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Sunday, June 24 2018 @ 04:28 AM -08

Buried treasure: review for a game utility I developed in 1983

I paid my way through university with contract programming, writing for Computist, and developing and selling software. My first software product was Ultimaker II, an Apple II program that allows Ultima II players to print maps and edit their character. Customers included folks in Japan, the UK, and Scandinavia.

Recently, I was poking around in the indispensible Internet Archive, which now includes video, audio, and print archives, and discovered a review for Ultimaker II in the December 1983 issue of the Washington Apple Pi Journal.

I had no idea Ultimaker II was ever reviewed! In case you were wondering, it's positive: "Overall, this reviewer found Ultimaker II to be helpful indeed in enhancing the play of Ultima 2."

Revive Network shuts down after warning from EA

This is somewhat old news, as it was first reported in October 2017. However, I just found out about it, and it affects my plans for a JDRGaming modern combat server.

Up until a few days ago, I had planned to start running a modern combat server, using the ReviveBF2 client/launcher/server. The idea was to run the server on a trial basis and hopefully attract some interest from fans of my other servers.

Then I learned the Revive Network folks had received a warning letter from EA, which owns the rights to the Battlefield games. EA's main complaint was that Revive Network was distributing Battlefield game client software to anyone who cared to download it.

Background: when Gamespy shuttered in 2015, playing Battlefield 2 online with the official client software became effectively impossible. Enterprising folks found ways to modify the client (and server) software to use new, unofficial master server browsers, and once again online play was possible. Three basic approaches were used to accomplish this: create a new client based on the original (e.g. Forgotten Hope 2); develop patches that modify Battlefield client software (e.g. BF2Hub); or modify the original client and make that available to users. Revive Network chose the latter approach, and that's what earned them EA's letter.

Leaving aside any arguments about rights associated with abandoned software like Battlefield 2, it seems to me that Revive Network could have resolved this issue by simply doing what EA asked: stop making Battlefield game client software available from their site. They could have just switched to the patching approach, so that people with Battlefield clients could modify them to work with the new unofficial master servers. Instead, Revive Network chose to shut down.

With ReviveBF2 and the associated master server no longer available, I started looking for alternatives, and found BF2Hub. It's a free launcher for BF2 that works with most available mods, and automates the process of patching your BF2 client to work with BF2Hub's master server.

My tests with BF2Hub were a complete success. As a result, BF2Hub is now the launcher of choice for all JDRGaming BF2 servers except for Forgotten Hope 2, which has its own launcher. The two launchers don't interfere with each other at all. I've posted the BF2Hub launcher on the JDRGaming Files page.

I am currently testing the Hard Justice BF2 mod for use with BF2Hub. You may notice HJ running on the BF2 server occasionally over the coming weeks. Forgotten Hope 2 is still the default mod for the JDRGaming BF2 server, but I'm considering designating one day per week for modern combat, and Hard Justice is looking like the best option available.

See you on the battlefield!

Gaming news update

Nintendo can't make their retro gaming consoles fast enough to meet demand, thereby disproving (unintentionally of course) the myth that people pirate games simply because they 'want stuff for free'. All of those old console games are widely available as ROM downloads that run in console emulation software on PCs. If playing for free was the issue, surely those consoles wouldn't be flying off the shelves.

Game developers are slowly but surely coming to understand that having their games available for free is not the disaster anti-piracy crusaders would have us believe. Jacob Janerka discovered his game Paradigm on torrent sites, but instead of going legal and trying to get the torrents removed or hosting sites shut down, he decided to embrace what is essentially free promotion and distribution for the game. He reached out to thousands of potential customers in the comments for the game's torrent on The Pirate Bay, saying:

"Hey everyone, Iím Jacob the creator of Paradigm. I know some of you legitimately canít afford the game and Iím glad you get to still play it :D If you like the game, please tell your friends and maybe even consider buying it later."

Some developers are even making free torrents of their games available themselves. Acid Wizard Studio recently did this for their popular horror title Darkwood. From the notes accompanying the torrent:

This is the latest version of Darkwood... Completely DRM-free. There's no catch, no added pirate hats for characters or anything like that. We have just one request: if you like Darkwood and want us to continue making games, consider buying it in the future, maybe on a sale, through Steam, GOG or Humble Store. But please, please, don't buy it through any key reselling site. By doing that, you're just feeding the cancer that is leeching off this industry.

Other game developers are rediscovering one of the earliest computer game sales strategies: give away the first few hours of gameplay. A related strategy is to make early versions of a game available for free, and that's what Indiegala has done with their new game Die Young.

Of course it's the bigger studios -- the ones with high-paid executives and teams of lawyers eager to prove their worth -- who insist on direct compensation for their productions. Studios like Capcom, which recently issued a takedown request for a series of playthrough videos for the Capcom game Dai Gyakuten Saiban. The game is a spinoff of Ace Attorney, and only released in Japan. All language in the game is Japanese, but English subtitles were added to the posted videos. It's difficult to imagine how something like this could be a threat to Capcom, and yet they insisted the videos be removed from Youtube.

Copy protection (aka DRM) software Denuvo suffered perhaps its most devastating setback when the game Total War: Warhammer 2, 'protected' by Denuvo, was recently cracked within hours of its release. When Resident Evil 7 was cracked earlier this year, Denuvo Marketing Director Thomas Goebl stated that "some protection was better than nothing." I wonder what he'll say now. And I wonder why anyone still bothers to waste money on copy protection, especially Denuvo.

