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Thursday, August 16 2018 @ 11:50 PM -08

Ubisoft will never learn, apparently

UPDATE: As of August 18, Ubisoft has started panicking about all the backlash. In a move that will surprise few, they have decided to 'remove' the always-on Internet requirement for its new games - by actually leaving it firmly in place. Which leads to the obvious question: say what? Here's what they've actually done: you still need an Internet connection to start the game, but you don't need one to keep playing once you've started. In other words, this change will only be helpful for people with dial-up and intermittent Internet connections. All twelve of them. Attaboy, Ubisoft! Way to listen to your customers.

You may recall that Ubisoft has a history of making some very poor choices in trying to prevent what they still view as 'piracy' of their games. In this not-so-fine tradition, they have once again implemented a seriously misguided DRM system for their most recent games, including Driver: San Francisco. This despite having earlier stopped using this same kind of DRM, which requires an always-on Internet connection, in response to widespread complaints. Ubisoft seems doomed to repeat its failures and never to learn from them.

What Ubisoft astonishingly fails to realize is that their copy protection efforts only really hurt legitimate, paying customers. All copy protection schemes are defeated, some within hours of being made available. People who want to get a game for free are going to do it anyway. Meanwhile, people who pay for the game are getting something that is less useful than the same game without the draconian copy protection. In fact, more and more legitimate, paying customers are getting fed up with these measures and downloading unprotected versions. Some of these people will buy the DRM'd-to-the-point-of-uselessness game, but play the unprotected version to save their sanity.

There is a large and growing amount of evidence showing that 'anti-piracy' efforts are doomed to failure; that they only hurt legitimate customers; that they don't prevent 'piracy'; that people who 'pirate' games are actually the people who spend the most money on games; that basic economics show that the best way to reduce 'piracy' is to reduce price; and that the backlash from customers to particularly nasty forms of protection can be seriously damaging. Ubisoft, pull your heads out of your collective asses and get with the program.

To demonstrate just how backward Ubisoft's thinking is, try not to facepalm as you read this PCGamer post about Ubisoft's new DRM.

Sony PS3 Jailbreak code

Sony doesn't want anyone to be able to fiddle with their own, legally-purchased PS3, so they're going after anyone who posts the code required to "Jailbreak" the console. Well, here it is again, Sony. Do your worst. The notion that you can survive as a business by treating your customers like criminals is simply idiotic.

erk: C0 CE FE 84 C2 27 F7 5B D0 7A 7E B8 46 50 9F 93 B2 38 E7 70 DA CB 9F F4 A3 88 F8 12 48 2B E2 1B
riv: 47 EE 74 54 E4 77 4C C9 B8 96 0C 7B 59 F4 C1 4D
pub: C2 D4 AA F3 19 35 50 19 AF 99 D4 4E 2B 58 CA 29 25 2C 89 12 3D 11 D6 21 8F 40 B1 38 CA B2 9B 71 01 F3 AE B7 2A 97 50 19
R: 80 6E 07 8F A1 52 97 90 CE 1A AE 02 BA DD 6F AA A6 AF 74 17
n: E1 3A 7E BC 3A CC EB 1C B5 6C C8 60 FC AB DB 6A 04 8C 55 E1
K: BA 90 55 91 68 61 B9 77 ED CB ED 92 00 50 92 F6 6C 7A 3D 8D
Da: C5 B2 BF A1 A4 13 DD 16 F2 6D 31 C0 F2 ED 47 20 DC FB 06 70

UPDATE: Here's the code embedded in the notorious "Free Speech Flag" image's colours:

STALKER: Clear Sky - problems with copy protection

Oh boy, here we go again. When will game publishers finally realize that copy protection is a waste of money. It doesn't prevent games from being cracked and distributed worldwide to those who don't want to pay for them, but it does annoy the hell out of paying customers, such as myself. If a game publisher persists in using particularly lousy protection, I tend to do one of two things: avoid buying their games in the future, or download a version without copy protection for free from just about anywhere.

