EA to use SecuROM DRM on “Mass Effect” and “Spore.”

Apparently the folks at Electronic Arts want me to become a software pirate. You may recall that I refused to purchase the PC release of Bioshock because the SecuROM DRM it contained would actually disable some perfectly legitimate troubleshooting software on my PC out of fear that I might use it to crack the game. It also limited you to 10 installs before you had to “reactivate” the game over the Internet and, as someone who restages his PC often, that was too much of an intrusion.

Now word comes down that the critically acclaimed RPG Mass Effect will also make use of SecuROM with a limit of 3 installs and a requirement that it phone home every 10 days to reactivate itself. Apparently the same will also be true of Spore:

BioWare technical producer Derek French lit up the Mass Effect forums this past week announcing that both their game and (on page 2) fellow Electronic Arts title Spore come with SecuROM, a DRM system that requires activation the first time you play the game and then a re-check every ten days, with the first check on the fifth day.

French explained that there is no external program installed and the check will be run through MassEffect.exe (or Spore.exe, presumably), the data transfered will be the CD key and a “unique machine identifier of some type” and that he has been told, “there will be clear labeling on the package.”

This is very disappointing news as it guarantees that I won’t even consider purchasing Mass Effect now and it makes my purchase of Spore debatable as well. If I do end up being weak willed enough to buy Spore I can guarantee you that I will be hunting down the crack for it. There’s been a fair amount of talk among developers that piracy is killing the market for games on the PC, but these draconian DRM schemes aren’t helping the situation at all as it pretty much ensures that legitimate customers will either end up turning to pirated copies to get away from the restrictive DRM or just refuse to purchase the game. Given the fact that Spore will contacting servers on a regular basis to download user created content there’s even less of a need for SecuROM as opposed to just using the game’s CD Key.

What’s going to end up killing the PC game market in the long run is treating your customers like criminals, but it appears that’s a trend that isn’t going away anytime soon.

Possible release date for PC version of “GTA IV” leaked to the net.

Those of you who are drooling for a copy of Grand Theft Auto IV and debating over which console to buy because all you have is a PC may take some heart in this Softpedia news item:

… [W]e have a German website presenting the Grand Theft Auto IV PC version DVD case, together with a price and, what matters most for all of us: the release date. According to the website, the PC version of Rockstar’s title will be made available starting the 30th of November this year. What should normally be a further proof that the date is correct (or, at least, that a PC version is in the works) is the fact that pre-order is available. It remains to see how and if Rockstar responds to this… let’s call it “leak”. They probably won’t be too happy, since the official announcement still has to be made.

So, assuming this date is correct or at least in the general ballpark, if you can hold out ‘till November then you may not need to purchase a console to get your fix after all. Maybe by then they’ll have smushed the rather annoying freezing bugs as well.

Xbox 360 version of GTA4 already cracked and loose on the net.

Every now and then you’ll see an article about how gaming on the PC is dieing thanks to rampant piracy. Everyone wants to make console games because they’re supposedly harder for the pirates to crack and distribute. So perhaps someone could explain to me how the Asian PAL version of GTA4 is already on the net?

At approximately 1:45AM EST the Xbox 360 version of Grand Theft Auto IV was leaked onto the internet. According to our X3F tipsters, who better plan on actually buying the game, thousands of users are leeching the 6.36 GB potential game of the year candidate. The release is a rip of the PAL version, specifically from the Asian market, and comes a mere six days before retailers place the game on store shelves.

We don’t want to get on our soapbox here but we hope our readers would shy away from downloading a full version of the game, especially considering the team at Rockstar North have garnered near-perfect review scores for the release. Why? Well, it’s illegal kids … actually come to think of it, this leak is deliciously ironic. Isn’t it?

Yeah it really is. Just goes to show that the consoles aren’t all that much more difficult to pirate games for than the PC is.

Trying to track down “Setsune” who once wrote about WinFixer 2005.

OK this is going to seem a bit odd, but I’ve been asked if I can track down someone who wrote an entry about the WinFixer 2005 Malware over at the B.I.S.S. Forums circa September of 2005 who posted it under the user name “Setsune.” In case you’re wondering why I’ve been asked if I can track them down it’s because Setsune had listed SEB as his favorite blog in his signature file so he may be a regular lurker around these parts.

