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Confessions of a schoolboy pirate

April 9th, 2011 by

I’ve been putting it off for years, but under pressure from bowing roof joists and threats of un-anesthetised bollock removal by my good lady Sam I reluctantly ascended the loft ladder and climbed up into the roof space.  It was time for a clear out and thus I spent most of my Sunday afternoon itching like World War One mustard gas victims from the loft insulation fibres whilst sorting through all my old games, consoles and computers.  Some of the stuff had been up there for decades and I was finding it all very emotional choosing which machines were destined for Ebay,  which would go in the bin and which would be saved.

It was like torture… I could barely bring myself to do it and sitting there sandwiched between the Christmas tree and a broken exercise bike, clasping my Amiga 500 in my hands, I couldn’t help but make the comparison with Toy Story 3.  You know, the bit when that evil heartless bastard Andy parts with Woody and gives him away. The similarities compounded further by me having written my name on the Amiga’s 1 meg expansion cover so I could identify it when serial linked at friends houses!

Admittedly most of them were now covered in thick layers of dust and had turned a funny yellow colour but each one took me back to a specific time in my life; the rose tinted goggles were well and truly on.  I was conscious of a real air of peace and serenity as I sat reminiscing, surrounded by a lifetime of eight and sixteen bit technology with just the relaxing trickle of the cold water tank filling itself up in the background.  The peace was soon shattered though…through the loft hatch came a shout of ‘’Don’t get hiding any of that old shit up there you sneaky bastard… get it all binned’’ from Sam, stood down on the landing shouting commands through the loft hatch like an SS commandant… she’s all compassion! 

An hour into the process I had a stack of three boxes containing all the things I was prepared to be parted from, leaving just a single plain cardboard box sealed with black electrical tape lurking in the furthest darkest corner still to be investigated.  Strangely I had absolutely no recollection of what was inside, and having torn the top open I found myself immediately transported back to a dark time in my childhood as I peered in.

It was my dirty pirate box!  Yes… full and frank admission… when I was at school me and all my spotty prepubescent friends with Amiga’s, copied games.  It ended twenty years ago when I hit fourteen years old and got a part time job and whilst I was far from prolific (having copied maybe fifteen titles in all) it was undoubtedly wrong.

But this box wasn’t full of copied games as they had been burnt and buried two decades ago through a misguided fear of Barry from F.A.S.T coming round in the dark of the night and shitting in my disk drive… no… this was something far more sinister… this box contained my deviant homemade creations to circumvent copy protections.  You see I didn’t copy cracked games, but every so often a friend would get a new release and I would borrow it for a few days, run off a copy only to find I needed to figure out a way to get around the copy protection employed.

There in pride of place on top of the pile was a hand drawn and crafted Monkey Island 2 code wheel.  I actually remember making this, sat in a Science lesson at the back of the class. I had borrowed the original game from a friend, dismantled the code wheel, drawn my artistic interpretation of it on two pieces of card then cut it out and assembled it using a paper clasp. I probably should have submitted it as an assessment piece for my Art and Design project…it really is pretty good!

Next in the box was a 100 page photocopy of the Microprose Formula 1 game manual I had created to get me past the ‘‘Enter the word on Page/line’’ protection.  Production of this had involved sneaking into the staff room and hijacking the photo copier at lunch time having done a recce to the dinner hall to put my mind at rest that all the teachers were seated and eating so I wouldn’t be discovered mid-production.

Other items included a five page hand written list of about 300 alphanumeric codes on school graph paper, produced in a maths lesson which I had been unable to photocopy due to EA having printed them on red anti-photocopy paper, and an FA/18 Interceptor game code wheel I had cut out from a Weetabix box. It comprised three circular sections descending in size with all the little windows cut out to show the hand written codes beneath. It was technical stuff, and had I employed my ingenuity in the maths lesson rather than code wheel production I probably would have managed better than a GCSE C.

Finally, as I got to the bottom of the box, there is was… the holy grail…. the must have application of the day…. X-Copy Pro.  Ironically a genuine copy which I had borrowed from a friend and never returned,  still complete with the dongle which sat between the Amiga and the external disk drive to circumvent the most popular Disk Bootblock copy protection at the time.

I’m glad I grew out of copying games when I did… I had a conscience and even at thirteen years old piracy played quite heavily on it.   Most of my Amiga games were genuine and I actually appreciated the big old school technical Electronics Arts and Microprose manuals (F19 Stealth Fighter was almost on a biblical scale) and the mini novels that came with the old SSI games all of which formed part of the ‘’Word on Page/Line’’ protection system and the experience of discovering this box of filth left me reminiscing “I do miss the more creative art of copy protection”. In this world of DRM and Steam Registrations there is no need for publishers to develop ever more ingenious physical deterrents to piracy and it’s all now sadly confined to annals’ of history.

Now I just have to hope the good lady never overcomes her aversion to spiders, goes up in the loft, works out how to switch the light on and finds the stash of retro kit I have hidden under cardboard boxes behind the cold water tank!

This Community Content article was created by ShatnerzBassoon, a member of our community. Community Content is your way of getting long-form writing and opinion out to the Midlife Gamer audience, an open platform to get something off your chest. For full guidelines on our editorial standards and how to create your own post, click here. The views expressed within are those of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the Midlife Gamer Staff

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6 Responses to “Confessions of a schoolboy pirate”
  1. avatar James says:

    I have to admit to my huge collection of pirated Amiga games. As an 8 year old kid you don’t care where games come from. Using XCopy was just too easy.

  2. Many of the games I played on the Atari ST were copies, my older brother would just keep topping up the many disc boxes, some would work, some would require copy protection.

    That said though, I would get a really happy feeling when as a pre / early teen taking my birthday money to a local indie store (Miles Better Software in Hednesford – no longer there) and picking up a new BIG box Ultima

    As with everyone else I know, as soon as we grew up we knew how important that feeling was to actually pay for what you enjoy and have done so ever since. I’m sure we’re not alone with such memories

  3. avatar Beefkr10z says:

    I remember I had a copy program on the amiga that let you play tetris whilst the main program was running.
    Happy days.

  4. avatar Hugo Rune says:

    I have fond memories of the Medway Boys and the Pompey Pirates 3 1/2″ disks which came with an animated menu, their own music and around 4 Atari ST games cracked and compressed on each one. Somehow a small group of us managed to find a source for these things of wonder and we’d swap them between each other for endless days of free entertainment. Oh happy days.

    Thanks for reminding me, its a great piece and the hair styles and clothes in the picture date it all rather nicely.

  5. avatar Brother Brown says:

    Them were the days you would never get a cutlas in to a school these days.
    Great article mate

  6. avatar tridentmorph says:

    Ah happy days, sent me drifting back to an even earlier time of tape to tape copying and trying to find the start of the game on a c90 only for it to fail to load after 5 mins. The joys of childhood eh.

    Great article by the way, nicely written and love the photo.

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