S2HD Demo Criticized for DRM-Like Protections

S2HD Demo Criticized for DRM-Like Protections

by March 29, 2012

“Very Intentionally” Done, Says Project Manager

While many have played and enjoyed the recent alpha release of Sonic 2 HD, one component of the release–one most outside of the curious may not care to look for–has stirred up trouble.

Given how S2HD was once considered an open community project spearheaded through Sonic Retro, some in the community are not pleased with the heavy protections placed on the game’s code.  In a nutshell, the game includes security measures like obfuscated code and DRM level protections that prevent anyone playing the game from disassembling and tinkering with the engine.  A prompt claiming a violation of a seemingly non-existent licensing agreement pops up for anyone attempting to do so.  The code obfuscation is so intricate, it has triggered virus warnings for some prospective players.  Those warnings are likely false positives, according to S2HD staff.

“The rest of the data is protected from public tampering with, including the application files,” wrote S2HD lead programmer L0st in Retro’s S2HD thread.  “It acted just like it should. No broken files.”

The protections are not sitting well with some.

“I refuse to play it any more at this point because of the retarded DRM crap,” wrote community scener LocalH.  “I ask you to please reconsider this decision.”

“Not only is this an insult to the end gamers (some of whom are having severe issues running the damn game simply because of the DRM), it is an enormous piece of hypocrisy,” wrote Retro moderator Overlord.

“By the men who brought you a game based entirely around reverse-engineering another,” quipped Retro forumer Guess Who, who capped a screenshot of the message seen during data circumvention attempts.

Other comments–some from other members of the S2HD team, no less–point the finger squarely on L0st for being overprotective of the work.

“He originally had ‘security’ trying to prevent people from taking screenshots and video, the current DRM was actually a compromise, believe it or not,” alleges S2HD Cerulean Nights in a comment to Sonic Retro’s story on the S2HD alpha release.  “It’s a little sad to see our hard work overshadowed by an absurd attempt at protecting the game.”

“I guarantee that the code was obfuscated just as you imply very intentionally,” wrote project manager Canned Karma in response to the concerns.  “There were more than a few sacrifices made on our team prior to release to get what you’re seeing into your hands, and there are still things the project’s leadership isn’t happy with. But we made it our priority to have a playable game get out as soon as we possibly could.”

On one hand, who could blame L0st?  Consider the rise to fame of Christian Whitehead, who developed the Retro Engine from the early beginnings of Sonic Nexus, and via a proof-of-concept, nabbed a job re-creating Sonic CD with it for a crop of current consoles.  There is certainly demand for that level of talent, and L0st may simply be protecting knowledge that could land him work in the future.  On the other hand, that work is being used in association with plenty of IP owned by Sega, and even if a license technically doesn’t exist for the fan work yet, the legal leash on language like that could be short on something that’s ultimately derived from copyrighted material.

The most unfortunate matter from the internal and external disputes coming out of this move, however, is that it may mean Sonic 2 HD never sees proper completion.  After what seemed like trouble getting off the ground in the first place, the S2HD alpha build launched to not just rave reviews, but relief.  But bickering on this level, especially once it spills into public arenas, tends to place high profile projects like these on the ropes.  Still, we’ll let you know anything more we learn from the SFG’s development.