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How the Dreamcast Copy Protection Was Defeated (fabiensanglard.net)
345 points by fafner 37 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 161 comments



There are two points to note.

The first is piracy probably didn’t lead to the failure of the Dreamcast. They didn’t sell many of the consoles... if it was a piracy issue then you’d expect they’d sell many consoles, but few games (the line up of games was really good).

The article mentions Ikaruga a lot. It worth noting that Ikaruga for the Dreamcast was released a year after the Dreamcast was cancelled. They probably weren’t hugely concerned about piracy at this point.

From memory it was an easy port for them, because the arcade board that Ikaruga ran on is also the same as the Dreamcast.


> The first is piracy probably didn’t lead to the failure of the Dreamcast.

Sega led to the failure of the Dreamcast. They had failed fans with the SegaCD. Released the 32X as a "bridge" between the 16bit and 32bit consoles (then promptly abandoned it). They released the Saturn with almost no fanfare in the US, and with last minute architectural hacks to make it pass as a 3D console (just barely).

By the time the Dreamcast came out, people were just tired of Sega's shit.


The success of the PS1 didn’t help either. Sony had already stolen Sega’s market (and some of Nintendo’s too where people were annoyed with the cartridge decision).

Ironically the N64 was a more interesting console than the PS1 and the Dreamcast was more interesting than the PS2; but most people didn’t care. Sony really understood what the lion share of gamers wanted - or perhaps it was just good fortune to step into the market when the other giants misstepped?

Ironically Sony tried to work with both Sega and Nintendo and got rejected by both after investing substantial time on a collaboration. It’s funny how quickly the market turned.


Do not underestimate the value proposition of a DVD player in 2001. It had a huge impact on sales.


Ah yes as I recall the cheapest way to get a dvd player was to buy a PS2.


Funny -- I believe this price situation repeated itself with the PS3 and Blu-ray.


The price of a PS3 and Blu-ray player was approximately identical (here, for basically the whole lifetime of a PS3), except a PS3 could do much, much more. There are of course good reasons for why this was the case but from a consumer standpoint it's always seemed hilariously weird to buy a Blu-ray player.


A lot of people were stoked for the Dreamcast upon its release.

What ultimately did it in was the PS2 -- a superior console in virtually every respect, released just two years later (in the USA).


> What ultimately did it in was the PS2 -- a superior console in virtually every respect

I beg to differ. Graphically it was, but it should be given it was two years younger. Sound quality it was too but honestly very few people would have noticed on the typical set up of that era.

However the Dreamcast has 4 controller ports built into the console itself, rumble packs from day one, a portable gaming unit (ok, that was a bit of a novelty), support for using your save games on actual arcades, easy way of sharing save games, online gaming (a good 4 years before the competition too!), downloadable content (which was typically free back then).

The Dreamcast was easily the more interesting console out of the two of them. If the reputation of the two companies had been equal then the DC would likely have won out. But the PS1 was already a proven success and Sega had messed their fans about with all the failed Megadrive /Genesis addons. So a great many gamers didn’t even give the Dreamcast a chance. In a sense, their expectations became a self fulfilling prophecy.

I was gutted when the DC failed. No console before nor since has really captured my imagination quite as much as the Dreamcast did. But ultimately I wasn’t surprised either because Sony had already won even before releasing the PS2. Few people cared about Sega (or Nintendo) at that point.


AS I remember it, the mindshare of the PS2 even so long before launch was immense. Sony's marketing killed the Dreamcast with ridiculous promises that really didn't pan out. You can't just look back and compare the systems, the idea of the PS2 killed the DC.


Yep. A good example was the branding of the PS2's processor as the "Emotion Engine," (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotion_Engine) which in the runup to release got hyped as some kind of fundamental breakthrough in computing that would let the PS2 render things like faces with so much detail they'd be able to break your heart. This was all bunkum, of course, but it ensured that all the media oxygen got sucked into debates about how amazing the PS2 was going to be when it eventually shipped, instead of talking about consoles like the Dreamcast that you could buy right then.

Of course, Sega pretty much invented this PR game with the Genesis and "blast processing" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sega_Genesis#North_American_sa...), so in that respect they were kind of hoist by their own petard...


> A good example was the branding of the PS2's processor as the "Emotion Engine," (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotion_Engine) which in the runup to release got hyped as some kind of fundamental breakthrough in computing that would let the PS2 render things like faces with so much detail they'd be able to break your heart.

That reminds me of the hype around the PS3's cell processor. There was a lot of videos comparing the graphics between the PS3 and the Xbox360 that showed really no difference between the two. I don't know enough about processor architectures to know how awesome it really was. However, I imagine that a game studio making a game for both platforms would use the least common denominator of both consoles, causing them to look the same. Also, it's probably in the best interest of the studio for a game to have a consistent look across platforms.

I wonder if the cell processor was really as awesome as it was made out to be. Going by what one heard, you'd think Sony was losing money from manufacturing costs with each console sold. Then again, maybe it's true in a sense. While the PS3 was $600 and had bluray movie playback as some small feature, bluray players cost around a $1000. It was crazy to see people eyeing those things, considering buying them.


Consoles often (or at least were often) sold at a loss because Sony / Microsoft will make their money back on licences from developers / games sold.

I think Nintendo are the exception to the rule there though.


If that's true, it explains why Sony removed the feature allowing you to install a custom OS on the PS3. There was at least one group that was building a supercomputer out of PS3s. Removing the feature was probably to limit losses from sales to people that were not buying their PS3s to play games on them.

It was still shitty of them (and I wish illegal) to remove a feature, but now it makes sense. I wish they had limited the removal to only units not yet sold though. It's not like people that were using their PS3s for supercomputing would run the update anyway. It would only be those that were playing games and were restricted without running the latests updates.


My university had a PS3-based computing cluster. I'm not sure if they still do.


the cell processor was a great processor. It's actually more powerful than what's in the PS4 at the moment but no where near as friendly to develop for.


