Source:Games programmers 'subversive'
Correspondents in Paris
October 9, 2003
COMPUTER games programmers have become subversive in the latest twist of their unending war against software pirates, the British weekly New Scientist reports in next Saturday's issue.
In the latest innovation, games that are illegally copied work properly at first but after a while start to fall apart.
Cars no longer steer, guns shoot off target or run out of bullets, and footballs fly away into space.
Eventually the copy becomes so degraded that the player - in theory - goes out and buys a legal version of the game because he is so hooked.
The new protection system, called Fade, is being introduced by a British games developer, Codemasters, and a Californian company, Santa Clara, which specialises in digital rights management.
It works by exploiting the systems for error correction that computers use to cope with CD-ROMs or DVDs that have become scratched.
Fade-protected software has fragments of "subversive" software designed to look like scratches. These are arranged in a subtle pattern on the disc, and are spotted by the game's master program, the report says.
If the master program finds and identifies these scratches, the game will play as usual.
But if somebody tries to copy the disc on a PC, the error-correcting routines built into the computer fix the apparent scratches.
That means a "scratch-free" copy is generated, and so will be spotted by the master program as an unauthorised copy.
But instead of switching off the game, Fade allows it to start up but subtly degrades it over time, in the hope of enticing the gamer into buying a legit version.
The program has been proven in a new Codemasters game called Operation Flashpoint, and the next game to have it is a snooker game.
"Copies play normally for a while, but after a predetermined number of potshots, gravity is progressively turned off so the balls start behaving oddly and end up floating over the table," New Scientist says.
Macrovision intends to introduce the technology in DVDs from next year, so that copied discs stop playing at a key point in the movie's plot.