by price back then. It could’ve been that plus a bit of the issue where getting reviews of anything back then would be difficult outside of a magazine, and I didn’t start reading stuff like PC Gamer and PC Entertainment until like 1996 (which of course also had demo discs). Also reading a bunch of british PC game mags  was a weird experience but that’s a story for another time.

Hm…I sorta ran out of things to say. Oh well. Photocopying manuals sure is a different beast from downloading a crack from some shady warez site. Probably safer too. Also if you must pirate games (cause let’s be honest, I can’t stop you) at least pay for a game if you end up liking it.

Super Mario Maker, Sky Rogue, and Stipple Effects

24 09 2015

Super Mario Maker came out two weeks ago and I’ve been having an absolute blast with it. The Mario Paint influence can be felt throughout the game; from the title screen having the same “mess with the letters to see things happen”, the Rocket eraser to clear a level, and a somewhat well-hidden Gnat Attack/Coffee Break minigame that even unlocks another version of Mario for you to mess around with via the Mystery Mushroom. There’s other stuff there of course (sound effects you can add also coming from Mario Paint in some ways) but if I went on and on about that we’d be here all day.

I could try to explain this, but I don’t think you’d believe me.


Super Mario Maker is a very comprehensive level editor so people can make their own Mario levels in one of four styles (Super  Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U). Players can place blocks, enemies, powerups, hidden powerups, coins, etc. etc. etc. to make their own take on Mario’s adventures or just make something really unfair and vicious if they want to keep making Expert mode really impossible . After you’ve made a level you then have to beat it before it can be uploaded for the masses to stumble through.

One of the neat things Nintendo did was go back and add things to game styles that didn’t necessarily have certain enemies when the game came out (example: Thwomps and Wigglers in the original SMB, as well as Airship tilesets for SMB and SMW, stuff like that). Another neat thing is that you are not necessarily limited by what Nintendo would do. After all, Nintendo levels didn’t have things like Spiny’s riding giant Goombas, or Bullet Bill Launchers that shoot Coins at you, or The ability to jump into a Koopa Clown Car and terrorize enemies from above. It’s this sort of expanded innovation that allows the formulas of Mario to stay grounded yet with room for expansion.

There are some downsides, of course. Nintendo doesn’t really have a good grip on curating all this user-generated content so popular level makers/YouTube personalities will always be at the top of the list while the rest of us struggle for attention. In addition, the Expert Mode of the 100 Mario Challenge (beat 16 levels with 100 lives) is nearly impossible at this point, with most of the levels in there being the kind of Kaizo-level insanity that only the obsessive can beat. That said, I’d imagine over time as people get more accustomed to what makes a good level, we’ll see less and less impossible stuff and more just plain challenging stuff.

Also we still don’t quite have everything from the four Mario games listed. Inclined surfaces like in Mario 3 and World aren’t in, nor is the Angry Sun from SMB3. But there’s already rumors of (hopefully free) DLC to add this kind of stuff, and Nintendo has expressed interest in expanding the toolset. I hope the game continues to do well so that it does.

I’ve also been playing, and modding, Sky Rogue, which is an Arcade flight sim that seems to mix a bunch of styles together, like Nintendo’s Star Fox, and Sega’s Wing War, as well as adding a slight Roguelike twist on it.

In Sky Rogue you select a plane, select your weapons, and embark on an increasingly dangerous series of missions launched from a SHIELD-esque floating aircraft carrier in an effort to defeat enemies controlling an archipelago of islands. It’s tough but a lot of fun, and I’m a big fan of the retro, low-poly aesthetic, reminding me of Sega’s mid 90s arcade games like Virtua Racing, the aforementioned Wing War, and so on.Combat is pretty tense, with players having to frequently dodge missiles while firing off their own on a variety of targets both ground and air-based; and of course since this has a roguelike element, if you die not only do you start back at day 1 but you also just might lose some of the new weapons you researched, so you have to weigh the risks and the benefits of taking such weapons with you.