I think it might be worth clarifying that it is more powerful than the PS4's CPU in very specific tasks, but not "all around" faster


I don’t recall Sony marketing the PS2 that heavily compared to the DC (nor even the Xbox). But memory can be fallible.

The argument I was proposing was that the mindshare was in anticipation of the PS2 because of how the PS1 vs Saturn war panned out. Gamers can be loyal pack animals and Sega had already lost their fan base before the DC was even released thanks to the success of the PS1.

> Dreamcast with ridiculous promises that really didn't pan out.

I don’t get your point there. Everything the DC promised to do it delivered on. Technically speaking it was a success - very much ahead of its time in a great many ways. It just didn’t sell.


Sony did all sorts of marketing stunts to keep the idea of the PS2 in the limelight. They spread stories about how Iraq was trying to buy them for their weapons program because they were so powerful, etc.

https://www.theregister.co.uk/2000/12/19/iraq_buys_4000_play...


I’d completely forgotten about those stories!


Parent meant that Sony marketed the PS2 with undelivered promises.


Ahh yes. That would make more sense


None of those superior features were things people particularly cared about. Most people didn't have good enough internet for online gaming at the time. Most people never went to arcades (isn't the point of a console that you don't need to), 4 ports is nice but an adapter fixes that easily, and it's not meaningfully more portable than a PS2.


> Most people didn't have good enough internet for online gaming at the time.

That's not really true though because the requirements for online gaming were also lower back then. I agree people didn't have broadband but the DC's online games worked fine with a dialup modem and in fact it used a slower modem than was common in PCs at that era (33k baud as opposed to 56k) that people also used for online gaming.

> Most people never went to arcades (isn't the point of a console that you don't need to)

Consoles were always intended as a compliment to arcades, not a flat out replacement for them. Plus Sega often had a Crazy Taxi (or whatever) cabinet in student bars and other trendy places as well as the usual places dedicated for gaming.

> 4 ports is nice but an adapter fixes that easily,

I agree it's hardly innovative but it's yet another thing you need to buy. Another expense and another device you need to have the foresight of owning before your mates pop round with a handful of controllers. So I think the real question should be: "why the hell didn't the PS2 have 4 ports when every other console of that generation did (Gamecube, Xbox, Dreamcast)?"


One year later in the US.

The thing I remember as a kid was the hype for the PS2 building right as the Dreamcast was released. This was still in the era where most families would only have one console, so they ended up saving their money aiming for a PS2 instead of a Dreamcast.

I think if the Dreamcast was released sooner or later it would have done better than it did. Either before the PS2 hype, or closer to the PS2 so the hype died down a bit.


> a superior console in virtually every respect

Except antialiasing


> The first is piracy probably didn’t lead to the failure of the Dreamcast. They didn’t sell many of the consoles... if it was a piracy issue then you’d expect they’d sell many consoles, but few games (the line up of games was really good).

This is correct. In the gaming space this is called "attach rate". Consoles tend to have higher attach rates than handhelds (because, for instance, multiple children in a family own a handheld but share software, while a console is typically one-per-family). Attach rates generally go up over time because the geometric mean of owner-weeks generally goes up over time -- there are some exceptions when hardware sales take off as a rocket like in the first 2-3 years of the Nintendo Wii.

When Dreamcast software stopped in the US around 2003, it had an attach rate of about 4 according to NPD figures, which is fairly standard for a console that had been around for 2 years.

That's not to say there wasn't widespread piracy or whatever, it just means that as you note we don't see an obvious absence of software sales where there ought be software sales.


"The first is piracy probably didn’t lead to the failure of the Dreamcast. They didn’t sell many of the consoles... if it was a piracy issue then you’d expect they’d sell many consoles, but few games (the line up of games was really good)."

If memory serves me... and it doesn't always terribly well, but still... I think you can make the even stronger argument that by the time the piracy was widespread and convenient, the console had already visibly failed. It took a while to get to the point where you could torrent an arbitrary game, burn it, and play it. You can tell that a console is going to fail to another before the last game is shipped. The PS2 was clearly going to crush the Dreamcast before it had literally passed it in numbers. I don't think the Dreamcast's fate would have materially changed if it was pirate-proof.


I remember clearly that most people were holding off for a PS2, despite the fact that the initial release of games on the PS2 for that first year had graphics that were actually sub-par compared to the DC because it was so difficult to program for and had a weak line up of games that first year compared to what the DC had the first week it was out (a Sonic game and Soul Calibur).

I ended up owning both, but I got more mileage out of my DC that year or two I owned it then I did from the PS2 for a while (I don't think the PS2 really hit its stride until the 2nd year it was out).


> It took a while to get to the point where you could torrent an arbitrary game

Especially so, given that the BitTorrent protocol hadn't even been designed when the Dreamcast was officially discontinued.


BitTorrent wasn’t how pirated material was distributed in those days. DCC over Irc and FTP were widely used at this time.


Wasn't it LimeWire/Kazaa? My early P2P history is a little fuzzy.

The big issue is that so many people were still on modems back then that downloading a DC game wasn't easy. Plus public WiFi wasn't really a thing yet. It was the kids on college campuses who were connected to brand new and shiny Ethernet networks that really went nuts.


These applications weren't really where piracy derived, these applications along with a cable modem made it possible for point and click piracy. Similar to Napster. The scene which as others pointed at actually started in newsgroups and shifted to IRC and FTP was where piracy was extremely prevalent.


I used Morpheus I think then bearshare


Or simply uploading to some free webspace hoster by breaking the iso up into many smaller rar/zip achieves.


Also newsgroups.


Also usenet


In the UK at least it was more than likely due to Sony's far superior marketing of the original PlayStation. The arrival of the PS2 and the Xbox sealed the deal.

That said, I've always seen the original Xbox as the spiritual successor to the Dreamcast.


> That said, I've always seen the original Xbox as the spiritual successor to the Dreamcast.

