We’re not here to complain about SecuROM, limited installs, online activation, or sneaky rootkits. We’re not here to discuss how bothersome DRM can lead to an avalanche of angry customer reviews on or how it may have helped make Spore the most pirated game in history.

Instead, we’d like to invite you to sit back, relax, and remember the halcyon days of copy protection with us, the ones ruled by lensloks, code wheels, and tricky trivia questions that sent you foraging through your well-worn manuals.

When it comes to crazy copy protection contraptions, you won’t find anything more kooky or old school than the lenslok. These foldable prisms were introduced to the gaming public in 1984, when Elite, a space trading game for the ZX Spectrum was released.

Above: Who would’ve guessed that Isaac Newton’s theories on prisms would help future game developers create ridiculous copy protection contraptions?

Elite would prompt the user to break out their lenslok midgame and hold it up to the screen in order to decipher an otherwise unreadable code. Did it prevent piracy? Probably not. The lenslok was only designed to decipher codes that were two characters long. A bit of patience was all it took crack the code, and once you did, the same one could be re-used every time you played.

Still, we have to give it up for the lenslock. This cumbersome device is now a valued piece of kitsch, treasured by geriatric gamers and collectors of arcane relics.

Above: Lines and numbers! Elite’s influence can be felt in more modern software like EVE Online and Microsoft Excel


Remember when games asked you to enter the fifth letter on the third paragraph on page eight of the manual to make sure you weren’t playing a pirated copy? Yeah, we hated that too. But there were a few memorable games that managed to get creative with the way they used the manual to ensure you owned a legitimate copy.

Our favorite: Origin System’s Wing Commander. Instead of sending you on a soulless word hunt through the game’s manual, Wing Commander peppered you with fun trivia about the game’s lore and specifications of its various ships. Thanks to Wing Commander’s manual questions, we’ll always remember that the Fralthi has 28 cm of front armor and that the Ralari weighs 18,000 tons.

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  • Jydon - January 6, 2009 6:12 a.m.

    Oh the DRM I am speaking of is one that EA is not using and a few other companies.
  • Ladyuna - January 4, 2009 4:36 p.m.

    The worst DRM I ever encountered wasn't for PC but on the ancient Commodore 64. Disk errors were intentionally written on the disk. Every time you loaded certain software the RW head would bang itself against the stop trying to read the deliberately malformed tracks. Needless to say, this put needless wear on Commodore floppy drives.
  • Jydon - January 3, 2009 1:04 a.m.

    Hate to say it but liked the wing commander copy protected 1000x better than DRM. At the point now that is a game uses DRM will not buy it. DRM should allow 1000s of install not a few. Thing is you payed for the product and since DRM messes up a lot you use them all up in no time. Then to get more DRM (if you are lucky) have to pay an additional fee. It is only me or does this sound like a way to scam buyers.
  • GamerGyrl - January 2, 2009 6:24 p.m.

    Who remembers the old game "The Colonel's Bequest"? To start that one, you had to look through a piece of translucent red plastic film to see some fingerprints on a card, and then match the fingerprint with the character. LOL I think that game came on ten 5-1/4 inch floppies.
  • dinnerdog - January 2, 2009 11:10 a.m.

    Sucked though if you lost the manuals, which i often did. I remember buying a game for my Atari ST called Deathbringer which cost £25 ( which was a lot of money in the early 90's!) which relied on a separate sheet containing hundreds of combinantions of potential codes to get into the game, which was thrown away in error by my Mum. No internet then, see. You young-uns don't know your born!
  • cart00n - January 2, 2009 10:01 a.m.

    While all of these WERE hateful and annoying at the time, at least they didn't cause your PC to brick!
  • kurkosdr - January 1, 2009 12:49 p.m.

    Starforce in Colin Mc Rae DIRT ------------------------------- You had to install virtual drivers, you had to wait for them to check, you had to tolerate the garbage they left behind, you had to have Windows XP SP2 (not vista) for them to work, and bend over everytime (I think). Unless you had the "Verbatim 4x" version. Then you could play it flawlessly under vista, didn't even asked to install drivers (something the normal version did with a pop up window), and no garbage left behind in your Windows folder. AUDIO CDs with 800MB capacity. ------------------------------ You know, because blank 800MB disks are hard to find, and this makes it harder to make 1-1 copies. Don't bother that most standalone CD players can't read past 80mins and causes owners of the original to lose the last 4 songs...
  • hmw313 - December 31, 2008 11:52 p.m.

    dude i so wish i had a dial-a-pirate wheel!
  • bamb0o-stick - December 31, 2008 11:54 a.m.

    JimmyJammy: I'm guessing you turn the wheel and you'll see the slots in the center reveal a letter/number through the tiny openings.
  • Jimmyjammy - December 31, 2008 10:56 a.m.

    How did the Monkey island one work?
  • ssj4raditz - December 31, 2008 7:29 a.m.

    I remember having to do the trivia bit on a couple of games back in the day.
  • tirrandir - December 31, 2008 5:03 a.m.

    Is it bad that my first answer was a piece of clothing? Hell, I had almost forgotten that Mac used to stand for Apple, which was the group that the Beatles formed which then went into computer manu-wait ... what?
  • Cwf2008 - December 31, 2008 1:11 a.m.

  • ELpork - December 30, 2008 10:17 p.m.

    I dont remember the monkey Island one.....
  • JHawk - December 30, 2008 10:02 p.m.

    I really didn't mind the DRM on games like wing commander. It was kinda' cool to peruse the spec of the ships for the proper tidbit of knowledge required to actually start the game and fly them.
  • CrazedPenguin - January 3, 2009 10:43 a.m.

    @Jydon Unfortunately something like the Wing Commander protection wouldn't work today, the answer to each in-game question would probably be posted even before the game launched.
  • Romination - December 31, 2008 11:09 p.m.

    i never did any of these, but they seem pretty interesting i almost wish i had now...boohoohoo
  • MacGyver1138 - December 31, 2008 7:18 p.m.

    I remember answering the Leisure Suite Larry questions. My friends and I could usually get them, and then we ended up playing a game with pretty laughable adult content. It was awesome at the time though. If you want to see something even more pathetic, try to run down a copy of Strip Poker for the Apple IIe. Green, pixelly boobs. The naked ladies I drew on my notebooks were more convincing.
  • SuperSubGaz - December 31, 2008 6:33 p.m.

    Jet Set Willy also had some kind of "Enter Code" thingy. If I remember rightly it was made up of binary codes in different colours... I think my friend just went down to the local news agents and got a colour copy of the sheet... As an aside... people here do acknowledge that there was life before and outside of PC gaming???
  • Brainspike367 - December 31, 2008 3:36 a.m.

    Metal Gear Solid or The Twin Snakes made you use a codec frequency that could only be found on the back of the box/case