I’ve been asked to do this by Joseph Bochner, a lawyer out of Menlo Park California, who’s been trying to bring the makers of WinFixer 2005 to justice for almost four years now. Jospeh hasn’t said what he wants to talk to Setsune about, but I’m assuming it’s to find out how he managed to come by some of the information he had in that old forum posting. The folks at the Mercury News just did an article on Joseph’s ongoing quest which gives some background on what he’s been through:

Bochner, a Menlo Park lawyer who handled mostly real estate cases at the time, soon discovered that the PC was infected by malware, malicious software that attacks computers. The program had apparently infected the machine despite anti-virus protection and the latest virus definitions. It piqued Bochner’s interest. He sought to track down those responsible and stop the scam.

But over the past four years, Bochner has discovered that despite the enormous economic and social costs of online crime, there is no simple way to disrupt these schemes. His experience provides further evidence, on a personal level, of a key finding of the November Mercury News series “Ghosts in the Browser”: Shadowy con men, responsible for an explosion of illicit online activity, often find it all too easy to evade uninterested law enforcement agencies and out-staffed security experts.

Bochner tried federal agencies and state task force officials. He called on security software companies. He even filed his own class-action lawsuit, which he abandoned because, Bochner said, he lacked the resources and expertise to handle the case on his own.

“I am astounded at the inaction,” said Bochner, who has continued to search for help in reviving the case.

Filings in the lawsuit, as well as interviews and other public documents, provide details of what Bochner uncovered about “WinFixer,” the alleged conspiracy named for a variant of the malware that has gone by many names, including WinAntiVirus, Errorsafe and SystemDoctor.

WinFixer, as you can probably already tell, is one of the many fake anti-virus apps out there that deliberately infect your PC and then tell you it’s infected as if the problem had been there all along. If you want to get rid of the viruses you have to purchase the program except that the program doesn’t actually remove the viruses because it’s what put them there in the first place. Joseph’s saga is illustrative of how hard it is to get law authorities to do anything about these scammers in part because they don’t see it as a big problem, in part because they lack the manpower, and in part because they don’t really understand what the problem is. This is one of the reasons you have to be very careful about what you install on your PC and consider carefully any pop up warnings from software you’ve never installed from companies you’ve never heard of. There’s a good chance that even if you do complain to someone nothing will be done:

Bochner became convinced that the operators of the system should be prosecuted, and turned to the FBI. Agents from both Silicon Valley and southern Florida, where one potential defendant lived, investigated before deciding against seeking criminal charges.

“There was a lot of hoopla and there were complaints made, and (the WinFixer operation) was shady and backward,” San Francisco FBI Special Agent Joseph Schadler said in an interview.

But FBI agents, like officials from a series of other agencies, decided against pursuing a criminal case. Some questioned whether a crime had occurred; others said it would be too difficult to prove. One agent who turned Bochner down, Sacramento Valley High Tech Crimes Task Force commander Capt. Glenn Powell, told the Mercury News his unit didn’t have the personnel to pursue such computer fraud cases.

Joseph hasn’t given up the fight, however, and he’s tracking down every lead he comes across. Which is how he came to send me an email. His last reply which just arrived in my inbox explains what he’s hoping to accomplish:

Les,

Thanks much for the prompt reply.

The poster referred to your blog as his favorite…perhaps a request for help to your reader community might attract a response? Setsune said he had complained to Big Pipe; I’m looking for people who have submitted a complaint regarding WinFixer…to anyone!

Regarding “lack of concern or manpower,” I would add lack of understanding. Hence my efforts.

Thanks again and best wishes,

Joseph Bochner

So Setsune, if you’re still reading SEB some three years later, Joseph would really appreciate it if he could contact you. Or if any of you regulars have had experiences with WinFixer 2005 and tried to complain to someone about it then Joseph would like to hear about that as well. Leave a comment here or drop me an email and I’ll get you in contact with Joseph and maybe he’ll be able to win at least one victory in the war against the scammers.

 

Consumers choosing Vista over XP at a 7 to 1 margin.

There were a lot of articles written during the year 2007 that claimed Windows Vista as being just this side of a total bomb in terms of the number of folks switching to it. It appears that those articles aren’t entirely accurate:

Despite problems, consumers choosing Vista over XP – ArsTechnica.com

Windows Vista didn’t make a smooth market entrance; in fact, nearly every aspect of the operating system has been attacked since its release on January 30, 2007. Multiple SKUs allegedly confused customers, anti-DRM groups disliked Vista’s Protected Video Path and its overall DRM friendliness, and Microsoft’s definition of “Vista Capable” got the company sued. Toss in a plethora of bugs and the usual consumer backlash over GUI changes, and you’d think consumers would be avoiding Vista in droves. According to new information, however, they aren’t—Vista’s adoption rate over the past year actually exceeded XP’s in 2001, and consumers apparently choose Vista over XP by a 7:1 margin.