In what sense? The architecture between these two consoles is IMHO quite different.


Sega started porting many of their new arcade games to the Xbox. Consequently former Dreamcast users who wanted to play the new arcade games at home bought the Xbox.


A Sega exec tried to push Microsoft to make the Xbox backwards compatible with the Dreamcast even [1], which Microsoft refused mostly because they didn't want to support online infrastructure for titles that used it. The original Xbox seemed to have been considered to be the favored successor to the Dreamcast by Sega at least at one point.

Then again, Sega's main initial portwork was focused on the GameCube. The Dreamcast games Sonic Adventure 2, Ikaruga, Crazy Taxi, Phantasy Star Online and Skies of Arcadia were ported to the GameCube and not to the Xbox. They also brought originally-for-Dreamcast titles Super Monkey Ball, Beach Spikers and Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg to the GameCube exclusively.

[1]: https://kotaku.com/how-xbox-could-have-helped-the-dreamcast-...


> They also brought originally-for-Dreamcast titles Super Monkey Ball ... to the GameCube exclusively

Super Monkey Ball was on the Xbox too. I was very happy when I discovered that, and even more so when it was playable on the X360.


But it really was. Sega and Microsoft worked closely together or why do you think they implented the Windows CE option? Also all Sega arcades afterwards shipped with Xbox hardware.


Windows CE was ported to a lot of processor architectures at that time. Its architecture is quite different from the Windows NT line. To quote Wikipedia on this

> https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Windows_Embedded_...

"Unlike Windows Embedded Standard, which is based on Windows NT, Windows Embedded Compact uses a different hybrid kernel."

I am also pretty sure that Windows CE's architecture is quite different from the OS running on the XBox, but cannot give a quotable source on this. At least for the Xbox 360 and XBox One, I am pretty sure that I have read that their kernel is actually not so dissimilar from the kernel used in the NT line. The difference between the Windows NT line and the XBox 360/One OS rather lies in the software running above the kernel.


You can quote me, as I've gotten down and dirty with the Xbox ( https://github.com/monocasa/xbvm ), and have written board support packages for CE for work.

The OG Xbox kernel is an extremely heavily stripped down and modified Win2k kernel. No support for user mode, multiple address spaces, or more than one running process. No win32 in the kernel. USB, sound, and the vast majority of the graphics driver are statically linked into the process executable.


Windows CE was loaded from the disks and was an option for developers. The dreamcast had another os which were more close to the naomi arcade machine


The article claims that the hardware contained no "OS" and that all discs were self-contained full-linked OSes.


There was a rudimentary os when you boot without gd-rom. It allowed you to set settings, manage memory cards etc I suspect it was loaded just in case where there were no os on the gdrom inserted otherwise the system will boot on the gdrom os. Edit : video link https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5L9p_Bq_hFk


Take a close look at the controllers. The similarities are eerie.


> I've always seen the original Xbox as the spiritual successor to the Dreamcast.

That's a rather persistent myth. The project that became the Xbox originated from an entirely different division within MS. The team in the Windows CE group that worked on the Dreamcast SDK actually had their own separate proposal for a non-x86 based console but MS chose to move forward with the Xbox proposal instead. IIRC, very, very few of the people on the Dreamcast SDK team moved over to Xbox when they were disbanded.


> The first is piracy probably didn’t lead to the failure of the Dreamcast.

Indeed, if that'd be really the case then Sony's PSX should have failed 10 times over because it was the original "piracy console" due to the use of CD-Rom vs cartridges.

Sure, the burners and blanks used to be expensive in the beginning, but it didn't take long for prices to fall.

Also didn't help that the PSX was region locked, so many people chipped their consoles to be able to play releases from other regions, which then also allowed the console to play pirated/burned PSX games.

During my childhood, growing up in the 90s in Germany, I don't remember anybody owning a PSX that was not chipped, some would literally make a business out of selling burned PSX games on the schoolyard, bringing binders full of games and printed lists with all of their "offerings".


> The first is piracy probably didn’t lead to the failure of the Dreamcast.

I had a large group of friends who got the Dreamcast right when it came out. I still remember many of the commercials touting the AI of the console and the end of their commercials showing the light on the op of the console glowing with the voice over "it's thinking".

Everybody in our group wanted it because the Dreamcast touted the ability of the machine to think and gone were the days on NFL games were you could run one play over and over and the game would just let you. Here was a console who advertised this wasn't going to happen, that it was actively learning.

Huge disappointment when we all realized we had been had by a marketing campaign that touted a functionality the games and console could never have. After the first month and realizing all the AI claims were totally bogus, my whole group of friends didn't buy another game.

Once the PS2 came out, that was it for Dreamcast.

The interesting thing is I've seen a ton of articles about the history of the Dreamcast lately and none of them mention this very large marketing campaign of essentially lying about the capabilities of the console.


Sony did the same BS with the PS2, whose MIPS core was called the "Emotion Engine" because it was touted as being powerful enough to allow the console to feel, or at least simulate, emotions.

The turn of the millennium was a weird time for gaming.


>The first is piracy probably didn’t lead to the failure of the Dreamcast. They didn’t sell many of the consoles

The dreamcast was forward thinking in many ways (Built in Modem, MMO console games, 3D graphics that could rival arcades) but the lack of a real system selling game was very noticeable.

> if it was a piracy issue then you’d expect they’d sell many consoles, but few games

This is very true, every time I go to south america I still see street vendors selling PS2 bootleg games!


I helped my sister find DC downloadable games. And unfortunately, 95% of all the games available were 1-on-1 fighting games. The few others were simulators (Crazy Taxi, flying games).

The only RPG I can think of was Phantasy Star Online. It was down for at least a decade when we downloaded games.

I look at PlayStation, and it was RPGs galore. And while there was shovelware, there were all sorts of games from every genre.


If you're interested in picking up some DC RPGs today for nostalgia I would recommend Skies of Arcadia and Grandia 2, the latter did some to PS2 though.


