CRACKER=BLAIREAU (March 2010)

Hands up anyone who hasn't heard of the 1992 game "Flashback: The Quest for Identity"? Okay, you two can leave the room. For the rest of you, I was playing it again recently, for the sake of nostalgia. It's a really great game, just the right blend of action and puzzle-solving (except on "hard" mode, which is really really hard). What else, besides the 1984 game "Conan: Hall of Volta" on the Apple II, would be a similar example? I'd be interested to hear opinions on that. And no, "Tomb Raider" doesn't meet the standard. Seriously.

Anyway, something that puzzled (excuse the pun) me at the time, and again just now, was a curious message that I saw on the score screen. Try this: start the game, press "tab" to switch to the inventory screen, then press and hold "enter" to see the score screen. Is there a message in red under the "level" text? There was on my copy then, and again on my copy now. The message is "CRACKER=BLAIREAU". The funny thing is that my old copy wasn't cracked. At least, not when I bought it. ;-)

I'll say this right now: I hate copy-protection. If I own the program, I don't want to be bothered with looking for words in manuals, or digging out code-wheels and matching weird symbols. I don't like the idea that the disk might fail and then the game won't ever run again. So I remove the copy-protection. I never give away the deprotected programs, it's just for my convenience. I removed the copy-protection from Flashback before I ever played it, and that's the funny thing.

The copy-protection in Flashback is a pictogram. Match the symbols in the code book, and type the corresponding letters. There's a check for the copy-protection the start of the game. Fail the check and the game won't run at all. There's also a check for the copy-protection about halfway through the game. This caught a few crackers when the game was new, because those two checks are implemented in two separate routines. Patch one and the game seems to run flawlessly. However, fail to patch the second one and you can't finish the game. You also can't reach a particular save-point unless the check passes, meaning that you'd have to play a lot of the game again once you hit that problem for the first time. :-)

The point is that if I'd played the uncracked version of the game, I would not have seen the "cracker" message. It was only after I cracked it that the message appeared, and it was only because of the way *in which* I cracked it that caused the message to appear. All of the freely-available cracks allow the pictogram screen to appear, but patch the result to always succeed, no matter what you type. That's really ugly, but those versions do not display the "cracker" message. I bypassed the routine entirely so that there was no need to type anything at all... and the message appeared.

It turns out that the copy-protection routine sets a flag once the pictogram screen is displayed. This flag disables the message. So, when I bypassed the routine, but also set the flag, the message went away. It only took me 18 years to find that out.

By the way, "blaireau" is French slang for "loser". Yeah, I lost on that one.

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