Re: [stella] Perfect BIN copy protection

Subject: Re: [stella] Perfect BIN copy protection
From: "Eckhard Stolberg" <Eckhard_Stolberg@xxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 4 Feb 2002 18:34:17 +0100
Hello Manuel,

Chad already commented on your other message much in the same
way as I would. So I'm just going to anwer to this message and
paste in the parts that he left out and that I think I should
comment on myself.

P.S. This somehow became a pretty long rant. I'd like to
apologize to anyone for making you read through that much
boring nonsense. ;-)

> See, that's a point where we're almost thinking in the 
> same lines. And I can assure you, that I spent way more 
> of my time/energy for changing that, than for any 
> _thoughts_ (How often shall I say that?) I spent about 
> this'n'that protection.

I agree that advertising is a field where many of the homebrew
games released through Hozer are lacking. Whenever Thrust or
Jammed are mentioned in a discussion on AtariAge someone always
comes up and says something like "That sounds like a great game.
Where can I find out more about it?" even though the binaries are
right in AtariAge's database. People just don't know about these

I think it's great that you are trying to put some effort
into some clever publicity actions, like your label contest.
I think by bundling all the games under one label these actions
are surely going to help the sales of Thomas's games too.

And I'm happy that all your ideas about software protection
aren't meant that seriously. I guess I must have missed that
bit and went off a too early. ;-) If it just were for the
fact that you accidentally locked out the Cuttle Cart of the
final version of one of your games, and didn't try to fix that,
I probably wouldn't have said a word.

But when you mentioned that you had spent quite a lot of time
in improving these protection methods and that you were successful
in locking out even more systems, I assumed that you were going
to use these methods in your future games and felt that I needed
to speak up.

Also when you said that you were able to make your game very
diffucult to dissassemble and to modify, while at the same time
posting commenting source codes and routines taken from other
peoples games and saying how much you learned by doing this,
that seemed to be a bit unfair to me.

Don't get me wrong. I can fully understand that you want to
stop people from modifying your game to contain the current
public enemy number one or something. But I think a simple
protection would be good enough, since most of these hacks are
done by people who can't program the VCS. And if someone who
can program really want's to hack your game for some reason,
then ultimately even the best software protection isn't going
to stop him from doing that.

Remember how we found out that you final version of Gunfight
didn't work on the real VCS. Only because the protection wasn't
too complicated, I was able to have a look at your code, try out
several things and figure out that it was a problem with the
Cuttle Cart. With a better protection I would have only been
able to tell you that your game didn't work. Then you would have
had to try out some things out of pure speculation, post the
binaries to the list and then wait and hope that eventually one
them finally works. And then it would have just been a question
of who of us gets too bored to continue first. ;-)

BTW, I didn't know that you took out the protection code for the
cartridge release version. I'm glad you did. But now I'm curious.
Did you also send the protected binaries to Randy, so that he could
try them out on the real consoles? I'm still a bit unsure, if it
would work on the 7800, since this system also has a BIOS, that might
change the state of the carry bit.

> Hm... people not wanting to spend 16$ for a real 
> cartridge would spend 5$ for receiving _nothing_ 
> instead?

Well, Randy told me that most of the people who buy homebrew
games from him do it because they are either collectors who
want a copy of every game in existance, or because they want
to encourage the homebrew authors to keep releasing new games,
so Chad's suggestion might work. People who just want the game
for it's play value usually are happy with the emulated version.

BTW, there were only about 200 Cuttle Carts sold, and Chad
currently doesn't have any plans to make more of them. One
of the reasons why the Cuttle Cart sold out so fast was that
they were only available in limited quantities. I can't argue
that some of the people who bought one justified the price
of the device by thinking that it would be cheaper than
having to buy all these games in cartridge form, but I just
can't believe that there are that many. After all, most
of the homebrew games can be played nicely on the emulator,
so you'd need a lot of games that are so good that you'd have
to play them on the real VCS to justify a $100 purchase.

Most of the people I know bought their Cuttle Carts for other
purposes, like archiving their game collection or for programming
the VCS. Lee Krueger for example is acknoledged in the CC manual
for realy supporting the project in many ways. And he has an
impressive collection which includes many homebrew games.

Or take myself. I'm not only using my Cuttle Cart for programming
games for myself or to run little test programs to improve the
compatibility of the VCS emulators. I'm also using it to playtest
games for you, when you ask me to.

This is why I get a little upset when you for exmple say on the
AtariAge message board that you are locking out Cuttle Cart
users from the final version of Gunfight because you want them
to be fair enough to buy the game when they want to play it on
the real console. This implies that there is a big enough number
of people among the 200 CC owners that are dishonest and ungrateful
enough to keep playing the game without paying you for your work,
to make such a step nessessary. And this is what I'm mainly complaining
in all my rants here in this thread. I really hope it wasn't me
who inspired that impression about the Cuttle Cart owners in you. ;-)

And I really appreciate the offer of buying a copy of Gunfight
without having to pay you. That is very nice of you. I'm tempted
to take it, but it would still mean that I'd have to pay $15 before
I can see if the game really works well on my particular setup. I just
got a new TV, and that one sure handles some things differently than
my old one. So there are enough possible differences in VCS setups,
to make it advisable to try out a game before you buy it. And if
I have the theoretical possibility to try out the game, but can't
do it because my testing device is locked out by a software protection,
then I find that an unfortunate situation.

> I think my wish that people wanting to play my game on 
> real hardware should buy a real cartridge isn't that bad 
> a policy.

No, a wish like that is very understandable. And I think
it would only be fair to pay you for your work, if someone
enjoys playing it. But the only people whom you don't trust
enough to make this decision voluntarily are the Cuttle Cart
owners. You obviously don't have a problem with people playing
your game on the emulator for free. And you said that you
don't have a problem with people who build their own carts,
and I wonder why that is. Burning an EPROM is not much more work
than burning a CD for use with the Cuttle Cart. And if you
already have an EPROM programmer I think it's save to assume
that you already have a socketed cartridge to play these
EPROMs on the VCS.

Also while there only are 200 CC owners, EPROM programmers can
be cheaply on Ebay by anyone who wants to. And a used EPROM
burner and the nessessary tools and parts to build VCS cartridges
can be had for less than what the CC cost. So the more I think
about it the more I'm sure taht you should actually fear the
EPROM burner owners more than the CC owners. ;-)

> Apart from that, the BIN _was_ already released by then, 
> even on Atari Age. So much about timing...

But you said that you removed the protection from the
binaries you sent to Randy, so a final version of Gunfight
that would work on the Cuttle Cart must exist. I'm sure
Albert would have no problem with replacing the files on
AtariAge and to let everyone know that they should upgrade,
if they own a Cuttle Cart. ;-)

> You are saying that I'm taking more from [Stella] than 
> giving?

No, you are definately doing a great service for this
community, and I think I can speak for everyone when I
say that we greatly appreciate all your help.

But when sharing it sometimes is important whom you are
taking from and whom you are giving to. ;-) You asked us,
the Cuttle Cart owners, to try out the game for you, which
we gladly did. And then you suddenly treated us as if we
were untrustworthy lowlives by not allowing us to see the
final version on a real VCS without paying you first.

> Actually, I was already in bed, when that thought struck 
> me: Say, how did you imagine me asking the people on 
> [Stella] to test my game on real hardware, if I'm not 
> providing a BIN that's working on it? :-)

Good point. ;-) I guess you could always do versions that would
only work on EPROM cartridges, since you seem to like the
people with the EPROM programmers much more than us poor
little Cuttle Cart owners. ;-)

Ciao, Eckhard Stolberg

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