Consoul's Blog Consoul Games: Honour Among Thieves

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Honour Among Thieves

A few posts ago, I noted Divineo's announcement of its forthcoming HDLoader software for PS2. I began the post by saying "The PS2 scene is about to change." I can now say it has changed, and much more profoundly than I could have imagined.

The product has only been shipping for about two weeks now, but it has caused absolute chaos in the unofficial PS2 development scene. Until now, the PS2 Dev scene was pretty straightforward - groups of coders all working together to get the most out of the PS2 hardware, by any means legal or otherwise. Exploits found and programs developed were offered freely to interested parties for further development and for the benefit of the scene as a whole. The classic hacker credo "Information wants to be free" springs to mind.

Then along came HDLoader. It was clear from the outset that it ranked among the most important unofficial developments for PS2. And it was not free. The scene exploded. The devscene forums were on fire. Who was behind this software? Divineo were distributing it, but someone had coded it for them. It had to be a known coder. Divineo had certainly had well-known coders on the payroll before (in the development of their modchip solutions), but that was different - chips are hardware, so they can't be freely distributed. HDLoader is software only. As one scene member put it, someone had "turned to the dark side" (gone commercial). Within days of the software being shipped, the code was analysed to find out who wrote it. By all accounts there were pieces of code from several corners of the scene in there (as would be expected of a free scene release), but all fingers eventually pointed toward legendary PS2 coder Sjeep (who has conspicuously disappeared off the face of the earth since HDLoader's release).
No doubt Sjeep knew he had written the PS2's new killer app, and he knew he could pay some bills with it. Good on him. Chances are he'll never show his face in the scene again.

The devscene was buzzing with excitement about the implications of the software. Predictably, as soon as scene members got their hands on it, a pirate copy of the disc started floating around the usual channels. Sjeep and Divineo weren't stupid - the pirate version would allow the installation of games onto a PS2 harddrive, but would not actually boot them. Only an original copy would make the games playable. The pirate copy was little more than a teaser.

Divineo and the other distributors of the HDLoader software could not have been happier. For years these companies have been sponsoring the sites where the sceners hung out, and suddenly they were getting more clicks on their banner ads than ever before, selling HDLoaders by the bucketload.

Then the inevitable happened - though no doubt much sooner than expected. A cracked version appeared online. Someone had cracked the protection on the HDLoader software and had made a fully operational pirate copy. Not only that, they had reduced the size of the software by more than seventy-five times. HDLoader had become free and its filesize was tiny (under 10MB), making it easily distributable on the web. It was now so small, that scene members were attaching it to their posts in forums for everyone to download. To make matters worse, the cracked version of the software had been clearly marked as having been cracked by someone from, one of the scene's most well-known sites. The revised title screen said it all: "Free HDLoader - no copy rights for those who don't respect copyrights". PS2ownz have since strongly denied any involvement with the cracked release. That was the day before yesterday.

All hell broke loose. Massive conflicts of interest arose. The people who run the websites where all this was happening are financially supported by Divineo and friends. The symbiotic relationship between the scene and the commercial distributors of 'unofficial console solutions' was broken. I watched yesterday as several prominant figures in the devscene were banned from the forums they lived in. Their posts were edited by the moderators. By this morning, all trace of them, their posts and even the whole topic threads were gone. Any record of the pirate release was being wiped out like it had never happened. Warnings were posted across the frontpages of the sites and 'stickied' in the forums to let everyone know that any posts breaching copyright would result in immediate banning of members and their IP addresses. This afternoon I watched the boards go offline completely. The hurriedly typed message "Slight Hicup we will be back!" is all that's left of them now.

Things certainly have changed. For my part, I'll be placing an order for the PAL version shortly. Sjeep deserves the money for delivering what Sony never would. Divineo have done all they can to stop the free distribution of the software. It probably won't be too long before Sony do the same for the commercial distribution.


Blogger arkisdad said...

The intrigue of the dissident development scene! politics espionage people blacklisted or simply disappearing without a trace! Somebody free that poor information and leave poor old Sjeep alone

8:28 pm  
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