Tag Archives: Piracy

Pirates or Preservationists?

There is some good in the ruthless drive of technology, pushing gaming forward into easily defined generations of hardware, in that it’s allowed phenomenal progress in only a few decades. The downside to such rapid development, though, is that the past gets left behind, and without efforts to preserve it, it’s lost.

I can watch any almost any movie from any decade on some form of disc or streaming service nowadays, even if they were produced decades before digital video, the Internet and even televisions existed, and it’s essentially the same experience as anyone who saw it on day one. I can walk into any of a range of high street shops and find popular films from the 30s and 40s, brand new and easily accessible.

Contrast that with games. Try finding a particular game from outside the top 40 new, or anything but the most popular games from last generation. Try finding anything from the generation before that. There are, of course, services like Good Old Games, which are certainly good things, but what happens to games from long-dead developers or ones that aren’t deemed commercially viable? What route is there to play, say, Spectrum games? PC Engine? Almost any system has at least a couple of gems, but it’s impossible to play them without getting lucky on the used market or resorting to piracy, both of which we keep hearing are as bad as each other from the publishers’ perspective.

Some classic publishers like Nintendo and SNK are still going concerns in one form or another and so can offer their older games, and that’s fantastic. I’ll happily support those offerings, especially those that allow me to pick and choose reasonably priced and well-emulated individual games. But for plenty of older material, that’s not an option – it’s not like you can download some C64 games onto Commodore’s latest machine.

It’s when you start looking into community-led preservation efforts that you realise how much better they are than their official equivalents. Perhaps the best example is World of Spectrum, which not only functions as a massive database of information on Speccy games but also offers the majority of them to download or to play in a Java-based emulator directly on the site. Scans of covers, cross-referenced articles from the magazines of the time, meticulous attempts to preserve every version of every game, and all with the admirable ambition of being a comprehensive, free museum for an important period in gaming history. It’s not done for profit, and when actual games are offered to download, it’s done with the permission of the original developers and publishers.

Even for classic hardware without the following to sustain a site of such size – or, perhaps less defensibly, those from a couple of generations ago that are still the subject of poorly emulated and overpriced compilations – chances are a glance at certain more seedy websites will unearth a torrent with every game and an emulator, tied up in one handy download. Illegal or not, until this industry takes a step back and realises how inaccessible its past really is, I’m crediting the pirates there with providing a valuable service.

New games are increasingly encumbered with DRM, sometimes to the extent that the game will become unplayable if the studio and its authentication servers ever go offline. That’s all well and good now, but the experience of the last few years and the fact that it only takes a glance at the big developers of the SNES generation to see how few of today’s will still be around in another decade suggests that the only hope for the future playability of those games is either to hope that studios in their death throes have the wherewithal to produce a patch to nuke the DRM or to let pirates do it. Only one of those options is anywhere close to being a sure thing.

It’s important to note that I’m not going to support those who are pirating current games because they want them without paying, even if it’s those people’s work that ultimately allows the mass archival that I’m championing. The best examples of these projects are done on long dead platforms that aren’t going to cost anybody any money, and taking revenue from the industry – and, arguments over exactly how much aside, it does cost publishers money – will only affect what is left to preserve in the future.

Topfield TF5800PVR Impressions

Another day, another new gadget. This time it’s a PVR funded, as always, by my good old student loan. Hooray!

Topfield TF5800PVR

Say hello to the Topfield TF5800PVR, known to its friends as the Toppy. By day it’s a mild-manned Freeview PVR with a 160GB hard drive to record 80 hours of material, which by my calculations is how much TV I watch in about three months. It also has component output which is a great boon for an LCD TV user. This thing has some real tricks inside that bland little case, however.

First up is the USB port on the back. It’s used not only for the obvious firmware upgrades, but also to pull the recorded video off the hard drive to the computer where it can be edited, burnt to DVD, stuck on the PSP/iPod, or whatever. Obviously this in no way encourages piracy and putting copyrighted material on YouTube. Never. Not even all the weekend’s goals like they show on Match of the Day 2 in a handy two-minute package.

It’s real killer app here, though, is that it can run its own little applications known as TAPs (Topfield APplications). With some judicious tapping mine now pulls EPG data for the next two weeks from the Radio Times site instead of the basic 7-day EPG that Freeview has (this means much more extensive information including mini reviews of every film that’s on) and has a number of searches running that record anything that matches them (e.g. it searches BBC1 and BBC2 at the weekend for names beginning with “Match of the Day” that are on after 10pm, catching both versions). It also allows me to browse the listings by genre, name, and even content summaries. And that pair is just the beginning. There are tons of the things.

I only got it last Thursday (from Superfi, who were pretty good and the cheapest on Pricerunner) so I’m still learning the ropes and doing that perpetual tweaking that I do – I’ve only just become happy with the setup of my Harmony remote that I bought in March – but I’ve been well impressed with this thing. It’s a decent box on its own merits, and when you factor in the ton of extra functionality that you can download for nothing, it’s brilliant.

I’ve Seen Clerks II…

…and it’s not even got a release date here yet. Shh!

I’m not usually down with this piracy lark but when a film that I really want to see doesn’t even have a UK release date (as of 28/7) I’ll be damned if a little thing like copyright law is going to stop me. This is a film I want to support so I’ll see it when it eventually comes out and buy the DVD, but honestly…don’t DVD players that play XviD files from discs just encourage this behaviour? I’ll bet there are less disciplined people who’ll download it and then not pay for it when someone eventually decides that we’re allowed see it.