And amusingly, the former is arguably better experienced via its enhanced Gamecube port (Skies of Arcadia Legends).


Grandia 2 was awesome, I completely forgot about that. The original was really good, as well.


Grandia II? Skies of Arcadia? Shenmue? There were a number of good RPGs for the Dreamcast.


Skies of Arcadia. One of the best ever made.


Yup. Piracy would have increased console sales and it didn't. Really as simple as that. The software was definitely there at the time. But, Sega you know, is Sega and ultimately all the good faith they had built in Western countries with the master system and Genesis had worn out with their mediocre add-ons and console (Saturn. I might add had great games.).


Agreed, the hype for the upcoming PS2 was enormous, and on the Dreamcast 3rd support side, the absence of Electronic Arts was a huge blow.


Related and _very_ inspiring; how the Sega Saturn CD was cracked after 20 years. Even my very non-technical girlfriend sat through this thing, being intrigued by the dedication.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOyfZex7B3E


Did the Saturn hold out for so long only because nobody cared enough to crack it? The Saturn was stillborn as far as I can tell. Sega rushed it to market to try to recapture that early Genesis magic and discovered too late that launch titles/partners are important.


Here's what I remember from the history of it all:

The Saturn was Sega's best-selling console outside of Japan. It did terribly in America, mostly because they screwed-over retailers and developers with a surprise early release. Some retailers would straight-up not carry it, American third-party support was pulled, and this all carried forward to the Dreamcast. Sega of Japan was undermining Sega of America and there's a whole tragic story behind it. The Sega of America CEO, who helped the Genesis be successful in the US, quit over this nonsense.

As far as not hacking it, it was so easy to mod the CD drive to play back-ups (1 wire and a ribbon cable) - there probably wasn't much incentive.


Its a great story, told in a video with high production value, too bad its "innacurate". Saturn was cracked 20 years ago, you could mod it easily and play copied games. There also did exist complete CD emulators before https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12075653


I love this video, i've watched it more than once!


I was heavily into burning DC ROMs back in the day. Its most valuable utility was making backups of the games we owned, as our first copy of Sonic Adventure 2 became scratched and nearly unreadable after awhile. The backups allowed me to keep our "critical" games like Soul Calibur, MvC2, and Power Stone 2 (that one cost a pretty penny) in their cases while we used the backups. It also allowed a handful of custom soundtrack-editions of games to float around on the web, like one which changed MvC2's (IMO, awful) soundtrack.

One thing I lament in hindsight was that the CD's we burned were not GD-ROMs, and so the backups or ROMs we burned often had their assets compressed in order to fit on the smaller disk.

Further pity is that even 15ish years later, many people in the ROM collection scene are still relying on those early, compressed CDI rips that were made over a decade ago. The higher-fidelity GDI dumps are comparatively rare and hard-to-find, especially with such reliable repositories as Emuparadise shutting down. If I had the proper equipment, I would probably try to make proper GDI dumps of my collection.


What!? "I wanna take you for a ride!"

The music is one of the most memorable parts of MvC2. It pretty much sat as the capstone of a decade of fusion jazz soundtracks that seemed to dominate Japanese games, fighting games and Capcom games in particular.


Context:

Once upon a time I had a stomach virus. The virus left me running to the bathroom frequently, and at its worst stage left me hunched over in the bathroom for the better part of an hour. Additionally, the only separation between the adjacent bedroom and the bathroom was not even a proper door as much as a stall door--it was very easy to hear whatever was going on in the next room.

During this time, my younger brother was in the next room playing MvC2 on the Dreamcast. My brother had this annoying habit of just leaving the system on and walking away when he went to go do something else, rather than turning off the system or the TV. So he did as he usually does and walked away after a match, leaving the game running at the versus menu character selection screen. And so for the next 40 minutes, I was trapped in the bathroom, too nauseated to move, and listening to this on repeat:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KY-CeeQLCE4

It was after this incident that I decided to change MvC2's soundtrack.


Fair point. I will say though that leaving this game on Character Select for a while and that music is pretty much a universal experience for MvC2 owners and for most of them one of the things they love about the game.


I found the complete GDI set quite easy to find, I believe it's available via torrent from archive.org


I just wanted to drop in and point out this author has published a couple excellent books analyzing the engines behind the popular first-person-shooter games Wolfenstein 3D[0] and DOOM[1]. Excellent reads if you're interested in the inner workings of these games (and by extension, others like them)! (Yes, he links the DOOM one in the article, but wanted to call them out specifically as being awesome ;))

[0] http://fabiensanglard.net/gebbwolf3d/ [1] http://fabiensanglard.net/gebbdoom/


> SEGA engineers knew that MIL-CD booting could be used as an attack vector so they added a protection.

> The mashed potatoes problem was solved when a Katana SDK (the official Sega SDK for the Dreamcast) was stolen[6] by the hacking team "Utopia" in late 1999. It turned out that the scrambler was nothing more than "security through obscurity".

I doubt this was security through obscurity. Most likely, it was hard (or impossible) to burn a GD-ROM for internal testing. Thus, this mechanism was probably used to burn games onto CDR for internal testing.

I haven't seen anything that explains how scrambling and descrambling work; but it's important to understand that, at a certain level, all encryption is "security by obscurity." It just comes down to how easy or hard it is to figure out how to bypass. In this case, hacking to get ahold of the scrambler is no different than getting ahold of the private part of a key pair.

Edit:

> SEGA quickly released a DC v2 which disabled MIL-CD altogether but unfortunately damage had been done. With revenues plummeting and the PS2 ogre coming out, developers abandoned the Dreamcast and SEGA retired from the hardware manufacturing business in order to focus on software.

I also wonder if disabling this system was "the straw that broke the camel's back?" If I were a developer and it suddenly became much harder to test, I'd probably think very critically if it's "worth it" to jump through so many hoops for such a small market.


