4am's Anti-M now available

March 18th, 2019 8:55 AM
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Editing several Juiced.GS articles on copy protection and assembling them into a single PDF has given me a second-hand opportunity to learn all the ways that Apple II floppy disks could be made uncopiable. While defeating piracy is a publisher's right, copy protection can also create unnecessary and often unanticipated hurdles for legitimate software owners.

4am to the rescue. This anonymous hacker debuted on the Apple II scene five years ago last month and has since preserved hundreds of programs that might've otherwise been lost to history. Not only does 4am tackle individual disks and protection schemes; they also look for patterns that can be anticipated and automatically defeated, resulting in the cracking program Passport.

4am's latest challenge: a pre-boot program that enables floppy disks to boot on machines not yet invented when the software was published. Its prerelease name was BroderBooter.

Just a week later, the program was officially released under a different name, Anti-M.

Having never directly encountered the problem that Anti-M solves, I asked for more details. 4am patiently walked me through this program's purpose.

They wrote:

Certain early games by Broderbund and Gebelli Software failed to boot on a //e or later. They would boot partway then display an "M" error code because they were looking for a "genuine" Apple ROM and didn't recognize the //e. I wrote a program to control the boot process long enough (just patching in memory, never on disk) to disable the ROM check and allow these games to boot on any Apple II. [S]o you run my "pre-booter" program, insert your original disk (Choplifter or whatever, lots of different games supported), and press RETURN. That's it. Then the magic starts, boot tracing and patching memory. But all you'll see is your game boot and load instead of erroring out. It'll be open source and hosted on GitHub, but I won't link to it here until the big 1.0 announcement.

Twitter being what it is, even the creator of that ROM check popped into the conversation.

I'm glad we have someone like 4am watching out for those Apple II users trying to keep their machines and floppies alive!

(Hat tip to Andrew Roughan)

A cracked screensaver

September 12th, 2011 9:56 AM
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As I drove home last night from Cape Cod, I caught up on the latest episode of the Retro Computing Roundtable, an excellent podcast hosted by David Greelish, Earl Evans, and Carrington Vanston. It was another fantastic 90 minutes of retrocomputing goodness, and as an editor for enterprise IT publication Computerworld, I especially enjoyed the discussion of the HP TouchPad — though I'm unsure how it connected to the show's retro theme.

This month's guest was Kevin Savetz, master of more than eighty Web sites, many of them of interest to Apple II enthusiasts. (KansasFest alumni may recognize his college-ruled paper.) Kevin shared with RCR listeners a simple yet great idea. Having recently discovered the same archive of Apple II crack screens I blogged about, Kevin downloaded the entire collection of images to use as a slideshow screensaver. Brilliant! You can do the same with a Firefox plugin like DownThemAll! and saving the images into a single folder. Then, in Mac OS X's System Preferences, go to "Desktop & Screen Saver", choose "Add Folder of Pictures", and add your collection. You can then set various preferences regarding how the screens are displayed displayed. (These instructions are based on the Snow Leopard operating system; YMMV.)

Thanks, Kevin!

The art of the crack

August 22nd, 2011 3:29 PM
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Filed under Hacks & mods, Software showcase;
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Piracy is as much an issue today as it was thirty years ago: gamers who pay for their software are often penalized for the actions of those who won't. But somewhere between the DRM and the theft is the actual hack. Today, that often amounts to little more than releasing a torrent of a disk image — once you've acquired and installed the warez, the experience is little different from a legitimate one. That wasn't the case with the Apple II.

When the hacking medium was not DVD but 5.25" floppy, hackers had to break a different copy protection scheme for each piece of software. They demanded acknowledgement for their hard work, often placing their byline in the opening splash screen, even if it meant removing the programmer's or publisher's credit. Some especially creative hackers went beyond that simple substitution by editing the screen at large, producing original works of art.

Arkanoid 2 cracked

Jason Scott has compiled an extensive collection of these crack screens. As far as I can see, there's 794 screens, though fewer total games are represented, as often the same image is displayed in both color and monochrome; I would estimate the gallery includes 572 unique games. It's fascinating to see both the art and the creative handles by which the pirates were known.

There's little I can say about the Apple II pirate scene that hasn't already been presented more exhaustively and eloquently by Scott in this presentation from Rubicon 2003.

However, there have been new developments since then. At KansasFest 2010, Martin Haye hacked Wizardry, producing his own splash screen for the occasion. With so much work being put into the crack itself, a programming genius such as Haye shouldn't have to work even harder to leave his visual mark.

Antoine Vignau of Brutal Deluxe agrees and, at the request of Daniel Kruszyna, has created T40, a 40-column text-based editor. Itself a 24-hour hack job, T40 runs on any Apple II and offers an impressive array of keyboard commands with which to design and save ASCII art.

"Krüe" has started compiling images created in this program and welcomes your submissions via email. The collection thus far can be seen online, where you can also download an Applesoft BASIC self-running slideshow to display the artwork natively on your Apple II.

I make no commentary on the legality of ethicality of piracy — but the ones who engage in it are capable of amazing works of genius and artistry, which have just been made a bit easier.

(Hat tip to Mark Pilgrim)