Saturday, February 14, 2009

WOPR was Right--The Only Way to Win is Not to Play the (Copy-Protection) Game

The only way to win is not to play the game.

I was looking at picking up a copy of Spore. I've enjoyed a fair few simulations in the past. I still play a fair few old ones on my older computers. I set up a new old G3 Macintosh over the holidays so that I could keep playing Civilization and several other games. The Aluminum iMac that I got as a replacement for the iMac G5 that Apple failed to repair properly doesn't do Classic, so I lost immediate access to a bunch of old games with the "upgrade."

Aside from that, I'd seen Spore in various stores, and read a couple of blogs about folks stretching the capabilities of the game. Today I took a look at some reviews and such, and found out what the box and the initial articles I read didn't tell me about. The copy protection.

Those of you who already know the story are probably telling your computer screen that I should know that the copy protection has been scaled back from the original draconian copy protection system. Yeah, I saw those articles. They were all from last September. And I've seen plenty of unhappy buyers listing copy protection problems in the months since then. I've also read the terms of the "looser" anti-copying scheme. I'm not buying it. I'm still enjoying playing games I bought many years ago. I'd like to buy new games and get years of enjoyment from them, no matter how old and tired someone else thinks they are.

I decided to forego Half-Life 2 because of Steam. I loved Half-Life and its spin-offs. But I wasn't going to deal with paying full price for what is in essence software rental. I've not bought many games since. I used to buy about ten games a year, and get three or four more as gifts. Back when the companies felt the CD format was protection enough. Then the companies decided they needed to protect themselves from CD writers with tricky internet-based copy protection. And I left the marketplace.

Enter Spore. I was tempted. It looks like fun. Will I be able to play it on my vintage Aluminum iMac ten years from now? (I'm assuming my aluminum iMac lives longer than all the other bum Macs I've gone through since I got my wife's old PowerMac G4 tower. But that's material for a future blog entry.) The answer appears to be no, at least not without loading up on crackware now while it's available (and risking a plenitude of security problems while getting it.)

So, as WOPR said, I'm not going to play the game.

What's my alternative?

Well, there aren't many A-titles out in the free world, but there's plenty of B and C level stuff to stay occupied. And the free titles keep getting better. Free as in freedom, not just price. Though it's a lot easier to risk my time on something that didn't cost me cash out of pocket.

I've turned up some possibilities with the following Google search string:
freeware site:

I'm also poking around here on Java Game Tome.

There's also Free Mac OS X Games. and Stardock are worth a look. I'd recommend g4g if it weren't for the fact that all the garbage on the site crashes my browser whenever I try to look. I don't know what all they've got there and whether it's legit stuff they've got in the ad spaces or bot-herder crap, so I recommend staying away.

And if you want a slightly dated A-title first person shooter, I recommend Nexuiz. I'm not sure of the correct pronunciation, but I say "necks-wiz." It plays a lot like the old Unreal Tournament. I like it a lot more than Sauerbraten and World of Padman, though those are worth checking out, too, if you're looking for an FPS.

The free/open software copies of popular commercial games haven't been so hot, in my opinion. There are open clones of Civilization and WarCraft II out there. They don't fill the bill well enough to keep me from restoring an old beige G3 Mac to service and installing the originals.

Maybe somebody will do an open copy of Spore that I'll be able to play someday. Or maybe they'll make a half-a-loaf version that starts a package dependency spiral on install, like some other things I've tried. Really, the open games I've liked the best have been those that aren't so much trying to copy a game as give a fresh take on it.

Many years ago, when the world was younger than it is today, I picked up a couple of really great games. The first was F-15 Strike Eagle. Its copy protection beat my disk drive heads out of alignment. It cost me half again as much as the game to get the repair. Just Microprose's way of thanking me for my business.

Another was Psi-5 Trading Company. My wife loved that game. She doesn't like a lot of computer games, so when she likes one, I try to make sure she gets to enjoy it. We got about three plays out of the first copy before it refused to play any more because its sensors detected that my store-bought disk had transformed into an evil pirated copy. A call to the publishers reassured me that they'd be happy to swap out my disk, for a price. Not including shipping and handling charges. All together about the price of the game. And in only two or three weeks, so long as holidays, employee vacations, and snow days didn't interfere. Or whatever. For the game my wife wanted to play tonight.

So I went out and bought copy number 2 at our local retail outlet. (Yes, I guess they "saw me coming.") It ran about twice before cosmic rays from the planet Skyron in the galaxy Andromeda turned my store-bought disk into a "pirate copy." If it weren't for a cracked copy a friend gave me, we would never have played the game again.

I'd like to say I learned my lesson at that point, but no, hope (and foolishness) springs eternal.

Or nearly so.

I quit.

I'm not going to play the copy protection game.

So there you are. Make it free of copy protection, then I'll play the game.