> I haven't seen anything that explains how scrambling and descrambling work; but it's important to understand that, at a certain level, all encryption is "security by obscurity." It just comes down to how easy or hard it is to figure out how to bypass. In this case, hacking to get ahold of the scrambler is no different than getting ahold of the private part of a key pair.

This isn’t true at all. There is a very significant fundamental difference between obscure information and secret information. Obscure information is by its nature known to many people. There are likely hundreds (if not thousands) of engineers who had access to the code or design documents that describe the scrambler. Information about it was probably given to sales people and representatives at other companies, and transmitted insecurely over a variety of communication mediums. Compare that to secret information, which is known only to the parties using it to authenticate.

Perhaps you could argue that in this case, security by obscurity was not the reason that the system failed, but that isn’t the same as saying all encryption isn’t security by obscurity.


> Most likely, it was hard (or impossible) to burn a GD-ROM for internal testing.

Not at all. Sega had a GD-ROM burner that could be attached to the Katana devkits that worked with Sega-issued media. Remember, there were no hard drives in consoles back in those days so getting the disc layout right so that the game had reasonable loading performance was important.

My memory is admittedly a bit fuzzier here but I also seem to recall that these burned GD-ROMs were normally only bootable on the devkit but could be run on a retail Dreamcast by using a special "system disk" beforehand.


Nope, GD burners existed[1], and there are a couple of legitimate "MIL-CD" releases. It was a weird multimedia thing that went wrong, not a dev tool.

[1] https://segaretro.org/GD-Writer


Sega's dev kit included recordable GD-ROM discs and a drive that could write to them.


> all encryption is "security by obscurity."

Sure, I guess, in a sort of pedantic sense, but the point is that a robust cryptosystem must have the "obscure" information as a dynamic input variable, like an encryption key -- if the key is discovered, you discard it and use a new one, and the cryptosystem as a whole is still intact. Moreover, discovery of my key doesn't make your encrypted data any less secure.

If, however, the obscure information is a static, integral component like this scrambling algorithm, then discovery means the entire system is now compromised.


Did the breaking of the copy protection on the Dreamcast really play a big part in Sega's downfall?

If so, it would be one of the only cases I know of where IP piracy led to financial ruin of the content creator.


I think that's the story being told, but I think the real problem is that the Saturn sucked, and the 32x, and the sega cd. Sega killed so much of their good will, that they barely had any customers left to pirate games. I only know one person who had a dreamcast, and they mostly had legit games with a few pirated ones. On the other hand I knew atleast 10 people with modded playstations, and mostly pirated games. I only buy Nintendo consoles, so I remember being jealous of their ability to pirate. Though I just remembered the kid who was doing the mods having a zip disk adapter for his N64.


Pretty much all Nintendo consoles have been pirated, though.

The story how the Gamecube was cracked is also quite interesting, ironically also related to SEGA. The way they cracked it was with the GCN port of Phantasy Star Online by them. The first thing that game did when it connected to the SEGA server was to download a binary patch and execute it. People figured out they could just DNS spoof the server and run pretty much anything they wanted.

You needed a pretty specific set of stuff for that to work, though. You needed an early version of PSO as well as a Gamecube broadband adapter. By pure chance I had that back in the day and I remember getting this to work, attaching the gamecube to my pc with a long crossover cable between two rooms, trying to figure out the network settings and running the spoofing software. Good fun.


Piracy on the original Playstation was gigantic and also probably a big reason for why they ended up dominating the market. I know a ton of people that picked one up over the N64 because if you got a mod chip put in and new someone with a CD burner you could expand your game library for the cost of a rental.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Backup_Z64 - if anyone was wondering. I never saw one in the flesh, but they sounded interesting at the time, esp with the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/64DD taking a different (official) path.


I only buy Nintendo consoles, so I remember being jealous of their ability to pirate.

I guess you were happy with your Wii and DS.


I don't think any piracy will ever compare to DS piracy. You could put all the games you wanted on a micro sd card, stick it into the R4 (or any of it's many clones) and there you go. And for the last couple years of the DS these cards could be had for under $10. Even the Wii required some effort to soft mod, and you still had to care about updates. The DS was totally broken however.


The PSP was also bad. I think that piracy becomes a problem when it gives consumers a superior product for free.


Nah Sega was already dying before the DC came out. That console was a hail Mary for them.

Sony and Nintendo have faced huge piracy and it never killed them.


This

The Dreamcast sold well at release and some time after (in North America at least), however Sega's financial situation was bad they didn't have loads of cash like Sony or probably even Nintendo at the time. The system was selling well but not well enough for Sega to recoup it's financials. Also EA boycotted the system completely and was not publishing games for it. Add to that the hype of the PS2.

Just a perfect storm for Sega, even though they really made good console correcting a lot of their earlier mistakes.

From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreamcast

Moore stated that the Dreamcast would need to sell 5 million units in the U.S. by the end of 2000 in order to remain a viable platform, but Sega ultimately fell short of this goal with some 3 million units sold.

-----------------------------------------------------------

The Gamecube sold about 3.8 million first year and the PS2 9Million something first year


Well the hack had a really low entry barrier. As in; no hardware modifications needed. You could just download an ISO from the net and you were good to go with your unmodified Dreamcast.

In contrast the other consoles in that era Xbox, PlayStation, etc. all needed hardware modifications in order to run copied content.


The Xbox was software hackable. I did it about 4 years ago. You just had to load a corrupted save file for Mechwarrior and it booted linux


Well, for PS2 a soft mod became possible after Mr. Brow's "Independence" exploit around 2003.

Sidestepping the "Mechacon" (the DVD driver chip) happened a few years later, modifying ISO to mimic a "video" DVD and using a "loader" resident in RAM...


There was actually a trick for the PlayStation that allowed you to play pirated games without any hardware mods. It involved starting a game with the CD case open, and using your finger to stop the CD from spinning at certain points. I was quite young at the time and never mastered the method, and we got a hardware mod for the console at a later point.