Take-Two Interactive kills decade-old GTA4 modding tool

Some game companies understand that modding extends the life of a game, and embrace the idea. Others are somewhat less enlightened.

Take-Two Interactive, makers of the Grand Theft Auto series, recently sent a threat letter to the developers of a popular GTA4 modding tool called OpenIV. Lacking the resources to fight the threat, the OpenIV folks stopped distribution of the tool. Fans of the tool -- and the game -- are furious.

Dear idiots at Take-Two: this was a stupid move. You're going to lose far more business and consumer goodwill than you could ever hope to (somehow?) save by shutting down this tool. Here's a suggestion: stop letting your lawyers guide your business decisions.

Denuvo's troubles escalate

I'm almost starting to feel sorry for the folks who make Denuvo, the widely-despised DRM (copy protection) software.

RiME developer Tequila Works said they wanted DRM because if the game was cracked it could mess up the experience, but they also said if the game was cracked they would release a version without Denuvo DRM. The game was almost immediately cracked, and Tequila Works now says they will make good on their promise, but also that the DRM was never their idea anyway.

The person largely responsible for cracking RiME described the excessive number of calls being made to the Denuvo protection just in the game's startup and loading screens. He speculates that complaints about the game's performance by paying customers were almost certainly related to these ramped up -- and, ultimately, fruitless -- efforts to prevent the game from being cracked.

Meanwhile, Denuvo itself was recently accused of using unlicensed software. In the world of DRM, this is known as 'stealing'. Denuvo's DRM uses code supposedly licensed from a company called VMProtect. But Denuvo's license was not sufficient for their use, and VMProtect went public. Denuvo must have had a little chat with VMProtect, because now the latter is saying "DENUVO GmbH had the right to use our software in the past and has the right to use it currently as well as in the future." Which is amusing, in that it allows for Denuvo having been improperly licensed for some amount of time in the past.

And finally, a hacking group known as 'SteamPunks' created a key generator that could potentially allow for very straightforward workarounds for any game protected by Denuvo. If it turns out to work as claimed, this is likely to put the final nail in Denuvo's coffin.

Nintendo's DMCA hammer creates a successful competitor

Nintendo just can't stop shooting itself in the foot. In 2015, the company successfully prevented a fan from distributing a game he created (originally known as Zelda Maker) in response to Nintendo ruling out creating such a game itself. Unperturbed, that fan remade the game, staying clear of Nintendo's branding, and is now successfully selling that game as Legend Maker. Of course, everyone knows it's really Zelda Maker. Congratulations, Nintendo: your clumsy efforts to crush the spirit of one of your biggest fans has backfired, as usual.

New version of Denuvo defeated

Denuvo ain't dead yet. The company keeps fighting to stay relevant in the world of software copy protection, but it's a losing battle.

A few weeks ago, a new version of Denuvo -- created to combat recent progress by DRM crackers -- was used to 'protect' the new game 2Dark. Within a month, that game's DRM was defeated. This victory was especially sweet for DRM opponents, because 2Dark's developer had earlier stated that the game would not use any form of DRM.

Keep fighting, Denuvo. This is entertaining.

New study shows video games don't cause loss of empathy

For those of you still convinced that video games somehow cause aggressive behaviour in players, here's yet another study that refutes those claims.

This particular study shows no connection between video gaming and loss of empathy.

Please stop repeating BS claims about video games causing violent behaviour in kids. It's just not true. Aggressive and violent behaviour in kids has a lot of causes, with the main one being bad parenting. Which is of course why (bad) parents are quick to blame anything other than themselves.

Troubles continue for Denuvo

It seems like only yesterday that Denuvo's DRM (copy protection) technology was unbeatable. The best software cracking teams in the world seemed ready to throw in the towel.

But Denuvo's glory didn't last long, and games 'protected' by Denuvo are being cracked increasingly quickly. Recently, Resident Evil 7 was cracked within five days of its release.

So Denuvo has joined the ranks of all other copy protection software, in that it: a) doesn't prevent 'protected' games from being copied; b) causes a lot of problems for people who purchase 'protected' games legitimately; and c) costs game developers a lot of time and money, both for the Denuvo technology and for related technical support.

Denuvo responded to the Resident Evil 7 cracking news by saying that five days of protection is better than nothing. But a simple cost-benefit analysis shows that using Denuvo (or any other DRM technology) to protect a game is always going to cost more than can possibly be saved.

Adding to Denuvo's misery is the news that their corporate servers were recently breached, and private email archives published. It must be fun to work at Denuvo these days.

Update 2017Feb22: Techdirt points out that the alternative to using annoying, counter-productive DRM is to make games that are actually good, and make them moddable, like Quake, which still earns money for ID Software, twenty years after its release.

A Christmas gift from Nintendo

Nintendo has formally apologized for all of its anti-customer activity and vows to do better in the future.

Just kidding. No, Nintendo must have realized that it hadn't recently reminded us all just how much it hates us (the people who keep them in business - for now). Their latest move is to go after people who modify Nintendo ROMs to add new content.

I think there are just too many lawyers around. They are desperate to find work, or simply justify their high salaries, and convince dim-witted and ignorant executives to pursue these counter-productive and sad initiatives.

Atta boy, Nintendo. Figure out who loves you the best, and then break their hearts.