Flimsy moral justifications aside, I really liked it. It could well end up being my favourite Kevin Smith movie and although I thought a sequel to Clerks smacked of a post-Jersey Girl panic and rush back to familiar ground, but it works. It’s got the expected humour (oral sex stories, for example) and actually goes further than previous ones, but it’s actually more mature and has a real ending. No shooting the lead character because he doesn’t know how to end a movie here.

In places it’s funny as fuck – the Silence of the Lambs spoof is a howler, as is Jay and Silent Bob’s feeble rationale for turning their lives around, and Elias’ endearing mixture of Jesus freak and Transformers/LOTR nerd is a predictably good basis for Randal’s bullying.

Overall I give it a “better than Jersey Girl”/10. I hope Kevin Smith sticks to the geekery and ribald humour because it’s what he does best.

Those Who Forget The Past…

Here’s a conundrum: You want to buy a movie from twenty years ago so you pop down to HMV or go online and chances are it’s there in perfect DVD quality for less than a tenner, yours to own forever and ever. With music and books it’s even easier, with titles published hundreds of years ago readily available. So what happens when you want to play a game released ten or fifteen years ago?

As far as I can see you only really have a handful of options, none of which are ideal. You can hope that it’s available in a retro compilation or an updated port on a newer system, but even then you’re likely to be paying as much as or a little under the price of a new release for it. If I want to buy the original Castlevania (1986) in its GBA port form, for example, I’m looking at paying as much as it costs for a PS2 Platinum release from a year ago.

I could jump on eBay and buy the necessary kit to play the original, and a quick browse turned up a working boxed NES/Mario Bros 3 bundle for £20 and an unboxed copy of the game set to end in a couple of days for 99p. Very reasonable, but it’s hardly an immediate fix and requires another box to sit under the TV. The morally nebulous route would be to fire up an emulator and just download it. It works and it’s convenient, but it’s of course illegal and hardly as tactile as the real thing. The collector in me frowns on the idea.

It’s a sad state of affairs. Some of the greatest and most seminal games of all time are essentially lost, either forgotten or held hostage in cellophane prisons by dealers with their inflated prices. I really think we need some way to play the history of our hobby and while things like the virtual console for the Revolution (I’m not using the silly name) and Microsoft’s Live Arcade are a good start (when was the last time Joust, Smash TV, and Street Fighter II were anticipated releases?), we need to find a way to make them accessible to the mainstream.

Increasing backwards compatibility with new consoles is a start, but it doesn’t help when most big stores like GAME make finding anything older than six months and not from EA a chore. Maybe digital distribution is the only way, or are those who forget the past doomed never to experience it?

Starforce Dumped

Following on from Starforce’s recent PR disaster, Ubisoft, one of the main proponents, have announced that they’re unceremoniously dumping the malware software from all future games after “investigating the complaints about alleged problems with Starforce’s software.” Good to see them taking the initiative, because if high profile users jump ship it’s likely that smaller publishers will follow suit.

Hard to crack though it may be, this goes to show that if people are vociferous enough with their complaints the consumer will always win out in the end. Even if most copy protection schemes don’t stop large-scale piracy, at least they don’t stop people using their computer in the way it was intended. I hope Starforce dies a painful death, and I hope they don’t sue me for saying that.


This has to be the story of the year. The scummiest of scumware manufacturers, Starforce (read up on them here) decided that it would be an excellent idea to show just how effective their malware anti-piracy protection was by posting a link to a site where people could download a pirated copy of Galactic Civilizations II, a game unencumbered with their technology. It’s of course completely irrelevant that any of the Starforce games are also available for download if you’re so inclined.

I’m going to use this to segue into a related issue: why on Earth do they insist on putting the same ridiculously over-zealous copy protection in game after game, when the only people it affects are those who actually care enough to drop £40 on a game? Starforce in particular is downright insidious, installing secret drivers, blocking blacklisted software, causing system instability, and sticking around when the game is uninstalled. It might be different if it actually prevented the games from being pirated, but I searched for Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory on one of the biggest sites and several copies came up, complete with Starforce bypassed.

Now I’m not advocating dropping any kind of protection because it’s unfortunately needed – Max Payne 2 had nothing more than a CD key and got pirated to hell because no online play meant a unique key wasn’t needed – but the basics like SafeDisc stop casual copying which is the best they can hope for without hardware protection. Those are pretty unobtrusive and aren’t going to stop the hardcore piraters, but nothing is for now.

The thing that really gets me is that I, as someone who buys the games/movies/albums that I want, am the one who ends up suffering from it. I’m sure people remember the Sony rootkit disaster, which did absolutely nothing to stop MP3s appearing in hours and ended up crippling legitimate users’ systems. That means the pirates got perfect copies without restrictions while buyers who had the audacity to stick the disc in their PC ended up with some pretty nasty software indeed, without even being asked about it. It’s similar to why I don’t like iTunes – I wouldn’t pirate a 128kbps audio file, let alone pay 79p for one with restrictions.

In an ideal world they wouldn’t need any protection because people would buy the stuff that they wanted, but this isn’t a utopia and unfortunately there are people who refuse to pay for any of their media. While I support the publishers in their attempts to protect their IP and think pirates are scum, they need to take the moral high ground and stop pulling this shit on their legitimate customers.