StarForce is increasingly being recognized as malware

Check out these sites and mainstream news articles:

http://www.boingboing.net/2006/01/30/...ware_.html

http://www.glop.org/starforce/

I've reported StarForce as malware to the StopBadware site (http://www.stopbadware.org/) and suggested publicly on various forums that StarForce should be examined in the kind of detail as the SonyBMG rootkit. It remains to be seen whether someone like Mark Russinovich will take up that particular challenge, but I sure hope so.

Codemasters support staff say...

Codemasters is another development group using StarForce. As you might expect, there is a lot of traffic on the Codemasters support forums related to StarForce. Here's a typical response from a Codemasters support person:

The original poster said:
"thats like saying "spyware is ok, its part of the product you're installing""

And here's the response:
"No it's not. It's like saying that dll files or codecs are part of the product you are installing. No other software will inform you when they install dll files or media codecs (which affect other applications far more).StarForce installs 4 drivers, which can be listed under device manager "Non Plug and Play Drivers" (you'll have to click on show hidden devices first). Do you know what all of those other drivers are? Shouldn't you be concerned about those too?Genuine customers should rest easy. The only reason any fuss is being made about StarForce is that it's causing pirates problems. The more agro we get on this subject, the more it reinforces what a good job it is doing."

Hoo boy. Where do I start? Of course DLLs are installed along with applications. But a DLL file installed with an application is essentially inert as long as the associated application isn't running. Even the old (and no longer an issue) "DLL Hell" was less of a problem than StarForce drivers. A driver runs all the time. It also typically inserts itself between the hardware and the operating system. This is clearly the case with StarForce: the drivers are hooked into the removeable media process in such a way as to affect all operations related to removeable media. Sure, proponents will say that the drivers have no affect on any operations except those related to StarForce-protected games, but that is essentially impossible. Every CD/DVD operation passes through the StarForce drivers and is either ignored or acted upon, but the drivers are involved in every CD/DVD operation.

As for "all those other drivers" - Microsoft has a quality assurance program for hardware drivers. Have the StarForce drivers been certified by Microsoft? In general, I don't install a driver unless it's certified. And if I break that rule, I am very aware that it's at my own risk. But the StarForce drivers are installed totally without my knowledge!

The last two statements are unbelievably crass. Sure, StarForce is causing headaches for software crackers, but it's clear that StarForce is also causing problems for legitimate users - myself among them. And if aggrivating legitimate users is the goal of Codemasters, then indeed StarForce is doing a good job.

Starforce links

Here are few useful links to StarForce information:

WikiPedia entry:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StarForce

Removing StarForce drivers:
http://www.onlinesecurity-on.com/prot...phtml?c=55

CDMediaWorld information:
http://www.cdmediaworld.com/hardware/...orce.shtml

Interview with StarForce developers:
http://www.firingsquad.com/features/s...interview/
My favourite quote: "The fact that [the StarForce drivers] remain was something that no one predicted would be such a contentious issue." Yeah, right.

Why Starforce sucks and what to do about it

Starforce is a copy-protection technology used by Ubisoft and other game publishers. There are plenty of other protection schemes, but this one is especially nasty. Here's why:

1. Starforce-protected games surreptitiously install Starforce drivers. Any software that is installed on my system without my knowledge or approval is "spyware." (At least, that's the commonly-used term; it's not particularly accurate. Let's invent a new word for this type of software, shall we? How about cancerware? underware? pestware?)
2. These things are low-level Windows drivers that are normally hidden from the user's view in the Windows device manager. These drivers hook into and affect all CD/DVD drive operations, leading to many reported system problems. They reduce the amount of memory available for all operations because they are always running. They chew up clock cycles. When you uninstall a Starforce-protected game, the drivers remain.
3. Ubisoft uses Starforce exclusively now. Unfortunately, they are also using those extremely crappy disc cases that force you to bend the disc when you remove it from the case. It's unfortunate because the one thing you really don't want to do when you have to swap discs all the time is damage the disc.
4. Of course, there are all the other reasons why copy protection is bad in general. The main one is that it only hurts legitimate users - people who bought the game! Usually by the time a game hits the street, there is a crack available for it. Anyone who really wants to pirate a game will find a way to do it. Besides the problems noted above, playing copy protected games means that you have to constantly swap game discs, which damages them even if you're careful, and what's the point of having a hard drive if you have to do all that swapping? If I wanted a console, I would have bought one! To top it all off, we are legally entitled to make backup copies of software.

