August 10th, 2009


Three Good Reasons To Liquidate Our Empire

However ambitious President Barack Obama's domestic plans, one unacknowledged issue has the potential to destroy any reform efforts he might launch. Think of it as the 800-pound gorilla in the American living room: our longstanding reliance on imperialism and militarism in our relations with other countries and the vast, potentially ruinous global empire of bases that goes with it. The failure to begin to deal with our bloated military establishment and the profligate use of it in missions for which it is hopelessly inappropriate will, sooner rather than later, condemn the United States to a devastating trio of consequences: imperial overstretch, perpetual war, and insolvency, leading to a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union.

According to the 2008 official Pentagon inventory of our military bases around the world, our empire consists of 865 facilities in more than 40 countries and overseas U.S. territories. We deploy over 190,000 troops in 46 countries and territories. In just one such country, Japan, at the end of March 2008, we still had 99,295 people connected to U.S. military forces living and working there -- 49,364 members of our armed services, 45,753 dependent family members, and 4,178 civilian employees. Some 13,975 of these were crowded into the small island of Okinawa, the largest concentration of foreign troops anywhere in Japan.

These massive concentrations of American military power outside the United States are not needed for our defense. They are, if anything, a prime contributor to our numerous conflicts with other countries. They are also unimaginably expensive. According to Anita Dancs, an analyst for the website Foreign Policy in Focus, the United States spends approximately $250 billion each year maintaining its global military presence.

Never happen. We will continue to military spend ourselves to death. Rome did it, and we will too.

Slowing down the pirates: Implementing anti-crack protection in Spyro: Year Of The Dragon

Of course, all of this effort is worth nothing if the game doesn't do anything once a crack is detected, but this needs to be handled carefully. If the game just halts as soon as any modification is detected, the cracker would soon find and remove all the protection. However, if we wait too long to react, too much of the game would be playable even if an incomplete crack was used. To balance this, we used as many layers of protection as possible, which occurred at different points during the game. In YOTD we had four layers, including the copy protection.

The copy protection stopped the game very early. When this was removed, the game appeared to work for some time. We assumed that the crackers generally don't play the games they crack very much, they just play until the point where the protection they know about kicks in. Then they release a crack, believing it to be complete.

To play on this, we designed the game to break in ways that weren't immediately obvious. Most of the protection is "off-camera," affecting levels other than the one currently being played. In YOTD the object of the game is to collect eggs and gems, which are then used to open later parts of the game. The protection removed eggs and gems, so that the player could not make progress. We tried to make the game unplayable for any length of time, while at the same time making it difficult to determine exactly where things had gone wrong. If errors accumulated slowly until the game broke, the cracker would not notice such behavior so easily.

Other, more obvious protection was done less frequently. Callbacks were corrupted, which made the game crash in odd ways. The European version changed languages randomly. Some of these actions break the game and others are just an annoyance to the player, but if the game is difficult or frustrating to play because of the failed crack, this can be more effective than breaking completely.

You have to admire the cleverness of these anti-crack schemes. And you also have to admire the counter-cleverness of the pirates that successfully crack them.

They say that the first 90% of the security costs 10% of the money, and the final 10% of security costs 90% of the money. I think they struck a reasonable balance here between spending too much time (= money) on coding copy protection routines, vs. the benefit they got out of it. It helps that they're smart, and realized that no amount of anti-crack protection would keep the pirates out forever. Their goal was merely to slow them down. Which they did.

Tangentially, I should mention abandonware. My personal opinion is, when a company stops selling a game (in some form, not necessarily on the original media) the game's compiled form should revert to the public domain. If the company is not selling the game, then they're not making any money on it, and they shouldn't care about pirate copies any more. At that point, the only function of the copy protection is to immortalize the people who break it.