The game recently got released on Steam in Early Access, and along with that also got Steam Workshop support, so that players can add their own planes, skins, and emblems. I took the opportunity to make a version of the de Havilland Sea Vixen jet fighter from the 1960s for the game, and because I’m a huge nerd I made a fake ad for it that you can see below:

The game still has a ways to go before it’s really complete but it’s definetely worth the $9.99 price tag and it’s a lot of fun. Feels very much like you’re in an episode of Macross or again playing something like Star Fox (specifically more like an All-Range Mode mission, but w/e)

Lastly I’ve also been getting back into doing texture works…which didn’t actually involve a lot of Stipple Effects but shut up I needed a third S for the title. I’m working on a texture and material pack for Unity which is going to be primarly of office textures. Things like carpet, cubicle desk surfaces, cubicle walls, and of course, drop ceilings

I’m especially proud of this because this is my first attempt in a long time of doing an emissive map for a texture and it came out great. Hope to have the whole thing done in a few weeks, time permitting.

Welcome to Beta: Shuffle Breaker Dev Blog

4 06 2014



So I went ahead and made both a Windows .exe and a Web Player version of Shuffle Breaker in its current form. The .exe (with readme file) you can download here, and you can play the Web version by following this link here. Let me know what you think!

Advancing to Faster than Light

13 05 2014

So I know I’ve been super quiet again, things have gotten busy with real life which has given me some trouble with working on Shuffle Breaker recently, apart from the video blog i put up a few days ago. But rest assured I am still working on it.

Also taking up my time recently… FTL: Faster Than Light had its Advanced Edition DLC come out earlier this month (for free, even!). FTL was one of my favorite games to play in 2012 and while initially I was a bit burnt out on it, a couple of my friends talking up the new features of Advanced Edition convinced me to dive back in and now I wonder why I ever left. All of the new features are pretty awesome.

Read the rest of this entry »

Just throw the dang puck at ’em: Shuffle Breaker Dev Blog

17 04 2014

So I’ve been doing more work on Shuffle Breaker, slowly but surely. I recently fixed my nGUI implementation up a bit so that stuff is scaling a lot nicer and the anchors are behaving a lot better. Most of the previous issues were due to my unfamiliarity with newer versions of nGUI but most of that is gone now. I’m also working on a new Main Menu with a slightly more unified theme, a preview of which you can see below:

New Menu Preview

As you can see I’m attempting to more fully embrace the chalkboard aesthetic. Not sure if I’ll include the sliding panels still, I might just have the menus pop in and out, or maybe apply a fade effect if i can swing that, we’ll see.

The other aspect I was working on was still trying to find a good place to put the pucks when they need to be dropped both to start the game and to restart the game. The end result being the pucks being flung into the rink from the corner, like so.

Hyup!This works pretty well, though not always, especially in later parts of the game, like this:

Fshewww...I’m thinking I might give it a random angle so that it might go in a few different directions. Anyway that’s all for me for now, I swear I’m going to get more regular at making updates, even if it’s not specifically about game dev. Maybe some reviews or random thoughts, I dunno.

Screenshot-less Saturday: Shuffle Breaker Dev Blog

28 09 2013

No screenshots today unfortunately, it’s hard to convey “I have 2-player mode” with a screenshot. I keep meaning to do a dev blog video but I just can’t find the time, which is frustrating because I used to love doing videos of things (let’s plays mostly).

Anyway the 2-player controls work pretty well though right now players are sharing a keyboard cause I haven’t implemented an option to set a control option (keyboard, mouse, or gamepad) although that is the next step. And then? Probably going to work on getting some sound in this game.

Punt: Suburban Assault Riders Dev Blog #3

27 02 2013

Welp, due to some life stuff (like moving again) and changing up the way that Suburban Assault Riders would play, it looks like I’m going to have to punt on this month for One Game a Month. It pains me to do so but I’d rather have something working done and keep my sanity intact rather than pull 2 all-nighters and wind up with something half-finished that doesn’t work right.

The big change came because I decided to change the game from quasi-free-roam like Jackal into a Spy Hunter-esque vertical shooter. This also required some careful manipulation of things like camera controls for auto scrolling. As such I still don’t even have a full level, much less enemies to populate it with. For comparison this is the old viewpoint.

Suburban Assault Riders Old View

And here’s the new one, which is more reminiscent of an arcade cabinet’s view

Suburban Assault Riders New View

Still, I’m going to keep with it (and most likely will be working on this game into March as well) since I still love the idea it’s just a matter of getting it to work right.