ZDNet’s Ed Bott has assembled a database of information drawn from Dell’s Outlet Center (full details on his methodology and results are available here). While small businesses definitely prefer Windows XP to Vista (70 percent to 30 percent), only 7 percent of consumers appear to be opting for Windows XP over Vista.

For all the bad press that’s a pretty good adoption rate, but then, as I’ve pointed out previously, we’ve been here before with the launch of Windows XP. When that OS launched there were tons of articles about how terrible it was compared to previous versions of Windows, how slow and resource intensive it was, and how some folks were swearing they’d never leave Windows 98 and so on and so forth. After awhile the noise died down and Windows XP went on to become the dominate Windows platform as more and more people bought new PCs that were built to handle it.

I’ve been running Vista for several months now and I have to admit that I think it’s a decent upgrade to XP. More telling to me, however, is the opinion of my wife who got used to running Vista during the period that she was without her own PC. When we got the generous donation of parts for her just before Christmas she told me that she’d rather have Vista on her PC even though the Socket 754 based motherboard she’s using doesn’t have active drivers being developed for it (it’s considered a Legacy device according to nVidia). Turns out the drivers built into Vista handles her motherboard just fine. Oddly enough it was two minor features of Vista that she’s grown to love that made her ask for it. First was a sidebar gadget called Notepad that works like an electronic post-it note and the other is the new Windows Calendar built into the OS. Trivial as they are she finds them useful enough to prefer Vista over XP. If Vista was truly problematic on her hardware she’d probably want to go back to XP, but it runs fine if a tad slow which is to be expected on Legacy hardware.

The biggest issue either of us have had with running Vista so far has been RAM. One gigabyte of RAM under Vista is about the same as running 512MB of RAM under XP. Both are the absolute minimum either OS should be run with. We’ll be bumping the RAM on both machines up sometime later in the month or early February as we get our finances on track after Christmas. Anne’s PC could do with a new SATA HD as well to take advantage of the speed boost that would give over the PATA drive she’s using now. If you’re running newer hardware that uses DDR2 RAM then this shouldn’t be much of an issue as DD2 RAM is dirt cheap these days. We’re still running DDR RAM so prices are still a bit high—$139 for 2 GBs as opposed to as low as $49.99 (after rebate) for some flavors of DDR2 RAM.

If Vista were half as bad as some of these articles make it out to be then I’d be back in Windows XP myself, but the truth is the hype over how horrible it is is more a statement of how much people hate change. Sure there’s enough stuff in different places that there’s a learning curve and some things, sharing printers and files, is slightly more complicated because they’ve increased the security granularity, but that’s just an education issue. As more folks upgrade their hardware to models that are built to run Vista properly a lot of the noise you’re hearing will once again die away and by the time Windows 7 comes along everyone will be ready to start the bitch fest all over again.

Which brings us to the question of whether you should make the switch. The answer I give most folks these days is the following: If you’re running hardware that’s a year or more older then you may want to stick with XP depending on how high end it was when you bought it, but if you’re building/buying a new machine and plan to get at least 1GB of RAM in it then there’s nothing so wrong with Vista that you should avoid it. It’s going to be the default Windows platform eventually anyway and businesses will eventually be switching as well. Here at The Automotive Company™ we’re still migrating some users from Windows 2000 (a dead OS as far as Microsoft is concerned) to Windows XP (which Microsoft considers all but dead) and they’ve been testing Vista builds for quite awhile now. Chances are they’ll make the switch to Vista with the next two years, if not sooner. Big business is always slow to upgrade so the fact that they’ve not rushed to Vista doesn’t really mean a thing, but that 7 to 1 ratio of consumers making the switch does.

 

Christmas comes a little early for Anne.

Thanks to a very generous donation of spare PC parts from an SEB Member —who I’m not sure if he wants me to use his name, but he knows who he is—Anne once more has her own functional PC. I just put the finishing touches on it and set it back in its spot on her desk when I noticed that we’ve crossed over into Christmas Eve. Here in Hamburg, Michigan it’s lightly snowing outside which means we may have at least a semi-white Christmas after all.