Wow, that brings back memories. IIRC, you actually had to (while booting/disc spinning) pull out the a retail disc at a certain point, put in your burned disc, and do that exchange once more.

It wasn't hard, just getting the timing down.


I remember a hardware mod that was just a spring you put in the door latch sensor to prevent it from knowing that you had opened the lid. There was a special loader disk you put in first that got it started, then stopped the disk so you could swap in your burned copy.


> In contrast the other consoles in that era Xbox, PlayStation, etc. all needed hardware modifications in order to run copied content.

I wouldn't know anything about that. But I did love the original Splinter Cell and Mechassault games. 007 Agent Under Fire was also halfway decent.

You wouldn't want to lose your progress though, so I'd also suggest picking up an Action Replay so you can back up your game saves to PC. Just in case you lose your XBox or something.

If you need instructions, you could search `splinter cell action replay xbox` and probably find what you need...


But, and maybe I'm mis-remembering, how many people were actually active netizens at this point in history, able to find the ISO? Thinking back to when the dreamcast was a big console - I don't feel like it was common enough to really make a dent in dreamcast owners?

Also, and again only from vague memory, wasn't the dreamcast itself underselling drastically. If it was game sales that broke the manufacturer then maybe - but I recall the console itself being a bit of a flop?


> But, and maybe I'm mis-remembering, how many people were actually active netizens at this point in history, able to find the ISO?

Does it matter? You only need a few people to download and burn the CDs, and sell them in stalls or out of a backpack. From what I remember from that era, physical distribution of warez through burned CDs was very common.


This was also the case for PC games and those made healthy profits in that era too. So blaming piracy seems to be more pushing a certain idea than the actual cause of Dreamcast issues. Especially since the hardware itself sold poorly - if piracy would be to blame, you'd see a lot of unit sales and low game sales. Which did not happen.


> how many people were actually active netizens at this point in history, able to find the ISO?

One active netizen with a CD writer was enough for an entire school :-).

I don't know what impact this had over sales. Back then (~2001, 2002) I knew people who bought a Dreamcast precisely because they could get cheap games.


My last class in highschool was study hall. I sold a ton of bootlegs and took orders from classmates and even teachers. Made about 50 dollars a day after costs.


> But, and maybe I'm mis-remembering, how many people were actually active netizens at this point in history, able to find the ISO? Thinking back to when the dreamcast was a big console - I don't feel like it was common enough to really make a dent in dreamcast owners?

As I remember from my high school days, there were lots of people who were downloading ISOs (i.e. in their work or university, where they had access to fat 1Mb/s pipes), burning them and selling at a significant profit. Of course it was illegal, but still they managed to sell them through their friends or from improvised stalls on the weekend computer market, etc.


I remember a friend of mine giving me a big binder full of burned Dreamcast games after his console died and he moved on to a PS2. He certainly wasn't the technical type, I think his Dad "bought them from a bloke down the pub", so to speak.


I don't know if you're entirely misremembering, I had a Dreamcast around this time and I wasted a ton of time trying to pirate games - I'd set them to download and wait a few days to get the image. Then I'd have to use my buddies PC to burn (I had a Mac and you needed to use Nero or disk juggler on PC to burn them), write that in a special format and then hope the dreamcast would play it. Touching the computer while it was burning back then was a no-no too. I must've downloaded at least 20 games, but I think I only ever got one to work (Crazy Taxi), but I made plenty of coasters. The dreamcast taught me a lesson about the value of my time as I probably should have just bought the games. I saw Crazy Taxi for free in the Xbox store so I downloaded it the other day to kind of give me some perspective on how times have changed, it downloaded in under 10 minutes and was running. Back in dreamcast days, that was like a 10 day project.

I certainly don't think piracy killed the Dreamcast, it was a lot of built up 'bad will' by Sega and lousy execution. Third parties didn't want to develop for Sega, because Sega was flaky. I remember I had the broadband adapter for the Dreamcast, but it was only supported by one game(Quake). If I wanted to play NBA2K or NFL2K online I'd have to physically remove the ethernet adapter and plugin the dialup modem. Those games would have been great over ethernet, but as it was dialup online play had its share of frustrations. I had a Genesis, a Saturn, Master System and Game Gear before the Dreamcast but I think if Sega came out with another system after Dreamcast I may have had to bolt the company, they were the epitome of 'overpromising and underdelivering,' piracy gave them an excuse to focus in on the things they were better at (not selling consoles).


ISO files were available then. They were usually zipped split into anywhere from 10-50 different zip or rar files per ISO. Then I remember usually having to click through some ads or something for each file. It was a long frustrating process. Chances are the download would fuck up on one of the pieces, one of them would be corrupt, or by the time I got them all the emulators I had weren't able to play them all that well.


At this point in history, at least in the U.K., you could go round the back of your local car boot sale on a Saturday to find someone selling unauthorised copies of console games.


You could also rent a game from Blockbuster, and clone it. I know folks who did this. I don’t really know if more was involved as it was a bit before my time.


One could argue that (easy) piracy resulted in original Playstation's success.


I don't think such an argument would hold water. The original PlayStation's success came from being the first system really designed for 3D, having a very competitive price, being incredibly open to third parties, and having Sony's marketing power behind it. Piracy was, as always, an overstated factor.


I still remember buying games for 10Bs. ($2 back then) in Bolivia back in the day.


Piracy and the great game catalog!


It was 4 consoles fighting for attention around that time: Sega Dreamcast Nintendo 64 Microsoft Xbox Sony PlayStation 2

The sales of the Xbox and Dreamcast never catched up to those of the N64 or the PS2. I would say the market was over saturated around that time with 4 stationary consoles.


The Xbox's more natural competitors were the PS2 (which had come out the year before) and the Gamecube (which came out about the same time).

Maybe the Dreamcast too, in theory, but I think it had long been obvious it was a goner. I think Sega might even have dropped it by the time the Xbox was released.


The N64 was 3 years old by the time the Dreamcast came out. The Dreamcast was killed before the Xbox was released. Also, the original Xbox sold 24 million units compared to the N64’s 30 million.

