Great moments in PC gaming: Photocopying manuals

This manual came with the original Leisure Suit Larry VGA version, and contained clues that served as DRM.

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

DRM used to be a much more hands-on annoyance. We called it copy protection, and it was everywhere. The classic version would ask you to reach for and type in a word from the manual—Page 34, Paragraph 2, Line 3, Word 4, or whatever. But there were others. Manuals that you had to peer through bits of red film to read. Codewheels like Monkey Island’s "Dial-A-Pirate." Manuals full of things that you’d need in the game, like the clues to the otherwise impossible Cliffs of Logic in King’s Quest 6. Lenslok, which used a fancy prism to reveal an on-screen code…

The list went on. And if you’re wondering how effective these were, the answer was: hahaha. Photocopying manuals and such was almost part of the fun of ‘borrowing’ disks.

The highlight was obviously adventure games, which kept manuals as copy protection longer than most genres, simply for the fact that someone had said "Hey, let’s put a problem in front of people who like solving puzzles." The poor saps. Then came the CD, which largely ended the practice on the grounds that basically nobody had the equipment to copy them. Definitely simpler, but was it less fun? Partly.

Aside from anything else, it was often fun to see what happened when you failed to pass a copy protection test. Most games, as now, simply refused to work. But there were plenty of exceptions.

Zak McKracken, for instance, sent you to Pirate Jail for a stern lecture. Ultima 7: Serpent Isle would let you play, but all the dialogue was replaced with 'Oink.' Red Alert 2 would let you play too, before casually nuking your entire army. Gold Rush would have you arrested and hanged on the gallows, even letting you choose your last words—"****ING SIERRA GAMES!" being quite a popular choice. And goodness help your people in SimCity, as any attempt to build a city was met with endless disasters.

Without the toil and reward of standing over a copy machine, it’s just not as much fun these days, really. You shouldn't pirate games, and you shouldn't copy that floppy. But copying manuals? Hard to get too upset about that one.

Thumbnail image via Flickr user Hector Pierna Sanchez.