It’s going to be a busy day today as we’ll be headed up to my parent’s place for the annual Christmas Eve family get together. Then it’s back home and more Yuletide fun the next morning. Don’t know how much posting I’ll get in over the next couple of days, but I’ll try to check in when I can. For now it’s time to catch some shut eye.

SEB Review: “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare”

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

So I recently found out that SEB has a few fans at Activision as I was contacted a few weeks back and asked if I would like to receive a review copy of Call of Duty 4 of my very own for the low, low cost of writing a review for it. Considering that I was likely to write a review at some point anyway I naturally jumped at the chance. Especially when taking into account that I wasn’t sure if it would be a must-buy or not. You see, I loved Call of Duty and Call of Duty 2 immensely, but I was more than a little nervous about Call of Duty 4 because of the move away from the World War II setting to modern day. Yeah I know a lot of people are sick to death of WWII as a game setting, but I’m not one of those people. To me there’s no end to the amount of joy blasting a few hundred Nazi’s away can bring after a long day at the office. Still, being a long time fan, I kept up with the previews on the game and watched all the amazing trailers and wondered if the game would live up not only to the hype, but the love I had for its predecessors. I’m happy to say that it does.

Single Player

As the subtitle in the name implies, the folks at Infinity Ward have moved the setting of the game up to the modern day with all the trappings that current warfare brings with it such as grenade launchers and night vision goggles. The single player story takes place in the middle east and parts of Russia with a hostile Arab leader staging a coup and threatening everyone else in the world with a bunch of stolen nukes he got from some Russian guy. Or something to that effect. I have to admit that I didn’t pay that much attention to the storyline because I was too busy trying to stay alive and gawking at the scenery. The upshot of it all is that some bad terrorist guy has taken over some middle eastern country with the help of some bad Russian guys which requires you to go and eliminate said bad guys to make the world safe for democracy. During the course of the game you’ll trade off between various characters in both the U.S. Marines and the British S.A.S. units as they engage in various missions to track down the newly self-appointed dictator. Unlike previous CoD games, the story line in this one is continuous from start to end with you jumping back and forth between the various characters to see it unfold from a number of different perspectives. The story itself isn’t anything particularly innovative or unique, as is probably apparent from the fact that I don’t remember most of the details, but it serves the purpose well and provides for a realistic setting for the game.

The game play itself, however, is awesome. Not much has really changed since CoD2 in terms of the mechanics, but the experience has been ramped up several fold over the previous titles. If you’ve played any of the previous games you should have little trouble jumping right into CoD4’s very intense single player experience.  Part of that intensity is thanks to the new graphics engine CoD4 sports which is full of detail, allows for tons of opponents and allies to be on screen at once, and looks absolutely gorgeous. Or at least as gorgeous as desert villages and decaying Russian cities can look. My current gaming rig is old enough that the game turned off most of the advanced options such as shadows and some of the lighting effects and ran the game at a lowly 800×600 resolution and even toned down as much as it was it still looked and played amazingly well. I can’t begin to imagine how drop dead gorgeous the game would be on a high-end gaming rig which I’ll get around to buying once I win the lotto or become famous on YouTube or something. The folks at Infinity Ward spent quite a bit of time on research to make for as accurate an experience as you can have without getting away from it being a game and it has paid off well. I’m no military expert, but there wasn’t anything in the way of actions on the part of the characters or the scenarios that didn’t seem authentic enough.

Not to say that there aren’t any changes to game mechanics as there are a few that are quite significant. For example, walls are no longer bullet sponges able to soak up an endless parade of lead with no noticeable effect and giving the enemy (and yourself for that matter) plenty of protection. Depending on the type of material the wall is made out of and the type of bullet hitting it it’s quite possible for bullets to penetrate them and do damage to whomever is standing behind them. The amount of damage is reduced according to the type of wall, but you can’t rely on ducking into a doorway to keep you safe from the hail of gunfire you’re running from any longer. Running is also a new addition as they’ve added a sprint ability allowing you to double time it for short periods. I don’t recall the previous games having that option so I believe it’s new. Also new to the mix are dogs that will chase your ass down and rip out your throat before you can say “Fido” if you’re not careful. These three things bring new complexity to the experience and make it that much more enjoyable.