The GameCube and Xbox were fighting for second place that generation.


>It was 4 consoles fighting for attention around that time: Sega Dreamcast Nintendo 64 Microsoft Xbox Sony PlayStation 2

Yes and no. N64 was 3 years earlier. PS2 was a full year later, Xbox/Gamecube were two years later.

I've always been confused how Dreamcast didn't win a that fight. The previous three rounds of console launches were heralded by improved graphics technology and immediately took over the market (1990 SNES/Genesis, 1994 Playstation/Saturn, 1996 N64). Dreamcast came out when nothing relevant had come out for 3 years, with a generation better graphics and a 1-2 year head start on competitors.


If Sega hadn't burned so many bridges with the SegaCD and Saturn they probably would have been a strong competitor in that generation. But both developers and customers were wary of their shenanigans by that point.


I don’t think it played as big a role as people tend to remember. There were a lot of forces in play that contributed to its demise. The biggest one being the PS2. Even though the Dreamcast had similar or better specs than the PS2 it wasn’t considered a real 3D platform by a lot of the game magazine critics. It was released on time unlike the PS2 and XBox so they were comparing shipping hardware to fancy, not factual, renderings and considered the PS2 the winner because of it. Plus, Sega was a bit scatter brained, releasing platform after platform with no time for maturity. Game developers were holding back for the one true platform.

Then Microsoft stepped into the foray and was just throwing money around like crazy for exclusives. They were the smallest fish in a shrinking pond.


> Even though the Dreamcast had similar or better specs than the PS2 it wasn’t considered a real 3D platform by a lot of the game magazine critics.

Wat? That sounds like you confused the Saturn and DC. The Saturn had iffy hardware choices for 3D (because nobody saw the PlayStation coming), but the DC was a 3D system through and through. I don't recall anyone at the time claiming otherwise.


Your right about the aspects of the Dreamcast being a legit 3D console. I do remember at the time though a lot of people bying into Sony marketing regarding their “emotion engine” chip that would render 75 gagillion whats its a second and would be the most astonishing thing you have ever saw. Once the system was released it was pretty underwhelming from a visual perspective, but that didn’t stop many people from arguing with me about how graphically superior it was.


> That sounds like you confused the Saturn and DC.

No, the logic was the game critics were underwhelmed by the 3D hardware of the DC at the time. While it was state of the art for 1998. When Sega started shipping the DC Sony put out videos of PS2 previews and DC sales tanked. Also, at $499 the Saturn was DOA. No one but enthusiasts could afford that.

Part of it was the DC came out in between cycles. An undecided buyer would sit out purchasing waiting for all 3 consoles to arrive. By then the DC was years old hardware wise.


Interesting that they've invested so much in designing a new unique type of CD-ROM, even being the only one to manufacture it, and then being caught by a feature they didn't even need. The obfuscating trick was also kind of lazy from the dev team who added it.

But I don't think this hacking was the reason for the end of Sega, because nearly all consoles at that time could be modded to play hacked games. Sega had been messing up for years before that, with all the useless hardware (Sega-CD, Sega 32X, and even the Game Gear and Saturn weren't big successes) they had been releasing after the Megadrive. The Dreamcast was good but just no good enough to save the company, they basically would have needed a console that completely dominate the market to recover, and to compete against Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.


It is easy to say 'didn't even need' - as this misses the huge draw that karaoke devices had in Japan and beyond at the time. Plus VCD had a huge draw across many Asian markets. These could have been the Dreamcast's 'killer app' in an alternative path.


They didnt, GDROM is a slight tweak to CDROM standard, just enough to make it not readable in standard drives.


Semi-related, there's a piece of hardware being made (some parts 3D printed even) called GDEmu that replaces the optical drive components with an SD card reader, allowing people to play (backups of legally owned games) on their original hardware without wearing out the drive mechanism.


In my case I got fed up of replacing drive mechanisms after about the third one so I invested in one of these. It has the side benefits of much faster loading times and a much quieter console all round, too.

I won't deny that there is also a piracy aspect to it - I have a fairly large collection of boxed original Dreamcast games but there are a few on my GDEmu that couldn't be classed as "backups". The unreleased Half-Life beta is well worth checking out, for example.


I loved doing this on my Dreamcast back in '99. It was the first console I ever managed to "mod" -- even though it's completely a software mod.

At first we had to download loader discs, just a few hundred Kb on a disc, then pop in the 1:1 burned game. Eventually they managed to put the loader on the game ISOs and you could just burn a game and pop it in. Plenty of fun, lots of great games and it primed me to eventually crack open my Xbox for the 007 Nightfire exploit.


The fact this was broken by stealing a developer's SDK is disappointing. Real hackers would have disassembled the machine to reverse engineer it, rather than using black market/social engineering tricks.


> The fact this was broken by stealing a developer's SDK is disappointing. Real hackers would have disassembled the machine to reverse engineer it, rather than using black market/social engineering tricks.

You cannot assume that an attacker will have an "honor code" or that you can keep information secret from an attacker. Because of the latter one, there exists Kerckhoff's principle

> https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Kerckhoffs%27s_pr...

which on a high level states that security by obscurity will in the long run become broken (and as a corollary DRM does not work).


Well, I found it disappointing just from a story standpoint. I certainly wanted to read a story about clever technical hack...about someone sniffing a memory bus and writing a program to align the dump to get a valid program, or finding a complex pattern by analyzing the scrambling by hand.

I suppose it's a good reminder that in the real world, the easiest way in is often through a gullible or untrustworthy employee.


Hackers have always (and will continue to always) get more accomplished with social tricks than with technical tricks.


No true Scotsman in full play here.


I feel like "gatekeeping" is a more appropriate term, but yeah.


Did you just gatekeep the true Scotsman?


No true gatekeeper would gatekeep the true Scotsman!


In that case, I think you'd be genuinely surprised to discover just how many things have been hacked in this way over the years.