What can we do about this? This is what I'm doing:

1. Uninstall all Starforce protected games.
2. Obtain the Starforce removal utility and use it to (hopefully) remove all those drivers (and there are a lot of them).
3. Check my system throughly for any remaining evidence of Starforce. I've noticed a ton of registry entries for Starforce. If I can't get rid of it, I'll rebuild my system.
4. Sell all my Starforce-protected games. That means all my Ubisoft games. No problem there. Pacific Fighters was a massive disappointment and has just about the worst user interface I've ever seen. Silent Hunter 3 also has a horrible user interface and is buggy as hell (although I did have some fun with it). Brothers in Arms was interesting but also frustrating as hell (no save game? what's the deal with that?) Splinter Cell 3: yawn - it's the same gameplay as 1 and 2.
5. Boycott Starforce-protected games and publishers that use it. That means Ubisoft. Unfortunately there's no way you can tell that a game uses Starforce by looking at the box, so avoiding other publishers will take some research. But no more Ubi for me, that's for sure.

Please join me in boycotting Ubisoft and Starforce!

Coop games for the PC

The games listed here all support some sort of coop mode, except for most of the racing games. I've listed the racing games because, as with true coop, being able to race against humans and bots simultaneously is both fun and rare. I'll keep adding to this list as I discover/remember more coop games.

FPS

Serious Sam 1 & 2 - support Internet, LAN and up to four-way split-screen, cooperative multiplayer versus bots campaign mode. Allows coop game progress to be saved.

Quake 2 - LAN cooperative play versus bots (coop campaign). Progress can be saved. Watch out for friendly fire - it can't be disabled.

Unreal Tournament, UT 2003, UT2004 - a wide variety of LAN/Internet coop versus bot modes, allowing mix-and-match of humans and bots and adjustable bot skill levels and numbers. No campaign.

Battlefield 1942, Vietnam - LAN and Internet coop versus bot mode, allowing mix-and-match of humans and bots, adjustable bot still levels and numbers. No campaign.

RTS

Rise of Nations - highly flexible LAN/Internet coop versus bot modes. Bot players are individually adjustable in terms of skill, humans can team up with each other and/or with bots.

Dark Reign - highly flexible LAN/Internet coop versus bot modes. Bot players are individually adjustable in terms of skill, humans can team up with each other and/or with bots.

RPG

City of Heroes - server-based Internet gaming in which all human players are essentially on the same team, fighting computer-controlled bad guys. Fight them on your own or on teams or task forces. Team up with your friends or with total strangers on the net.

Diablo 1 and 2 - coop campaign vs. bots on LAN or Internet.

Racing

Whiplash - an old DOS racing game that supports two-way split-screen and LAN cooperative (team-based) gaming. I've never seen another racing game that does this.

Motocross Madness 2 - LAN and Internet competitive multiplayer with bots.

Need for Speed - LAN and Internet competitive multiplayer with bots.

TOCA Race Driver 2 - Split-screen, LAN and Internet competitive multiplayer with bots.

Sports

The entire EA sports NHL series - supports shared-screen, LAN and Internet coop gaming for up to five humans per team, with bots filling the roster on both teams. Game, season and dynasty progress can typically be saved.

Madden NFL - shared-screen coop versus bots.