Since the dawn of the home gaming era, unscrupulous people have been pirating games, and unscrupulous companies have been trying to stop them. But just as video game graphics take a significant leap forward with every generation, so too does the increasingly inept technology behind copy protection. Only, you know, in the opposite direction.
We've talked before about some of the best ways developers have messed with pirates -- now let's look at the other end of the spectrum, in which developers aim for the pirates but instead screw over their paying customers in increasingly ridiculous ways.
5Lenslok Games Required a Little Plastic Decoder Gadget (That Didn't Work)
Nijmegen 2010, via MSX
A pioneer in the "only making things worse" approach to video game copy protection was the Lenslok: a little plastic contraption powered by tiny prisms that apparently sought to negate Atari-era piracy by making the simple act of playing a game so fucking tedious that you'd end up throwing your primitive console out the window.
Nearly 900 people were killed by a rain of Commodore 64s the first year it was out.
The way it "worked" was that at certain points in the game, the breathtaking 8-bit graphics you were previously enjoying would become scrambled into an unholy mess of pixels at the center of your television and could only be descrambled by holding the Lenslok up to that part of the screen. Simple, right? Oh, and first you had to calibrate it, adjust it to account for your screen's anti-glare or flatness, and hold the thing precisely at arm's length or else it would only show gibberish. You'd know it was working once you saw the letters "OK."
Lenslok, via Torrent Freak
Or, like, a gaping vagina and a K.
And you're done, right? Nope! At this point you had to reach for your keyboard (while still holding the Lenslok perfectly still with your other hand) and press a key to reveal a two-letter code on the screen. Enter the code and voila, you are now allowed to continue playing the game you bought, assuming you didn't break your arm performing that last move.
But wait, what if your TV was too big or too small for the code to be seen? Then the manufacturer's official solution was "Get fucked," because the Lenslok was only compatible with the most medium-sized of televisions. Not that it said so anywhere: You had to assume as much after spending hours trying to get the thing to work to no avail. This is all, of course, assuming the packager bothered to put the "extremely easy to use" instructions in your box and that you didn't get the Lenslok intended for a different game (hundreds of people did).
Lenslok, via Torrent Freak
The game apologizes and wishes you luck, knowing that this may be the last time it sees you.
Right, so, anti-piracy efforts in games didn't get off to a good start. And somehow, they were about to get worse ...