I think if getting the SDK was enough to crack the copy protection, it would’ve happened eventually.

The key seemed to be the descrambler.

Why on earth did they scramble the executable in a deterministic way?


Dunno, you could try asking Sony, who helpfully used the same random input for every PS3 ECDSA signature, thereby leaking enough information to let people recover their private key.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayStation_3_homebrew#Private...

(I would _suspect_ that internally, they deliberately made this choice, so that the same inputs would produce the same output, because someone important thought that was valuable and either didn't know or thought it wasn't risky enough to possibly leak key information by doing this. But I have no special knowledge, just a suspicion that people who pick elliptic curve crypto would be aware of the leaks involved in reusing IVs.)


Why on earth did they scramble the executable in a deterministic way?

Because they wanted official developers to be able to create MIL-CDs that would load.

They just didn't want anyone else being able to do that.


Just seems like inevitably people would figure it out.


Excuse me, but real hackers use butterflies. [1]

1. https://xkcd.com/378/



I remember those days. I was working at a small company, and a coworker and I had Dreamcasts. He also had small children and felt that the cost of games and their short attention span was a good excuse for piracy. He downloaded everything posted to a Usenet group for Dreamcast games and burned two copies. Every morning I’d come in to a pile of CDs on my desk. I only recently threw them out, several spindles full of them. Hundreds of games, many I never even tried playing. It was bizzarre.


This is easily the easiest piracy situation I've ever seen: if you had an unmodified Dreamcast, a CD burner, and broadband your only steps were to pirate DiscJuggler, then the games themselves. I knew many people with Dreamcasts in this era, who bought them around launch day without even a thought of pirating, then went on to buy zero (0) additional games because it was so easy.

The conversation here seems to settle on the idea that piracy wasn't a primary cause of the system's failure, and I could hardly disagree more from what I widely observed (local + gigantic internet communities).


I don't think this contributed to the Dreamcast's downfall.

Given the state/speed of CD Writers at the time, quality of CDs, difficulty of finding ISOs, download speeds, and the temperamental Dreamcast laser, it was far easier to just buy games imo. It was even easier to chip your Dreamcast to region unlock it and buy cheap, legitimate Jap/US games, rather than wasting CD after CD trying to burn them.


There was an active Usenet news group for Dreamcast binaries and that would have almost all content available.


Yeah, PC games did well in that era and were as easy to copy as Dreamcast ones. It's more that the console just wasn't competitive with others.


Crazy that the entire OS used by the game was loaded from the disc. Also interesting that the backdoor needed to make pirate copies viable was built-in and known from the beginning. Seems like vulnerabilities usually come from the edge use cases that sound like features but are actually attack vectors.


> Also interesting that the backdoor needed to make pirate copies viable was built-in and known from the beginning

On assemblerforums, I remember reading a post from someone who claimed to be from Sega about the DC. He also said they knew from the beginning, but did it anyway. He said most people knew or had an idea that this would be Sega's last console, so they didn't put as much time into DRM and such as they would have.

Could never verify that it was a Sega person, but the way they spoke about stuff led me to believe it was legit.

Back in the early 2000's once it was canned, I always liked to think that it was put there by someone intentionally who knew the system was going to fail. This way piracy would keep the system alive longer than any manufacture would. That piracy part is at least true since some company released a new DC game in the past year or two.

/I want to believe


Sad story. Steal. And bring down the shop.


Unsure if you have the context. The Dreamcast didn't sell very well at all. The game they use as an example was released a year after the Dreamcast was discontinued.


I remember downloading ISOs as rar file collections overnight off of IRC channels while in high school. I remember the magic of PAR files, being able to replace any particular file I was missing.

One thing i also remember is how it taught me an upside of actually purchasing games. I ended up having so many DC games I barely played any, because I became more interested in simply collecting them.

I would later decide against missing my consoles for that same reason. Although those Wii mods looked pretty sweet, with their home screen replacement and launchers


For me by the time I got a Dreamcast games were hard to come by, but I was still pretty limited by slow download speeds at home / not that many CD-Rs so I got to experience most of the great games at a fun pace.

I think it’s hard to overestimate how important privacy is for building wide fanbases. Games are expensive, kids have time but no money.... of course now that I have a job I can just get stuff off of Amazon and not worry about patches.


Are there articles out there about how modern copy protection works? I'm interested in why there aren't Switch flash carts, or why there aren't shady companies with BD-ROM pressers making bootleg copies of PS4/XB1 discs.


I think the copy protection on the original Xbox, the 360, and probably most modern consoles worked like this: executables must be signed, executables must list what types of media they can be run from, the system supports a special type of disk that CD burners and regular disk pressers can't produce, and all game executables specify they can only be run from the special type of disk.

With the 360, you can do a firmware hack to the system's disk drive to make it report every disk is the special type of disk to allow you to play games from burned disks. There are some known utility/demo disks containing executables signed to be executable from burned disks, so they can be copied (and have resources modified if the executable doesn't verify the signatures of everything it loads).


interesting. it seems a minor factor though. dreamcast had good gfx but a lineup kids did not like (i know, i was one of them).


[flagged]


> The "foot in the door" came from a seemingly obscure capability of the Dreamcast to boot not from a GD-ROM but from a CD-ROM. Originally intended to add multimedia functions to music CDs, the functionality called "MIL-CD" was never used much, accounting for a mere seven karaoke applications.

Isn't the first sentence of the "SECOND PROTECTION LEVEL" section exactly what you described?


Maybe I'm confused (regarding your first paragraph), isn't the section "Second protection level: Scrambler" about just that?


Did you actually read the blog post?

Also, i'm pretty sure that such "special dvd drive" you're mentioning didn't exist back in 1999 as I remember using my Dreamcast as a reading device connected to my PC.

Seems 100% accurate to me.


down-voted for not reading the article and still thinking you are entitled to snark


So piracy literally killed my favorite console. What a shame!


It didnt.




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