De protectione copitatis

Here’s one maybe Derek or somebody can answer: what’s wrong with lookup-style (or–shudder–code wheel) copy protection? I’ve always thought it was the best solution to the copy protection question for software publishers, but they obviously don’t think so. Why? Couldn’t they, say, scan in and OCR the game manual and then write an algorithm to choose a word at random that the player had to match? Wouldn’t that be a fairly easy thing to do?

I’ve never really resented lookup copy protection the way I resent having to have the CD in the drive to play. I’m not really sure why that is, but it is. Moreover, it seems on the surface like lookup copy protection, particularly if it involved the whole manual and not just a list of select words, would be more of a problem for pirates to deal with than the methods now in use. I might be all wet about that, but I’m curious: what’s the reason publishers don’t go the lookup route?

You can scan a wheel, print it and put it back together. In a way it’s way too easy to get around.

The random manual look up is just as bad


It takes all kinds. Good lord. I’ll take CD protection over the freaking look up the word in the manual crap any day.

Were you gaming in the days of photocopy-proof (and human eye-proof) red paper with darker red text manuals for protection purposes? It was horrid.

As long as the game producers don’t shut down gamecopyworld (where I get NoCD cracks for my legitimately purchased games), the current situation is the best.

You’re trolling, aren’t you? You really can’t want lookup protection back…

Besides, too many games don’t include manuals of note nowadays.

The “look-up route” never worked all that well anyway. If you counted paragrahs or words different from the designers (Do headings count? What about acronyms? Numbers?) it was easy to get frustrated. Plus this is really easy to crack. If you can do a straight dump to hard drive, any amateur hacker could find the code part of the program and make any [RETURN] the proper answer. I saw this a lot in university.

And when they tried to be creative it was a bigger disaster. While playing Satrflight II I can’t remember how many times I entered “blue” as the star color only to be told I was wrong. This is why purple is an evil color.


Jesus, I hated that red lookup thing. Didn’t Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade have that?

So exactly which month does the Silver Train arrive in Caracas in 1640?

I remember one of the wackiest ones was the “elven rune” wheel you had to match up on one of the Gold Box games. “Okay, hangman pi-squiggle hook hook R scratches. God, I used to have this memorized!”

Yes it did. And Monkey Island 2 (IIRC) had the code wheel.

Heh, after losing my X-Wing manual I opened up the .exe in DOS Edit and replaced all the answers with a space. l33t h4x0r, born and raised, on the computer I spent most of my days…

I remember losing my manual for I believe F15 and I would just guess the words as it gave you the first letter. I think the worst was warmonger that made you match little pictures of the maps - this map appears between page 30-35, and the maps were tiny little pictures that bordered the text.

Ugh. No thanks.


I had to review Airline Tycoon: Evolution and I was shocked to find that some people still use look-up copy protection. What’s worse is that the jewel case only version came with the manual on the disk.

Now this wouldn’t have been too much of a problem if the disk manual wasn’t the European version and the game the North American version. So the pages never matched. You couldn’t even guess well. I could play the thirty day demo limit, but never beyond that.

Strategy First eventually sent me the proper manual, but it took a while to get the bad taste out of my mouth.


It was worth it for Monkey 2. One of the best games ever.


M1 Tank Platoon asked you to identify the silhouette of a Warsaw Pact vehicle. Not a problem for the grognard target audience.

My college library sold yellow transparencies for a dime. If you put them over allegedly uncopyable light blue or red text, and messed the the contrast controls a bit, you could copy the text anyway.

I’m asking from a publisher’s perspective. I thought that was clear enough. I want to know why publishers choose not to use lookup. I guess I shouldn’t have included my own opinion, but I was just adding that as further evidence for my confusion: i.e. I as a user never screamed all that loudly about lookup copy protection, yet people today scream constantly about SecuROM and the like, so why would publishers stick with SecuROM over lookup?

As for how long I’ve been gaming–I’m forty-five, which makes me older than you, I believe :o I’ve actually only gamed in any serious way since about 1990, though. Before that, I bought the odd game here and there, but was still pretty much into board wargames. Anyway, yes, I remember the copy-proof manual pages, but I’ve seen some more modern ones that were supposedly copy-proof without being quite as unreadable as the ones you’re talking about. (I said “quite”…)

Finally, no, I’m not trolling. Hopefully, I’ve made it clear now: I’m asking, looked at from the publisher’s perspective, why they don’t go back to lookup protection. It seems a more solid, sure way for them to protect their properties, as the current methods obviously don’t do squat to slow down the pirates.

I’m no publisher, but I think the new protections have gotten much better than the old lookup style protection. I don’t think any protection is going to be full-proof, but going backwards doesn’t seem to offer much of a solution.

Ah yes, Pool of Radiance. Good old SSI.

Look-up copy protection is just evil, ranks right up there with dongles. I can’t believe anyone would actually prefer this crap over CD-ROM checks. The only reason nobody complains loudly about look-up schemes anymore is that the publishers dropped them with the adoption of CD-ROM distribution.

As for the publishers, like others have said it’s about the easiest protection scheme to crack since it relies on simple keyboard input by the user – no need to remove the actual protection code, just replace all check words with a space character. Or even simpler, supply a little text file with all possible questions & correct replies – then you don’t have to change the game code at all. Manual lookup schemes are hugely annoying to the user but realistically provide no protection at all.

Edit to add: Okay, they may have been effective in the olden days before Al Gore had invented the Internet. Today, you could send around Q&A text files in e-mails or post them on Usenet no matter how slow your connection, and you wouldn’t even need a binary protocol.

So exactly which month does the Silver Train arrive in Caracas in 1640?

That was from Pirates!, wasn’t it?

My version of Pirates! Gold required not only lookups, but also that I had the (floppy) disk in the drive, and that I should boot from it!

I loved that game. Then I tried to go back and play it last year. oooof

The Sega Genesis version of Pirates! Gold has aged surprisingly well. I still drag out the ROM every month or two to start a career. Argh, me matey, argh! Now if only I could get it working on my Pocket PC.