Beware, Cheap Philosophy Ahead! Please let me explain. Last week I was watching a short documentary exploring the reasons why humans enjoy playing games. The conclusion was, more or less, that life is a game on its own, but since the goal is not really clear to everyone, we seem to need milestones to reach. In the absence of milestones, individuals will set them… right, individually. Maybe.
As most guys of my generation, I used to play videogames when I was a kid. Since I didn’t find high school very amusing, the games were definitely more rewarding. Back then, videogames were acutely expensive, so it was considered normal to share them among friends. Computer games were hacked and shared very often and no wonder they came with more sophisticated copy protection techniques all the time. Internet access was for the happy few, but you could always visit the library, find guidelines at forums, ask someone via IRC, and once back home, try different things offline. Then it was only “You vs. the Game.” I’m not especially proud of that, but admit to having done it too. Nowadays I gladly pay for everything, hard copy or digital. Back then, we were kids. And it was challenging and tricky. It was big fun.
Most games (and in general commercial software too) could be hacked by means of a cloned CD, or a mounted drive (by means of a virtual drive software, e.g. “DAEMON Tools”). Other games required more steps like overwriting registers, files, DLLs, using key-gens, and so on. These were widely known, and you could easily find step-by-step guides in a fishy .zip file downloaded somewhere. You just had to follow the instructions, and voilà: game up and running. Sometimes things were messier, and (for example) a key was internally generated by the installer based on your computer’s ID or any other serial number locally available, and “embedded” directly in the executable. If you were lucky and the application itself was not encrypted, such keys could be retrieved using a hex editor. Even though you were just following steps detailed by someone else, it was impossible to suppress the feeling of being the ultimate hacker! (or cracker, I should say)
HexEdit in action...
The funny part of the story is that once games were successfully cracked, and properly working in my (offline) machine, I rarely played them. Sometimes I didn’t even adjust the settings, nor finish the tutorials. Compared to doing the crack playing there was zilch excitement in playing. It turned out that “making it work” was the actual game.
After hitting the university, things started to make more sense to me and I could see “goals” everywhere, so videogames dropped in importance, as did the act of cracking. At some point, I felt that designing my own (crappy and simple) parking detector, or a brightness controller circuit, was indeed way more amusing than shooting random enemies.