The one thing about the single player that was surprising was how short it was. I managed to make my way through it all in just a couple of nights of moderate playing and I have to admit that that was a tad bit disappointing. It appears the folks at IW realized it was a bit short too as they’ve tossed in a couple of things to make replaying it a little more attractive. First there’s 30 collectible laptops spread throughout each level that you can collect to unlock some hidden feature. On my first run through I managed to find 15 of them so I don’t know yet what it unlocks, but it’ll get me to go back and play the single player again to find out. Then, once you’ve finished the single player once, it unlocks an Arcade and a Challenge mode. The former allows you to play through any single level you want to with a limited number of lives and a scoring system as though it were an actual arcade game and the latter times your run through the entire single player game so you can try to beat your best time through. These two options combined with the ability to play at harder difficulty levels should help to stretch out the single player experience to a small degree, but it’s still surprisingly short compared to the previous games.

Did I mention how good looking this game is? Because at times it can be creepy-realistic. Of particular note is the mission that takes place inside an attack helicopter at night that looks startlingly like real footage from the Iraq war. You provide air support to some ground troops moving into a village and can switch back and forth between several very large and very lethal guns as you try to take out the enemy while not hitting your own troops (whom are wearing IR strobes as their only identifier) and while avoiding damaging a church because that would be, well, wrong I suppose. Didn’t stop me from taking a few potshots at it, but all that did was end the mission instantly. The entire thing is presented in a black and white simulation of the infrared displays used in actual attack choppers and makes for some very believable moments. The same effect happens whenever you switch on your night vision goggles as the sudden reduction in detail emphasizes the motion capture of the characters making them seem even more real. The fact that you can see the lasers from everyone’s laser sights with the NV goggles helps to make it even more intense. Sound is also well done in this game with every gun making the appropriate noises as you’d expect, but also with the thud of bullets hitting dirt and wood and cement along with all the yelling that takes place in a real battle. The sound design alone is worthy of an award or two for giving you a few damn-near-pissed-myself moments. Again a particular stand out is the radio chatter that takes place during the attack helicopter sequence which sounds like it could’ve been taken right from a FOX News report.

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Couple of interesting developments in Tech today…

It appears that Gateway computers has been bought by Acer making the latter the new Number 3 PC maker behind HP and Dell. Acer’s been around for years pumping out various PCs from Taiwan and it’s done moderately well in the U.S.. Well, apparently well enough to gobble up Gateway which has been delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

The other interesting bit of news is word that Best Buy is dropping analog TVs from their shelves. From now on they’ll be selling Digital sets only. It was pretty much a given that analog TVs would start drying up as the prices on digital sets come down so it was only really a question of when it would happen and who’d be the first. Now we know.

Fans of “The Sims 2” pissed off about SecuROM on latest releases.

Well it looks like I won’t be buying anymore expansion packs for The Sims 2 as it seems Electronic Arts has switched from using SafeDisk to the much hated SecurROM not too long ago. It seems fans started to notice problems with the release of the Bon Voyage expansion pack and the official forums have been on fire for the past two weeks over it. Maxis has finally gotten around to making an announcement about SecuROM and it reads pretty much like what the folks at Take 2 Games put out over the Bioshock uproar. So far, however, the response from fans has been less than enthusiastic. The main thing a lot of folks seem to be upset about is the fact that they didn’t bother to mention in the EULA which particular copy protection scheme they were using so a lot of folks that would have returned the game had they know are now stuck with the software.

To their credit, however, it appears they’re not limiting how many times you can install the application the way Take 2 is with Bioshock so you can restage your PC without having to worry about it. They’ve also provided instructions for removing the SecuROM software from your PC if you wish to do so, though that does make the game inoperable afterwards. Still EA is punishing legitimate purchasers while the pirates enjoy the game DRM free.

Speaking of which, the Bon Voyage expansion pack was cracked and on the file sharing networks within 24 hours of release. Good job EA, you’ve given me good reason to keep my money in my wallet.

Keep your eye open for the EcoStrip.

Now here’s a good idea. It’s called the EcoStrip and it’s your standard power strip for use with your computer that has a neat addition to it. It plugs into one of your PC’s USB ports so it can tell when you turn off your PC at which point it kills power to anything else plugged into the strip.

If your desk is like mine then you have at the least a set of powered speakers and one or more monitors plugged in that continue to draw power after you’ve shut off your PC. Standby modes don’t tend to eat a lot of power, but when you’ve got several of them and then you multiply that by all the other people who have them then those little bits of current add up pretty quickly. This little strip would help to eliminate at least some of that waste.

It’s not available in the U.S. yet, but it will be soon so keep an eye open for it. I plan on picking up three myself once they’re available.

Via Everything USB.